Sowing + Hoeing

23 Mar 2012

Spring has sprung on the craggy isle and riding along with it the familiar niggling notion that we’d better get sowing and hoeing.  Bit by bit, we’ve put together a garden plan which sounds really clever and grown-up, but basically involves two adult children sitting at a kitchen table scratching heads, scribbling notes, drawing makeshift pictures with crayons, vehemently disagreeing, and then once again concluding that Richard {i.e. stick person with wellies} will plant his potatoes and onions and I {i.e. stick person with a skirt} will carry on with the rest which will undoubtedly be far too many varieties in his “humble opinion”.

We are trying to be sensible and learn from previous years; what’s working {luckily, almost everything especially potatoes}, what to plant where, what didn’t grow {asparagus}, what grew too much for us to eat or store {squash, radishes} and the everlasting conundrum: how to keep the dogs, birds and insects from damaging the beautiful seeds of our labour.

This year, I think I have procured my best selection of seeds yet: among others-salsify, yellow strawberries, boston lettuce, white beets, mustard greens and most exciting for me: artichoke. Plucking the petals of a steamed artichoke and plunging them into a cup of creamy lemon mayonnaise or scooping up zesty dollops of artichoke ramekin using crusty chunks of baguette are two of my favourite summertime sports. Needless to say, I will be over the moon if the artichokes are a success as they are impossible to source in Irish markets.

We have also been trying to decide on adding raised beds or sticking with our tried and true, good old-fashioned ground beds. Lately the running pun is “to raise or not to raise”….which is nobler?

We moved into our own home on the farm in 2007 and planted our first kitchen garden two years later after completing a brilliant organic growing course booked through the Organic Centre and hosted by Jim Cronin at his farm in County Clare. Of course, Richard had some experience with growing his own vegetables when he was younger, but I certainly didn’t, and since the course was based on organic growing I figured it would be a great learning experience for us both.

Jim Cronin is a gentle, salt-of-the-earth farmer who believes in using basic principals for growing, even employing horsepower in lieu of fuel-powered machinery. He has been growing vegetables for over twenty years and his farm is certified to organic standards. He is a fountain of knowledge and a real congenial fella who taught us a lot and sent us home inspired.

The thing is, I distinctly remember Jim advising the class not to bother with raised beds; explaining that they were more cosmetic than anything and that they could potentially attract more pests to the garden, and by pests he meant SLUGS. It is altogether possible that I have recalled this very fact because he mentioned it during the lunch break, specifically when I was shoveling a forkful of his wife’s amazing shredded carrot salad into my mouth. Richard finished my plate.

Still, each time I see or read about a garden with raised beds, I can’t shake the idea that they would be easier to organise and maintain since we are not growing on acres of crops {I promise, we’re not!}. It would also be hard to deny that they might look a bit more attractive than our ground plot.  I decided to ask around for opinions, both professional and personal, to see who exactly was using raised beds, and why or why not?

Generally speaking, nearly everyone I spoke to was in favour of raised beds. Many reasons were given, most commonly: they are easier to weed, they provide better drainage, weeding can be kinder on the back muscles, not having access to good ground soil, living in the city so no other option for urban gardeners, and yes, {cough} because they look nice.

So, all things considered, we’ve decided to go ahead with the raised beds this year. And, since they look relatively easy to construct, I’m thinking I may just roll up my sleeves and do them myself.

Here is a recipe for one of my absolute favourite artichoke indulgences. It is the closest thing to the legendary Loring Cafe Artichoke Ramekin that I have tested.  It is creamy, zesty, garlic-y, artichoke-y heaven. I have many, many fond memories of sitting on the Loring patio sipping glasses of chilled Muscadet and devouring ramekins of this baked artichoke dip on sunny Saturday afternoons with a lively table of friends. Sadly, the original Loring is no longer there, but the Artichoke Ramekin will still live on here on the farm, so long as our artichokes are a success! {note: you can use jarred artichokes for this recipe and some think it’s even better than fresh}

Slan Abhaile,

Imen xx

Photo by Imen McDonnell 2012

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