Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Guest post from Peggy

Growing Your Own

This guest post comes to us courtesy of Peggy who writes at Organic Growing Pains.
Allotments have been a way of life in the UK for years but really only catching on here in the last few years.Why did you decide to join the GYO movement? Was it like me looking at the country of origin on what I was buying in supermarkets and knowing that the 'healthy' veg I was eating was probably anything but and did not taste the same over the years. Whatever the reason welcome aboard and enjoy the growing experience, if you are reading this and still thinking about getting a plot,the waiting lists are growing fast!

When we took over our plot it was sadly overgrown and we took one bed in hand and grew salads,peas, strawberries and spring onions. Over the 4 years we have gradually worked over the whole plot and last year took over a second one!
I know anyone taking a plot on Lowel Organic allotments is in the very lucky position of getting a brown site turned over and manured by their very helpful Landrace pigs. A whole plot is still a lot of work in one season unless you have lots of help. Decide what veg you buy most of, what you would like to try if it was available fresh and if you have children involved they need to see something growing quickly! Peas and runner beans almost grow while you are looking at them,the kids love to see them growing up their stakes and podding fresh peas with a satisfying 'pop' cannot be beaten.

If you are going to have fruit bushes then you have to plan a permanent bed for them, we have ours running along the path at the top of one plot and a rhubarb bed in the same position on the second plot. The first year you can grow anything anywhere, after that you have to rotate crops and believe me there is a lot of conflicting advice out there! We are using potatoes, roots including onions (which some will say are a separate group) legumes and brassicas for our 4 year rotation.
Keep notes!! You may think you will remember where you had what but by the time you come back to the plot next season you may well have trouble remembering
The growing season is late this year maybe up to four weeks in some places so there is still plenty of time to get in potatoes etc. We are only putting in first and second earlies this year as the dreaded blight gets to the main crop which are in the ground longer and organic blight spray is expensive to maintain a healthy crop of spuds. Go for the taste of your own early spuds when after all they are at their most expensive.
What do you need to start apart from the designer wellies? Tools are the most costly item to build a collection of,I think car boot sales are a good place to look and also you will find people selling off their excess plants there much cheaper than the garden centres.
In your first year you may find it easier to buy plants than get lots of seeds going but believe me you can get a lot of tomato plants from a packet of seeds for 2.35, one plant will cost you more than that! On the subject of seeds, don't plant a whole packet as we did in the first years, a few seeds in a tray will give you about 10 plants which is more than enough of anything! You can stagger your harvest by sowing a few seeds about 4 weeks apart to have a supply of veg over a longer period, we had cauliflower coming out our ears one year! Once the seed packet is open I put them into a zip lock bag in an airtight plastic container in the end of the fridge,all of the seeds kept this way since last year have germinated successfully this year.
Parsnip seeds are the only ones needed to be bought fresh each year, so swap some left over ones with another plotter for something you don't have
Peat pots are another expensive buy, make your own eco friendly pots by rolling newspaper around a suitable sized container, stick a bit of masking tape to hold it together .A great rainy day occupation! When planting out just pop the whole thing in the ground with no root disturbance..
Becoming a plotter makes you more eco aware and let me tell you, you will soon become a hoarder! Toilet rolls and kitchen roll holders (cut in two) filled with compost, become root trainers for plants with a long root system like peas, beans and sweet peas,they grow quite happily and can be planted out in their pots which disintegrate over time allowing the roots to grow into the soil.
Egg boxes are the ideal container to chit the spuds in.

3 litre plastic bottles or if you are lucky enough to lay your hands on 5 litre ones, are ideal as mini cloches for tender plants.The cut off top makes a funnel to water plants at the roots, I put one at the base of each tomato plant to make sure feed and water get to the roots.
Butter cartons ,washed and cut into strips make ideal outdoor plant labels if you use a permanent ink marker.
Aldi & Lidl and some supermarkets sell soft fruit like plums & peaches etc in deep plastic cartons which have holes ready cut in the bottom and domed lids,they are the perfect mini propagator for small amounts of seeds.
The above stores are doing gardening specials for the next few weeks, buy up netting of all sizes, you will need it to protect brassicas from pigeons and the cabbage white butterfly.When you want it, they will be finished with their specials and you will pay a lot more for it elsewhere.
Raised beds or not? We found during our previous wet summers raised beds with paths in between were better.You will need timber of various sizes for stakes and boards for the beds.Scaffolding boards are ideal and can be picked up quite cheaply due to the recession.
I can guarantee every time you pass a skip on the roadside you will cast avaricious eyes on the contents for 'handy 'sized boards and carpets!
Carpet is ideal for covering beds not in use to keep down weeds and stop nutrients leaching in wet weather, not the underlay which is rubber coated and just breaks into pieces eventually.
Old clothes airers on stands are great for drying onions!
One thing I have learned not to scrimp on is the seed compost, buy the best you can find, preferably non peat with John Innes added, don't be tempted to buy the 3 for the price of 2 bags of compost etc, your seeds need the best start you can give them.
What you plant is a personal choice, if you don't eat it don't grow it, but do grow something just for fun like a pumpkin or sunflowers.
Make your plot colourful with flowers,some of which are edible like nasturtiums, marigolds and calendula to attract bees and butterflies to your plants
Most of the private allotment sites have BBQ and picnic areas but believe me the most important piece of kit you will buy for your plot is the deck chair!
Nothing can beat sitting out on a summers day with the all important cuppa, looking at your plot growing, listening to the bees humming as they pollinate your plants and the sense of achievement is priceless, Enjoy!

Role model

Here's a great interview with Madeline McKeever of Brown Envelope Seeds - maybe the recession will see more innovation in the 'green' area.


Here comes summer!

Just heard some Summer weather predictions on Newstalk. The guy they were talking to, from Positive Weather Solutions says we can expect one of the 'best' (ie hottest and driest) summers ever! These are the people who accurately predicted that the euphemistically-named 'cold spell' would last until March. While this is welcome news on some levels, (good for tomatoes, bad for slugs...) particularly after the long run of washout summers we've had recently, bear in mind that reservoir levels are going to be pretty low. So now's the time to be thinking about rainwater conservation. Water-butts (sack the marketing people who thought that one up!!) are readily available at good garden centres and hardware stores, and are easy to fit to most modern downpipes.

You can link butts (stop sniggering!) together with a special kit in case one is full and you want to increase your storage. But be creative - if you can be sure that they haven't been used for hazardous materials, any large, sealable, container can be used. If you have the space for it, an IBC (Intermediate Bulk Container - or in 'Irish', the huge big square yokes the farmers use!) - pictured at the top of this post - is ideal. The seal is important to reduce evaporation and very importantly, to prevent insects laying eggs in it.

And if you're leaving home for a while, (and think about an Irish holiday before you go anywhere else - or if you're reading this from outside Ireland) don't forget to get someone to keep an eye on the garden, and harvest anything that ripens while you're away. You might even train some of the more responsible neighbourhood children in the ways of watering, and other summer garden jobs and help get the next generation of gardeners started.

It might seem weird to be talking about this now, but by the sounds of the predictions, it could be a great summer for growing with a bit of forward planning. And don't forget to protect your skin when you're enjoying the weather!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Guest post and arrival of seeds

I'm delighted that Peggy from Organic Growing Pains has agreed to do a guest post here in the upcoming weeks. As an experienced allotment grower, I'm looking forward to hearing some tips from her to help me in my first season on the allotment.

Peggy is in the finals of the Irish Blog awards - I'll be keeping my fingers crossed for her on Saturday night.

And speaking of community, the photo above is the embarrassment of riches recieved from Patrick at Bifurcated Carrots as part of the Blogger Seed Network.

One of the best things about networking with other gardeners is knowledge and bounty that you share - without having to spend much, and without spending too much time in Garden Centers.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Allotment Vegetable growing course

Growing your own food on an allotment - 4 week course starting March 27th. Saturdays, 2:00pm - 5:00pm.

This 4 week course will take you through the basics of growing vegetables on an allotment. The course is open to all - whether you have an allotment or not. There is a strong emphasis on the practical element, so each week you will spend at least an hour on the allotments at Lough Owel Organic Farm, working with experienced gardeners and getting your hands (and probably most of the rest of yourself!) dirty. And if you get tired, you can stop and admire the view of Lough Owel - see above.

The theory part of the course will take place at Carton Rural Consultants, Tullaghan. Gardening tutors are James Carton and myself.

The course is part funded by LEADER , so it only costs €40 for the 12 hour course. Great value! To book, contact James Carton at 086-2488708, or email

Sunday, March 21, 2010

9 bean rows will I have....

I love growing (and eating) beans and now that I have the allotment, I can plant loads! The problem was, how to stake them all. Last year the bamboo stakes blew down just when the pods were starting to fill. So I was looking for a more rigid solution for the allotment.

My brother - who is a genius at repurposing - came up with this grid. I'll supplement with some bamboo and hazel to increase the height, but this is an excellent foundation.

He has rigged up an incredible water harvesting system - using watertanks chained together, and taking a good amount of the water from his hayshed roof. The metal grid was a casing from one of the water tanks used in this system.

The bend in it makes it more stable than if it was straight, and the organic curve fills my heart with delight! Have to wait till April - at the earliest - to plant the beans though...

Friday, March 19, 2010

Expanding horizon

While my current garden in Mullingar is way bigger than what I had in Dublin, and there's still lots of room for slides, a willow house, and a wild corner, I struggled with producing enough veg to feed us, and always had too many seedlings to put in the existing space.

This year, that's all changed. I have an allotment on Joe's farm - and I now have the opposite (and excellent) problem - how to fill it! The morning of Paddy's day was our first extended stint out there - luckily Granny was on hand to feed us, and the weather was dry and mild.

We started digging one of the beds - we will sow a green manure there in advance of planting Squash, and the rest we'll cover with a sheet mulch of cardboard, mushroom compost and straw.

The undergardener was on digging duty - he reckons he'll be like the Bull McCabe when we're done - and the boys were picking rocks, spreading Mushroom compost, and breaking up lumps of clay. And adding nitrogen to the beautiful compost bin which resides at the bottom of the allotment. Photos to follow, and no doubt several posts on the compost bin.

In the meantime, it's time to rest up for a weekend of allotmenteering....

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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Seed Savers Network 2010

Here's a remarkable online resource for exchanging seeds - if you are an experienced seed saver - and for getting new open pollinated heirloom varieties of plants if you're a beginner (and trying not to spend too much).
In 2008 I had an extremely positive experience with this network, and the bulbs and seeds I received grew well for me. I was able to share my hardneck garlic locally, and hopefully will have lots more to share in 2011.

Gardeners are so generous, and nature gives us an abundance - I saved lots of seeds myself, but they all went to students in my various classes. So I have none to offer this year in the network - in spite of that I have requested some from Ewa , and from Patrick - I may have to make a small contribution to postage, but generally people are very generous.

Join in! And if you have nothing to swap now - don't worry - some day you will!

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Saturday, March 06, 2010

Day one of WordCamp

Nothing to do with gardening, but had a great day at the WordCamp gathering in Kilkenny today. Saw a few friends - David from PollDaddy, AnnMarie from, and being well minded by Cathy and Martin. Michael has joined in today, and is being put to work teaching the boys a 17th century song in the car on the way home to relieve their boredom.

2 things stand out - apart from the incredibly educational and inspirational talks I've attended - the family friendly nature of the conference means that the 2 boys are in a safe place playing DS and XBox games all day with other kids - and not a bit bothered that I'm not paying them any attention - in fact when I have gone to check on them during the breaks, they wave me away 'maturely'.

The service in Langtons is really good too - this morning we were looking for extra croissants, extra jam, and they couldn't have been more helpful. At the first break I wanted decaff anything, and they had a lovely decaff coffeee for me. At lunch the boys were grizzling about the absence of cheese sandwiches - one of the staff heard them, and next thing they each had a lovely grated cheese sandwich presented to them. So we are all doing great. Can't wait for tomorrow.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Off to WordCamp

I'm off to the WordCamp Bloggers weekend in Kilkenny this weekend - looking forward to learning loads, and meeting online friends, and networking. It's family friendly, so the boys are coming with me - they are really looking forward to it too - I hope it works out for them :-)

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Getting an allotment

I'm very excited about this spring - normally I'm restricted as to what and how much I can plant, as we have a suburban garden. But this year I'll be getting an allotment at Lough Owel Organic Farm - It's just out the road from us, and it's where I grew up, so we spend a lot of time out there anyhow with my mother.

The ground has been beautifully prepared by my brothers pigs - see below - and we'll be getting things planted just as soon at the ground warms up. So I can go crazy with Brassicas, potaotes, beans - the things I normally hold back on for want of space. Yippee!

Check out his site and tell me what you think - I created it!

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