growing your own fruit, veggies and herbs getting dirty and generally living the good life

The Christmas Cooking Fresh Herbs From Your Herb Garden, List

herb garden harvesting - peter donegan file

If you are looking to use fresh only herbs in your cooking this festive season, a herb garden may not be the worst investment you could ever make. Looked after it, it will be there for you this time next year and the year after and….

A herb patch or garden, for it’s colour and scent is a great addition to any garden and I should add, would make an extremely thoughtful Christmas gift. Just so you know, I parked mine right outside the kitchen door. Stuck for space outside, there is absolutelynothing wrong with it grown as a potted arrangement.

From asking on twitter and facebook my extensive research, these are the ones that you use the most.

1. Rosemary


Rosemary – Rosmarinus officinalis. Can be purchased and planted at just about any time of year. They work well in pots on their own or with others and also double up well as a shrub if you are stuck on space. Quite hardy so they should tolerate low temperatures.

2. Bay Laurel

bay laurel bay laurel

Bay Leaf/ Bay Laurel – Laurus nobilis. I love this plant. It’s a great evergreen and works extremely well as a hedge, which is how I have it planted [above] in my garden. It’s also beautiful when it comes into flower. No need for the dried version. For some strange reason[?]… I like to suck the leaf.

3. Mint Plant

mint plant mint shrub

Mentha – Mint Plant. There are loads of varieties of mint. Literally loads. And all are great in mohitos. That aside I have never grown these in a bed alongside anything else. It is the bully boy of the herb world and at all times should remain in a pot all on its lonesome. The root zone simply evolves like the base of a cheesecake and just takes over everything. Still, a must have.

Can be bought and planted year round and is nigh on indestructable.

4. Parsley

Petroselinum hortense – Parsley. I simply cannot get enough of this plant. I’d nearly sprinkle it on my porridge if I could. This batch has been with me a while now and whilst you can see the dead stems in the image, I just let it self seed and regenerate itself over and over. There’ll should be just enough there still come December.

Generally available year round as potted plants. That said I grew mine from seed.

5. Coriander


Coriander – Coriandrum. I’m not mad on eating coriander. I throw a bit in at Christmas time for the craic. But sparingly so. Nice to say that it’s in the pot and I grew it myself. Once again, I grew this batch from seed.

herb garden layout...

Others include:

Thyme – easily added and availble generally all year round as potted plants

Sage – available most of the year in pots.

Basil – I grew my Basil from seed. Cropped it and keep it in the freezer. If you have a kitchen window sill – I’d suggest you sow some seeds now in a few jam jars.

Chives – I like to crop my Chives throughout the year and freeze. the easiest way to get some chives is to grab a clump from your neighbours patch. That said growing them from seed in a jam jar or on a window ledge will also work fine.

Wild Garlic – if you know your wild plants and where to look you should be able to find a clump of wild garlic. Great in salads in the summer. At turkey time, I like to scatter some fine chopped over the spuds. Not readily available commercially.

What I have left out here is lavender, but that’s only because I tend not to use it when cooking. Any queries or comments, simply drop me a line or leave a comment below.

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Free Food From The Wild

The last post I did on eating out [?] was titled free fruit from the wild – but this one is more a days eating with some fruit. As you will discover, it’s not always necessary to bring a packed lunch, particularly at this time of year.

Once again, the golden rules of eating anything wild apply

if you do not know what exactly you are picking – Don’t Pick It !

1. Nettle


The common nettle or Urtica dioica is a personal favourite of mine. Extremely high in vitamins A,C and protein, I could give you the a recipe…. but this is more about eating on the go.

On that note and personally I like to eat the leaves as I’m walking. Do bear in mind the stinging hairs are on the underside of the leaf and like most green salads, the younger leaves are the better ones.

How to eat a nettle…. ? Scroll to 2 minutes 42 seconds – I love this bit of audio…

Micheál Galvin on the hedgerow walk (mp3)

2. Elderflower

elderflower elderflower berries

The scourge of many outdoor spaces, the Sambucus nigra is probably one of my all time favourites. It’s greatest use has to be the flowers which can be eaten straight away and how I had always done it. As it sounds, just munch on them like a horse might – but more than that, elder-flower with water and sugar is the most refreshing drink you will ever taste. Ever.

Which, if you leave it for a while will make booze.

My first taste of Elder flower champagne (mp3)

The berries can be made into many variations that are pretty much all jam-esque. I prefer to throw them in with whatever else is freely available and make a pulp. Yes I just eat it with a big spoon. Like Paddington Bear might.

3. Hawthorn

The crataegus monogyna. A dodgy image you may think, but – in focus are the leaves which can be eaten straight off the tree. Once again it is the younger fresher leaves that are the nicest – and I highly recommend the buds if you can get them.

A bit like a lot of the wild fruit the berries are great for jam-esque type boil the fruit to a pulp – but once again I prefer to mix these in with whatever is freely available as they are not that nice on their own, at all.

4. Crab Apples

The Malus – crab apple. Again, not that nice to eat on their own – but a bit like some of the other fruits I’ll eat a few of them if they’re the nearest thing to hand and I’m stuck a few miles further away than is necessary.

Once again, this fellow is nicest when boiled to a jam-esque type pulp and mixed in with others. In fact it works extremely well with hawthorn and elderflower berries.

5. Beech

The Fagus sylvatica is just your common beech tree. The nuts of the beech are my absolute favourite. A real treat to be honest. A pain in the tush to pick and peel en mass I find it better to pick a bunch and peel and eat from my pocket as I walk. It’s just nice to nibble as you go.

Once again – the leaves are edible but just like the rest of them, go for the youngest and the freshest.

Growing in Old Tractor Tyres

potatoes growing in old tyres

Perfect for small spaces and cheaper than chips! Tall as you like to stack ’em and just roll ’em if you need to move ’em…..

If made to measure raised planters aren’t your scene then this may just be for you.

As you can see these are old tyres in which plants are growing. The theory is pretty much the same as a large window box, except in this case it could be considered bottomless.

Perfect for potatoes if you like to mound the earth up around them.If spuds aren’t your thing and you really wish to keep things simple – just drop one on the ground, fill in with a suitable growing medium and scatter whatever seeds grow north instead of south.

I’m sure any tyre shop/ garage/ farmer would be willing to help you out…. The ground here is patchy and messy because it’s used for the chickens and is only starting to grow back. Also the spud foliage is dying off.

plants growing in tractor tyres

Free Fruit From The Wild

hedgerow fruit

Over the last few weeks whilst out walking I’ve had my eye on what is in fruit and what is not. Mainly from my own wild eating whilst walking in the wilds perspective. It does make me wonder slightly the point/ fine line between foraging and taking some and also as important just how much you should know of what exactly you are picking before you start to do so.

The big differ in confusion I note here is that between the Sloe and the Damson. That aside and more important it is the what is pretty versus what could actually cause harm. My golden rule:

if you do not know what exactly you are picking – Don’t Pick It !

The following are four edibles [and one not to eat] that I eat, have been eating and will be able to do so for the next few weeks. As you will read, frosts are sometimes a good thing. I’ll do 5 easier ones in the next week or so.

All of the following as a by the way can be found quite freely by ditches and hedgerows over the last few and coming weeks.

1. Sloe

sloe fruit

The Sloe. The Prunus Spinosa [also know as the blackthorn].

You’ll usually find this growing in hedgerows and near ditches. A decendant of the cultivated plum, it can take the form of a tree or bush. But usually one can tell the difference as the sloe [blackthorn] is extremely thorny – sounds simple ?

  • generally [5 petals] singular cream white flowers borne on bare stems in Spring that grow up to 2cm wide.
  • The Sloe, fruit harvested in autumn is round/ spherical in appearance and a pale grey/ blue green black in colour that can grow to about 1/2 inch in size.
  • The tree itself is deciduous can grow up to 5 metres tall and about 3 – 4 metres wide.

Best picked after the first autumn frosts as the plants tannins are naturally reduced/ removed. It has been described locally to me as the dryest fruit ever tasted – it’s not one I personally like to eat when I’m out and about walking, mainly as it tastes disgusting, verging on sickening – the greatest way to know that what you have picked is incorrect.

2. Damson

The Damson. Closely related to the Sloe/ Prunus spinosa – but – the damson or sometimes known wild plum is of the Prunus domestica. This could get confusing….

  • The tree/ bush may be slightly thorny – although it generally is not.
  • It’s white flowers are [also] borne in spring.
  • The fruit can vary in size, but [larger than sloe] can get to about 3 inches wide

Usually sweet, but it is noted that it can be a bit acid in some. This is one of my free lunches when I’m out and about – unlike it’s wicked sister [above].

My two images above are a bit dodgy – but they show the shape, rotund versus the oval that bit better.

3. Nightshade – Solanum dulcamara

Solanum dulcamara - deadly nightshade

BEWARE – not to be confused with the Atropa belladonna. The extremely pretty flowers of this plant look extremely similar to that of the Solanum crispum Galsnevin, both relations or/ of the Potatoe family. It is the fruit however that I’m holding in this picture above.

It is noted that it can be used in herbal remedies, but the trouble is it is also noted to have caused deaths. The bigger problem is that it may be confused with the deadly nightshade/ pre-mentioned belladonna, one of the most poisonous plants known to man. The poison in this case believed to be solanine.

4. Rose Hip

rosa canina

– Rosa canina. Found in hedgerows and competing quite well with the other vigours of the plant world, the rose hip is one of the greatest sources of vitamin C. The seeds can cause irritation [itchy-backs, anyone ? ] and I have never eaten them raw when I’m out and about – mainly as they taste diabolical and one seed swallowed would cause severe discomfort.

I have however used them to make rosehip syrup and with 20 times more vitamin C than an orange – this for me is the miracle cure for all of my winter snuffles. I couldn’t live without it…. if you know what I mean.

This as I know it is the ideal recipe for Rosehip syrup – the olde but a goldie.

5. Blackberry – rubus fruticosus

blackberry bramble

The blackberry golden rule for me is that [yes you guessed it] it must be black and it must come off in my hand with little to no effort. You possibly don’t need to know much regarding this one but funnily enough its [official plant] family is also the Roseaceae or rose – the exact same as that of the Prunus and therefore also includes as relations the Sloe and the Damson.

My only problem, as a human, is that I’m in competition with the animal kingdom for this food. That said my tip here is that you will find the lower fruit is by far the juciest !

That said, it is something I have picked as a child I fondly remember my Mom making jam with when I was a nipper. Personally, I like knowing it is there and similar to the Damson, knowing there is such a thing as a free lunch.


Onion Planting – Autumn 2011

This is my onion set planting demonstration. I think the video says it all.

In my own garden I have just harvested this years crop….


And although a different variety, these planted yesterday should be ready for harvest somewhere around April 2012.

Nothing to do in the garden this autumn/ winter ? We’ve only just begun…. The Carpenters. Great choon.

onion sets

Peter Donegan