Thursday, December 30, 2010

From Snow to Mush

For me the green shoots had already started  - in the garden at least. That’s where the garlic had already sprouted four inches through November and where the winter Roscoff cauliflower plants had stretched to four feet. And then along came worst snow since the 1980’s and covered the lot for the two weeks. Then after a break of a few weeks it started all over again, just as bad as before. We were snowed in for Christmas day and couldn't go out for dinner at her parents as planned. Luckily I'd picked up a turkey and ham on Christmas Eve just as the butcher was closing.

Plot 34, the allotment, up high on the Dublin Hills at Bohernabreena hasn’t been seen by me since late October. There are potatoes, cabbages, celeriacs, more winter cauliflowers and other bits and bobs still in the ground. How would the worst snow since the 1980’s have affected them? For overseas readers, consider that (a) In Ireland, snow which stays longer than a night is an event that happens every five to ten years and (b) because of this, a lot of the crops we grow here are not used to it.

The White stuff - we're not used to it..
So I called Stephen Alexander, a vegetable advisor with Teagasc, the Irish state education and advisory board for the agri food sector. “Interestingly a covering of snow, and the larger that is, can actually protect some crops from the colder temperatures and lend them a barrier against ground frost." he says.

“I think the last time we’ve had ground temperatures so low was in 1970 when they reached minus eighteen degrees. Remember that the air temperature is always three or four higher than the ground.”

Alexander indicates a few other interesting points which food gardeners might not have been aware of.
“Those crops located in colder areas where the thaw happens more slowly are actually likely to experience the least damage whatever way ice crystals work with plants. The crops on southern facing areas which thaw quicker are far more likely to be damaged.”

Stephen Alexander from Teagasc
Unfortunately those crops which initially appear to have weathered the worst of the weather, may actually be damaged inside. “Sometimes the outer leaves of the plant, say with cabbages, can seem ok, but the damage has been done deep inside. Rot starts there and begins working its way out.”

“While most overwintering crops are hardy to frosts, many are not equipped for the extremes we’ve experienced lately when ground temperatures have fallen to minus twelve and remained below zero for sustained periods.”
So the following are Alexander’s views on the damage caused to other crops likely to be in the ground in gardens and allotments at the moment.
Thinking I was clever and eschewing the need to find storage at home for my King Edwards and Kerr Pinks, I simply left them in the ground which, given the weather, has turned out to be a bad idea. Alexander says: “Potatoes should not be in the ground at the moment. What you’re likely to find is that those nearest the surface have been damaged while those deeper may actually be alright. The problem is that potatoes can actually look on the outside when the damage is already done internally. Cut one open and take a look. If the flesh has a more watery consistency in some areas, they may be done for.”
Winter Cabbage
“Cabbage will fare differently depending on where it’s located and whether it got a protective covering of snow or not. Cabbage can be susceptible to the sorts of extreme temperatures we’ve been having. Sometimes, like potatoes, the rot can have occurred deep inside. Luckily for gardeners, unlike commericial growers you can just cut off the bad bits and use it anyway.”
“Like cabbage, it really depends on their local conditions even to the point of where they are located on your plot. Being a winter veg they’re normally fairly resilient. The same rules as cabbage apply.

The Roscoffs survived ok

“Essentially if your cauliflowers have been producing heads then you’re done for. The recent conditions will have turned them all to mush. However if they’re an overwintering variety that has yet to produce, and the plants are still in good condition, then you should be ok.” In my case, most of the Roscoffs I had in the back garden, and presumably therefore, those above in the allotment, seem to have emerged unscathed. Still not a white head in sight though.
“Absolutely bullet proof. I remember talking to a man who had gone through the notorious winter of 1947 and he told me that the parsnips were perfect afterwards.” Note: parsnips are one of those crops said to taste far better (nuttier apparently) after a dose of frost.
“I’m surprised to learn that your (Plot 34’s) garlic sprouts have fallen down. Usually they’re pretty resilient and normally they’d be ok.” And true enough, once the snow melted, the tops of the garlic had wilted but within days new shoots were growing again.
“Generally swedes should have weathered pretty well. Once you see them and they look ok then generally they are ok.” And again, our swedes have held up although some have a few rather large holes in them that I hadn't noticed before. So perhaps the odd one became a snow cabin for a pesky varmint or three.
“I’m not sure about celeriac because I’ve no experience of them in that type of weather. If they’re still growing and the roots are expanding then I guess they’re fine.” I'll have to wait to travel to the allotment to see how these guys are.
“I’m sorry but if you had carrots in the ground then you’re completely bunched.” Many growers will have carrots in the ground as a means of storing them overwinter. In my case however, they never fired in the first place in one of the worst years ever for carrots on our allotment complex.

Apparently there's more snow forecast for February. Dang!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sprouts For Christmas

It's called the "Balbriggan Brussels Sprout" and according to some people, it's in need of preservation. But if you asked the people who know most about them - those farmers who have grown the BBS all their lives, they would tell you: "It's just a Brussels Sprout."

Balbriggan is a part of north Dublin where market gardening farmers have grown sprouts for generations, farms passed on from father to son. Lately, thanks to the squeezing supermarket buyer, that's being dying out. It's no longer profitable to grow sprouts. But even though the farmers have retired and their sons have decided, via college, to become something else,;there still is something in their aftermath called the "Balbriggan Brussels Sprout."

It's a plant, which over many generations, has adapted to the climate and conditions of Dublin. Over its generations, those plants which have become best used to the soil in the area and the weather in their particular area and have become stronger. Those plants which couldn't get used to the conditions have died, those which survived became a strain. In the university, it's now a strain of sprouts called "Balbriggan Brussels Sprouts" different enough from every other type of brussels sprouts to become a category.

There are no pictures of Balbriggan Brussels Sprouts, so here is  a couple who grow their own, looking proud
The point to this entry is to ask anyone who has a relative who likes growing stuff, to enlist them in a heritage seed club. I'll tell you why in a minute.

It's coming up to Christmas and people will be asking you what you'd fancy for a present. If your loved one grows food, then please consider buying them into a heritage seed club. As a present. First off they'll get seeds for plants they're never heard of. They'll love it. They'll love you for it.

Most of the fresh food produce we consume today stems from seeds produced by about six world corporations you've never heard of. They sell the seeds that make the bulk of what we eat.

The EU made rules twenty years ago which made it necessary to spend large amounts of money "registering" seeds. If you were a business that wanted to sell seeds, you had to get that seed type registered. And it cost you thousands to do so.

What that meant is that the old farmer who just harvested his seeds off his plants and regrew them the next year, never got his seeds "registered" because to him they were just the same seeds he got off his plants every year, that he grew and his father grew. He didn't sell his seeds.  He grew them. They were never registered. Today they are "illegal" to buy.

So today we arrive in a situation in the western world where farmers like him have died out. There's only the corporations to bring on seed and to sell them on, with their licences. So they only grow those strains which last longer in transport, last longer on the shelves and look good. Now it's actually illegal to sell the Balbriggan Brussels Sprout seed. Look around your way, ask an old farmer, I bet it's also illegal to sell what crops were local to you.

A lot of what the seed corporations like to sell is the F1 hybrid. That's a clone plant and its seeds cannot produce plants which can produce viable plants.  It grows bigger fruit/veg and more attractive looking foods. Conveniently it also means the growers have to buy from the corporation again and again each year, instead of just harvesting their own seeds and growing them on the next year.

The "illegal" seeds are the now ones which can reproduce by themselves. If you buy heritage seeds, not only will your efforts help protect the world from grabbing bastard corporations, but the seeds will also thank you with the most beautiful tasting and highly nutritional fruit and vegetables.

The world is awash with the food plant's equivalent of bulldogs and daschunds and chihuahuas when the mongrel is the most survivable. That's how mother nature works. She makes mongrels not pugs.

All of what I've said is there on the internet to see. If you don't believe me, look it up. Find out for yourself. But if you do know a grower, or if you are one yourself, join a heritage seed club. Grow proper plants.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

From Russia With Love

From Russia with complications came the first tomato to reach ripeness during the year just past in Plot 34a (my back garden and greenhouse) – an heirloom by the name of Silver Tree Fern.
Tomatoes may seem odd coming from Russia given our natural tomato association with the sunny Med rather then the land of borscht, ushanka fur hats and permafrosted wooly mammoths.  In fact tomatoes originate in Peru and only reached Europe in the 16th century. The English got them just fifty years after the Italians. I don’t know when the Russians started but they’ve since produced hundreds of the most interesting and unusual varieties. (squashed writing because microsoft fights with google - i trust you'll persist reading despite their silliness?)
Silver Tree Fern Russian tomatoes
The Silver Tree fern was one of a number of endangered heirlooms which, like my Lumper potatoes, I acquired from Irish Seedsavers.  As a bush variety it’s low slung (about two foot high)  and the odd fernlike leaves and are supposed to go silver grey, although thus far on the steppes of Kimmage they remain verdant green.
I divided them between patio containers outside and the greenhouse. The latter bunch went mental altogether, sprouting and bushing in all directions before collapsing under their own weight.  Given the sheer amount of foliage, I left the secateurs inside and the mad Russians to sort it out by themselves. Most caught a mould and died but the remainders, appeared to revamp and thrived along the ground without support. Back on the patio in the open air, the foliage was less pronounced but they also collapsed again and again. But once again, just when they seemed set for the compost mausoleum, they miraculously resurrected.
With snow in March and then again in October, the Russian growing season is short, so they were the first of my six varieties this year to ripen. The fruits look like little pumpkins: flat squat, orangey and very big (about four inches across). They’re heavily ridged and feature some sort of bizarre naturally occurring holes in the bottom amidst a brown callused under carriage . When the first one ripened about four weeks ago I cut it up, detached the gnarly bottom and ate the rest.
Allotment in Russia
This tomato divides growers because it’s tart and acid for a beefy and despite the many moans from chatty bloggers and posters about it being too bitter, I love it to bits, far preferring its lively zap to the blander soap of most other big tomatoes. Reading up the little material I could find, I discovered the hot periods we’d been having may have meddled with its cooler early cycle preferences. A tomato which needs protection from the heat? Stranger again.
What makes the entire duma of Russian heritage tomatoes useful in Ireland is exactly this preference. They like containers, and thus apartment balconies and will tolerate coastal locations. And saved heritage/heirloom seeds certainly make growing far more interesting.
Today Russia leads the world in seed saving for now– boasting the world’s largest seedbank at the Vavilov Centre in St Petersburg.
Nikolai Vavilov who is perhaps the first eco martyr,  was born in 1887 in Moscow and studied botany before travelling Europe in the early 20th century collecting plants with William Bateson, founder of the science of genetics. Later he would scour the entire planet in search of rarities to bring home and develop in a bank deemed so valuable that Hitler’s SS was instructed to steal it.
Vavilov discovered that almost all the food plants we feed ourselves with today originate in those small pockets of the world where their wild relatives still grow today. He determined that most food crop varieties, having had their genes narrowed by hundreds or thousands of years of use outside these pockets, could be revitalised by being crossed with wild relatives from their centres of origin to strengthen them against pests and disease.
There are eight Vavilov Centres and it’s the one in Central America where tomatoes and potatoes still grow wild. Today’s work to develop potato strains capable of dealing with new strains of blight, would not be possible without spuds from a single valley in Peru at the heart of the spud’s Vavilov centre. While these centres require protection for obvious reasons, unfortunately many wild gene pools today risk contamination by GM foods grown in them or in proximity to the Vavilov centres.
When the War broke out, Vavilov’s Leningrad Botany institute (in St Petersburg today) had more than 200,000 varieties of threatened strains housed there, many of them available nowhere else. When the city was besieged by the Nazis and food shortages set in, Vavilov and his scientists vowed not to eat the grain and seed potatoes they had worked so hard to save from extinction.
Nazi gardening?
In the months that followed twelve starved to death alongside sacks of food, rather than eat what they were guarding for the rest of the world.
But Stalin had been listening to some politically expedient flat earth scientists, notably a rival of Vavilov’s named Trofim Lysenko. Lysenko’s dislike of Vavilov lead to Stalin imprisoning Vavilov - seventy years ago this month.  After two years he was starved to death – a cynical end no doubt choreographed by his former master.  You might have read the fictionalised account of his life contained in Elise Blackwell’s acclaimed 2003 novel, “Hunger.”
Stalin's Vavilov
Earlier this month, a new extinction was hailed – a court case ruling which spelled the end of the Vavilov Centre and the thousands of varieties that only exist there. Having survived Hitler, Stalin and starvation and maintained its operations since before this state was born, the world’s largest seed bank is about to be destroyed by the equivalent of the local council with a compulsory purchase order.  The centre has just lost its case against the old house, its seed bank and the surrounding crop fields from being razed for apartment development by the Federal Government whose bulldozers will cause the single biggest mass food plant extinction of our lifetimes.
Vladamir Putin, who has power of repeal over the Federal Government has not replied to any letters sent to him by the Vavilov Centre. It was reported some time ago that he wanted to convert the big old house into his new summer residence.
As I write, scientists from all over the world are desperately trying to bring out those varieties which can be saved. “There’s no backup for this collection, and that’s the real tragedy of it all,” said Rome based Cary Fowler,  the executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust.”This is extinction on a scale that I’ve not seen in my professional lifetime, and it can’t be replaced.”
(thanks to the Guardian) seed samples
And it might have been Nikolai Vavilov himself who originally saved the little Silver Tree Ferns that I’m now growing. But unlike my red Rasputins which keep reviving to produce more and more strange and glorious fruit, the Vavilov Centre and the crops a dozen scientists starved for may not outlast them. The Vavilov Centre and the tens of thousands of unique crop varieties kept alive there 1921 – 2010. Write to our environment minister and ask him to make Ireland’s view known. If you're from elsewhere, find out the Russian ambassador's email address and send a personal message.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Plot 34's Eight Year Old Head of Secret Tunnels (HST) Says...

Some thoughts from Plot 34's eight year old Head of Secret Tunnels (he wants his job back)...

"I think the allotment is pretty good because it's very big and it has some space to grow some stuff. What I like most about it is that it's pretty fun to dig. I don't like the allotment sometimes because the weather is sometimes bad and that there's rats everywhere. The bad thing about having rats everywhere is that you can't grow that many stuff because they'd eat it."

"I eat the potatoes, I eat the carrots sometimes oh yeah, I eat the berries - the black berries and the red berries. If you're up at the allotment you always see other people trying to plant something or take covers off plants. You can see the city from up there. You can see some big buildings and a Vodaphone shop. There's this big building with a Vodaphone sign on it."

HST: "Cool!"
"The other good thing about the allotment is that at the back you can dig secret tunnels and I'm thinking you can dig a tunnel to the North Pole this time. So that Santa could just get all of his elves and carry all the presents and then pop up in the allotment and then magic up a car and drive down and give all the presents to the children."

"Last year in school we grew some flowers but not food. I want to grow maybe some onions. I kind of like them now. I'd say to any other children whose dads are getting an allotment that they should save up for a portaloo."

Chard Times

Swiss chard was a real discovery for us, particularly given its year round yields, good looks and its sheer versatility as a food. Because of this, we've grown it at on and off in the back garden for the last three years.

Each year we sow the seeds and then we tend to forget about the chard through spring and the during the summer months because the salads are vibrant and all the other crops are firing on all cylinders.

But it's at this time - in darkest winter, that chard comes into its own. If you can prevent it bolting, chard will go right on cropping all the way through until spring and the fresh green leaves and rigid juicy stalks can be picked from the garden on the gloomiest of evenings.

Chard looks not unlike a dock plant crossed with a rhubarb. It’s dead easy to grow and its only problems seem to be caused by the slugs and snails who love the stuff. You sow it outside after the last frost and then pretty much leave to its own devices.

Not rhubarb, but chard
You can eat the leaves fresh as a salad or you can boil them like spinach for use as a veg with your dinner. The stalks are edible and stir fry as well as they stew.

The Bright Lights variety, sometimes known as "Rainbow" gives stalks in yellow, pink green and red and I'm convinced would sell well in the floral section of the garden centre given the display they're capable of.

Chard showing off its brightly coloured stems
They actually look great in a flower bed and if you left a tray of them unlabelled in the floral section of a garden centre, you can bet people would buy them purely for display value. One variety Bright Lights, also known in some quarters as Rainbow, includes yellow, pink green and red in it visual spectrum.

The other advantage of chard is that is grows continuously all year around so if you stagger sowing, you should be able to enjoy this crop all the way through the winter. With nothing but swedes, salsify and celeriac out there for us at the moment, the chard makes great spinach substitute at this time of year. As well as being high in iron like spinach, it's high in vitamins C, E, K and includes carotenes and folic acid. And for those multicoloured stalks in a stir fry in darkest December, there's nothing like some Bright Lights as we come up to Christmas.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sile Seoige, Billy Joel Bus Drivers and the Big Snow

Apart from a load of complete bankers, nothing stops Ireland Inc in its tracks quite like snow. And I had a forced march through five miles of it yesterday in order to get to Newstalk106's city centre radio studios.

Snow yesterday
I was scheduled to be interviewed live about my book - "Plot 34 - Blood Sweat and Allotmenteers" - and by none other than the lovely Sile Seoige. The famous Sile, who presented the "Seoige" afternoon tv programme with her sister Grainne, now hosts her own radio show on a Saturday and is this week doing a cracking job standing in for a currently vacationing Sean Moncrieff. I was particularly pleased because "Moncrieff" is by far and away my favourite Irish radio programme. Much as I'd have loved to meet the man himself, I couldn't complain when I'd heard it was Sile instead!!

Despite my tendency to suffer occasionally from stage fright, Sile put me at my ease and once I got going, I couldn't shut up. In the end we had a great chat. You can find the interview on section 4 of the podcast of the December 1 Moncrieff show on the newstalk106 website.

I described Plot 34's early mission statement  - how I set out four years ago with an allotment to see how much food I could grow using only a single free day a week. I told them how I aimed to assess how much money I'd save, whether we'd eat more healthily as a family and whether or not it would make an impression on that spare tyre that had been building up around my waist before I took on the plot.

The answers are (a) Four months of complete self sufficiency, four with partial self sufficiency with 55 fresh produce types (b) two grand a year (b) yes and (c) I'm thinner now and far fitter. At the end of the interview as I was leaving, Sile gave me a big kiss (!!!) and couldn't resist pinching my

Sile - the wrong gear for The Big Snow 2010....
copy of the book for her boyfriend, who apparently likes his gardening (yes she does have a boyfriend -  sorry guys!!)

Before I'd going on, I'd overheard some chat among station staff. "First the IMF, then snow, what next?" said one. "The four horsemen of the apocalypse?" suggested another. National bankruptcy equated with snow? Y'see we're just not used to either one in Ireland.

Being off work for two weeks on account of baby Sean's recent arrival, it did mean that I had to walk five miles in the snow to get to the city studio. Initially I took the bus, which passed just four stops before coming to a complete halt in a traffic jam behind a stuck truck.

Fifteen minutes on and we haven't moved anywhere. Then about twenty of us decided we'd be quicker walking and we all lined up to get off. The driver flat refused to let us disembark until we reached the next bus stop - which as it happened, was about ten feet away.

"Regulations. Sorry folks, I don't make the rules and I'm not allowed let yiz out unless we're at a bus stop. I could lose my job ye know - if yiz all fell and hort yourselves getting off." There then ensued a bizarre 35 minutes as the twenty of us all stood in a liine waiting to get off, looked at the twenty waiting to get on; and they're looking back at us for a half hour - all waiting for the bus to "arrive" at the stop.

More than me job's worth bud.
 Being near the front, I pointed out to the driver that his playing Billy Joel's greatest hits at full belt from the cab was not "regulation" either - so if he could be lax about one rule, then surely he can turn a blind eye to another and let us off the bus?

"Listen here bud, I won't have that sort of abuse on my bus." And without thinking he actually added: "I'll have you put off the bus!"  Everyone laughed,  but not for long. We still had to wait another fifteen minutes suffering Billy Joel and grumpy ass before the truck was moved and he finally rolled his regulation bus all ten feet to the bus stop.  That's a speed of foot every five minutes, or 0.008 miles an hour I reckon.

Like I said, Ireland isn't used to snow. So when we get a sprinkle, lots of things seize up - particularly teachers. Somehow teachers can never make it to school when everyone else can. We've had a week of it, and there's eight inches of it with no end in sight and today's Evening Herald headline shouts "Minus 17!"

When in Warsaw a couple of years ago in wintertime I experienced the real deal and mild frost bite when I became separated from the Irish ex pat I had been visiting. During a night on the town I lost him and his friends. A taxi man drove me out to his house in the middle of nowhere in a blizzard on a night that eventually saw temperatures falling to minus 20 degrees.I'd no option but to march up and down outside his gates for seven hours like some private sentry, until the guys finally rolled home at 8am. By then I'd lost the sensation in my fingertips, toe tips and in the end of my nose.

But everywhere in Warsaw, as in any other country that gets snow regularly, they drive, they go to work, the buses and trains run, they get on with their business. We need those Polish guys to show us what to do.

Unbelievably, the chillies in the garden are still hanging in there through the blizzard although some of the foliage died and the rest is looking soggier than ever. My only gardening task this week is the regular trips outside to scrape all the snow off the greenhouse roof. This is made of tubular see through plastic sheets and could cave in due to the weight. Lifting the ventilation window, I could feel that weight which was quite considerable. It's already been blown off by the high winds of a few weeks ago. An angular dust pan on a long handle proved ideal for the job.

Chillies - droopier than last week but still hanging on
I'm told that people with glass greenhouses will also have this problem if there's enough snow -  I measured ten inches of snow on the "flat" ground earlier and its still chucking down. But observing the boiler outlet on the side of my house pumping all those hot air fumes into the air, I had an idea. Instead of going out to scrape the snow off the roof every couple of hours, what if I could get a length of tubing, attach it to the outlet with some masking tape and then feed it into the greenhouse? The hot emissions would warm up the greenhouse interior and thus keep the snow off it? After giving it a few minutes thought, I decided "Naw!" These are the sort of bright ideas that win people Darwin Awards. This year's winner: "Dublin gobshite gasses himself in his own greenhouse!"

The recently roofswept greenhouse - great gas in the snow
And for those wondering how best to get about in the Big Snow 2010 - the answer (if you live within seven miles from town) is walking...well more like trudging. Otherwise, helicopter.  As an allotment holder and keen fisherman, I can also lend some helpful advice on attire as I happen to be better kitted out than most for bad weather. So for snow and your outdoor allotment work, I'd recommend some good waterproof hiking boots or else wellies and underpinned with two pairs of regular socks or one pair of extra thick thermal shooting socks (bring your good shoes in a rucksack). Layers are best for keeping you warm, so two light tee shirts under your shirt.

Hikers and wellies have serrated rubber soles and therefore great for grip on ice. They're also useful for unexpected snow covered slush puddles. If you're going to invest in outdoor gear, buy it in a fishing/shooting shop - you'll get much better quality outer clothes for your money than you would in a fashionable outdoors outlet. Just so long as you don't mind wearing camuouflage colours and olive green. In the picture below,  you see me earlier today ready to do some digging (clearing the driveway) with the right clothes, but the wrong implement (No I don't own a car door on a handle type snow shovel).

Note the multi pocketed thick set, heavy duty three quarters length fishing jacket and waterproof fishing trousers (model's own), bought for E150 three years ago in Dave's Southside Angling at Clanbrassil Street. I have worn this stuff while sat in a boat for eight hours in pelting rain and nothing gets through. It's like wearing a tent. It's also great for allotment work in bad weather because when it gets covered in mud, you just wait until the next rain shower to wash it spanking clean again.

Ready to dig the car out yesterday (I'm standing on it)
It's not in this picture but I'd also recommend a wide brimmed hat for bad weather allotment work. It's the one I'm wearing in the main picture at the start of the blog. Again from a fishing/shooting shop this is a "beater's" hat and costs about E30. It's light, very warm and has a little secret - special hidden pull-down felt flaps for your ears which will also keep it firmly attached to your head in a squall. Mine is lined on the outside with Seetex, a high tech material which deflects rain without ever soaking it up.

In snow and on the allotment, a hat is preferable to a hood for safety purposes. Think Kenny from South Park - if you're wearing a hood and you look right or left, you're staring straight into the lining. Not good in the snow if you're crossing the road and there's a bus coming. Because the driver would only have fifty minutes to slam on the brakes!!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Ain't Gonna Work on Daddy's Urban Farm No More

Last weekend, my three year old daughter walked up to me wearing her beloved set of fairy wings and wielding her star tipped fairy wand. She glared into my eyes and delivered the following withering line: “Sweetie, I make forces of nature,  YOU make pots and kettles! I work up in the sky and YOU work down in a ditch!"
The effect was to leave her dad sincerely alarmed on two fronts: first wondering where in hell she got that vocabulary range and second, to try and work out exactly what she was saying about my career. And she’d only just turned three last month!
Observing my state of shock, Her Outdoors pointed out that our fairy mad munchkin was merely quoting a line from Tinkerbell - one of her favourite Disney films. She’d just delivered word for word the dialogue from a segment in which one of the cattier fairies jibes Tinkerbell over her lowly status as a “tinkering fairy” rather than a higher ranking “garden fairy.”
"Sweetie, I make forces of nature!!"
And this wasn’t the first time either that uncle Walt had delivered some pint sized invective by proxy. Almost as soon as she began to talk Plot 34’s Waterer of Everything began blurting out: “Go Away and Leave me Alone!” ...for no apparent reason.  It took us a few weeks of embarrassment in shops and such before we worked out that she was quoting, tone perfect, an indignant Mowgli as he gave some lip to Baghera in the Jungle Book - or the “Jumble Bump” as she called it back then.
For his part her eight year old brother, Plot 34’s erstwhile Head of Secret Tunnels, has recently started speaking with a particular type of American affectation that sees him raising the last word of every sentence and leaving it hanging there. Those who remember American Pie and the “This one band camp...” monologue will know exactly what I mean.  We think he gets it from a particularly irritating television noisefest called iCarly.
What all this shows is just how much our little spongebabes absorb from popular culture – in particular from television and film. And while our three year old continues to follow me around as her brother once did, watering and tinkering in the garden,  HST himself  seems to have decided somewhere along the way that food growing is “uncool” or “cool....not.”
Keeping them interested in food growing is a losing battle
The thing is that there’s bucketloads of food growing activities featured on children’s television and in children’s media every day, but unfortunately most of it appears to be featured on those worthy sorts of ultra pc programmes that kids like HST deem to be “definitely uncool.”
His pre primary school helped for a time with their efforts to win a Green Flag by setting up a vegetable garden. Back then our HST was proud that he know more than the other kids. But the nearest thing his new school – a sports oriented outfit – encourages to juvenile horticulture, is the planting of full backs.  Indeed they recently had a large greenhouse removed.
In any case, these days the big battle is to get his nose out of the Nintendo DS handheld game system and to move him outdoors. Recently he missed the irony when I suggested that it might be a good idea to get a metal fitting and attach his Nintendo wing mirror style to his head so he wouldn’t have to stop playing while he walked down the street. “Cool!” he enthused. 

When he recently asked if he could have his own "farm" because all his friends had one, my surging hopes were as rapidly shot down when it emerged that he wanted to join Facebook so he could play "Farmville," the game where users run a virtual farm. The irony is, that while he's on his Nintendo he's also quite often "farming" in a version of one of his favourite games, "The Sims," in which he can grow "virtual food."

Plot 34's eight year old former Head of Secret Tunnels - "Take me to your Nintendo."

Last year the international computer gaming consultant Andrew Mayer told a major industry conference that farming games would be the biggest growth segment in the business: "In the future there will be only farming games," he predicted. In September it was estimated that "Farmville," Facebook's virtual farming game, had sixty two million active users - or one in ten Facebook users overall. Sixty two million virtual farmers?!! That's a lot of kids "growing" virtual good who could themselves do far more growing outdoors.
I’m not against computer games for children per se, because I believe they help develop problem solving skills and quick thinking but I can’t help but see the irony that I’m losing our plot’s Head of Secret tunnels to a pixelated farm.
In truth my initial idea of a family run allotment has all but evaporated by now. I persisted for a time in bringing HST along with me, partly on the traditional of the “character building” ethos. But the long faces, moans and slouchy dramatics that accompanied any tasks he was assigned, finally saw me give in, especially when Her Outdoors opined that the few weekly hours of allotment training was akin to modern day child abuse for a lad who was missing out on playing with his friends at weekends.
Down on the virtual farm
Instead I’ve had to restrict his food growing education to short sharp bursts in the back garden where he at least maintains an interest in some aspects of our endeavours notably edible fruit –  blueberries, grapes, strawberries, raspberries and apples. But at least that’s something.

But by now it's hard to get away from the fact that allotmenteering is still largely a pastime for men or childless couples over thirty five and is likely to remain so - unless Spongebob starts packing a secateurs in his square pants any day soon.
But at least our three year old Waterer of Everything is still on the job. Almost.
Since watching Tinkerbell over and over, she’s decided she doesn’t want to be a garden fairy any more. She whacks me in the head with her star  pronged magic wand and declares: “Look Daddy, I’m a tinker!”
The wonderful world of Disney for you.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Garlic - Our Garden's Superhero

In it’s cloak of good-guy white, and muscles of virtue rippling underneath, the pugnacious garlic bulb reigns supreme at the top of the superfood charts. And as every food or health writer keeps telling us, there’s no end to the miracles it can perform.

Garlic - the veg world's superhero
Apparently garlic health benefits include combating colds and flus, cutting heart disease, fighting infections, reducing blood pressure, purifying the blood, giving you healthier, more subtle skin.

It reverses outward signs of aging, cures baldness when rubbed on the scalp, strenghtens fingernails and toenails, eradicates erectile disfunction, helps dieters lose weight, doubles the strength of athletes, makes candidates perform better in job interviews, boosts that part of the brain which controls your fashion sense, enables you to win the X factor, trebles the ability of finance ministers to solve complex economic problems... and if enough people eat it, garlic can deliver world peace.

Eradicates erectile disfunction - they'll be fighting over you if you eat garlic!
Well perhaps not that last par.

But given that garlic has been used both as a vital food and a medicine since the beginning of time and that most great ancient civilisations relied  heavily on its applications, it’s not surprising that some lofty claims have emerged alongside its verifiable qualities. Galen, the gladiator’s physician, called it the “rustic’s theriac” (cure all).

It does contain high levels of vitamin C, vitamin B6 along with selenium, calcium, phosphorus, copper, iron and is brim full of alliin, an amino acid.

 Wilder claims include:
(a) Eating a six cloved garlic bulb enables a woman (only) to live forever (ancient Korea).
(b) A garlic bulb has the power to demagnetise stones (The Roman Empire - Pliny).
(c) A garlic bulb is a self contained deity to worship in its own right (The ancient Egyptians)
 In living memory, garlic was used before penicillin emerged to treat tuberculosis. In India it was used to treat leprosy, in Japan it was proscribed for impotency, and in Greece it was given to athletes at the Olympic games to increase energy levels.

No wonder it emerges, that in the thick of Ireland's economic meltdown,  finance Minister Brian Lenihan was been outed as a secret daily garlic chewer. He admits to keeping a stash of raw garlic cloves hidden in his pocket - it might repel vampires, but not the black suits from the IMF it seems.

Garlic breath minister yesterday....poooohh!!!

And so ensconced in the pub one night about this time last year, my Dad plonked a healthy looking garlic bulb in front of me. He had picked up three of them for a tenner in town. He split the other two and planted them and gave the third one to me. “Are you growing garlic?” he asks. The strange thing is, that having grown more than 60 different types of food in the last three years, I had never successfully produced a crop of garlic.

The old man didn’t know which particular variety of garlic his purchase happened to be -  other than the fact that the label had warned: “Very Strong.” To me, with its smaller, thinner cloves it looked like a wild strain.

He directed sternly that I needed to plant them “NOW!... That’s right NOW!” - this being emphasised by a finger jabbing the air and two highly raised eyebrows a la Bert (of Bert and Ernie fame). There was a long pregnant pause with the eyebrows held raised - and then the finger prodded air again to remphasise: “Right NOW!”

Dad with raised eyebrows: "Right NOW!"

There does seem to be a wide ranging dispute among growers about when to plant garlic and the importance of getting it right. All agree that the exact planting time is vital, unfortunately none of them agree when that actually is. Most pin a date some time between September and mid November.

I took it home, split it up (I got ten cloves inside) and the next morning planted them indoors in a window box sized container. Unfortunately, I’m not a morning person and until I have showered, caffeined and sat for a half hour to creak into life, I’m not really awake at all. It was only later in the day that I realised  I’d put the whole lot in upside down. The “butt” end is supposed to face downwards (where the roots emerge) and the “pointy” end faces upwards (this is where the shoots emerge). When I got home I dug them all up and started again. They’re supposed to be positioned about five to six inches apart and sunk two inches deep.

Some of our wild garlic harvest - note to self: plant the cloves butt end down!

More conflict on the internet where growers also disagree about whether garlic is easy or difficult to grow and whether it can be started indoors or not. Most seem to think garlic, like parsnips and swedes, needs a period of cold for its best performance. So my window box is going out of doors.

Much disagreement too about soil richness with some urging to manure it up and others warning that garlic doesn’t like high nitrogen levels. To be safe, I’ll keep mine in between.
What they do agree on is that garlic needs full sunlight and well drained soil and that it’s particularly important to keep weeds from choking it.

I discover that you harvest when the outer leaves start to turn brown and that the bulbs need to be dug up carefully around August to prevent bruising and thus ruining their storage life.

So I planted my cloves and was rewarded with a windfall of tiny wild garlic cloves currently stored in the fridge. While they're about twice as small as the regular shop bought cloves, they're about five times stronger. We learned this lesson when we dosed up a casserole with just three small cloves and ending up smelling for a week like a frenchman's belch.

Our wild garlic to the left, shop bought to the right

Today the snow is on the ground outside and it's heartening to find that already poking through the white sheet, in one of our raised beds, is this year's brand new garlic crop. From just one bulb last year, I got ten to twelve more all of which I split and planted. From this I got about 120 cloves, half of which were replanted for this year. All for free, or three quid were you to buy that one clove.

This year's fresh crop poking through the snow yesterday

My planned culinary experiments this coming year include attempting to make my own garlic oil and I might even try my hand at black garlic, the new asian culinary phenomenon sweeping the west in the form of heat fermented bulbs.

The other great thing about garlic is that its extraordinary qualities also repel all pests - no crop eating beastie will get its fangs into it. Which reminds me -  I can personally confirm the truth of at least one garlic legend - it’s ability to ward off vampires. I’ve been eating the stuff for years and I haven’t been bit yet!!

Some garlic claims are bona fides.

Raised Beds - How To Lift Your Food Growing Yields

When I started growing vegetables, one of the first jobs I got stuck into was to build some raised beds in my back garden. A raised bed is essentially any structure or format which takes the soil up off ground level. A raised bed or a series of them is a basic yet profitable arrangement if you want to grow your own.

There are a number of benefits to be had in growing with raised beds. First off, in a back garden setting, they look good, particularly if you still have some herbaceous borders, flowers and shrubs and haven't turned the whole lot over to food growing.

Raised beds made of rustic timber, stones, blocks or even poured concrete can add some architectural design to a vegetable garden which can often look chaotic. While this isn't a problem in an allotment setting, the beds will allow you to grow food in your garden without ruining its structural aesthetics.

The second factor is that the soil climate in a raised bed environment is contained and therefore it's far easier to control. If, for example, you're growing acid loving plants like blueberries and cranberries and your soil is neutral or alkaline, you'll find that even despite dosing them with ericaceous compost, they'll experience problems as the main body of the soil around them continues to change the ph back to neutral or alkaline.

Plot 34's three year old Waterer of Everything (WOE) attending to the salads in one of our raised beds

Isolated in a raised bed however, the soil can be maintained steadily at any level of ph or consistency that your plants require.

Raised beds drain far better than ground level beds and will warm up quicker than their terrestrial counterparts, thus allowing you an earlier start to the growing season.

From a practical point of view, a raised bed is far easier to work on given that you have to do far less bending down.

You can build a containment comprised of simple planks, railway sleepers, stones, bricks or even corrugated sheeting or plastic. Some people just heap the earth up without any containing medium although this can be messy in the long run.

Planks are perhaps the easiest to work with

I used log roll for my first raised bed. This is a series of one and a half foot logs split in two and then linked together via double lacings of durable wire. This stuff has the advantage of being flexible like a linked chain, allowing you to create any shape you want. A kidney shape suited the curving beds in my garden (Her Outdoors says it's a heart shape but it's a kidney).

Herbs, salads and a miniature coronet apple tree in our log roll raised bed
 After creating the shape of the bed, I pegged the log roll into place using stakes hammered into the ground on at intervals on the outside to hold the shape into place. I then lined the inside with durable plastic sheeting all along the ground and then up to the lip of the containing boundary. This is designed to keep out pests who might burrow in as well as to help contain the moisture in the bed. Because I didn't want it to fill in the rain like a paddling pool, I made strategically located drainage holes all around the base with a garden fork.

Then I filled it in with a mixture of top soil, compost, agricultural sand (for friability and drainage) and  mature manure. Don't fill a raised bed exclusively with compost from a garden centre or you'll quickly find yourself with a dried-out nutrition starved mass in which nothing will grow. 

To the right, raised beds constructed from random rocks and stones
My log roll arrangement proved ideal for mixed salads as the slugs and snails didn't relish the prospect of scaling the rough chippy surface of the log roll.

A raised bed needs to laid out in a suitable size and shape. The ideal is one which allows you to reach every part of the surface area without standing in it - you don't want to have to walk across the soil as it causes it to compact and hinders your plants.

You'll also want to select the right location.Every part of the raised bed will need from six to eight hours of full sun each day to provide enough light for viable crop growth.

Some people recommend you only use wood that hasn't been treated with chemicals. I don't see why we shouldn't recyle scrap wood like railway sleepers which has already been treated. They last longer, and a plastic sheet skin between them and the soil prevents toxics like creosote leaching into it. Reusing them prevents them ending up in a landfill anyways.

If you like you can go all the way and build two or three foot high poured concrete beds which will last forever, can be painted in pleasing colours and used double as garden seating. In Havana, Cuba, which has perhaps the world's most developed urban farming culture, a combination of cheap corrugated sheeting holds the beds in place in larger communal areas while poured concrete is used where food growing is a full time fixture.

Concrete raised beds at an urban farm in Havana
Some people even like to build high rise raised beds in undulating layers and "steps" which can also look great in the garden, particularly in a bright corner where the highest level is set to the back.

If you're thinking of installing raised beds, don't go out and buy the expensive kits from garden centres. These could see you paying E80 for an installation the size of a kitchen table and which includes nothing more than four simple planks which slot or screw together.

If you can't salvage the wood, stones or sheeting you need, go to a lumber merchants and buy scrap timber or else to a builder's yard and purchase concrete blocks and cement. You don't need to pay through the nose to raise your food growing game.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Getting Into A Pickle

Last month I got myself into a pickle while trying to uncover the origins of that very expression.
Having heaved a vast surplus of cucumbers up onto the kitchen counter with no idea what to do with them, I eventually hit upon a solution (literally) - a mixture of vinegar and brine. I'd pickle them.

But first things first. Where did the term: "getting into a pickle" originate from?

With no immediate results apparent from Google I began scanning pages of British naval sayings. Because when they weren’t scuttling spanish men o war with a shiver of their timbers, a hoist of their mitzens and so on, it’s a well known fact that the British navy men would sit down together for weeks on end to concoct the most bizarre, surreal and ridiculous terms in the English language.

Those sons of guns (illegitimate offspring born under ship cannons) couldn't spit on a poop deck without banging out yet another colourful new descriptive. Cold weather meant balls freezing off their brass monkeys (metal cannonball baskets) and the discovery of wrongdoing meant the "cat (o-nine tails) being let out of the bag."  If they had room to swing it that is.

Among the dippy terms brought to the language by limey salts there are “slush funds” (crew income from selling surplus ship’s gruel ashore) and “booby traps” (stealth devices for catching seabirds) and the battening down of hatches (to prevent water spilling in) so surely these were the guys who first got us “into a pickle?”

Did it originate when a slain Nelson himself got into a pickle - popped into a barrel of brandy to preserve him for the Trafalgar trip home? "Getting pickled" perhaps but it didn't spark getting into one. That said, Nelson's pickling wasn't wasted for creative idiom - those caught siphoning off his pickling booze for personal consumption were put over a barrel (flogged over a cannon) for "tapping the admiral" (clandestinely stealing and consuming drink).

He's dying! Get a barrel of brandy quick!

After all that, "getting into a pickle" is in fact a naval term, but founded instead upon the Dutch merchant navy expression: "In De Peken Zitten" (to sit in the pickle/preserving brine). Unfortunately I can't find out how and why they got there..

Away from 18th Century salts and back to my kitchen pickliing process. This follows a three thousand year tradition among households for preserving summer food through winter and spring. While stong traditions of home pickling continue all over the world, particularly in mainland Europe, the USA and Canada, it seems to have died out here in Ireland.

Our chest freezer has been a great storer of Plot 34’s surpluses, but some crops just don’t freeze well. The cucumbers for example are a bad candidate for the ice box as are those fat necked onions from the allotment which are already showing signs of perishing.

The answer is to pickle them. So I’ve bought a load of Kilner jars in preparation for making two types of pickle.

First off is the dill pickle. The litre jars have to be boiled for ten minutes to sterilise them and I plan on removing the rubber seals and sterilising them in a baby bottle steamer to prevent damage. Bacteria is the enemy of anyone planning to get themselves into some pickles. The cucumbers will be cut into “spears,” or vertical slices and jammed into the sterilised jars. I’m planning to follow the guidelines of James from the Healthy Homestead whose dill pickle making demonstation can be seen on Youtube.

The Canadian lad with the baseball cap, gingham shirt, beard and ponytail recommends a brine comprising a quart (two pints) of water, two pints of white vinegar, a half cup of coarse canning salt, three quarters of a cup of sugar, a spicebag and some onion slices.  You bring this mixture to the boil and keep it simmering until it goes into the sterilised jar. A sprig of dill is placed into the jar along with a thin chunk of clean shaven horseradish. I’m told a whole clove of garlic is a good addition too.

A half inch headroom is maintained at the top but the spears must remain covered. After filling the jar, a sterilised cloth is used to wipe the rims to create a good seal. The jars are closed tight and then placed into a pot of hot boiling water for fifteen minutes (put a cloth on the inside bottom to prevent the glass cracking). You then allow them to cool before removing them (handled with a sterilised cloth) to somewhere dark and cool for storage. After six weeks you can start eating them. James recommends skinning the cucumbers or at least topping and tailing them both ends to remove enzymes that can make the mix go soft in the fermentation process.

If you’d prefer instead to get into a pickle with three suggestive and giggling young Canadian girls in shorts then search Youtube instead for “Grandma Marg’s Pickles.” Do not try to feed your cucumbers to a dog however.

My finished jars of cucumber, onion and tomato pickle spread

The next kind of “pickle” I’m planning to get into is more like Branston or Bicks - a pickle in the english sense - a savoury spread. I’m planning to go by the Youtube clip “Aunt Polly’s Pickles” as demonstrated so defty by someone who looks like they’ve done it all her life - a  silver topped barefoot dame in a proper apron and glasses on a string (again Canadian I’m guessing by the “aboot” accent). I’m using this recipe because it’s main ingredients are cucumbers, tomatoes and onions, the three big surpluses I have hanging over me at the moment. Yellow cucumbers, which are over ripe for eating fresh, are ideal it seems for making into a pickle spread; as are the pots of perishing onions from this year’s harvest and perhaps even the softening apples remaining from my miniature coronet apple tree.

Mix even quantities of diced cucumber, onion and peeled and chopped tomato until they half fill a pressure cooker/stew sized pot with a little water and two pints of white vinegar and boil for an hour. In a bowl make a sauce separately with two table spoons of salt, a quarter teaspoon of pepper, a pound of white sugar, a teaspoon of mustard, a teaspoon of tumeric and two table spoons of flour. Mix it up and then add to the main pot and boil for four minutes before filling your jars.

And that, me hearties (good fellow sailors deserving of a hearty meal), is how to have a field day (a 24 hour period laid out for cleaning a ship) turning your windfall (good luck from a rush of wind to the sails) into a square meal (the British navy ate from space saving square plates).

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Irishman From Delmonte

Last month I became Kimmage’s very own Man From Delmonte. Today the man, he say “YESSS!”  because last month, the man, he take twelve kilos of tomatoes from his garden patio and greenhouse in just one picking - quite a haul from a small suburban back garden, even if the man does say so himself. Another ten kilos followed towards the end of October just before the frosts got stuck in.
And then the man, he gets them processed and frozen tickety boo so his family can enjoy tomatoes for the next six months. Today he really does feel like that silver haired godfather of good home grown food - on whom decent, but flippant peasants do await anxiously on for approval. Today he is the alpha male grower gatherer.
This is absolutely fantastic because tomatoes are the most important part of our food growing efforts. Not only are they a joy to grow – colourful and exotic in the garden,bursting with taste and nutrition etc but organic toms are also quite expensive to buy - so we’re saving pot loads lots of cash into the bargain.
Kimmage's man from Del Monte shows off some Yellow Centiflor cherry tomatoes on the patio last month, by now rendered  into nutritious frozen pulp for pasta sauces.

Tomato pulp can be frozen forever and unlike many foods, it gets better for you through subsequent cooking - by which process makes it easier to absorb lycopene, the tomato’s magical ingredient. A Harvard study proved that eating tomatoes daily (high in Vitamin C and A) not only keeps us healthy (lycopene helps prevent cancer) – and important for a 20 a day smoker like me - but they also keep us young because the magic substance reduces the usual rate of cellular damage by between one third and 42%.
So say Harvard pointy heads anyways.
Excellent results so from the small suburban garden, but the next question is what exactly does a small suburban family do with twelve kilos of tomatoes?
It took much of a weekend to process the lot. They went into big pots and had scalding water poured over them to loosen the skins and remove them. The remaining pulp is simmered, stirred, cooled, bagged and frozen in meal sized plastic ziploks to provide vital vitamin C for stews and sauces all winter long.
Carried away with the processing I almost forgot about the seed saving. Greedy multinationals have doubled the price of food seeds sold here in three years for no obvious reason save to cash in on the food growing zeitgeist. So collecting and keeping the seeds saves me about twenty five euros next year and I won’t have to hunt all around for the particular varieties I want.
So now I’m not only the Man from Delmonte but I‘ve also become Mr Fothergill. And because saving heritage seeds ensures biological diversity – I’m actually Mr Eco Correctness Delmonte Fothergill.
It’s important that the fruit you select for saving are heritage only (not F1 hybrid clones which produce mutant plants from their seeds – check varieties online) and you need to ensure that they are big, unblemished, ripe and taken from similarly healthy plants -  because all the genes are inherited. Be a tomato Nazi here. Don’t take from a plant that has double fruit – two tomatoes bonded together – and the plant’s version of twins - because you don’t want to pass on those Jedwards.
Saving tomato seeds to last you up to eight years rather than the usual one or two, is a strange process which involves fermentation. First the seeds are scooped out into a glass or a jar and a drop of water is added -  then you stir it all through. You leave it somewhere warm over three to five days during which a skin of mould rapidly develops on the top of the solution. Beneath the mould cap, the mixture ferments to relieve the seeds of their gel bags and to sterilise them against mould or disease in storage.
Tomato seeds fermenting on my window sill last month
OK. Gel bags. If you look closely you’ll see that each tomato seed comes in its own gel sac. The gel is an inhibitor which prevents the seeds from fertilising inside the tomato and stops them sprouting on the ground on warm autumn days. It stops the seeds activating until the cold weather arrives and takes over to put the seed to sleep. Then the gel dries out and behaves like glue by attaching the seed to the ground.  This anchors it against the wind dislodging it and blowing it around. Not until the frosts are gone in late spring (or early summer in Ireland) will the soil reach a temperature which wakes the seeds into sprouting. Our artificial kitchen sink fermentation process thus speeds up the natural gel removal process.
After the allotted time, remove the mould skein and throw the seed mix into a sieve, run it under the cold tap and stir the seeds gently to slough off the last bits of gel and pulp. Now the seeds are separated and left out to dry for a week. Remember to mark each glass/jar to keep the varieties clearly denoted all through the process.
I separated the seeds over two evenings. Seven big wet lumps of about three hundred seeds a go came from each glass, each one slapped out onto a big dinner plate and teased out by me, one seed at a time, with two serrated steak knives. If you don’t spread them before they dry, the remaining bits of nature’s glue makes them almost impossible to prise apart without damage.
Gardener's Delight tomatoes pictured looking good last month

From there I transferred the seeds individually to dry on paper party plates  – in good supply because we’d just celebrated Plot 34’s WOE (waterer of everything’s) third birthday. Over two evenings spent teasing seeds apart in front of X Factor (Because I was "busy doing something" I didn't qualify for my usual 50% tv vote), I finally had seven multicoloured balloon and ribbon patterned children’s party plates full of singular seeds with the name of each variety carefully inscribed on the underside. I placed them tentatively on the table near the glass double doors where the Autumn sun would dry them out.
It was time to instil into Mrs Kimmage Delmonte the vital need to prevent unwarranted interference in the drying process.  Like many couples who are used to one another, we are wont to switch off when we’re preoccupied (Judge Judy/Discovery Channel) and the other happens to be procastinating .  Therefore I know by now that despite Her Outdoors making all the usual appeasing noises and gestures, it is was wholly possible all actually heard is: “Blah, blah, blah seeds blah blah.”
Bearing this in mind, I decided to plump for the rarely deployed “look at me” thing, and repeated over and over again that they party plates were VERY IMPORTANT and that they were NOT TO BE TIDIED UP, that they weren’t JUST LYING AROUND that they were involved IN A VERY  IMPORTANT PROCESS TO PREPARE THEM FOR STORAGE. And Her Outdoors did duly leave the party plates alone. After drying the plan was to file them into labelled envelopes for careful storage until next year.
Tomato seeds in carefully labelled envelopes yesterday

But the very next blustery day, and just before I wrote the last paragraphs of this entry - self satisfied and all that I was -  I popped downstairs to find the double doors wide open and the wind rushing around in the kitchen ( “the place needed an airing.”) The paper plates are all in a kerfuffle and the seeds are all blown into one another. I could clearly read “Centiflor Yellow” on the base of one upturned children’s paper party plate.
So biting his tongue, Kimmage’s Man from Delmonte heads straight back out to his bountiful plantation -  to hunt once again for seven perfect plants with seven perfect fruits.
Because today, even though he loves her to bits, the Man from he say: ... b*****ks!

The other man from Delmonte - who says "Yes!" instead of "b******ks!"