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Blog

This page gives people a view into our daily lives living in the west of Ireland. It includes posts about our projects in the ceramic studio as well as projects in the garden, home and kitchen. 

 

Filtering by Category: Garden

Echiums

Alexis Bowman

Echiums belongs to the Boraginaceae family which include other plants like Borage & Comfrey.  We love them because they bring height and colour into the garden and also because they give our bees lots of nectar. The tall Echium pininana - know as tree echium or giant vipers bugloss - is native to the Canary Islands and is a biennial.

Echium pininana in its second year.

Echium pininana in its second year.

In the first year they reach around 3 feet, forming a strong trunk with a display of foliage. In the following spring they send up a huge tall column of flowers which lasts for many months. While they are making their reach for the sky they often get hit by some strong winds. A little support goes a long way. 

They tend to self seed effectively in dry gravely areas of the garden. I bought my first seed from Seedaholic.com.

In the early spring when they are making their reach for the sky they often get hit by some strong winds. A little support goes a long way.

Blue Echium vulgare

Blue Echium vulgare

A much smaller variety is Echium vulgare - know as vipers Bugloss - which is native to most of Europe and acts like an annual here in Ireland. It produces a very high concentration of nectar and so it is one of the best plants to attract bees to your garden. I have a blue and a white variety. Every year I collect their seeds and sow them again the following spring with no fuss. 

White Echium vulgare with Mother of Pearl Poppies.

White Echium vulgare with Mother of Pearl Poppies.

This year I have sown two more varieties - Echium Russicum https://www.seedaholic.com/echium-russicum.html and Echium Red Bugloss .  

Pea & Bean Supports

Alexis Bowman

This year I am determined to make my beans stand strong and tall on dependable supports. In the past my they have collapsed under the weight of foliage. To ensure success I have made lots of different structures using materials salvaged from the garden and workshop. 

This strange looking wigwam is simply made from branches & rubber ties

This strange looking wigwam is simply made from branches & rubber ties

And this wigwam is made using re purposed metal poles.

And this wigwam is made using re purposed metal poles.

Bamboo is our most useful material for making wigwams and luckily we have our own patch which we take from every year. Many years ago a small clump of it was planted and since then it has become a forest of bamboo spreading 10 metres across. The invasive nature of the bamboo does prove to be a problem but the benefit of having good strong canes for use in the garden is a big plus. The bamboo forest also serves as a habitat for birds and wildlife and especially our chickens who use it for shelter. The kids love to hide inside it where they have made tracks and tunnels.  

Our French Wwofers- Roxanne & Romain  - made this curved structure from bamboo to support the Mangetout.  A piece of twine joining the taller wigwams to the poly bars encourages the french beans to climb further.

Our French Wwofers- Roxanne & Romain  - made this curved structure from bamboo to support the Mangetout.  A piece of twine joining the taller wigwams to the poly bars encourages the french beans to climb further.

For the peas I stretched chicken wire across two posts and repeated this process, running several of them side by side. At the end of summer these supports can be pulled out of the ground, rolled up and put away until next spring when I will tap them back in again. 

Lovely new pea shoots are delicious. .

A New Polytunnel Door

Alexis Bowman

Our polytunnel door used to swing open with even a small gust of wind. It was a real pain so with some simple changes we made it a sliding door instead. We attached a piece of 4 x 2 above the opening and then mounted the sliding track to it. This was a very quick job and its made a big difference. 

We mounted the sliding door track to the large peice of 4 x2 timber. 

We mounted the sliding door track to the large peice of 4 x2 timber. 

We got the sliding door hardware from our local co-op.

New Polytunnel

Alexis Bowman

We have finally installed our polytunnel! Its 5.5 metres wide and 12 metres long and it cost us €2,087 from Polydome.ie. Installing it was simple and fun. With many hands on deck from family & wwoofers we assembled it quickly. 

Clearing ground for the Polytunnel

Clearing ground for the Polytunnel

Positioning the posts

Positioning the posts

Slotting in the frame

Slotting in the frame

Cementing in the posts

Cementing in the posts

Assembling the door frames. Digging trenches along the border for anchoring the plastic

Assembling the door frames. Digging trenches along the border for anchoring the plastic

Stretching the plastic with many helpers

Stretching the plastic with many helpers

Milk Bottle Cloches

Alexis Bowman

The Irish garden gets a huge amount of annual rain fall so slugs absolutely thrive here. We have a huge variety of slugs in the garden. Some of them grow to be the size of your thumb! The kids are in competition to see who can find the biggest one ever. 

Taking a newly emerged seedling and plating it out in the garden is like feeding it to the sharks. So we have devised a system to keep the slugs off. We take an old milk bottle, cut the bottom off it, place it over the seedling and push it down into the soil. It becomes a small protective house in which the slugs generally don't tend to enter. The environment inside the milk bottle is also lovely and warm. When the seedling begins to push up and out of the bottle we remove it. At that stage the plant is usually large enough to handle a few slug bites.  

One of our Wwoofers devised a solution for storing the milk bottles by threading rope through their handles and hooking them up. 

Dry Stone Walls

Alexis Bowman

There is a long tradition of dry stone wall building in rural Ireland. The Irish landscape is liberally covered in old walls.

Looking across at Ballinskelligs bay with the Skellig Islands in the distance

Looking across at Ballinskelligs bay with the Skellig Islands in the distance

We make our own stone walls here at Fermoyle. They are higgelty piggelty but they serve a purpose and they have their own charm. The narrow beds that border the main vegetable patch hold gooseberries, currants and blueberries. The wood they are made from is beginning to warp and rot so I am building a dry stone wall to support them. We come across a lot of stones in the garden while we dig and move soil around. We keep them to one side for jobs like this. It is especially satisfying to find the perfect stone to fill a tricky spot or to come across a large piece of shiny quartz which looks great in a wall.

Our own stone wall under construction

Our own stone wall under construction

I am digging a shallow trench along the edge of the new wall and using the earth to layer in amongst each rock as I stack them one by one.

Every year I forage for a little more Sea Pink from down by the sea (Armeria Maritima) to plant in my walls. I also like to collect the very common daisies (Bellis perennis) and Primrose (Primula vulgaris) for the same purpose.

Succulents look great in amongst stone walls

Succulents look great in amongst stone walls

Shelter Belts

Alexis Bowman

Steve, the kids and I have been planting a shelter belt in the empty field below our main plot. This field is currently a large expanse of mainly rushes & Gorse and it is totally exposed to the wind. It is very boggy and wet but regardless, it has huge potential. So we’d like to start improving it by planting a wind break on the south and west perimeters.

We use black plastic to cover the earth around each baby tree to eliminate competition from surrounding weeds. 

We use black plastic to cover the earth around each baby tree to eliminate competition from surrounding weeds. 

An effective shelter belt in this region of Ireland (being coastal and very windy) should be planted at least 10 – 20 metres wide with plants spaced around 2 feet apart. Our shelter belt will be around 5 metres wide. Not ideal but still very effective.

Some good trees for this scenario with which we have used include Silver Poplar, Alder, Holly, Willow, Hawthorn, Fucshia and Monterey Cypress. In the winter months we collect more common species from wooded areas where there are plenty of small seedlings on the woodland floor.  We make a habit of always bringing a backpack when we go on family walks in the woods for this purpose. I brought the lesser common things like Silver Poplar and Monterey Cypress from Future Forests(http://www.futureforests.net/), where they go for a good price, especially if you buy them in bulk.

The vegetable garden was also in need of some wind protection so we planted a nice little selection of things up on the adjacent western ditch. These include lots of white thorn, gorse, holly, sea buckthorn (which can be invasive), cotoneaster (to fall down over the ditch) and Willow. We’d like them to develop quickly so we have layered landscaping material down along the full length of the ditch to eliminate competition from any surrounding weeds. Laying plastic down over the top of these plants was a fiddly job. We had to cut a hole in the plastic for each plant and then thread it thru (not so easy with thorny bushes). We also erected wind shield netting. This is another fiddly job. We had to thread wire down along the top and bottom of the entire length of fencing. Steve then made the wire very taught using a tension device.

This fencing will be put to the test when we are hit with our next gale force winds. Hopefully it holds itself well.