Archive for January, 2013

January 26, 2013

by Ciaran Burke

Dramatic start to the day…

oneTree365

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January 21, 2013

Getting to know a tree -OneTree365

by Ciaran Burke

Screen shot 2013-01-20 at 16.16.17

Onetree365.com

On December 4th, I decided to start a project, a photography project, but also an exercise in tree appreciation and observance of nature. Taking time each day to spend a few minutes observing a tree and its surroundings. Already I have been surprised by how different a willow tree can look in a photograph each day, and even throughout the day.

15th January - sunrise

15th January – sunrise

I decided to use this willow which grows close to our house for a number of reasons; it is a native tree, possibly a spontaneous seedling in the hedgerow, it is close to my home so I can observe it each day without the need to travel, convenience makes my year long commitment easier. The fact that it is an unremarkable species in terms of rarity or uniqueness is important, horticulturists are often guilty of only valuing exotic species with flamboyant flowers, foliage or bark or for their rarity, we horties can be a tad snobbish about plants. So this willow, an unassuming arboreal neighbour was chosen for the fat that is ordinary. But it has its qualities to admire, its winter outline, the form sculpted by wind and time. It has pride and character, and like all trees it draws from the earth as it reaches to the heavens, making food from the air and water in the soil, providing us with oxygen to breathe and maybe one day with carbon rich wood to burn. In the meantime it hosts insects, food for birds that stand on its branches and sing. Like very tree, it is important, it is beautiful.

17th January - One Tree with traffic...

17th January – One Tree with traffic…

Each day I take a photo of the tree and upload it on www.onetree365.com –

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January 18, 2013

Winter beauty smells so good – Winter Flowering Shrubs

by Ciaran Burke
HAMAMELIS 'ARNOLD PROMISE'

HAMAMELIS ‘ARNOLD PROMISE’

Sweetness and spice… inhale! Ah yes… sniffing the delicious scent of witch hazel flowers is good for the soul. The fuzzy yellow flowers, or orange or red, depending on the cultivar, are borne with delicacy along barren stems as the darkest days start to stretch towards a brighter spring.The sweet spicy scent of Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ is one of my favourite fragrances in the garden. The hybrid witch hazels are crosses between two asian species, H. mollis from China and the japanese H. japonica, and there are many fine cultivars from which to choose. We grow the red flowered H. ‘Ruby Glow’, but unfortunately it lacks the rich scent of other cultivars.

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Ruby Glow'

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Ruby Glow’

Under a large old native hawthorn tree, new shoots of aconitums are emerging from the cold earth, reaching to the light and creating green splashes on a blank canvass of winter soil, blank except for the three young bushes of Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis. This trio of dwarf evergreen shrubs have tiny flowers without petals, the white blooms borne in the leaf axils and on a calm day their scent journeys through the air, filling the air with sweetness.

SARCOCOCCA  FLOWERS CLOSE UP

SARCOCOCCA FLOWERS CLOSE UP

The delicate almost translucent flowers of the bush honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima, possess a fragrance similar to their woodbine cousins that scramble through hedgerows in summer. Borne in pairs the pale blooms are coloured only by yellow anther tips of their stamens, but their smell brings a warm glow of summer-like scent to a cold winter’s day.

PAIR OF FLOWERS OF LONICERA FRAGRANTISSIMA

PAIR OF FLOWERS OF LONICERA FRAGRANTISSIMA

I checked the naked stems of the winter sweet shrub, hoping in vain to see flower buds, but we will have to wait at least another year for the pleasure of smelling the scent from the pale glassy yellow flowers of Chimonanthus praecox. Young shrubs need time to flower, each january since we planted it a few years ago we hope to see signs that is has at last matured to flowering, but we will have to wait a while longer.

WINTER SWEET CHIMONANTHUS PRAECOX FLOWERS

WINTER SWEET CHIMONANTHUS PRAECOX FLOWERS

A shorter wait for us will be to enjoy the most magnificent winter scent of Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postil’. The deep pink buds are loosening, the petals starting to unfurl. I checked it yesterday, but I knew long before any close inspection that it was not yet blooming. When in full bloom, it is more likely to smell the plant before you see it, such is the power of its perfume, wafting on calm winter air throughout the garden like no other shrub.

FLOWER AND BUDS OF DAPHNE BHOLUA 'JACQUELINE POSTIL'

FLOWER AND BUDS OF DAPHNE BHOLUA ‘JACQUELINE POSTIL’

Daphne bholua was introduced to western gardens from the Himalya in 1938, it is a shrub that still remains in comparative obscurity despite having a heavenly scent and one of unmatchable strength in the winter season, perhaps in any season. It has pproved hardy through the two cold winters of recent times, losing its foliage after temperatures of minus 17 Celsius, but recovering well in Spring. A large and quick growing shrub to 2.5 metres or more, evergreen or sometimes deciduous, depending on cultivar and climate, it us unsurpassable in winter beauty and an invaluable asset to any garden where a gardener has a working nose and an appreciation of scent.

January 7, 2013

Gotcha Oca! Oxalis tuberosa – A new root crop with a future?

by Ciaran Burke
An Oca tuber

An Oca tuber

I first grew Oxalis tuberosa about fifteen years ago. I received the seed from a seed list, it was listed as an alpine plant from South America. I grew it in a well drained compost, lean, without much fertilizer and it eventually produced an attractive yellow flower. It was quite nice. Last year I was re-acquainted with this Oxalis, under quite different circumstances. A gardening firend of mine, Carmen Cronin who runs the Clare Garden Festival gave me some tubers of a vegetable plant which she described as having shamrock-like leaves and that it came from South America. I suspected that it was indeed my old friend O. tuberosa, although she called it OCA and pronounced it Och- ah.

Young Oca plants being potted up into compost bags

Young Oca plants being potted up into compost bags

Well I was intrigued! The tubers were waxy textured and brightly coloured, some red, some yellow, others almost white. The following week I planted them in pots with the help of some students taking part on The New Growth Project course that we run in our garden. We watched the plants closely, all were curious to see how they would grow, would these funny looking tubers be a substitute for the beloved spud? We joked that one day people might be ordering bags of Oca fries to go with their burgers.

Oca plants potted up

Oca plants potted up

That was back in April. We planted the tubers in 2 litre pots of garden compost and later potted on the plants into re-cycled compost bags filled with more of the garden compost. These were kept in the polytunnel where we work with the students. The growth of the Oca was far more than I expected and by mid-summer we were battling for space with the South American vegetables.

Oca plants growing in the tunnel during the summer- they grow very big

Oca plants growing in the tunnel during the summer- they grow very big

Ocas are relatively unknown as a vegetable, apparently they grow them in New Zealand where they call them yams, which is a very misleading name. Oca or Oxalis tuberosa are related to wood sorrel, Oxalis acetosella, a native of Irish woodlands. The foliage is very similar being trifoliate and shamrock like. The foliage can be eaten, it has an acidic sour taste which is quite appealing, similar to sorrel.

Oca will grow vigorously, some of the plants produced stems 2 metres (over 6ft) long by the autumn. Oca are not suitable for growing outdoors in all parts of Ireland, early frosts will turn the fleshy stems to mush before tubers start to form. The plants have a short day photoperiodic response for tuber formation which means that tubers do not start to form and swell until mid-October. Covering the plants with polythene or fleece will help protect them from light frosts.

Frost in October killed outdoor Oca plants before their tubers developed

Frost in October killed outdoor Oca plants before their tubers developed

GROWING OCA – MY EXPERIENCE

I found that plants in the polythene tunnel also got frost damaged when temperatures went below zero degrees Celcius (32F). As the days got shorter the students and I checked the plants weekly. After the tomato plants were cleared from our upper tunnel we moved the plants that we had been fighting for space in our potting tunnel to the bed vacated by the tomatoes. We laid the trailing stems of the Oca on the beds. Along the stems small tubers started to form. Portions of the stems that were covered with soil developed larger tubers.  Next year I will earth up the tubers more as some close to the surface had holes eaten in them by birds. Otherwise the Oca were untroubled by pests and untroubled by diseases. I did not give any extra fertilizer to the plants while they were growing as the plants were growing so big, but addition of supplementary fertilizer low in nitrates might help increase the yield of tubers if applied late in the growing season. We kept the plants watered throughout the summer.

oca plants transferred into other tunnel- the long stems trailed onto the raised bed after the tomatoes had been cleared out

oca plants transferred into other tunnel- the long stems trailed onto the raised bed after the tomatoes had been cleared out

 

During late summer I experimented with taking cuttings of the Oca plants. They rooted quickly and easily and by Christmas most of the plants had made one or two decent sized tubers. I will use these plants for replanting this year.

One of the Oca plants grown from cuttings

One of the Oca plants grown from cuttings

HARVESTING AND COOKING OCA

Our first harvest of the tubers was made just before Christmas. Two good portions were made from a well cropping bag.

Red oca from one of the bags

Red oca from one of the bags

So after all this, how do Oca taste? On Christmas Eve my wife and I roasted our first harvest of red and yellow Oca tubers. Oca tubers can even be eaten raw, but i prefer to cook them. They can be fried, boiled, steamed, deep fried or roasted. After washing the well, they are easy to clean due to their smooth and waxy skins. We then tossed them in rapeseed oil and baked them for about 20 minutes until they were tender.

Oca tossed in oil and baked for about 20 minutes...delicious!

Oca tossed in oil and baked for about 20 minutes…delicious!

OCA ARE DELICIOUS! They remind me a little of a fried potato seasoned with vinegar.

So next season we are going to grow more Oca. I look forward to experimenting with them; I am going to take cuttings from the first flush of growth and see if the plants make more tubers, I will earth up the stems as they grow. I will also experiment with day length control, and try to induce tuber formation early by covering the plants with black polythene for a few hours each morning to produce a shorter day length.

I can see it now, fast food outlets on Saturday nights after closing time “Do you want Oca fries with your burger?” “Yes please!”

Oca tubers from one of the bags

Oca tubers from one of the bags

 

Moving some Oca plants in composst bags outdoors- these were covered with fleece

Moving some Oca plants in composst bags outdoors- these were covered with fleece

Tubers developing at the base of the plant grown from cuttings

Tubers developing at the base of the plant grown from cuttings

Oca grown from cuttings in late summer

Oca grown from cuttings in late summer

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 7, 2013

The First Weeds Are The First Harvest- Chickweed Soup Recipe

by Ciaran Burke
Chickweed soup... will warm you up on a cold day

Chickweed soup… will warm you up on a cold day

Happy New Year!

the weather here in the west of Ireland has been unusually mild, which is great in some respects; I can look forward to inhaling the sweet fragrance of Daphne bholua flowers in the next few days, the gorse bushes are about to flower and I can soon enjoy some sweet gorse flower cordial, about 2 months earlier than last year! The downside of the mildness is that weeds keep growing, some have not stopped at all. One that has kept a year round presence in our garden is Stellaria media, known as chickweed or mouse eared chickweed. Luckily it is a tasty plant that can be made into a delicious soup or included in a pesto. So the year’s first weeding session can also be this years first harvest!

Chickweed -Stellaria media

Chickweed -Stellaria media

Chickweed, Stellaria media, is an annual weed which can germinate at any time of year. Its botanical name refers to the starry white flowers that are produced at the ends of the lush green growth. Chickweed often grows in abundance in recently disturbed ground, the seeds are stimulated into growth by light. So when you have done a hard days work getting the flower beds all neat and tidy or sown some vegetable seeds in a carefully prepared seed bed, the first thing you can expect to see is a fresh crop of chickweed starting into growth.

Every one of its flowers is self fertile and each seed pod can produce 2500 seeds. These seeds can lie dormant in the soil for up to four years. When growing well they can re-seed within 6 weeks of germinating. Chickweeds foliage is rampant and can easily swamp out slower growing seedlings and young plants.

Chickweed -Stellaria media foliage

Chickweed -Stellaria media foliage

Chickweed is easy to remove by hand or by hoeing in dry weather. Disturbance of the soil does however encourage a new batch of seeds to grow. A troublesome weed for all gardeners, so what better way to exact your revenge than to eat it, turn it into to lunch or dinner and make a nice soup, it is easy.

Only collect chickweed from ground that has not been treated with weed killers, never collect from busy roadsides or  public places. Make sure you know the plant you collect is definitely chickweed, if you are not sure, never take a chance!

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CHICKWEED SOUP RECIPE

INGREDIENTS

  1. •1 Medium onion
  2. •2 Small potatoes
  3. •1 Litre of chicken or vegetable stock
  4. •2 Good handfulls of chickweed  pulled from the garden, only use fresh green growth which has not flowered.
  5. •Water
  6. •A good knob of butter and some olive oil
  7. •Salt and Black pepper
Diced onion, diced potato and chickweed - wash the chickweed well.

Diced onion, diced potato and chickweed – wash the chickweed well.

Preparation

  1. 1.Peel and finely dice the onion
  2. 2.Peel and finely dice the potatoes
  3. 3.Remove big stalks from the chickweed and wash well

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Cooking

  1. Melt the butter in some olive oil in a large saucepan
  2. Saute the onion until soft and golden but do not let it burn.
  3. Add the diced potatoes and stir in the oil for a couple of minutes.
  4. Add a little water, enough to cover the potatoes and simmer until the potatoes are soft.
  5. Then add the chicken stock and cook until it is boiling.

    When onions are soft pour in the chicken or vegetable stock

    When onions are soft pour in the chicken or vegetable stock

  6. Throw in the chickweed leaves and simmer for about ten minutes.

    Cook until the potato is soft then add the fresh chickweed and cook for a further 5-10 minutes before blending with a hand blender

    Cook until the potato is soft then add the fresh chickweed and cook for a further 5-10 minutes before blending with a hand blender

  7. Season with salt and pepper.
  8. Remove pan from the heat and use a hand blender to blend the soup.
Chickweed soup... chickweed has its own unique flavour...surprisingly delicious

Chickweed soup… chickweed has its own unique flavour…surprisingly delicious

Now serve and enjoy.

From the summer... Chickweed soup, seakale florets and sour thistle salad, a foraged meal...

From the summer, a foraged and home grown meal: Chickweed soup, seakale florets, sautéd nettle shoots and sour thistle salad with new potatoes from the garden,

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