Mid-summer’s day has passed and everyone is wondering whether summer will ever arrive this year. Eternal optimists, we have still managed to eat quite a few meals outside in the Neville household recently, hopping over the puddles to get to our outdoor dining table. The border nearest this spot is planted with ‘hot’ coloured plants, so even if the weather is miserable this part of the garden looks warm anyway. Some of my favourites include Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llanduff’. This is not in flower yet but its bronze foliage is great. Penstemon ‘Chester Scarlet’ is about to flower alongside Berberis thunbergii. Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ is growing taller by the minute and will look striking as always in August. Lobelia, Cotinus ‘Grace’ and Riccinus communis all combine for a ‘hot-spot’ of warm rich coloured plants. It’s a pity they don’t actually emit any heat or we would be sorted……if only it stopped raining!
I wrote last week about my potato crop being hit with blight. While we will still be eating our own spuds this year, they will just be very small. We enjoyed artichokes with our steaks at the weekend. We boiled them in salted water with some lemon juice for 20 minutes. We next melted butter with some freshly harvested garlic and then peeled the leaves and dipped as we ate. If that isn’t slow food I don’t know what is. They were yum. Our strawberries are looking good and we are picking daily. As for the courgettes, I think the last really good crop was two years ago. The mange tout, french beans and runner beans are way behind as well. We just have to keep our fingers crossed that July will be good.
Realistically the only way to provide home grown produce for the kitchen table consistently is by growing undercover. Our growing season is short enough as it is without a bad summer. Indoor growing prolongs production for all vegetables allowing for an extra early and extra late crop. I am planning on doing more of this.
Klaus Laitenberger has been growing organic vegetables for over 20 years in the UK and Ireland. He was head Gardener at the Organic centre in Rossinver, Co Leitrim for 7 years and then took on the job of restoring the gardens at Lissadell, Co. Sligo. His first book, Vegetables for the Irish Garden, is an invaluable resource and covers all aspects of organic vegetable growing. It is tailored specifically for Irish growing conditions and gives details on every stage of the process. From ground preparation to soil fertility, composting, pests and diseases, weed control, green manuring, it also includes a month by month guide.
His latest book, Vegetables for the Polytunnel and Greenhouse hit the shelves earlier this year. This book is a comprehensive alphabetical encyclopedia on how to grow vegetables under cover in Ireland. Everything is covered from site to soil to potential pests and problems in an easy to read, simple, clear and accurate format. All the common vegetables are dealt with as well as more unusual ones such as ‘Pepino’ and ‘Yacon’. There is also chapters given over at the back of the book on choosing a site, choosing between a polytunnel or greenhouse, managing ventilation and watering, shading and heating, propagation, pests, rotation, another month by month guide, and a vegetable crop summary. If this book doesn’t encourage you to go undercover sadly the bad weather probably will. I bought a fab little cloche in the co-op recently for €18.95 and I am growing tomatoes in the house inside a sunny window. So there are still ways and means of overcoming space and budgetary issues without having to break the bank on a huge polytunnel. As for dining al fresco….throw a jacket over your shoulders and watch out for the puddles!