Thursday, November 25, 2010

Small blessings in Austerity from the Chillies

To mark the unveiling of Ireland's national four year austerity plan yesterday, the print on this blog entry is deliberately really really small and the tone, deliberately depressed - designed to make life even more difficult. In either case we'll need practice with reading small print if we're going to be able to figure out how the plan will effect us personally. If you're not from Ireland however, do exercise the "international" option to turn it up to 14 point.

The austerity plan which incorporates swingeing cuts in the minimum wage and massive hikes in taxes makes it look like we'll all have to go back to growing our own food whether we like it or not. By the way, I'm open to those who require crash course tutorials in food growing and will also accept payment in butter vouchers. As for my allotment, there are already signs that our cash strapped council is preparing to triple our allotment rent in order to crank more cash out of us urban farmers. They tried it on last year but following protests, postponed it for twelve months - just like the thousands of civil service job cuts announced this week but actually not due until 2012 (ahem).

Depending on who you believe, Ireland has either been turned back to 2002 (says our straight talking Finance Minister (ahem)) or to the 19th Century (according to a particularly gleeful BBC reporter). Nothing but growing cabbage, turnips and mangelwurzles for us from now on - that and ducking the big sticks of IMF officials (no carrots anymore).

To cap it all, today my bank sent me a letter telling me that they'd be delighted to increase my personal overdraft! I might just pop around tomorrow and see if they'll lend me fifty four million for an acre in Ballsbridge. I've already been assessing how tightly I can roll up their missive for a hand delivered return of post to the manager. A special kind of lodgement if you like.

But whatever about our banks and politicians, at least history tells us that we Irish can always rely on the spuds.(ahem!!)

And to round it all off, it seems we're also due some particularly miserable weather to fit with our Winter of Discontent - long range forecasts are for a lengthy period of "extreme cold" likely to involve some heavy snowfall and temperatures of minus ten and such - according to the Met. And the largest lightning bolt the world has ever seen is forecast to flash down from the heavens and set fire to us all.

No not that last one, I made it up.

But if we're attempting to look on the bright side, the extreme cold means the elimination of many overwintering pests - that's a good many slugs and snails as well as saw fly larvae and vine weevil grubs in particular.

On the downside again, the lack of a milder winter as we've generally had over the last five years means that; apart from the garlic, celeriac, swedes and winter caulis, there's absolutely zero growth expected for the months ahead. Even early greenhouse salad starts will be difficult if we get what's predicted.

Despite slouching national spirit, the chilli peppers are still braving it out with gusto on our patio and that's despite three or four doses of frost and a rash of successive sub zero nights. The outdoor tomatoes and the cucumbers and courgettes were already slashed down by the icy winds but the brave chillies, despite distinctly soggy looking foliage, soldier on. It's all the more surprising given that the plucky sun-loving south americans are generally supposed to keel over once it's time for us to reach for the overcoats (sackcloth this year).  Their surprising resilience leads me to believe that we should all grow chillies here instead of root crops next year.

My chillies busy braving out the Austerity yesterday

Apart from their cheering fire engine red colours (see the pic at the very top of my blog), they're a heartwarming and blood stirring addition to winter stews. They're high in vitamin C, lower cholesterol and best of all they contain a magic cheering-up substance called capsaicin which is a natural endorphin booster. This is probably why those chilli eating South American countries sang, danced and jiggled their mammaries on carnival floats all the way through their own IMF years.

Capsaicin is also the ingredient used in pepper spray - handy for trips to and from work (if you still have a job) and in particular to help fend off those pesky stray stick flailing gardai (spray only if their visors happen to be up) who have lately tended to whirl at random from protestors into uninvolved passers-by on the way to collect their reduced dole.

I've been growing cayennes which I find are the best for our depressing conditions. Another pepper which works well in a northern european climate is jalapeno which I also grew successfully last year. Unfortunately a range of other types just didn't work out. But between the jalapenos and the cayennes I've done well over the last four years. Two or three plants generally go on the inside window sill, five or six go outside on the patio and a handful in the greenhouse and that gives me a year's supply and lots more to give away to friends and relations. They dry out really easily and store really well. What's really surprising though, is that as we push into December, they're still flowering.

I'll keep you posted on their continued resilience.

Hopefully I'll have pepped up by the next post. For now, cheers (not) from the Republic of Austerity.

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