Thursday, March 8, 2012

Spring Has Sprung!!

The sun bursts of early March have kick-started the new year's growth and winter's worst is behind us. In the garden the new shoots of growth are sprouting and the earth is coming alive! Everywhere you look, you can see nature waking up. Strong virgin shoots are piercing the soil and the ground is warming. Last year's survivors are still coming good - check out my shot (below) of last year's chopped and butchered broccoli producing delicate new buds - ideal for a light steaming on my dinner plate. 
Spring sprung sprouts on last year's broccoli survivors poking up after winter's worst 
The fruit trees will need some attention. I esplanaded some young shop bought and sown trees last year and their new buds are showing me that at least the shock of transplanting and then of winter, hasn't killed them. Pear, apple and damson are now wired unnaturally in straight horizontal lines along my back fence. I'm told they'll shoot upwards from those tied arms and that soon they'll fill my fridge with fruit. But at least one will have to be cut out of a web of winter web of ivy and surging clematis before it can go anywhere. Below you can see the apple tree buds from my Coronet, a miniature apple tree only four feet high which produces about forty fruit each year. This tree can also be container grown.
Apple buds appearing on the Coronet miniature
The old year's chopped down fennel is already starting to produce fresh sprouts which recently ended up sprinkled across some grilled hake. Mmmm! This container planted fennel grows to four foot each year and has probably been with me for seven or eight years. It never ceases to amaze me how I can cut it back each winter only to have it surge forth again in spring. As a fisherman who regularly comes home with fresh trout, fresh fennel is a must.

Fennel sprouting anew - this particular shoot ended up chopped fine and spread over grilled hake
The salad bed left alone over winter also has a few surprises. The roots of the long ago gone to seed lettuces appear to have sprouted some young fresh heads. There's iceberg and salad basket and lollo rosa (pictured below) which already has me breaking off limbs to feed into fresh bread for lunch time sandwiches.
Lollo Rosa waking up for Spring
Although I rarely deal with non edibles, I do have a few scattered about and one of my favourite wake up calls for the new year is the deep blue bells of the grape hyacinth - it was one of my grandfather's favourite border flowers and it fell out of favour way back in the eighties. I'm still a sucker for it.

Grape Expectations - the Border Hyacinth at its colourful best
Now that my one year old son Sean has started walking, he wants to be outside for every waking moment. Here he is pressed against the glass sliding doors. One of his first words ever was "Garden!" by which I think he means "everything outside the house!"" In a northern European country we've been cooped up inside since November. It's fantastic to watch him teetering about free range between the beds.
Garden!! Let me Out!
Some plants haven't waited for the first sunshine to get into their business, not least the garlic. I grow a type of wild garlic which produces tiny but explosive bulbs. You can see below that they've been busy these few dark months and have a head start on the rest of the garden.
What's that smell?!!
Another star player in the garden that has been keeping up appearances is the Rosemary. We have two robust plants potted in terracotta containers to keep them dry and raised - Rosemary's preferred conditions. We've been breaking bits off these plants all through the winter to throw sprigs across roast lamb and to chop them up to release those pungent oils into stews. It never ceases to amaze me how these plants from southern europe make it through the frosts of an Irish winter.
Pastel flowers on our Rosemary
There's a few more over winter-ers including the Salsify. Last year I dug up the roots and tried to shave them down and boil them without realising that they're supposed to be left alone for two years to produce the big tap roots necessary to make food. I have to say that thus far I'm unconvinced. Last year's small roots that I harvested weren't edible. After a long while boiling they ended up hard and stalky. We'll give them some space to get through to Summer, but I'm still not convinced.
Salsify shoots are on a wing and a prayer this year
Which all means that it's time to get up to my mountain side allotment and get stuck in. I'm looking forward to it and tomorrow I'm going into town to stock up on heritage varieties of seeds and tubers to get it going again. This year however I'm planning a "no dig" approach having been convinced by literature I've read about how digging destroys the minute animals in the soil which are necessary for plant health. We'll see how that one works out. In the meantime as we say in Ireland: "There'a a grand stretch to the evenings!!" About time too...

There's that lovely stretch to the evenings!

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