Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Author (and her Blog) in the news!

Anna Bee has been interviewed by Emma Philbin Bowman for The Sunday Times! It's all about this blog and the reasons it exists - check out,,2098-2423163.html for the text - unfortunately they didn't put the picture online but the words are good all on their own. And indeed, if you've arrived here after reading the printed version of the article, you're very welcome - we hope you enjoy the Blog, and come back often!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Fruit in the garden

We have just moved to a new garden, so we need to restock. In deciding on what fruit to plant, I am guided by my own taste buds. What do I love to eat and cook with?

A good few years ago, one of my roommates declared that he loved gooseberries (I'm indifferent), so I planted one. Every year it fruited, and no one ever picked any of the fruit. I suppose that the birds were grateful, but I learned a good lesson.

So far we have bought 2 blueberry bushes. This particular variety needs an acidic soil, so we have also bought some ericaceous compost to dig in. However, in doing some research on this, it sems like coffee grounds and tea leaves may have the same effect, so I will do some experiments with that.

We have ordered 2 apple trees from Seed Savers (, and a Conference pear. In marked contract, we have bought a pear tree, and a cherry tree from Lidl, it will be interesting to see which does better. According to my dear husband, who was dispatched to Lidl for the fruit trees, there was practically a riot over the apple trees, which is encouraging. The more people that are growing food, the better I like it.

We have a couple of strawberries growing in a planter. I'm hoping to convince one of my friends to pass on some alpine strawberry runners. And I'd like some summer fruiting, and some autumn fruiting raspberries. That will probably be enough fruit for now. Well, maybe a blackcurrant as well, just for the pleasure of pruning it.

This probably sounds like a lot, and indeed, we now have a large garden. However, in my tiny plot in Dublin, I had an apple tree, a pear tree, loganberries, raspberries, a red and a black currant bush. So don't be discouraged by lack of space. And in a lot of ways, fruit bushes require a lot less care than vegetables.

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Pruning Blackcurrants

Pruning blackcurrants has got to be one of the most enjoyable winter jobs. You need to wait till it's good and frosty, and set to, aiming to remove old black stems - up to one third of the plant. Don't worry about pruning too hard, old stems are not productive, so cut away.

As you cut, you will realise a very interesting thing about blackcurrants. The cut wood has the exact same smell as the berries. So take time to inhale the wonderful fragrance, and let it bring you back to the summer, when the fruit was ripe, and you were picking sun warmed blackcurrants in your own back garden, and they weren't even making it as far as the dinner table.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

More pruning - loganberries

From November till Early March is when you'll need to prune your fruit bushes. I have one loganberry plant that tries to take over an entire wall every summer, so there's a fair bit of ad hoc pruning going on with the fresh shoots during the summer.

Once the frosts have started, it's time to get serious, and really neaten thing up. Fruiting occurs on 2 year old stems, so any stems that have already fruited should be cut back as close to the ground as possible. Any other (one year old stems) are next years fruit bearers, so neaten these if necessary, and tie them back if you have planted against a wall.

And happy berry picking next summer!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Pruning apple trees

Now it's time to be thinking about pruning your fruit trees and bushes. Winter pruning encourages growth, and makes for a better crop next year.

If you have an apple tree in your garden, chances are it's dwarf stock, and you won't need much specialist equipment beyond a secateurs to prune it. Hopefully you will be able to reach all the branches fairly easily. If the tree is very old, or has really been neglected, you may need a small saw.

Once the leaves have all fallen off, and you can see the skeleton of the branches, you're ready for pruning. I have pruned any time between November and February and the tree has been fine. The colder the better, this reduces the chance of bacteria invading the fresh cut.

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Stand back and take a look at the tree. You're trying to reduce the size so that it will not overpower your little garden, and you're trying to increase the space between the branches within the body of the tree. You want to end up with an open, well balanced structure.

That said, don't worry if you get it a bit wrong. This is no worse than a bad haircut, time will fix it.

So once you have decided (more or less ) about the shape, start cutting. Cut just above a bud, at an angle. Try to make the cut as clean as possible - sharp secateurs will be the most help here.

After every few cuts, stand back, and see if you're getting it right. This may take some time, but it's a very satisfying feeling when you see a nice neat tree when you're finished.

Keep the cuttings - I found the long straight bits very effective for pea sticks, and for tying strings to mark where I had planted seeds. If you have a fireplace, I have heard that burning applewood smells great, but I have yet to experience this myself.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The end of the growing season, it's time to look back and reflect on the good and bad of the past season. One of the biggests regrets is not enough time to post here, and share the learning and successes. This year was a bit mad, as we decided to leave Dublin for a bigger garden in Mullingar. (Size of house was less important :-))

As things worked out the best time to leave was August, but to avoid disruption for the kids, we started living in Mullingar at weekends from June on. Which meant that we were maintaining two vegetable gardens over the course of the summer. It might seem a bit crazy, but being able to harvest stuff in the new house made it feel like a home.

So, it was a pretty good growing year - beans were a particular success. In past years the slugs would get 90% of the tender bean seedlings. My germination rate wasn't great when planted in situ, with the result the the bean beds would end up as weed beds.

This year I 'invested' in a 3 shelf greenhouse at Lidl - €20 - what a great deal! I was able to germinate all kinds of beans, and they were able to grow to the point where the slugs couldn't do too much damage. That, combined with growing them in containers, meant that we had possibly my best french bean crop ever!

A few words about Lidl and Aldi- they have lots of greenhouse-type products in the spring. But you need to get there on the day that they go on sale. And of course different stuff sells out quicker in different stores.

So don't depend on the flyer coming in the door, or the newspaper. Subscribe to their online mailing list, and you'll see the gardening stuff coming up about a week in advance. Links below.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

In past years, this time of the year has been a time to batten down the hatches and read seed catalogues.This year, inspired by an email from, I decided to try for some winter veg. Planting a daikon crop after the solstice had started to stretch my growing season - any earlier, and they bolt. But now I'm trying to have more than just daikon for the next few months.

In late August, my long suffering husband got the job of digging a new bed to accomodate the cloche we bought at the start of the season in Lidl. Another great deal at only €20. In there I put mizuna, pak choi, chinese cabbage, and daikon. It's now October, and we're eating salads with the mizuna.

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Mizuna in cloche Posted by Picasa

Around that time I planted lettuce in one of my big plastic pots - it's growing slowly - I'm hoping that it's height will protect if from the early frosts.

In mid September, we harvested all of the tomatoes, and cleared the beds to put in turnip greens, mustard greens, and corn salad. The corn salad is doing the best - the slugs are enjoying the rest.