Ripe apricots in June

On June 17th, Charles and I Travelled to Ireland to visit Ballymaloe, home of Darina and Tim Allen and the famous cookery school, where Charles was giving a one day workshop the following day. We’d met Darina when she came to Bruton with her brother Rory O’Connell to give a talk at Roths Bar and Grill (fascinating talk, delicious food, my friend Christine and I polished off quite a lot of Roth’s lovely organic red wine, it was a good evening.) Darina and Rory visited Charles’ no dig garden at Homeacres the next day.

Ballymaloe cookery school, situated on a 100 acre organic farm, was started by Darina and Rory in 1983. The 12 week intensive courses look fantastic  – they offer many shorter courses too (wish I lived closer as I’d love to do some.) Darina’s belief that chefs should work in and understand kitchen gardens as part of their training is reflected in the extensive organic farm including livestock, vegetable gardens, fruit, wildlife gardens, foraging areas. We stayed in their beautiful home and enjoyed fresh delicious food including gorgeous yellow raw butter made from the milk from their Jersey cows.

The organic kitchen gardens are impressive, full of different vegetables, fruit and herbs which are used by the  family, students at the cookery school and in the restaurant.

Ballymaloe herb garden
Ballymaloe herb garden

I had a great time exploring the gardens with Tim Allen and Charles on the Friday evening and by myself on the Saturday. It is an incredible resource for the students, who are able to gain an understanding of how to grow food, how long it takes to reach maturity, the problems that can occur due to weather or pests and, crucially, what actually is in season.

Built by Tim’s father Ivan Allen as a growing space for mushrooms and tomatoes (eventually they become uneconomic to produce), the glasshouse is very impressive.

View from the front doors
View from the front doors

The glasshouse has been transformed into an extraordinary polyculture of annual and perennial food crops which makes full use of the incredible one acre of glass covered growing space. The huge glass structure creates a microclimate which extends the season considerably. There are ripe apricots and peaches in June!

Around the edges are established fruit and nut trees including pomegranate, almond, fig, apricot, plum, nectarine and peaches. Extensive grape vines are full of swelling grapes (at the same time, my grape vine in the polytunnel  is just in flower.)

The rafters provide an ideal drying space for onions.

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This sweet corn will be ready to harvest months before my outdoor grown corn.

The glasshouse has a series of large beds, many of which are covered with weed suppressing membrane to save time – it may also have some moisture saving properties, like the compost mulch I use in my garden. They use a small tractor with a kind of rotavating attachment (I lack the necessary technical vocabulary for such equipment, having never used a rotovator or a tractor!) as part of the bed preparation, but are also exploring ways of introducing more no dig methods into the garden. The glasshouse was full of wildlife – bees, butterflies, foraging birds (some were feeding their young on the rafters!)

The glasshouse is also used for propagating:

The outbuildings at Ballymaloe are beautiful. Here I looked through a window of an old potting shed.

 

One of the potting sheds
One of the potting sheds

Homegrown produce is offered for sale at the shop and also at a local farmer’s market.

Homegrown produce for sale outside the shop.
Homegrown produce for sale outside the shop.

Whilst Charles was teaching, I spent some time working on my iPad in the restaurant – this was my view.

The gardens are very beautiful.

Here are some of the self catering cottages for students on the 12 week courses – so pretty!

Inside the shop and restaurant area – I loved the little decorated alcoves, especially the ‘shrine’ to kale!

The lovely shell house folly, created by Blot Kerr-Wilson in 1995, includes some of Darina’s personal shell collection. I tried to capture the intricacy and beauty with my phone camera, not easy! It is gorgeous.

After the day course, I drove us to Kilruddery House near Dublin, a journey of about three hours, where Charles was giving a talk the next day. We had visited here last year, it’s a great place – the have extensive ornamental gardens, a large no dig kitchen garden and organic farms. Fionnuala and Anthony Ardee actively produce and promote good quality organic food. Charles and I enjoyed more amazing, fresh, home produced seasonal cooking. In addition to the walled kitchen gardens they keep livestock including chickens, pigs and sheep. A huge polytunnel is being constructed as part of the preparations for their Totally Terrific Tomato Festival in September, which will prove invaluable for extending the growing season for produce for their farmer’s market and the Kilruddery cafe.

The Irish Times
The Irish Times

Edible flowers and a rose vinegar recipe

On Friday I harvested the first of my roses to dry the petals. The edible flowers here are beginning to bloom in abundance, adding beauty and colour to the garden and food, with the added bonus of smelling amazing and feeding the bees. My article on growing and using edible flowers, including many recipes, is in the current issue of Permaculture Magazine (International) and the new publication, Permaculture  Magazine, North America.