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Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

It has been a while since I last posted here. I think that may be because the last year was one of more “doing”. As much as I love filling Green Jam Jar with inspiring and informative anecdotes about green living- and I did so religiously for several years – about 12 months ago it began to lose its sheen. Weary from long stints sitting in a mental haze in front of a screen and keyboard, I wanted to spend less time on a computer. The day job is mostly digital orientated and after well over 2 decades of staring at a brightly lit monitor, the thought of using precious down-time to blog somehow lessened its appeal. I missed hand crafting. The tactile, slow work of making. To be lost in the physical act of creating instead of drunk on pixels.

So I did lots of experimenting, mixing and fabricating. In the kitchen and the garden – in other folk’s kitchens. Sporadic Instagraming filled the gap usually reserved for blogging. On the whole I didn’t record much of my play time (in hindsight, wish I had…), it was purely about the doing. I made more soap, baked some Yellow Dock seed crackers (interesting..), concocted roasted Dandelion root and Cleaver seed coffee (very drinkable..but really what you’d call coffee). I ground my own tooth powder, made moisturiser, started painting again and learned to make sourdough bread.

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It’s good to have a friend with similar interests to egg you on. Mine is motivational-maker-and-baker pal Sharon, pictured above with Joe Fitzmaurice of Riot Rye.

Over a one-day workshop with bread hero, Joe Fitzmaurice of Riot Rye, the chemical process of fermenting flour and water was demystifyed. He walked us through simple step-by-step techniques for making our own bread using a rye starter. He talked about temperature, different grains and ways to score the crust. Each of us brought a dollop of the live culture home with instructions on how to nurture it. And I have been making bread ever since.

Working from a home office allows me to frequent the kitchen at any time. On bread-making days I zip away from my desk every half hour to fold the dough as it slowly proves. The velvety feel of dough on fingers is pure contentment. Watching the sticky mass of flour, water and starter expand over the day to a smooth, pillow-like ball and anticipating it’s transformation into a radiant, crusty loaf makes the work day glide by effortlessly. Somehow the discipline of half-hourly dough folding makes me more focused in the office and I tend to get more done. The slightly sour smell of baking rye is an added comfort, along with the reward of lunch being sorted. I enjoy the balance of hands-on baking punctuated with the humdrum of head work. Most of all I love the taste of organic, wild yeasted bread fresh from the oven. You’ll have to excuse me now- I’m off to give my dough a good stretch.

Check out the Real Bread Ireland website for more info on Irish bakers and bread makers.

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Whoooosh…..And there goes another year. Three weeks ago, 2016 sauntered right in and made itself at home while my head is still entertaining 2015. Time is a strange thing. It has absolutely no regard for my preferred pace of life. Marching along steadily, refusing to wait for me as I ramble off-course. If Time were not so regimented and I not so easily distracted, we might make better friends. Meanwhile, we put up with each other’s shortcomings and carry on regardless. As with any fractious relationship, a little venting eases the irritation. And what better bugbear to start with, than this very blog.

At the beginning, Time left lots of room for blogging. But the novelty lost it’s sheen somewhat when everyday stuff demanded attention. Other activities got priority and Time refused to wait for me to catch up. Time does not tolerate excuses. He is well known for forging ahead regardless. I have noticed that the more activities I plan to cram into each day the more indifferent Time becomes. So perhaps I need to narrow my focus to only include the activities that mean the most to me and allocate a realistic amount of energy to them.

Blogging is most definitely among my favourite activities. I’ve selected a few favourite images from 2015. A look back through the year helps me mend my relationship with Time and be more forgiving. After all it has been a great year! It also helps me reflect on what activities are closest to my heart.

Foraging-making-exploring

I love the treasures that foraging brings, the act of gathering food from the hedgerows is such a delight. Thinking up new ways to use my bounty is so much fun! Home remedies, food, cosmetics…the list is endless. I’ll never tire of learning and exploring more about the natural world and as for making things by hand- it’s the perfect antidote for someone who spends too much time pushing pixels around a screen for a living.
Gardening

 

Our new veggie patch of raised beds was a great success this year and for a few months we just ate what came out of the garden. That gave us a great sense of satisfaction with the added bonus of great-tasting, chemical-free, fresh ingredients.

If there are any fitting subjects that you would like me to cover here on Green Jam Jar please let me know. I like to think there are folk getting something out of my monthly musings – other than the other end of therapeutic venting! (But therapeutic venting alone is good enough!)  So, with your help, and that of my old pal time, Time, let’s take Green Jam Jar into 2016!

Happy New Year to you all! Make it the year to follow your heart.

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Irish_book_pile“Just… six…. weeks” Sinead whispered. Her horrified expression told of santa letters requesting all sorts of elusive items, festivity mania and the pressure to conform to the popular ideal of Christmas time. I nodded sympathetically. My hairdresser told me two days ago that she had secured her little boy’s Christmas present in June, such was the demand for the particular item. We have no santa believers in our immediate household. I’m grateful to be excused from the mad rush to hunt down the latest new-fangled, must-have, super-sonic gadget, for which the marketing industry has worked offspring into a frenzy. Our extended family has gone so far as to impose a no-present policy for the last few festive seasons. We do however break the rules a little for smaller family members that still hold faith in the industrious elves that churn out toys in the north pole.

I’m not going to go all humbug and push for pressie abstinence. I’m all for the spirit of giving but choosing items that are locally-sourced, sustainably produced and send little or no waste to landfill seems like the most sensible way to approach it. Difficult I know when little Tommy has his heart set on that plastic ride-on tractor economically produced in Asia. I always think there’s nothing like receiving or giving a good book. Even if not produced locally, a book has a long lifespan (sometimes generations) and can be passed on until it becomes tatty to the point of illegibility. At that stage it should decompose nicely. Some folk disagree with the felling of trees for the production of paper but I would argue that the paper industry has long since pulled up its socks. Forests grown for paper production are now sustainable managed. In fact the whole industry relies on continual planting and growing of trees, offsetting considerable amounts of carbon.

I love reference books. Any that cover nature, cooking, gardening, herbal remedies, foraging, design and illustration will always capture my attention. There are that many great books in my collection I would be waxing lyrical ’til the cows come home to cover all my favourites. So I have narrowed my selection here to themes covered in the blog and to books whose authors I have personally met in recent times. Here we go:

ZoeDevlin_TrevorSargent_books

The Wildflowers of Ireland is a conveniently sized field guide to wild flowers of the Irish countryside. Written and photographed by the lovely Zoe Devlin, it’s a terrific accessory for an outdoor stroll. It’s my go-to reference for identifying unfamiliar species or confirming the lineage of those that I’m unsure about. I met Zoe on one of her amazing and informative wildflower walks.

Trevor’s Kitchen Garden is the work of multi-talented, friend and neighbour, Trevor Sargent. This detailed growing guide draws on his 30 years of organic gardening. As well as practical growing instruction Trevor shares fascinating facts and words of wisdom making it an invaluable companion for anyone who grows, or aspires to grow, their own food.

While on the subject of growing your own, I have to include Grow, Cook, Eat to my list of recommended reading. I recently had the pleasure of meeting the dynamic and inspiring Michael Kelly. Michael, founder of GIY  (Grow it yourself) has compiled oodles of seasonal recipes and interspersed them with useful tips on how to grow your own ingredients. A very attractive volume and a useful reference for tending your veg patch through out the year.

GIY_SusanJaneWhite_books

And last but not least, I’d like to give my recently acquired The Extra Virgin Kitchen a mention. Written by the effervescent Susan Jane White this book is for anyone keen to avoid wheat, dairy or refined sugar. It’s packed with super-healthy recipes that are easy to prepare and taste great. I met Susan at my local healthfood store where a delicious high-octane banana flapjack and her infectious enthusiasm for all things wholesome, won me over. Behind her entertaining, up-beat writing style are nuggets of well-researched, nutritional wisdom- invaluable for anyone who has ever struggled with food intolerances.

If you are already on the hunt for great gifts this festive season you’ll find all of the above and thousands more excellent reads at your local bookstore. It’s as good place as any to start!

 

 

 

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Watering the polytunnel one evening I was taken aback to spot a large insect flexing his feelers on a courgette plant. His slender body spanned almost two inches with long gangly antennae that comically kinked out suddenly. I’d never seen a creature like him before and decided to keep my distance. After gingerly taking a picture on my phone I darted indoors to see if Google could enlighten me. I found no images to match my bug so I sent off an email to the Viney household hoping for some insight. Ethna Viney, writer and wife to Irish Times nature columnist Michael, very kindly advised me to contact the National Biodiversity Data Centre.

Parasitic_Wasp_Ireland

Funded by the Heritage Council and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the National Biodiversity Data Centre is based in Waterford. They collect data from civilian naturalists from all around the country. That information is then managed and analysed to inform us of any changes to our natural surroundings. It means that the state of Ireland’s wildlife is documented for future reference and monitored so that any potential threats or challenges can be detected and dealt with. As the natural environment directly impacts our daily lives, it is a valuable and worthy activity.

The public are encouraged to visit the website, log in and record their sighting- whether it be insect, wild animal, bird or plant. There are even useful step-by-step instructions to help you through the process. When I opened the website I read that earlier in the day a Pine Marten had been spotted in Sligo, someone had spied a Green Shield bug in Kerry while the day before in Dublin a Rock Pigeon was recorded and Sea Aster was found growing in Waterford. Just a few of the many, many recorded sightings that are logged each day. It doesn’t seem to matter if the particular species is unusual or considered rare, even encounters with common flora and fauna are welcome.

But how could I record my exotic visitor without first identifying him? With that in mind I sent my photo in an email to the experts at the National Biodiversity Data Centre asking for assistance. A speedy response confirmed that my insect wasn’t terribly exotic but, in fact, a parasitic wasp. Dr Tomás Murray assured me that the wasp was harmless, unless you happen to be a caterpillar. The unfortunate caterpillar is host to the wasp larvae. I was a little disappointed not to have discovered a rarity or even a brand new species but at least he will help deter ravenous caterpillars from chomping through my leafy greens.

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A week later while walking in the locality I spotted another gargantuan insect on my path. A fat, brown caterpillar with eye-like markings lolloped over the gravel. Aha, I thought, another specimen to record. Google was able to help me out on this one which turned out to be an Elephant Hawk Moth grub. So I dutifully logged on to the National Biodiversity Data Centre website and recorded each insect individually, citing exact location, date and habitat I found them in. Lots of prompts and drop-down menus make the process as easy as possible.

Next time you are outdoors take a closer look at that grass verge, the hedge nearby, the stone wall, the flower bed.  It’s amazing what you see when you really look. Get spotting and recording. You’ll develop a more intimate relationship with your surroundings, you’ll be doing your bit for the preservation of our biodiversity and, last but not least, it’s fun for all the family!

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FPW_illustrationWe are all well aware of the potential challenges that lay ahead. The media bombards us with forecasts of melting ice caps, rising ocean levels and calamitous weather patterns. The unpredictability of climate change threatens our food sovereignty and presents us with various tragic eventualities. While it all sounds a bit apocalyptic and melodramatic, because that’s how the media likes to express itself, there is a slice of reality in there. Our destructive behaviour hasn’t done us any favours. Man’s lack of empathy for the natural order of things combined with our misguided sense of superiority may one day lead to our eventual extinction. As George Carlin put it

The planet’ll shake us off like a bad case of fleas.

But it’s not terribly helpful to dwell on omens of doom and gloom. It’s more constructive (and much cheerier) to seek out inspirational, enlightened folk to guide us in the right direction. International Resilience Manager Davie Philip is one such person. A few days ago in Wexford town a group of like-minded people came together to explore how we might build better communities in our locality and plan for a brighter future together. The highlight of the “Future-Proof Wexford” public meeting was an impassioned and uplifting talk by Davie. He spoke about the need for resilience- a more realistic goal than the ultimate ideal of sustainability. A resilient society will adapt to immediate challenges  and find solutions that will accommodate growth. Instead of  worrying about future catastrophic events in the wider world, more can be achieved by collectively overcoming everyday problems within our own working and living environments.

FPW-Photo_Davie-Philip

Building social capital is key to the process. For this to happen it takes a period of interaction and observation to suss out the dynamics of the group. To help forge connections, promote inclusivity and move toward common goals it is helpful to first map out the assets and collective skills within the community.

Davie cited the eco-village of Cloughjordan in Co. Tipperary as a relevant case study. A founding member of the community and a resident of the eco-village he gave numerous examples of how people rally together to overcome societal challenges. Whether it be economic issues, security or health and wellbeing, it is clear that sharing the load lessens the burden. Community-supported agriculture (CSA), communal gardening, an egg, milk & bread club, a microgeneration collective and a community workspace for eco-entrepreneurs are a few of the Cloughjordan initiatives where individuals have successfully pooled resources. Not only do these work for the betterment of the eco-villagers, many knock-on benefits radiate out to positively impact the wider neighbourhood.

Touching on the ideas of “less ego and more eco” and making sustainability more mainstream, Davie suggested that the toughest part of the future-proofing process may be changing how we think. We need to lose the “everyman for himself” mindset and re-establish connections. We shouldn’t be consumed by what we want to own as individuals but maybe explore what we it is we actually need to flourish as a community. What exactly constitutes a happy community? Can we come together to achieve a common goal for the benefit of all? Well that remains to be seen. I, for one, am hopeful. If we can fill a room on a Tuesday evening with enthusiastic people all open to change, it can only be a good sign.

Movements such as Transition Town and Incredible Edible Tomorden are just two examples of many great collective collaborations in action. If you’ve got an inspiring story to share about how your community has worked together for social and environmental improvement I’d love to hear about it.

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plum sauce
We planted a plum tree about 8 years ago. Each summer he delivers a meagre handful of fruit which usually becomes wasp fodder. I don’t think we had ever actually had the chance to eat one. It’s not a particularly attractive specimen and earlier in the spring I questioned the viability of keeping it. Aloud. In a tut-tut tone. Within earshot of the under-productive tree.
Well, it seems our tree has taken my criticism on board. Feeling the pressure to perform, he has gone all out this year to prove his worth. His branches, dipping to the ground, were full with fruit like we had never seen before. I gave lots away, ate even more and still had some left to make plum sauce.
We don’t eat a ton of chutney so I thought this chilli- plum combination would have more uses in the kitchen. And so it does. Sweet with a spicy kick, it’s great with cheese. It also works well in stir fries and sweet and sour dishes. The flavour matures with time so It should taste even zingier after a few weeks.

Plum chilli sauce
1k plums destoned
3 whole red chillis
1 large red onion
2 garlic cloves
Small nub of fresh ginger – approx 5g
250ml vinegar (apple cider or balsamic- I used a mixture)
1 tblsp Tamari sauce (soya sauce will do fine)
1 tblsp sherry
Half teasp cinnamon
Half teasp salt
450g sugar (150g of which was brown sugar)

Finely chop the chillis, onion, garlic and ginger. Add to a pot with the de-stoned plums and cook for about 20 minutes. Add all the other ingredients. Stir well and bring to a rolling boil for another 20 mins approx. I prefer it to be of pouring consistency and not as thick set as jam. You may prefer a thicker, more chutney vibe in which case it may need more boiling. When you feel you have reached your ideal thickness (do the cold saucer test) then pour into sterilised jars and lid them when still warm.

So, thanks plum tree for the surprise bumper harvest. From here on in I promise, no more talk of relocation!

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So many people have no time for gooseberries. They remind me of carefree times. Of summers, off-school and earning a few bob with pals at the local fruit farm. We spent many hours huddled around gooseberry, blackcurrant and strawberry plants, giggling and gossiping, pegging fruit at the boys on the next row. We came away with scratched arms, berry-stained clothes and not a whole lot of pocket money. It was fun.

GOOSEBERRY_JAMIs it the battling with treacherous thorny branches to retrieve the berries that puts folk off? It could it be the bristly texture of the fruit but I suspect it’s the lip-puckering sourness that people most object to. Gooseberries need a lot of sugar to make them palatable which makes them just perfect for jam making.

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to receive a bowl of gooseberries. Some of them were used for a crumble and the rest were popped in the freezer for a later date. When my tiny, single, solitary blackcurrant bush started to produce ripe fruit I immediately thought of my frozen loot. I’d come across the gooseberry / bay leaf combination before and was keen to give it a go. As well as adding an interesting flavour bay leaves can help in the relief of respiratory infections, joint pain and indigestion. The berrries were topped and tailed- another lovely childhood memory evoked of around the kitchen table with my mum- washed and placed in a saucepan. To make the jam I brought all the above ingredients to a rolling boil stirring occasionally for about 20 minutes. It’s always best to do a “is-it-set-yet” test. Letting it cool down to a handling temperature I then poured the jam into sterilised jars and screwed the lids on while still warm. I look forward to cracking open a jar and being transported back to the carefree summer days of my misspent youth!

 

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