RTÉ One, Friday, 8.30pm

Kitty's Garden

Programme 9

From Potato Plot to Potato Pot!
Hearing the blight warnings issued on the radio last week, I was so glad that I had given my spuds a blast of blue stone. However, despite my precautionary measures, a few stalks were showing signs of infection and as I suspected, the heritage Lumpers were the culprits - the infamous variety that succumbed to blight in the Great Famine of the 1800's. This certainly confirms that the variety of spuds you choose to grow is all important and some of the newer potato varieties do what they say on their label, i.e offer stronger blight resistance. A mixture of blight and curiosity encouraged me to dig up the stalks and thankfully the fungal disease had only set on the leaves and not travelled down the stem into the tubers so I harvested a nice bucket of knobbly spuds for the pot. There is no question why they are called Lumpers as true to their name they are lumpy and even truer to their historical reputation, they are very succeptible to blight.

If you see that blight is taking hold on your potato crop, simply cut off the stalks and dispose of them carefully, leaving the tubers in the ground to finish off ripening. This prevents the blight from travelling down into your prized tubers and ruining your crop. I steamed a few heritage spuds and Peter was only delighted to take part in the tastings. The jury is out about the intensity of their flavour but sur’, with a good blob of butter, a garnish of fresh chives and a whack of salt and pepper, most potatoes taste fine!

Herbs for Free
The summer is a great time for taking herb cuttings as they are producing lots of lush fresh new growth, which is suitable for 'softwood cuttings'. 'Softwood' is the term given to the type of cutting taken from young growth. Earlier in the season is certainly the best time for cuttings and some herbs that respond well to softwood slips are: mints, rosemary, sage, variegated lemon balm, lavender, French tarragon, thymes and marjoram. Cuttings of rosemary, lavender and sage can still be taken in August, but after then, the stems become woody. To propagate your own herbs for free, here are the main points to follow:

  • Take cuttings early in the morning.
  • Remove a strong, non-flowering shoot about 10cm long from the tip of a healthy shoot.
  • Take cuttings with a sharp knife or secateurs, rather than scissors (which squash the stem).
  • If cuttings are not to be dealt with immediately, place in water or polythene bag and leave in shade.
  • Trim the cutting to just below a node (where leaf joins stem) and remove any leaves from bottom third of the stem. This will reduce water loss as well as the possibility of fungus on leaves touching the soil.
  • Insert cuttings around the edge of a pot, containing a 50:50 mix of moist, coarse sand/grit and potting compost. Leave about 2” spacing between each cutting.
  • Before you push your cutting in, make a hole with a dibber and ensure the bottom of cutting touches bottom of hole and firm compost around cutting
  • Water, but do not leave pot standing in water
  • Covering with a plastic bag or cloche can aid rooting an prevent moisture loss. Be careful that the compost is not kept too wet, as seeds can rot. If using a plastic bag, shake it out every so often to remove condensation.
  • Place the pot somewhere warm but out of direct sunlight.
  • Once rooting has taken place after 3-4 weeks, transplant into individual pots to grow on. Your cuttings will transform into plants and will be perfect as gifts or for transplanting next spring.

Many gardening books advise to dip your cuttings in rooting hormone before potting, but instead I just water them with willow water which is known to have amazing natural rooting properties. To make willow water, simply put some willow cuttings in a bucket of water, leave to soak for a couple of days and use this for watering your cuttings.

Hooked on Herbals!
No matter how ethically produced a shop bought tea is, it still has to be packaged and transported. With current health trends waxing lyrical about the bodily benefits of green and white tea, which comes from half way around the world, does it not make good health and environmental sense to make your own fresh caffeine-free tasty brews? From pick-me up's, to relaxants, to cold busters and digestive aids, it doesn't take much to keep yourself in delicious medicinal summer teas. When you get hooked on herbals, you'll find yourself drying herbs so as you can enjoy garden grown organic brews all year round. Mint is so easy to grow and it makes a wonderful refreshing tea served hot or cold or like the Moroccan's, you could add a teaspoonful of sugar or honey. As a rule, I just put a handful of fresh herbs into a plunger or teapot, cover them with boiling water and leave to infuse - voila, I have my own gorgeous tea. You can expirement with different edible herbs, flowers, leaves, blends and flavours and remember the longer you steep the leaves the stronger the flavour. You can often get a second steeping by adding more boiling water and a few more sprigs of herbs.

Autumn Sowings – Spring Cabbage and I wonder about Kelvedon Wonder Peas!
With good planning and the proper choice of varieties, it is possible to have cabbages all year round. Often once July and August hit, we are all so carried away with weeding and harvesting, we forget that now is the time to make autumn sowings for early crops next year. If you have a polytunnel or a sizeable cloche, there's a whole lot of possibilites for crops to overwinter and you should be making your sowings now, eg: winter salads, oriental greens, chard, salad rocket, spinach, lambs lettuce, winter purslane. If you don't have a tunnel, you could try sowing some Spring cabbage which will slowly grow outside over winter and provide you with tasty heads next April or May. Believe me, at that time of year, heads of cabbage will be so welcome as all other garden greens will be very scarce. Your spring cabbage plants should be ready for transplanting by September and will do best if grown in a sheltered spot and in well drained soil. If you are following them on from peas or spuds, there should be ample fertility still left in the ground.

Vegetable growing is all about trials and tribulations and I just love trying out new recommendations ever year. This year, seeing as I haven’t had huge success with my peas, I am going to follow a friends advice and make one last sowing of Kelvedon wonder peas. I have been advised that these will mature fast and could provide me with tasty offerings right up until the first frost. I usually sow Winterkefe for the tunnel around now but I have lost them the last two years due to the prolonged cold snaps so this summer I'm going to try something new – as they say, nothing ventured in the garden, nothing gained for the gut!

I sowed both Spring cabbage and Kelvedon Wonder peas in module trays and in this weather, seeds germinate fast. I’ve no garden beds free yet, but by the time they are ready for transplanting, I should have a few harvests in store.

Show & Tell with Áine Lawlor – a Carrot Crisis!
Áine really knows her garden stuff and her passion and knowledge of ornamentals and edibles is inspiring. Amid her busy family life and broadcasting career, she still manages to keep a garden allotment and alas this season she’s not having a good run with her carrots so she brought some failed specimens down to Cork to show me. Firstly, she told me that the soil in her allotment is heavy clay so she decided to grow a rotund variety of carrot as opposed to the traditional deep rooting one’s. Clever thinking but alas her carrots were showing signs of stunted growth and the purplish bronzing on the leaves and tunnels in her roots, indicated that the carrot root fly had struck. I gave her a few tips on how to avoid this carrot grower arch nemesis ( See my musings on the carrot root fly in my update on programme 5). I advised her to perhaps try growing carrots in a large container next year, which she could even put up on a bench to avoid the fly (it only flies to about 2ft high) and to mix her soil with some nice sandy loam but what ever she does, not to give up as every growing season brings it’s own successes and failures – that's what keeps us all hooked!

Next Week
I’ll be whizzing up some fresh parsley pesto, taking a look at some wildflowers, ooops, I mean weeds and showing you a way of growing your own fertility, in other words, green manure!

Kitty Scully

The Gardeners

The Gardeners