Thursday, April 30, 2009

Let's Walk & Talk...

One of the organizations I volunteer for is the Dublin City Council's Let's Walk & Talk group.  I am one of three leaders for the weekly Thursday Sandymount walks.  Here, the group is gathered outside the DART station waiting to start the walk!

Mary and I.  Mary is one of the other leaders for the Sandymount walk.  Ann Marie is the other leader...she's standing in front of Mary and I in the picture above.

On the way to the Irishtown Nature Reserve & Park.  This is close to The Strand.  People join the group for a variety of different reasons; to get exercise, to learn about different areas of Dublin, to socialize and meet new people.  It's a great group of people!

During the walks we generally stop to read about the area or to hear one of the participants tell us some of the unofficial history behind the area.  I learn so much about Irish culture and history every week!

The Progressive Garden...

Aside from how well the tomato plants are growing, the beans are doing superbly well.  I'm not sure that they are suppose to be growing this quickly, but they are...this is only 3 days along...

5 days along...

and here they are today...8 days along! Chris and I are really impressed with how quickly they are growing! I'll be transplanting them soon.

Though the chives and the beets haven't shown any sign of coming up for air, the lettuce sprouts started showing themselves just 3 days along...

5 days along...

And here they are today, 8 days along...they are actually growing toward the sun, but each day I turn them around so they will grow upright and be able to support themselves longer before I transplant them.

These are the orphaned tomato plants that I have left...they are doing so well I have felt really torn about what to do with them.  Chris convinced me to keep at least two more (one each moneymaker and cherry).  Also, while walking home today I saw our apt manager's car out front, so I paid her a visit and she was thrilled to take a couple more off my hands...that leaves only two that will not find homes!

Chris brings home drinks in plastic bottles, so I decided to put those to good use.  I transplanted some of the stronger tomato plants into plastic bottles that I sliced in half with a bread knife (these I gave to my two friends, Katie).  I poked holes in the bottom with my trusty phillips head screw driver and followed the same process as before.  You'll notice that one of the bottles is the bottle top.  Since it had a broader cap, instead of poking holes in the cap (which was too thick), I simply loosened the cap to allow the water to drain out.  More reusable household material ideas!

The tomatoes are acclimating nicely.  They have been thriving on what little sunshine has been present this last week or so.  I have been opening the doors a couple hours each day to help them get used to the colder air.

They spent a couple hours out on the balcony today.  I'm hoping by next week they will be out there permanently!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Lilacs, Lilacs Everywhere...

Growing up we had awesome lilac bushes in our backyard.  I looked forward to them every May and truly appreciated them throughout their bloom as they're usually only around for a few weeks.  They are my parent's wedding flower (my dad made my mom a crown of Lilacs right before their hippie-dippie wedding!) so they bring me back home in more ways than one.  During college, they lined my favorite part of the Cooley bike path and were directly involved with my bike accident that resulted in 7 stitches in my chin (giving me chin whiskers for a week).  They lined the back fence of our neighbor across the alley in Golden.  Their dog would pretend to be friends with me as I smelled them, then jump out from nowhere to remind me that they were his lilacs, not mine!  Lilacs have been with me through all the stages of my life!

Last year was the first time I was unable to enjoy them as I spent the month of May studying for culinary school in Avignon, France.  I was happy to be experiencing France's Provencal country side, tasting French wine and learning tricks of the trade from top French chef's, however, I didn't get to see or smell one lilac.  Chris can can bare witness to the fact that I was one UNhappy camper! 

So here we are living in Ireland and yet again, I am thankful to be able to enjoy this experience of living abroad, but was quite dismayed when the thought of losing another year of lilac blooms, possibly two, came into my head!  As you can probably guess from the name of this post, I was pleasantly surprised during this everlasting Irish spring to find that not only do they have lilacs blooming over here in the Emerald Isles...they have them everywhere!  They come out of nowhere and beg me to smell them.  I get funny looks from the locals as I take time to smell the lilacs, but I don't care.  I have my lilacs!  So as spring approaches in your neck of the woods, and as you're strolling down the street, think of me and stop to smell the lilacs.  You won't be sorry!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Flashbacks of my father...

So, being 30 years old, I thought I would be legitimately free of my father's favorite any of these sound familiar:  "Nothing sucks, it either pushes or pulls", "For every action there is an equal, but opposite reaction", "It takes external force to move something or stop something...that's the law of inertia."  In studying for my personal training certification, I have been reading Chapter three; Kinesiology.  How does this compare: "Force-something that tends to cause motion; a push or pull exerted by one object on another", "Law of inertia-force is required to start an object into motion and to decelerate or stop an object that is already in motion", "Law of impact and reaction forces-for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction."  
I think my dad got together with the authors and said, "hey, my daughter is going to study this, can I put a few notes of my own in there?"  Dad...Mission Accomplished!  Guess what, I still remember all that stuff, inertia, fulcrums, Fa = force arm, Ra = Resistance arm...Rx is the abbreviation for Reaction...  I think the appropriate song for this moment would be "In my he-ad, in my he-ea-ead; Phy-i-sics, Phy-i-sics, Phy-i-sics-sics-sics!"  Thanks dad for being my life-long physics teacher!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Saving lives...

Well one life really.  So I met my friend, Katie, at Browne's for brunch (if any of you visit we are totally going there for food...dee-lish!).  After, we decided to take a walk down by the strand.  Now it wasn't a beautiful day, sort of cloudy and grey, but days are always lovely when they involve a walk along the strand!  We're walking along, talking about how much more beautiful high tide is than low tide when Katie points out a dead fish on the sand.  There was only about 1/2' of space between the water's edge and the deadly rocks (deadly to a fish).  I refused to believe it was dead and upon closer examination I saw that it was a baby leopard shark, we'll call him Larry.  Larry was extremely weak, but not yet dead, so I found an old pine branch amongst the rocks and at first tried to simply roll him back into the water.  After 1 failed attempt, I realized that was not the way to go since it would likely cause more damage than help.  I stepped off the rocks, onto the sand right as a big gush of wave crashed against the rocks (and soaked my shoes).  I then realized Larry's only hope of survival was for me to work with the water.  I positioned myself balancing on the slippery rocks so not to give my shoes another soaking, placed the more plush part of the branch next to, but not touching Larry and waited for another big gush of wave to cover him.  I had to wait for what seemed like 5 minutes.  He was getting impatient...starting to flip and squirm (he had some life left in him afterall).  Then finally another wave came crashing in.  I made one quick motion with the branch...Larry rolled a bit, but was successfully taken with the water and though he was slow and weak, he was swimming away. 

Once I was finished cheering our new shark friend on to swim free, I turned to find I had gathered an audience.  I was so focused on what I was doing with Larry that I didn't hear anyone else behind me.  Katie said a couple people gathered to watch, then a couple more and there were a couple of them cheering me on.  She said one older Irish gentlemen made the comment, "Why is she saving him, he'd make a nice lunch."  He followed that up by telling me I've done my good deed for the year!  That if [Larry] didn't make it we'd have a funeral service for him!  He'll make it!  I know he will...or at least I have to believe it!

My brunch tour...

This is Katie (of "one of my two friends, Katie" mentioned in my gardening posts).  She invited me to brunch at Browne' of my favorite cafes in Sandymount.  She had a nice, light breakfast of pancakes (over here they are more like crepes), poached eggs and cafe...

My traditional Irish breakfast (a.k.a. Browne's Magnificent Breakfast) was a bit more hardy and super tasty!

After brunch I became acquainted with "the club's" first cousin...

Katie was kind enough to give Chris and I a tour of Ringsend Park on the way to her apt.  We saw some interesting sites along the way...clearly someone couldn't read the writing on this dumpster!

The seven dwarves said hello...I think they were the ones that over loaded the dumpster.  They always use the excuse that Snow White didn't teach them how to read before she bit into that poisoned apple!  Excuses, Excuses!

We finished off the day with a couple games of Catan...Katie & Dermot are really getting the hang of it as Dermot beat everyone the last game.  This was accompanied by some of the most delicious, grilled burgers I've had in a long time.  Secrets in the sauce, or so they say!

Friday, April 24, 2009

The first planting of spring...

So, Chris and I are over here in Ireland and though he is working hard at Google, I am unemployed.  I started volunteering at a couple places, but still had way too much time on my hands.  I needed a hobby.  I decided that hobby would be growing my first official vegetable garden on our balcony.  A while back I had started saving our egg cartons, but didn't have a particular use in mind until I decided to grow veggies.  I could use my cartons to start my seeds!  What a fantastic idea...but how would they drain?  I saved the cardboard part of the toilet paper/towel rolls as well, since they were the perfect diameter to snuggly support the individual egg molds, then I created a hole at the bottom of each with a phillips head screwdriver!  Let the adventure begin!

I was so proud when I finally got my contraption put was perfect!  I was helping the environment two fold.  I'm reducing by reusing, plus I'm growing my own vegetables!

Introducing Vermeculite!  It looks like grapenuts, but is light as air!  I was told to mix this with multi-purpose compost mix for a healthy environment for my plants.  I didn't do any official measurements, but rather eye-balled what I thought were the proper ratios!

I added the compost mix (10x more than the vermeculite), mixed it well, then stirred in the feed water so the mix was saturated.

This is the tomato feed my local nursery recommended.  It's made with seaweed extract.  Though the liquid is really dark, the feed is extremely diluted.

I used cherry and "money-maker" tomato seeds, planting each of them in 6 segments on each side of the carton.

After I put the saturated mix in each segment, the water started to saturate the carton.  I had to add more rolls for support.

Lovingly stored for safe keeping...

The patience of growth...

The hardest part of this whole process, so far, was knowing what to do during germination.  All the research I found said to water with feed upon the initial planting, cover, place in a warm, dark place, and don't water again until the mix is almost completely dry.  But won't that kill the poor little seeds?  The plants would only be strong enough for transplant when the "true leaves" appeared.  I forced myself to wait and wait and try to forget about them.  Then, one day while talking to my sister, Rebecca, about how proud I was to be re-using egg cartons and toilet paper/towel rolls for my seedlings (as though I were the first person to think of it), she told me about how she had tried that YEARS earlier (of course she did) and it didn't work very well.  She pointed out the obvious thing that egg cartons are compostable material, so when you water the mix, the cartons absorb most of it.  I immediately went to investigate.  I found her statement to be true later on, but what I found inside that Tesco bag was horrifying and not anything I was prepared for!  MOLD, MOLD and more MOLD!  Of course there would be's moist, warm and I covered it too tightly, there was no air circulation!  The rolls were rotting, the cartons were sagging.  I frantically started scraping off the mold, tearing the rolls away and trying to think of some way to save my plants.  I was bound and determined to make sure I grew them from seed and wouldn't have to buy pre-germinated plants from the local nursery.  I would not admit defeat!  They looked so sad...the hope was in the fact that there was some life present!

In my frantic and determined state, I ended up finding these hard, plastic yet frighteningly shallow egg holders stowed way in the back of one of my kitchen cupboards...just in the nick of time.  The mold and saturation of the carton and rolls were becoming unmanagable.  Therefore, I turned those egg holders upside-down, placed them on top of an empty laundry soap container (they use individual liquid packets over here) for height and monitored them more closely each day.  I watered them twice a week, one time with very diluted feed. Clearly the plants were happy!  They flourished...I felt like they grew twice their height overnight!  Plus, I didn't see anymore mold on the outside of the carton (still hoping that there was no mold on the inside and in the soil).  But are these "true leaves"?

Just a week or so later we have luscious, beautiful leaves!

So that's what they meant by "true leaves."  I think these babies are ready to be transplanted! 
Oh, and mom...they smell like your garden.  I caught a delicious whiff while I was transplanting them and it made me a bit homesick!  I always love visiting during the summer and helping you out with the garden...when I am not weeding it out of punishment for bad behavior that is!  ;)

The transplant...

The fantastic thing about reusing egg cartons is though all your plants are in one container, it's super easy to cut and tear individual plants away while the rest of the container remains intact.  In addition to that, the carton tore away from the mix and roots of the tomato plant even easier, which made the transplanting process a breeze!  Unfortunately I did find a tiny bit of mold on the external part of the soil, but I peeled it off and am hoping it won't reek havec on the growing process.

After filling each pot with my delectable (at least to the plants) saturated mix, leaving a good 1" at the top, I created a hole of sufficient size to GENTLY place the tomato plant in.  I covered it with mix and watered directly at the stalks (just a little) to make sure the mix directly surrounding the roots was moist enough.  Voila!

Herby butterheads...

I continued with the egg carton plantar for my chive and butterhead lettuce seeds, but modified...after all I learn from my lessons!  Instead of using only egg cartons and cardboard rolls (aka. things that absorb water and rot), I decided I needed to get some plastic in the picture.  I have been going through a huge hard-boiled egg kick, so bought a pack of 18.  I saved the top from that jumbo carton, which was plastic and shaped in such a way that it became the perfect elevator for the drainage while subsequently allowing air to circulate, thus preventing mold!  Problems solved!  

Now for the other lesson learned: which side did I plant which seeds on?  Shoot!  This time I marked the side with the chives with red marker while the side with the lettuce have no markings.  I'm putting out fires all over the place...move over Martha Stewart!

Beans and Beets...

I decided to be a bit more adventurous with my bean seeds while still using recycled items from my house.  I saved and cleaned my yogurt containers for planting the bean seeds and the box and plastic mold from a box of chocolates Chris gave me to allow the water to drain and be caught.  I turned the plastic mold upside-down and placed it in of the bottom portion of the box.  The plan was to use the top as the plastic cover during germination, but the research I did on bean seeds basically said they don't need the same treatment as the more fragile tomato seeds.  So no cover for you!  I used my trusty phillips head screw driver to poke three holes along the bottom of the yogurt container, to allow for ample draining. 

As for the beets, I simply planted them directly in the pot they will be harvested in. 

I filled the yogurt containers 1/2 full with the compost/vermeculite mix which was saturated with diluted tomato feed.  Since my containers are only 2" tall, 1/2 full was necessary, but not ideal.  My research recommended I use containers that were at least 3" tall; planting the seed 1" from the surface and allowing the roots 2" of space to grow prior to transplanting.  I focused on the seed being 1" from the surface of the mix.  Since my tomato plants grew successfully with much less space in the soil than was suggested to me, I am hoping 1" will be plenty of room for the bean roots.  

Once they were topped up with the mix, I placed them on the upside-down plastic molds.  I made sure the holes I created at the bottom would allow the water to drain directly into the open space underneath.

For the beets, all I did was fill the pot with the saturated mix with.  I left roughly 1 1/4" of space at the top, thinly spread my beet seeds and covered them with the mix, leaving 1/4 - 1/2" at the top.  I kept it inside over night.