- Published: Tuesday, 26 April 2016 11:32
It’s only the end of April and it’s crazy busy already. LOVE IT!
There’s something so exciting about the frenzy of seed sowing, bed preparations, harvesting, selling at the market, making and delivering flower orders and emailing brides…. I’m someone who always likes to be busy so I feel like I’m coming into my own now after the winter and with the longer days I’ve more energy and tonnes of optimistic enthusiasm for everything (wonder if I’ll still be this chirpy after another crazy month, doubt it, ha!)
I’ve most of the first sowings of seeds pricked out into plug trays and I’m well into my second sowings. I would have liked the first and second sowings to be closer together but with space on the heated bench and under the lights in limited supply everything must wait it’s turn. Nearly everything I want to sow has been sown apart from the real heat lovers and those that are being direct sown. I’ll wait another while to sow my sunflowers, zinnias, cobaea, mina….and by then there’ll be plenty of space on the heated bench where they’ll shoot up in no time. I’ll be able to give over most of the greenhouse to zinnias and sunflower propagation once the last frost date has passed and I can plant out all the plug trays taking up the whole thing right now.
I had to transplant these tiny Amaranthus cadatus (red and green varieties) much earlier than I had planned due to damping off in their seed tray. I'm thrilled to see they are doing really well. Maybe I should have more faith in my little ones...
The stuffed greenhouse is looking fantastic (if I do say so myself ;-)). I go out every night with the torch and do a slug patrol with great success. Though I must admit it took me a while to realise there was a problem…. I had been wondering why the cosmos seedlings (sown in 96 cell plug trays, 1 seed per plug) were so slow to develop after germinating until I copped they had their heads gobbled off by sadistic slugs. I was fecking livid especially as they specifically targeted my double click snow puffs (what a mouthful) that I was beyond excited to grow after seeing Floret raving about them and anything she grows I wanna grow too! I’m also using a different compost mix than last year and the seedling are loving it. I’m using a mix of peat – free compost I bought in from Fruit Hill Farm in Cork and some cheapo organic peat - free stuff I bought in Aldi. I was really (pleasantly) surprised to see Aldi doing stocking peat – free compost as anyone will tell you I’m no fan of bog – stripping just to grow a few plants… Anyhow at €3 a bag I filled my trolley one day and decided to give it a go. It’s a lovely dark brown compost but with quite a lumpy texture. I reckon it’s too strong to use on its own for my little transplants so I’ve been mixing it 1:2 and 1:1 with the peat free seed compost from Fruit Hill and they love it. They are growing really well and all the plugs look so healthy. Win win!
And the farm is looking good too! Loads of flowers blooming and I spotted this wecome visitor last week :-)
And before I forget, what blooming right now (isn’t that what it’s all about really):
Last of the narcissus will be harvested this week, they had a funny start to their season with a blast of really mild weather tricking them early on followed by a really cold spell to mess them up so I don’t feel some of the varieties did as well as they should have…but overall did get a good harvest. Note to self: Grow more scented doubles next year…
Tulips, what absolute stunners! They are looking amazing right now especially the doubles Blue Diamond and the gorgeous Angeliques…Why oh why can’t their season be longer??
The wallflowers are coming into their own with some really beautiful colours, though they need to get a bit taller before they’re really ready to be harvested in great amounts.
Hyacinths have finished but the muscari are looking fantastic and with their stunning blue hues are always popular at the market…
Anemones and ranunculus are just coming into flower…..
Anemone St. Brigid in full bloom. Stunning!!!!!
And to finish...My absolute favourite picture of the year so far. I finished work early last Sunday (as part of trying not to over do it this year and make more time for 'family time'. I took Senan to the playground and Andy took Harry on his first fishing trip of the season - and he came home with this!! He really was absolutely thrilled with himself and I was just so proud of him. It really is worth taking time out away from work, no matter how busy I am.
- Published: Tuesday, 05 April 2016 12:12
The days are getting longer, the temperatures (occasionally) warmer and new growth is to be seen. I love that moment when you realise Winter is over, Spring has arrived and new life and flowers are on their way!
Up at the farm the bulbs are starting to make an appearance. Daffodils and Hyacinths obviously being the first. Joining them are tulips and muscari and the fleshy greens of alliums. I planted new varieties of bulbs this year so am eager to see how they turn out, the Leucojums in particular.
The Ranunculus that I planted in the mini tunnel are doing very well. The Anemones are not. I think I over soaked them before I planted them. I only soaked them for about two hours but it was still too much. An awful lot of the corms rotted before they ever had a chance to sprout. Next year I’m not going to soak them at all. I’ll just plant them up (in 96 cell plug trays) and give them a quick water then leave them. Hopefully that will give me better results. I absolutely hate when a crop fails as very often it’s a whole year before I can try again, but I just have to get over it and move on. Pronto. (Tho I’m still mourning the loss of my beautiful Icelandic poppies that were destroyed with the tunnel :-( )
I’ve been busy here in the nursery sowing seeds. Armed with a head full of knowledge gleamed from last year’s mistakes I’ve begun sowing seeds in earnest. Last year I literally sowed whatever came to hand. I didn’t fully work out the best strategy to make the most of the time I had until mid-May when everything would be planted out. I had Zinnias and Sunflowers ready to go in March for feck’s sake! It was a real pain trying to mind them, keeping them warm and fed as they out grew their plug trays. Didn’t I feel a bit silly. This year I ordered all my seeds around the one time from Higgledy Garden, Moles, Chiltern and Seedaholic. When they arrived I divided them up into three sections 1st, 2nd and 3rd stage sowings. I also have a spreadsheet I fill in of everything I sow and another sheet where I’ll put any varieties that I’ll be succession sowing so at a glance I’ll know when the first sowing was done and when the next is due.
In my first round box I have :
Borage, Dill, Antirrhinums, Calendula, Statices, Dusty Miller, Ammobium, Stocks, Campanulas, Ammi.
In my second round box I have:
Setaria, Isolepis, Gomphrenas, Celosias, Nicotianas, Amaranthus, Helichrysums, Rudbeckia, Ageratums, Scabiosas, Echinops, Cornflowers, Cosmos,
In my third round box I have : (some of these I’ll direct sow)
Sunflowers, Nigellas, Lagurus ovatus, Briza, Bupleurum, Orlaya, Zinnias, Bells of Ireland, Tithonia, Mina lobata, Cobaea scandens, Malope Vulcan.
It’s nice to feel so organised, hope I can keep it up as the season decends in to crazy, busy, flowery madness!
Happy sowing and seed watching everyone!
Sowing Cosmos seeds one at a time into individual cells in 96 cell plug tray. I dicided to do it this way (instead of a seed tray on the heated bench) as Cosmos don't need the bottom heat to germinate and they grow so fast it's easier and less stressful for them to go straight into a plug tray. Harry loved to help me with this job, he covered over the seeds once I had planted then in their individual holes.
Sowing Scabiosa seeds in a seed tray. To maximise the tray I'm using a divider so I can sow 2 varieties at once. These then went onto the heated bench with a propagator lid as Scabiosa list snuggly bottom heat to get them going.
Plenty more to go! (for some reason this picture REFUSED to go in the right way up, sorry!
- Published: Tuesday, 05 January 2016 22:04
Well we got to the end of the year! Though it was more a case of hauling ourselves across the finish line rather than reaching the end of the year having completed all our goals, ticked all the boxes and all round pat-on-the-backs…
After a lovely rest and a think about everything we achieved over the last year I think I can now say that I am so happy with everything we did accomplish, have accepted what we didn’t and can’t wait to get stuck into the year ahead, roll on 2016!!!
The Christmas break was everything I wanted it to be. Lots of eating, sleeping and hanging out with Andy and the boys. Proper family time was something we didn’t have in ages so it was very welcome when it finally arrived. The boys were thrilled to have mam n dad around all day. We snuggled up on the couch and watched movies, played with their new toys and read stories. We gobbled chocolates and stayed in our pajamas all day – heaven! There were so many times during the year when I felt so guilty about my workload and not having enough time to spend with the boys as they would have liked so Christmas was my way of making it up to them. We went to my parent’s house Christmas day and apart form that we didn’t go anywhere. We didn’t want or need to. The weather was miserable and the roads were flooded so we lit a big fire every day and stayed put. I did have times where I’d think about the broken tunnel or the flooding in the field and the huge amount of work facing us in the year ahead. But I didn’t let it get to me, I put it out of my mind and ate another chocolate, life is too short to dwell and overthink.
Senan is now back at playschool and Harry is back to ‘big’ school tomorrow and I too am back to work. I learnt so much last year that I can implement in the coming year. Not just growing skills but life skills also. So many times during 2015 I became completely overwhelmed with everything, the tears flowed and the self-doubt crept in. So this year I’ve had a big think and come up with some resolutions of sorts, some guidelines for me to (hopefully) stick to…
I’m going to stop being so hard on myself and stop comparing myself to others – we are all on a journey, all at different stages.
Don’t try and do everything, make lists and prioritise, do what I can in a day and know when to stop for the day and even know when to take a day off!
I want to appreciate all we have achieved in the last year and know it will take many more to get where we want to be, one step at a time, not twenty!
Make some time for family and friends, far too often I say ‘sorry I’m busy, sorry I’m working’ my family and friends mean the world to me so I need to ask myself if I could finish a little earlier or just take some time out of my day for them.
Be happy and grateful. Everyday.
The highlights of the year (of which there were many!!!) were
Getting to walk through rows and rows of flowers on a sunny day, I had to pinch myself at times.
Harvesting flowers at sunrise and sunset, nothing short of magical.
Growing Bells of Ireland, dinnerplate Dahlias, mammoth Zinnias, Ranunculus and so many other flowers I had dreamed of having on my very own little flower farm.
Being chosen by brides to do their wedding flowers, such a happy, beautiful time, I felt honoured.
Watching my two beautiful boys playing and helping out with the flowers.
Learning something new every day!
I got back up to the farm this afternoon. I had to dig up some dahlias and cover some others. Job that should have been done last year but weren’t. At least we had a crazy mild winter so the tubers are still ok, but as there’s cold weather setting in I want to get them sorted as soon as I can. Last year I dug up all the dahlia tubers, cleaned and stored them. I stored some in sawdust and others in perlite and kept them in crates in the shed. This year I have hundreds more and don’t really have the crates or the space to store them all. So I’m digging up the big doubles and dinnerplates and anemone flowering (Café Au Lait, Diamond Jubilee, Pooh, Ice Crystal, Apricot Sunset and Blue Bayou) to store and the rest I’m experimenting on. I have a full row of dahlias that I grew from seed. They aren’t as big as the others and some are even ear marked for removal altogether so I don’t mind too much if some succumb to the cold. In order to try to protect them I’m covering them with a really thick layer of clippings. I cut down dead foliage from the annual and perennial beds and layered this over the dahlias….fingers crossed it works!
It mightn't be the neatest..but if it works I'll have saved myself a lot of work protecting these dahlias. Maybe next year I'll have a lovely low tunnel to put over them...or a least some spare frost cover!
While up there I did have a ‘moment’ I saw my broken tunnel, I thought about the trays of Ranunculus plugs waiting to go into said tunnel, I saw the waterlogged areas and the tons and tons of weeds that needed to be sorted before Spring and just for a moment felt overwhelmed...until…I remembered the resolutions I made only a few hours earlier!! (I wrote the first part of this blog this morning) and quickly pulled myself together, made a mental list, prioritised and got on with my work. While securing some of the frost cover that had come loose in the wind I spied my Hesperis doing really well and squealed with delight as I thought about the year ahead, the flowers I would have and suddenly there was no place else I wanted to be and nothing else I wanted to be doing. Roll on 2016….x
Snug Hesperis, looking good :)
Looking forward to the year ahead!
- Published: Friday, 11 December 2015 14:34
Up and down, round and round, forwards then backwards…….Running a business is never easy, running a business you’re passionate about is so so difficult because you become so emotionally involved.
A couple of months ago I had one fab day. The skies were clear and the wind was elsewhere, perfect weather for finally getting the plastic up on the tunnel. Ended up being just me at the farm that day so I had two choices…wait for another day like today or get on with it. I got on with it. The tunnel is about 70 feet long so I knew it wouldn’t be easy doing it on my own. But I tried and the plastic was so heavy I couldn’t get it over the frame. Then I got mad. Very mad. I just wanted it done!! So anger propelled me and I grunted and shouted and after pulling every muscle in my body I got the plastic over and buried. I felt very pleased with myself. For the first time in ages I felt strong (had been spending most of my time in the office or studio), it was good to know ‘I still had it’. The next day I filled a row in tunnel with loads of poppy plugs I had in the greenhouse, thrilled at finally getting these little beauties in the ground. Last year I grew them in pots as we didn’t have a tunnel up, so was nice to see the progress we’d made.
Then a great big storm came and blew the whole bloody lot down. We had gone up the day before to make sure it was secure so when Andy came down from the farm to tell me the tunnel was destroyed I didn’t want to believe him. But he was right. Funnily enough (tho I wasn’t actually laughing) it was the frame that had collapsed the plastic had remained tucked in the ground. At lease I got that right….Unfortunately when the frame came apart it ripped through sections of the plastic. The weather has been so bad since we haven’t been able to take the mess apart so we don’t know if we can salvage it. For now there’s the collapsed frame with its blanket of plastic.
I’m just hoping my little poppies will be ok in there until we can rebuild their home. I am definitely feeling deflated. But not giving up! I learnt a long time ago to never take what the weather does personally. It is far more powerful than me. I just have to work alongside it as best I can.
Plus, we still have loads of flowers to come! We planted thousands of bulbs last month, have hundreds and hundreds of biennials snuggled under frost cover and have loads of perennials which will be flowering in early summer. I’ve also got hundreds of both ranunculus and anemone corm in plug trays. They should have been planted in the tunnel but they weren’t ready in time, luckily for them! So lots to look forward to – Just need to get through the winter first.
And....when the tunnel goes back up......I think I'll leave it to the experts next time....!
- Published: Monday, 05 October 2015 10:39
Biennials are an essential part of our catalogue of flowers here on the farm. They provide us with flowers early in the year and fill the gap between spring bulbs and summer flowers. We wouldn’t be without them!
They are called biennials as they take two years to grow and produce flowers. They like to grow their leaves in the first year and then after experiencing the cold temperatures of winter (called vernalisation) they are ready to start flowering in late spring with some continuing right into the summer. This year we harvested our first stems (wallflower) on the 22nd April and we harvested our last (sweet william) on the 22nd of July. We sow the seeds in August and transplant them out the following month. This gives them time to put out roots and leaves and be ready for the winter ahead.
Last year we bought all or biennial seeds from Ben at Higgledy Garden. He does a good package of biennial seed which makes it really easy to order. He always includes a lovely hand written note and I find the quality of his seeds really good. The only variety I wasn’t overly keen on was his Icelandic poppies. (Icelandic poppies are biennial as opposed to other poppy varieties which are annual and perennial) They came in a mix pack of reds and oranges. They were pretty but the flowers were small and I didn’t end up using them.
This year I’m trying out a seed company I have not tried before. I want to try out as many as I can so I can compare price and most especially, quality. Chiltern seeds have an excellent range of seeds so bought my biennials from them.
The biennials that I bought and sowed this year are:
Hesperis matronalis, purple and white. Hesperis comes in two colours purple and white. ( Earlier this year my van broke down while I was attempting to go for a hike in the Blackstairs mountain and on the long walk back to somewhere Andy would find me I spotted pink Hesperis – it almost made up for the breakdown – but as far as I know you can’t purchase the seed). Hesperis are fantastic. As long as I’m a grower I’ll sow these every year. They’re not stunning nor have any exotic features. But, they are a great cottage style flower, give really good stem length, and flower in abundance for months. Their stems are bursting with tonnes of small flowers and they make fantastic fillers for bouquets.
Foxgloves (Digitalis) are another staple here on the farm. They come in an array of sizes and colours. Last year I grew the purple (Digitalis purpurea) and white (Digitalis purpurea var. Alba) and was happy with them. They have huge stems and flowered for months from the end of May. This year I want more colours and some shorter stems as last years’ were so tall they just didn’t work in smaller bouquets, plus they were a pain to transport, they kept falling over! You have to be careful also about keeping them upright in the right location as they always bend towards the sun and before you know it you end up with bent, twisted and often unusable stems. This year I’m growing four varieties. D. purpurea var. Alba, the common white one that I grew last year. D. purpurea ‘Dwarf Vanilla’, I know the colour and size will work well for me. D. purpurea ‘Pam’s Choice’, this is a tall variety, its bells are white with maroon centres, can’t wait to see it flower! D. purpurea ‘Sutton’s Apricot’, tall with stunning pink/peachy flowers, another I can’t wait to see!
Sweet William. (Dianthus barbatus). There are many varieties of Dianthus, but it is the barbatus ones that are the biennials. Some of them could be described a short lived perennials, I treat them all as biennials, ripping out and replacing the old plants every autumn. These are truly an old – fashioned cottage style plant, but with many uses! Anyone who buys them from me often has fond memories of them and I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t like them. They are so lovely in big bunches on their own or put through bouquets. They are easy to harvest and have good vase life. Last year I grew D. ‘Auricula Eyed’ D. ‘Blackjack’ and ‘Alba’ which came in the biennial mix from Higgledy Garden. I was very late getting the seed sown (they fell down behind the seed box and I didn’t find them until September, ha!) so I had no choice but to over winter the tiny seedlings in the greenhouse and plant them out in the spring. They did eventually produce flowers towards the end of June but apart from ‘Blackjack’ (love the colour!!) I didn’t get great stem length or quantity. This year I decided to try some different varieties. Dianthus barbatus Amazon Rose Magic’, really looking forward to these, they have white flowers which turn to light then dark pink, giving a lovely mixed flower head. D. b. ‘Noverna Clown’, like ‘Amazon Rose Magic’ it starts out white then turns to pink/salmon/violet. I must be a sucker for flowers that show off! Though ‘Noverna Clown’ do not require vernalisation, I am planting them with the others as I want to keep them all together. D. b. ‘Sooty’ has dark stems and flowers and D. b. x chinensis ‘Kensington Mix’ have double – headed flowers in a mix of colours.
Wallflower (Erysimum cheiri, formerly known as Cheiranthus cheiri). I only grew a small amount of these last year (‘Cloth of Gold’ variety) and even though I didn’t get great stem length (the plugs did get very stressed before they went into the ground) I did use them a lot as they were lovely mixed in with bouquets of tulips. This year I’m growing Erysimum cheiri ‘Ivory white’, white flowers are essential for me, E. cheiri ‘Ruby Gem’, a really deep red that I know will work well with my tulips, E. cheiri ‘Giant Pink’, these can grow to 60cms and have beautiful deep pink flowers, E. cheiri F1 Hybrid ‘Sunset Apricot’ and ‘Sunset Dark Purple’ are more compact plants but I know I’m going to love the colours.
Honesty (Lunaria annua). I grow these for the shiny seed pods they produce after flowers though last year I did use some of the flowers in bouquets. The flowers are similar to Hesperis but with slightly more delicate petals. Germination from seed can be poor so best to sow plenty! Each plant does produce quite a few stems/branches, last year I planted out less than 20 plants and got about 3 armloads of pod laden stems this week.
Icelandic poppies (Papaver nudicaule). I have spent a ridiculous amount of time drooling over pictures of giant Iceland poppies (thanks to the amazing Floret!!) I really couldn’t wait to grow them myself. I think that’s why I was so disappointed with this years’ ones, I was expecting a much grander show than I got. This time I took my time ordering the varieties. I sowed seeds from Papaver nudicaule ‘Wind Song F2’ (big flower heads in pastels) and F1 Hybrid ‘Champagne’ bubbles (really big flower heads in bright colours) that I bought from Chiltern Seeds and P. n. ‘Deluxe Mix’ (huge flower heads in mixed colours) that I bought from Seedaholic. I was especially looking forward to harvesting armloads of ‘Champagne bubbles’ as Floret raves about them so was utterly disappointed when I got zero germination WHY??!!! At least the others behaved and I have a 3 trays of plugs almost ready to head to the tunnel.
I’m currently just getting the last of my biennials into the ground here on the farm. I’m a little late…was hoping to have them well settled in by the first frost which is due any day now. The plugs that are going into the ground are strong and healthy though so hopefully they will put out some roots and get settled into the ground quickly. I started all of our biennial seeds in seeds trays and then transplanted them into 77 and 96 cell plug trays. I use the 77’s for more shallow rooting plants that I want to grow into plugs quickly. They take less compost, making them cheaper and quicker to produce. I just have to keep a close eye on them that they don’t fill the plug and get hungry without me realising. From experience it’s never good to allow plugs to get stressed as sometimes they never recover. I use the 96’s for anything that has a taproot and/or grows very rapidly and doesn’t particularly like being transplanted. They are perfect for our poppy seeds.
I buy all my seed trays from Fruit Hill Farm in Co. Cork. Their trays are not cheap but are super sturdy and will last for years. I hate buying anything that ends up in the bin after one season. I was able to buy push out plates for the trays with are invaluable. You sit the plug tray on it a push down and it lifts all the plugs up in the tray, fantastic! It’s less stress on the baby plants and makes transplanting much faster. I only use peat free compost in our nursery. It is more expensive but you honestly can’t put a price on peatland conservation. I buy this also from Fruit Hill Farm. It has fantastic texture (the first time I tried it I couldn’t stop running my hands through it and expected everyone else to do same) and the seeds and seedlings love it.
I’m planning on covering all the rows of biennials with frost cover once I have done a round of weeding (I don’t want to have to life it again until next spring) and the overall weed growth has stopped. Using frost cover isn’t essential as the biennials are hardy, but I prefer to use it as it keeps them a little snugger over the winter as it protects against frost and wind and gives them an extra head start next year.
I’m definitely feeling a lot more organised than last year. Back then we had only just signed the lease on the land and were in a big hurry to get plants into the ground. It had taken longer than planned to get the lease and get the ground organised so we were pretty stressed. The biennials had long outgrown their plug trays (while waiting to get into the ground) and I had potted them all on into liners (9cm square pots). This cost us a lot in compost and time, it takes a lot longer to plant hundreds of liners than plugs!! Also last year we didn’t get to put down any weed suppressant which greatly added to our workload this spring as the beds started filling up with weeds. I remember saying to Andy not to worry, that next year we’dbe more organised, and for once we were! Ahhhh progress :-)
Collected seed from harvested Honesty seed pods. I have the rest of the pods stored to use in my floristry work.
Rows of baby seedlings tucked into prepared ground through a layer of mypex (weed suppressent).
Some of last years' seedlings snuggled under frost cover.