Sunday, July 10, 2011

Grand For Growth in Monsoon June

The people of Egypt don’t wake in the morning, throw open their curtains and exclaim: “Hey Fatima, you’ll never guess what? - it’s blazing sunshine.... again!”

Nor do they spend their days continuously discussing the heat with everyone they encounter.

 - “I’m taking next week off so I’m hoping it will cool down a bit by then.” or
- “I left the washing out in the garden again yesterday and it got all bleached,” or
- “Yeah, it got so hot that the camel fell over.” 

Fatima! It's hot sun....again!!!
The Egyptians don’t talk non-stop weather all day because  they've had the same conditions for thousands of years. So they're quite used to it. What then is our issue here in Ireland - waking every day to expect something other than rain? Like Egypt we've also had the same weather for thousands of years but here it continues to surprise us - to the degree that it’s usually the number one conversation topic of the day.

 - “Can you believe it? Raining again!”

Why? It’s Ireland! It’s rained since recorded history began!  It's a marine temperate climate  with a two word forecast:  “scattered” and “showers.”

We’ve already had the June summer “monsoon." Most of my six years running an allotment have seen a washout June and for most of July. And apart from a few years somewhere back in the 1970’s, almost all the Irish Junes and Julys I recall have been characterised -  as the forecast says -  by “scattered showers.” My last June visit was typical - full rain gear, trousers and jacket, rainproof hat, wellies and twenty minutes to wash the mud off my tools and my rainproofs before stocking up the car to head home.

The “European Monsoon” is more commonly called “The Return of the Westerlies” and the result of increasing westerly winds from the Atlantic, where they become loaded with wind and rain. The rain tends to come in two waves, in early June and again in mid to late June just as Ireland Inc is wearing light summer attire and sunglasses as if sheer will and sheer attire alone can scatter the showers.

Mary!! It's raining again!!!
The upside of our temperate climate is what makes us the Emerald Isle and has growers in other countries green with envy: steadily mild temperatures, a northerly global aspect that provides daylight from five am to eleven at night in Summer and of course, plenty of rain. Together it's a decent brew for plant growth.So much so, that if you missed out on planting your crops, most varieties will allow you to have a second go - even now.

My cauliflower plants, sprouted in the green house and planted at the allotment in May were stripped by the slugs and snails to leave bare stems. This week I’ll be planting another batch to reinforce their ranks. Cauliflowers are supposed to be sown by the end of May, so it might be a tall order. But the sort of weather we’ve been having, and always have, accelerates growth to the point that they might just catch up. In any case it’s always worth a try.

Other crop types that don’t have a May cut off for planting here can be sown fresh right through to the middle of July. Peas for example - mine will also require a second planting. Large blank gaps probably mean the birds have been picking them out as they sprout. One last planting should see pods ready in September. Again our temperate weather and long evenings help - a growing season like ours with frost unlikely until October makes successful late crops far more likely.

Naked broccoli

It also makes staggered planting a more viable option. This is the process of sowing seeds at intervals in order to enable different batches of the same crop to mature over a long period.Broccoli is one crop which tends to mature all at once and unless you’ve got plenty of freezing space, you’re looking at a massive storage issue. However by planting some in March, some in April and so on, it matures in waves and your harvesting season in lengthened for that particular crop.

Primo cabbage, a nice tight cabbage designed for smaller gardens can be sown from March to July enabling harvesting from June to October. Kale can be sown from March until June and Nantes Autumn King carrots can be planted as early as April or as late as June. You could probably plant them in July as well with the caveata that they’ll be a little smaller when you do eventually harvest them.July is a also a good time to plant the last of your lettuce and salads.
The Christmas tomato                           

In other countries, lettuce is planted in the shade as summer heat causes it to bolt. In Ireland’s temperate climate there’s far less to worry about in this department and it will usually do well in the open. I’ve picked lettuce in the garden well into October.And this week I’m handing out six inch high tomato seedlings in our office. But give them a good sunny spot and plenty of feed and in the absence of a hard frost, you’ll be pickinig fresh tomatoes from them right into December.

Christmas Day is my own personal record for the toms. The exception was the Christmas just gone which was uncharacteristically white. Normally though, it’s just scattered showers.

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