Posts tagged ‘horticulture’

May 20, 2012

Spruce Shoot Jam – Recipe

by Ciaran Burke
New spruce shoots

New spruce shoots

Spruce trees are a common site in the west of Ireland, not just as part of the alien forestry that covers much of the land, but also you see groups of old trees close to houses, derelict old cottages and lived in houses like ours.

Spruce trees beside our house

Spruce trees beside our house

That is exactly what we have close to our house, very close. I guess that these spruce trees were originally planted so as to provide shelter from the frequent and strong west winds.Now they have grown tall and cast a shadow over the garden in the evening time. We plant exotic woodland species under them, and hostas thrive there.

The species often seen is Sitka spruce, Picea sitchensis, a fast growing species. It is the most widely planted forestry tree, a non-native species that is controversial. It is favoured by forestry companies due to its rapid growth but it does not do much for enriching the wildlife of the country. Beneath them nothing grows and they have a big impact on acidification of soils.

Spruce trees are a common sight in the west of Ireland

Spruce trees are a common sight in the west of Ireland

Spruce has been traditionally used as a cough syrup, in fact it is sold in health food shops in that form. Spruce syrup can be made which is quite tasty and sweet and also spruce cordial. I made the cordial which is very nice and refreshing when diluted with sparkling water. The spruce shoot jam is very good too, an almost caramel like flavour with a hint of, spruciness…

 

To make the jam I first cooked the spruce shoots in water, i used about 2 cups of shoots and covered them with water and cooked simmered for about four hours. After it cooled overnight I strained it through a muslin cloth and then kept the spruce liquid in the fridge.

Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of spruce concentrate (see above)
  • 3 Large dessert apples, peeled, cored and chopped finely
  • 2 bottles (2 x 360ml) of apple juice concentrate
  • Juice of one lemon

Method:

  1. Wash the spruce shoots in cold water
  2. Add the apples, lemon juice and fruit concentrate to the saucepan
  3. Cook with a medium heat until the apple pieces are soft (about 15 minutes)
  4. Add the spruce concentrate
  5. Turn up the heat and cook until the jam starts to thicken, about 15-20 minutes
  6. Spoon or pour into sterilized jam jars and put lids on straight away

This made three jars of jam.

Fresh new growths in May on spruce tree

Fresh new growths in May on spruce tree

May 19, 2012

Primrose Petal Jam– Recipe

by Ciaran Burke
Petals in measuring jug

Petals in measuring jug

Primroses carpet the ground under an old hawthorn tree in our garden, the clothe the soil with a fragility and light, their gentle perfume is a delight. Primula vulgaris is a native plant, a wild flower that is always welcome in our garden. Each year they bring freshness and beauty to the Spring.

Their flowers appear delicate but they are robust plants. The petals of each flower untie at their bases to form a narrow tube that attached to the green stalk. Given a gentle tug, they detach easily from their bases. You can munch them and they taste nice, an unique flavour. I imagined a jam made from them…

Primrose flowers

Primrose flowers

Based on recipes for rose petal jelly and adapted to include some apple for abit of body here is a jam I made from primroes petals gathered in our garden last weekend. It is deilcious, a flavour which is a mix of fruity sweetness and a late hint of turkish delight…

Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 litre of primrose flowers. When foraging for wild food, do not collect flowers, leaves or fruits from beside busy roads, or areas where they are exposed to possible pollution.
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1½ cup of fruit sugar Ii used Fruisana, a fructose based sugar which is lower in calories and has a lower GI rating than ordinary sugar).
  • 2 Apples, peeled, cored and diced finely
  • Juice of one lemon
Primrose flowers in saucepan

Primrose flowers in saucepan

Method:

  1. Wash the flowers in cold water.
  2. Add the flowers petals, water, lemon juice and apple pieces into a saucepan
  3. Cook with a medium heat until the apple pieces are soft (about 15 minutes)
  4. Slowly add the sugar, stirring until the sugar is dissolved
  5. Turn up the heat and cook until the jam starts to thicken, about 25-20 minutes
  6. Spoon or pour into sterilized jam jars and put lids on straight away

This made nearly two jars of jam.

pouring Jam into a jar

pouring Jam into a jar

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

April 30, 2012

Spicy Fried Dandelion Flowers – Recipe

by Ciaran Burke
15 - Spicy Fried Dandelion Flowers

Spicy Fried Dandelion Flowers

Dandelions, Taraxacum officinale , are the bane of many a gardener’s life. They pop up everywhere, their happy flower heads cheekily appearing in the lawn, in the borders and even in the driveway. They are however nice flowers, they spread like a golden coat over the spring green fields at this time of year. Soon their fluffy seedheads will take to the wind, only to settle in gardens, roadsides and fields. There the seeds will germinate and grow a deep tap root that breaks when gardeners pull them out. Even a small portion of the root remaining in the soil can grow back to taunt us. Well, revenge never tasted so good…

Dandelion flowers in the colander

Dandelion flowers in the colander

Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 30 dandelion flowers, collected when fully open and fresh. When foraging for wild food, do not collect flowers, leaves or fruits from beside busy roads, or areas where they are exposed to possible pollution.
  • ½ cup of flower, we used wholegrain spelt.
  • ½ teaspoon of cumin
  • ½ teaspoon of coriander
  • ½ teaspoon of paprika
  • pinch of chili powder
  • salt and pepper
  • oil for frying, we used rapeseed oil.
11 - Fry the flowers until golden brown (2-3 minutes)

Fry the flowers until golden brown (2-3 minutes)

Method:

  1. Remove the green calyx from the backs of each flower (that is the green leafy bits attached to the base of the flower).
  2. Wash the flowers in cold water. Don’t dry them.
  3. Mix spices in a bowl with the flour.
  4. Heat the oil in a frying pan.
  5. Dip each flower into the flour and spice mixture and place flower side down on the pan, about 2-3 minutes.
  6. Fry until golden brown and turn the flowers over, let them brown, another 2 minutes.
  7. Remove from the pan and drain on a sheet of kitchen towel.
  8. Eat immediately, savour the flavour and think of all the dandelions that wont be growing in your garden next year!
14 - Drain the fried dandelion flowers on a piece of kitchen towel

Drain the fried dandelion flowers on a piece of kitchen towel

A tasty snack in the evening after pulling weeds in the garden for a few hours.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

April 27, 2012

Gardening with Children – Teaching The Teachers…

by Ciaran Burke
Tools and Equipment- Teacher Training Workshop, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, Ireland

Tools and Equipment- Teacher Training Workshop, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, Ireland

One of my earliest memories from my childhood is being with my grandfather when he was digging potatoes in a garden in Wexford. He used to do some gardening work for a neighbour after he had finished his postman’s work for the day. I remember too, shifting wheel barrow loads of gravel with my dad and a neighbour to make a drive way when we w moved to out house in Swords, I was seven, probably more in the way of the two men shovelling than I was of any great assistance. But I did shovel gravel into the barrows and I felt like a man, working alongside the grown ups.

My mother had always dreamed of a garden, that is why we moved to a semi-detached cottage two miles from Swords village in north County Dublin in 1977. The front of the house looked over fields which were planted with barley or potatoes each summer, the fields stretched over the county as far as Naul. Often on an afternoon after school or on a summers day, I helped my parents in garden, digging, cutting long grass with a shears, picking strawberries, getting dirty and collecting ladybirds in a jar.

I am very fortunate to have such good memories from my childhood, of those days spent “working” in the garden, my parents doing what their parents had done with them, passing on the experience of working in the garden together. Unfortunately our lives have got a bit complicated and busier, priorities have changed and there has been a disconnection with our garden and our families. Many parents do not have the knowledge and experience to pass on to their children nor to experience such moments themselves and to pass on simple memories and experiences to their children.

Schools are increasingly taking on the role of teaching gardening to children. Perhaps it is time to recognaise that gardening is a necessary life skill, just as everyone should be able to tie their lace they should be able to grow food for themselves and also experience the beauty of nature; the scent of a bloom, the intricate beauty of pattern on flower petals or watch a butterfly flitter past. There is a healing in the soil, my grandfather always said that the answer is always in the soil. therapeutic both also fun and social.

During the week I gave two workshops to a group of teacher in Castlebar, Co. Mayo. It was a great experience and they learnt a lot too. On the first evening we discussed ways of integrating gardening into the school day; filling a simple vase with flowers or branches from the garden, the way to school or children’s garden. Even a bare branch of a birch tree has a beauty in winter. The world of flowers is filled with stories to enthrall children; Fuchsia magellanica, from the exotic continent of South America, the explorer magellan and his exploits! Not only in the classroom, parents can do this at home too.

I told a story of the seed, told in such a way to create a feeling for a seed that a seed is a living thing that aspires to grow and needs our care.Then we dissected the seed so that the teachers could see what a seed is from a scientific perspective, not that it would be doe by the children. We made newspaper pots and sowed nasturtium seeds. School gardens could be beautiful places for learning and social interaction, not just a collection of raised beds.

On the second evening we made a raised bed outside. Some people used a powered screw driver and a saw for the first time. We dug the soil, filled the bed with top soil, planted plants. I finished the workshop with a hugely positive feeling, that there will be more children enjoying gardening in their school days.

Teacher Training Workshop, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, Ireland

Teacher Training Workshop, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, Ireland

Constructing the raised bed

Materials:

  • 3 x 2.4m decking timber 28mm x 130mm
  • 1x 2.4m garden stake  50mm
  • wood screws (6×70) approx 14 screws

Tools

  • Powered screw driver with philips no.2 bit
  • Rubber or wooden mallet
  • wood saw
  • spade
  • shovel
  • wheel barrow
  • measuring tape
  • bamboo canes
  • builders line or twine

Raised beds offer a number of advantages including increased periods of workability as you do not need to walk on the soil in order to cultivate and plant. Raising the beds can also improve drainage, increase the depth of the topsoil and make working easier as you dont have to bend as far.

Old scaffolding planks can be used instead of treated timber, they have the advantage of being untreated and hard woods and the fact that they are being recycled is a good environmental plus. They can also be half the price. The downside is that they are thicker and harder to get the screws in to and they are wider, therefore more soil will be needed in order to fill the beds. Getting good quality topsoil, cheaply can be difficult.

Position beds in sunny situations, shelter from winds is best for vegetable crops. Avoid over hanging branches of established trees. Construct the beds no wider than 1.2m to ensure that the centres of the beds can be reached from the sides. In theory the beds can be as long as you want, but in practice if the beds are too long, gardeners end up taking short cuts across the beds, this means compacting the soil and in a school situation it creates an unnecessary hazard. 2.4 metre beds are a good size.

Start with cutting one of the decking boards in half, this will give you two ends for the bed.

Mark out the area for the beds using twine and bamboo canes. If laying out a number of beds in a geometric pattern ensure that the beds are square, use pythagoras theorem for getting the corners square and making sure adjacent beds are parallel.

Where grass is present the sod (top 5cm of soil can be removed. this can be buried under the topsoil when digging the or placed in a compost heap.

Place the sides and ends of the beds in position and align the corners. Put two scres from the sides into the end boars and two from the end boards into the sides at each corner.

Ciaran hammering in a post - Teacher Training Workshop, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, Ireland

Ciaran hammering in a post - Teacher Training Workshop, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, Ireland

Check that corners are square and then hammer in posts at each corner and on the sides inside the boards half way. Use a wooden or rubber mallet. The posts should go into the soil as much as the height of the sides. Cut the 2.4 m stake into required lengths for this purpose.

Now that the beds have been constructed, it is time to fill them. It always surprises me just how much soil it takes to fill beds. As the beds are being filled, tread over the soil to settle it, natural settlement will occur anyway, but this reduces it.  As you fill in the soil, look out for weed roots and stones which need to be removed.

Teachers around the newly constructed raised bed - Teacher Training Workshop

Teachers around the newly constructed raised bed - Teacher Training Workshop

Some things to watch out for when building beds for schools. Avoid sharp edges on the beds. Look out for any sharp materials that may be in topsoil, things like glass pieces, bits of metal.

Note: 1.2m beds are quite good for adults, perhaps narrower beds of 1 metre would be more suited for young children.

Ciaran and the teachers, teacher training Workshop, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, Ireland

Ciaran and the teachers, teacher training Workshop, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, Ireland

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

March 26, 2012

Planting Potatoes in Plastic Bags

by Ciaran Burke

Harvesting New Potatoes

Early potato tubers are usually chitted before being planted outside. This involves placing the tubers in a well lit, frost free place. The shoots develop from the eyes of the tuber and will then be planted outside when the soil has warmed to 6° Celcius.

Early varieties take between 75 – 90 days to mature. Harvesting can start in early summer. Irish people use St Patrick’s Day, 17th March, as the date by which you must have the early potatoes planted.

Not everyone has space for planting potatoes, in fact not everyone has a garden. However, just about everyone can enjoy harvesting a few of their home grown potatoes in summer using old plastic compost bags for planting. To obtain an earlier crop, tubers can be planted in a tunnel or glasshouse. Tubs or barrels can also be used. I decided to re-use a couple of old plastic compost bags. Here is what I did:

Step 1: I turned the bags inside out to reveal their dark side which attracts more heat, and looks nicer. I rolled down the bag so as to allow light for the shoots when they grow. Into the base of the bags I made a number of slits to allow drainage.

PLANTING POTATOES IN BAGS- 10 CM LAYER OF COMPOST IN BAGS

PLANTING POTATOES IN BAGS- 10 CM LAYER OF COMPOST IN BAGS

Step 2: From our compost heap I got a wheel barrow of lovely dark compost.  A 10cm (4 inches) layer was shoveled into the bags and then firmed with my hands.

PLANTING POTATOES IN BAGS- COVERING TUBERS

PLANTING POTATOES IN BAGS- COVERING TUBERS

Step 3: The tubers I placed on the compost and then covered with a further 10cm (4 inches) of the good stuff, and firmed. Then the compost was watered.

PLANTING POTATOES IN BAGS- TUBERS PLACED ON COMPOST

PLANTING POTATOES IN BAGS- TUBERS PLACED ON COMPOST

Aftercare: When the stems grow to 15cm (6inches), more compost will be added, to a depth of 10cm (4 inches). As the plants grow the sides of the bags are unrolled to allow for greater depth. I will continue to add more compost as the stems grow until it is 5cm (2 inches) below the top of the bag. The potatoes will need to be well watered. They need a weekly feed of liquid seaweed fertilizer to promote growth. When the plants start to flower the crop will be ready to harvest.  As a true Irish man I can’t wait to cook the first potatoes; steamed and then eaten with melted butter and some chopped chives from the garden, yum!

  • There is nothing quite like your own compost from the garden when growing vegetables. Learn about making compost on my other blog Ciaran’s Gardening Blog and download an information sheet on Home Garden Composting.
  • Listen to a podcast of “In The Garden with Ciaran Burke” – Episode 13
  • WATCH THE YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THE NEW GROWTH PROJECT HORTICULTURE COURSE. This is a free training course that we are running in our own garden in Co. Mayo, Ireland. For more info: THE GARDEN SCHOOL Each week we make a video of what the students are doing on the course.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

%d bloggers like this: