April 2021 Gardening Newsletter
Dear Fellow Gardeners,
Finally there are days again that remind us of spring. I think it’s so important for all of us to get this little lift – this little sign from nature that everything will be okay again – and maybe even better than before. I can see more and more people realising that the old normal isn’t just good enough any longer. We all had so much time to reflect and delve a little deeper. One thing I came to realise is that we have to treat the Earth like a Mother. In many cultures she is called “Mother Earth”. In Peru, Mother Earth – Pachamama is a real being and is venerated and celebrated by people throughout the season. It’s there, ever-present and alive.
Here we have forgotten about her and think we have the right to spray poisons onto the land, pollute the waters and kill its children (bees, insects, worms, etc). However, once we realise that we are poisoning our Mother – the giver of all life – we will realise that she may struggle to keep us healthy. Our health depends on the health of the Earth and all its elements and living beings. We are fooling ourselves into thinking that we are separate beings.
One thing Covid 19 taught us is that change can happen rapidly.
I realise I have been dreaming about this for a long time, even if I doubted myself at times, but now I think it could be possible.
I dream of an Ireland – a real green Ireland where farmers are no longer spraying pesticides and weedkillers onto the land poisoning our waters and our bodies; where artificial fertilisers are replaced with the good old “Black Gold” – the composted farmyard manure; where organic regenerative farming brings the land and soil back to life; where life will flourish again; where we give some land back to the natural world and also to people. Ireland could be one of the last havens on Earth.
The side-effects will be clean water and clean air. Imagine if we could swim in every river and lake in the country and freely drink water from every well. One thing is definite – the next crisis or war will be waged over water. We could certainly be in a very good position here in Ireland.
It’s a simple dream and the interesting fact is that it would be so easy to do. Nobody would suffer and Ireland could become the model of the world – the Real Green Ireland.
I know the policies are still against it. Farming is more about inputs and productivity. The organic land area is currently 2.4% and with the new Organic Farming Scheme may go up to just 3% while 80% of our organic fruit and vegetables are imported. That’s all a drop in the ocean. We need exponential growth of sustainable farming methods to protect and enliven our soils. The EU has a target of 25% organic land area by 2030 – that’s more ambitious. Some countries like Austria and Denmark are fully embracing it and will most likely exceed this target.
Maybe if lots of people dream the same dream and also support organic farmers and growers by buying their produce, we may get there sooner than we think.
Gardening Jobs in April
Let’s get back to Earth and back into the garden after all that dreaming. April is a busy month. You should try to have all the beds prepared even if you don’t plant anything yet. This allows you to control the weeds before the crops go in. Give the prepared beds a sprinkle of seaweed dust and rake it in.
Keep an eye out for slugs. They are starting to get busy.
The soil is starting to warm up but it is still far too early to sow directly outside for most crops. However you will be very busy sowing seeds indoors and cluttering up your windowsills or filling your greenhouse with seed trays. Outdoor sowing and planting: The only vegetables I sow directly outdoors in April are early peas, radish and turnips. If you haven’t got enough propagation space, you can sow spinach and chard directly outside instead of raising it in modules.
Mid April is a good time to plant your maincrop potatoes. If you haven’t planted your onion and shallot sets yet you can still plant them now. In the warmer parts of the country you can sow your early carrots, early beetroot and parsnips but I always have a lot more success with these if I delay the sowing until May.
Seeds which can be sown indoors include winter leeks, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, calabrese, kohlrabi, rocket, swede, turnip, lettuce, perpetual spinach, chard, annual spinach and scallions
Indoor sowing with heat:
Courgette, pumpkin, squash, French bean, runner bean and sweetcorn can be sown in small pots at the end of the month and leave them on a warm south-facing windowsill.
When the soil conditions are favourable you can plant out scallions and early cabbages.
April is the beginning of the ‘Hungry Gap’ period where the winter vegetables are going and no new crop is ready. You may still have a few root vegetables in store (potato, carrot, beetroot, Jerusalem artichokes and parsnip) and outside you may pick purple sprouting broccoli and some perpetual spinach and chard.
Strawberry – Florika
I got this unique strawberry variety a few years ago from Switzerland. It’s unique because it is the first cross between the native Alpine strawberry and the garden strawberry (which is actually a cross between a Chilean and Virginian variety). A Swiss breeder managed for the first time to make this cross.
The Florika strawberry has quite some different characteristics. The fruit size is medium – about 3 times the size of the wild strawberry and about half the size of a normal garden strawberry. The flavour is delicious and sweet. It forms lots of runners and thus makes an ideal ground cover plant. It also carries the fruit above the leaves – away from slugs.
We propagated a number of plants in the community gardens in Bundoran (Glor na Mara) and if anyone lives around the area, you are welcome to come and buy a couple of plants on any Thursday.
Jerusalem artichoke tubers
We have been inundated with requests for Jerusalem artichoke tubers and yacon growth tubers.
There are also still plenty of Jerusalem artichoke tubers in the Bundoran Community Gardens – either for planting or eating. There are Jerusalem artichoke tubers and some yacon growth tubers in a garden I’m involved in – in Kilkenny. You could email James in Kilkenny on firstname.lastname@example.org .
When you garden, you always discover something new. The naked pumpkins were my biggest find last year. These are a very special pumpkin variety which produces shell-less seeds. The seeds are edible, straight from the pumpkin or can be dried. I had often wondered how pumpkin seeds are prepared – they are available in every health food shop and supermarket and I couldn’t figure out how they could be cracked open.
So – in Styria in Southern Austria – a chance mutation over 100 years ago produced shell-less seeds. They have grown them ever since to make pumpkin seed oil and for its edible seeds for baking and snacks. The variety is called Gleisdorfer Pumpkin. They are easy to grow, just like any other squash or pumpkin. One word of advice though – do not plant them out until the first week in June (sow indoors in the last week of April or first week of May).
We’ll have some seeds available on our website from the middle of next week onwards. I’m sure you will love them.
The Self-Sufficient Garden
I’m so grateful about all the publicity I got for the new book from Fionnuala Fallon (Irish Times) and John Manley (Irish News), RTE Guide (Donal O’Donoghue), Irish Independent, Connacht Tribune and Farmer’s Journal.
Growing your own food and even aiming to have a self-sufficient garden is certainly becoming very popular. The book is available on our website – click the link: www.greenvegetableseeds.com or you can get it in a number of book shops.
I will be part of a weekend course at the beautiful Belle Isle estate in Co. Fermanagh in late September. It’s a weekend course – one day with me in their Walled Garden and Polytunnel and the Sunday with Clothilde Wallene, the well-known forager from Brooklodge Hotel in Co. Wicklow. The course is on the 26th and 27th September.