Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Ready Steady Grow

The last time I turned on the old propagator was way back in nineteen ninety something. Donald J Trump, now the  Oval Office occupant, was an important business man. Now, as I return to a former active love of growing from seed, this madcap president is surrounded by staff looking to turn him off. 

I'm under starter's orders. The time for looking at the garden from within is over. Winter has been very kind to us here in Dungarvan. There have been only a few frost nights and rainfall has been well below average.
I've spent many weeks flicking through catalogues and gardening in my head. And now is the time to get things moving again. I had cleaned my worn-out propagator in early January only to find that it's not a propagator any longer as it refuses to heat up. Nothing for it but to bite the bullet and seek a replacement.

I put out the word and waited for some feedback. I had been googling, but everything I looked at seemed fantastic. The internet has a way of making everything look like the bees' knees. Within a short while, thanks to David in Friendly Gardeners I followed up on a recommendation to purchase a Vitopod from Greenhouse Sensations. Incredibly, it was delivered to me within 36 hours, and assembled/installed immediately.

The seed packets are ready, all 57 of them. Yes, I'm aware I've got a small garden and I will not be able to plant most of what germinates. I will proceed undeterred, however. Likely I will just give any surplus plants to friends locally. Most of my seeds are annuals and vegetables.
Being a slightly organised person, I've figured out a planting order. I know I'm a few weeks behind schedule, and the new propagator will be loaded to the brim for the next six weeks.
I began with a real favourite, pompom dahlia. I had dozens of these many years ago and now it's time to grow them again. I'll be creating a small section for these lovely colourful plants along with several others that will flower in late summer until the first frost. So let the journey begin.

Most packets that require bottom heat for seed germination indicate the recommended best temperature. Most will germinate at about 15 celsius, whereas some will need up to 20 or more. The Vitopod is a variable control unit that is adjustable in one degree intervals. Below, I set the temperature to 25, and it's currently at 19.9 sitting on the kitchen table. However, to complicate matters the maximum increase is 12 degrees, so when I place the unit in the garden shed, which is quite cold at this time of year, the maximum the pod will reach will be the temperature of the shed plus 12. This will be sufficient to kick-start spring, even when outside temperatures do not allow for growth for quite a while yet.

Happy gardening,

About the author: Páraig is the author of Petals by Paraig. He has a previous history of seed-growing back in the last century, and now thanks to the internet-of-things he is back in the propagating shed once again. Páraig is not a fan of the Duck.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Cheering Up My Monday #5

It's Monday again, so time for some cheering up. The good thing is that I'm easily cheered up. It only takes one or two little things. In particular, noticing the little things around the garden while my porridge is undergoing microwave-therapy is enough to get my week off to a good start.

But first, by way of housekeeping, I'm noticing that by reading a wide variety of garden blogs I'm loving all the ideas that come my way, so thank you all for sharing your garden world. Recently, I came across a lovely cycling blog where the author wriites a very short bit after the article along the lines of "Paraig is the author of Petals by Paraig". He does this at the end of each post, but the interesting thing is that he then adds a sentence that links in with the post. This sentence changes for every post. I'm going to try it. If you like, just jump to the end, but don't forget to return up here. As the weeks and months pass by it is very likely that I'll have summarised myself so much that I'll know everything there is to know about ME!

In recent months, I've begun collecting three unusual household items. Yes, many of us are collectors. We can be heard saying "Gosh, that would be great in the garden!", or on the other side of the coin, "Don't ask me why. It's for the GARDEN!" In my case, the comments in my household have veered towards the latter.

Let me explain my little idiosyncrasy. We light a stove here from mid-October until April. We burn turf, timber and sometimes coal together with documents that need to disappear. I'm the ash cleaner and fire-manager. I had been disposing of this ash in the rubbish (ok, garbage) bin, but realised I was throwing out a valuable soil enricher. Subsequently, I've added two other ingredients to the mix: used tea-bags and eggshells. Ours is a big tea-house, and our egg-quota for any given week is almost a dozen. Now and then a small amount of other items are added as they come to hand, for example small twigs, dead-headed pansies and useless Crystal Palace FC match reports, shredded for effect. These items add texture to the fine fire dust.

On a daily basis, this mix is stored in a large container in the shed. Back in early November, as soon as I'd collected a decent amount of all three, I set to work, churning up this mix with used peat moss, and a small amount of sand/gravel. The result was amazing. November was a good time to do this because the vegetable patch was emptying, so I loosened the soil, added generous quantities of this household-waste mix and worked it in. Now, there's another load ready.

I do have some questions, however, and perhaps it's a bit late to ask. Has anyone tried this or something similar? Is there any disadvantage to doing this? Are there any other ingredients that might make the recipe better? I did think about the hygiene implications of storing eggshells but soon overcome any phobias by ensuring that they are reasonably clean (I love my boiled egg, and am thorough in getting out the last little bits) and then store them by crushing them gently before mixing with the previous day's fire ash. If anyone has further light to shed on this strange activity, please share in comments.

Last autumn I had built some HOTELS for beneficial insects, and now this soil-enricher really is going to make a further big difference during the year ahead. Let the growing season begin!

Finally, I'm trying to come up with a name for this unusual mix. As yet, I'm at a loss, but there's no rush. Any little hints from readers will be safely stored on the back-burner for later consideration.

For the record here are the ingredients;

  • fire ash
  • tea-bags
  • eggshells
  • potting compost
  • used compost
  • sand/gravel
  • other small bits and pieces as available, just to keep the original recipe fresh and ever-so-slightly-changing

Happy gardening,

About the author: Páraig is the author of Petals by Paraig. He is sometimes noted for unusual hoarding habits and recently has taken to collecting eggshells and teabags. Paraig is a lifelong Crystal Palace fan. Twitter and Instagram @petalsbyparaig

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Across The Broad Atlantic

I'm very chuffed to be chosen by #usgardentags. My Irish Brussels Sprouts recipe is roaming widely across the Atlantic!

More to follow...

Cheering Up My Monday #4

Already there has been a short stretch in the length of the day. It may not be noticeable yet, but I've tracked it. Usually, it's about the third week of January that we hear people saying: "Isn't there a great stretch in the evening?" In fact, there's a short stretch in the morning too!

Sunrise and sunset times

So, during my five-minute ramble down the garden today, I noticed several interesting things. Well, interesting to me anyhow. Here are three:

A rainwater-butt is something worth having, yet during winter when it's full I rarely need water! Yet in late spring and summer, when I'll need it, there's likely to be less water there. I will not worry too much about this. It's just the way things are!

Rain, rain, come again!

There is a tiny vent under each of the windows of our "Seomra", the self-contained room that serves so many purposes. Within one of the vents there lives a rather large spider. She was not to be seen today, yet I know she's there.

Home to one spider

During winter, when many plants are cut back and only visible by looking closely, I sometimes come across a plant label which is normally not visible during the summer. I usually leave some labels in place for a few years, particularly if the plant is not easily identifiable to me. I might know the plant name, but not the variety, so this is very helpful. Well, it is to me anyway! In this case it's geranium Rosanne, otherwise known as cranesbill (an RHS Award of Merit winner).

Geranium rozanne

Naturally, my five-minute ramble also brings to my attention some small or large tasks needing completion. Today was just one of those lovely days where I noticed winter perfection, so the task list, building up gradually from time to time, did not get any bigger. Now, there's another thing to be thankful for!

Until the next time, enjoy your gardening,


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

January You Are Welcome

I missed out on my semi-regular "Cheering up My Monday" feature yesterday. I had a lot on, so the camera didn't appear until mid-morning today, and after a late-night session at my favourite Lady Belle in Dungarvan, there was a noticeable shake. I did succeed in getting some decent shots during my short walkabout. So, instead of Cheering up My Monday, here's my Throbbing Tuesday update.

Three things I noticed:
  • The ornamental butterfly seems to be flying on one wing. Perhaps she's had a rough time of it over Christmas. The front left spring has failed, and the suspension is askew. This little girl will require some TLC to bring her hack to some sort of equilibrium. A bit like myself today, really.

Droopy wing syndrome

  • My garden here in Dungarvan is directly beneath the main flight-path motorway connecting North America with London and other major Western Europe airports including Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt and Knock. Today, as a result of clear skies and cool temperatures, the contrails were all over the place. 

Noughts-and-crosses at 35,000 feet

  • We decorated the bare apple tree with Christmas baubles for the first time. They look great, and apart from a severe buffeting last week during Storm Barbara, they still retain their shine. I noticed when taking this shot, that the reflection of the photographer clad in lycra (me!), was faintly visible. (Perfect recipe for any viewers who are into men in lycra to zoom in for post-Christmas titillation!)

At A Plant Level

  • The sprouts were delicious. This year, as a first, we cooked them according to a very tasty recipe. 
  1. 2 rashers, diced
  2. 1 red onion
  3. lots of home-grown sprouts
Cook the sprouts in boiling water for six minutes. Meanwhile, fry the rashers and onion in oil. When sprouts are cooked, drain and then mix with rashers and onions on the pan for thirty seconds. 

This was delicious with lamb, potatoes and roast vegetables (sweet potato, carrots, peppers, baby tomatoes)

Brussels sprouts "Roodnerf"

  • I planted two pots of the lovely daffodil Ziva during the Autumn. One had been inside over Christmas, and the other outside. I will swap them today, as the indoor heat means that this lovely flower struggles. Regular swapping every five days is the answer.

Narcissus Ziva

Callicarpa Beauty Berry

Made Me Smile

It's always good to have a bit of a laugh, and this got me going today. Thanks to unknown welly expert for perceptiveness.

That's it for today.  I hope you all have a really good year ahead.

Happy gardening,

Twitter & Instagram

Friday, December 23, 2016

Storm Barbara

The storm has arrived. It's only our second storm of the winter, and it's called Storm Barbara. I've waited for it. Normally, I've attempted to get the latest article online by Wednesday each week. This week is different, though. I'm extra busy, but now that the wind and rain are all around, just two days before Christmas, I've taken time out from the busyness to sit and write. Time out from wrapping gifts, endless cycling, tidying my room and preparing sherry trifle while trying out the Baileys cream. There are thirty-seven other jobs that need doing, but right now I want to write during the storm.

The wind was so fierce, I took to Twitter.

Welcome #StormBarbara, but behave yourself! Leave my baubles intact. Thank you https://t.co/YiFr874MRV
— Pat Burke (@petalsbyparaig) December 23, 2016

No gardening today, but it's nice to be inside looking out.

Happy Christmas from Dungarvan,