April Gardening Newsletter

Dear Fellow Gardeners,
In case you haven’t seen it yet – we have a new website with a completely new design. We hope you like it. It was designed and created by Darragh Kerrigan Creative.
There has been one issue that has occupied my mind for a long time and suddenly – just a couple of days ago – I came up with a solution. I know I’m only dreaming and my idea is far too aspirational, but still we never know and maybe I find a couple of people in the right place to make it a reality.
In a nutshell my vision is that farmers, foresters, environmentalists and schools work together to improve biodiversity, to plant native trees to counteract climate change, to connect farmers with communities and allow them to see how food is produced, to allow foresters to educate communities about the benefits of trees and to allow children to contribute, learn from nature and play an important part in developing Ireland’s landscape.
In practice;
Step 1:
Link 10 schools with a local farm and the farmer should give 1% (or 2%) of his farmland (this can be a reasonably poor area) to create a biodiversity/wildlife area. An average farm is 40-50ha so it will only be 0.5 – 1.0ha. The children will plan the area with the farmer, forester, environmentalists and volunteers. The farmer will be compensated for lack of income for this area (dairy farms €1,000/ha and beef or sheep farms €500/ha annually.
Step 2:
Every school in Ireland should cooperate with one local farm – I think that would be over 3,000 school-farm projects. The biodiversity areas should ideally be connected to existing wildlife corridors (hedgerows).
I think it would be such a valuable education for children – real hands-on learning. It will also be great for farmers who are under a lot of pressure – both from the general public and environmentalists (due to their carbon footprint) and for forester who are also under pressure from the general public due to their monocropping systems of Sitka spruce.
It could bring all these players together, increase biodiversity and help mitigate climate change – all with reasonably cheap costs.

A trip of a lifetime
The three weeks I spent in Peru last year were the highlight of my Nuffield trip. It’s such a beautiful and yet undiscovered country and you can imagine that very little has changed in the high Andes mountains of Peru for hundreds of years.
I was lucky to have found some wonderful guides who brought me up to remote areas where farmers still practice ancient techniques of growing crops and keeping so many forgotten and neglected food crops alive. Without their endeavours so many amazing food crops and varieties could be lost.
I travelled with Douglas, Marivel and Juan to some of the most remote and incredibly beautiful places, got the meet local farmers and were invited to eat a dish of local Inca potatoes. Juan speaks the local Quechuan language.
Douglas and Marivel are already running cultural, archaeology and wildlife tours in Peru and I mentioned to them the possibility to set up an agricultural / cultural tour to explore the Lost Crops of the Incas and to meet the farmers that still grow these crops. They were very excited and made up an itinerary and costing for the trip.
You’ll see very traditional farming methods very similar to Ireland in the 1840’s, amazing wildlife including condors and of course alpacas, some amazing Inca achievements – Machu Picchu and the Moray terraces – possibly the first plant breeding centre in the 1500’s. You’ll also see and learn how the Incas constructed terraces with intricate irrigation systems and so much more.
If anyone is interested in a detailed programme and costing please contact Douglas direct on his email: douglasahwalsh@hotmail.com
The trip is limited to 10-12 people and will run in May and October.

Facetime a Farmer

My Nuffield colleague Karol Kissane is a dairy farmer from Co. Kerry – not organic yet but I’m working on it. His Nuffield project is how to raise an awareness about farming and how to connect children and the general public with farms and farmers. He just started “Facetime a Farmer” here in Ireland to bring farming into schools. He spends half an hour a week on a live camera connected to schoolchildren throughout Ireland. He told me that the children love these sessions especially to find out about the daily tasks of a farmer – milking cows, young calves etc. A few years ago, Karol gave up his job as an accountant to become a dairy farmer.. He is also a very entertaining speaker – not sure if they get the Kerry accent in Dublin though.

Gardening Jobs in April
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 (see weed control). 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.

Indoor sowing:
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 and parsnip) and outside you may pick purple sprouting broccoli and some perpetual spinach and chard

Date: Monday 1st April 2019
Venue: Donegal Town – Presbyterian Church 7.30pm
Talk – Organic Gardening
Contact Belinda 074 9141216

Date: Saturday 6th April 2019
Venue: Helen’s Bay (near Belfast)
Day Course: Starting an Organic Vegetable Garden 10.00 -16.00
Booking on: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/starting-an-organic-vegetable-garden-with-klaus-laitenberger-tickets-57825872742

Date: Tuesday 9th April 2019
Venue: Kilkenny Castle 8.00pm
Talk – Growing Vegetables
Free entrance
Date: Saturday 13th April 2019
Venue: Howth and Sutton Horticultural Society Annual Spring Sale
For further information see www.hshs.ie/events/

Date: Sunday 27th April 2019
Venue: Ardcarne Garden Centres (Boyle and Roscommon)
Talk: Grow your own
For further information see www.ardcarne.ie

Date: Thursday 2nd May (date not fully confirmed)
Venue: Bantry
Talk: Grow your own
For further information contact Colman on Colman.Whelton@NLN.ie

Date: Saturday 4th and Sunday 5th May 2019
Venue: Mussel Festival in Tullycross, Connemara
This is always a great weekend out – I’ll give a demonstration on how to make lazy beds

Date: Friday 10th – Saturday 11th May 2019
Venue: Featherfield Organic Farm, Lullymore, Co. Kildare
Day Course: Complete organic gardening course (2 days) – limited to 15 people
Cost: €190 for two days including a light lunch.

I’m very excited about this course and a little partial. My son Julian is managing this unique and beautiful mixed organic farm owned by Mark and Alison Hurst. They keep native Dexter cows, sheep, laying hens and all sorts of other feathered fowl. The course coincides with the official opening of their new classroom and launch of lots more exciting courses on all things organic.
Contact: Julian at Julian@featherfieldfarm.ie or 087 6240811

Date: Sunday 12th May 2019
Venue: The Organic Centre, Rossinver, Co. Leitrim (Tel: 0719854338)
Course: Profitable Polytunnel Growing

Further dates:
8th June 2019 – Course in Belfast (Helen’s Bay)
15th -16th June 2019 – Wild Atlantic Way weekend in Renvyle House Hotel.