April Newsletter

Vegetable Growing Information

Dear Fellow Gardeners,
Spinach – Annual and Perpetual

While both of them belong to the beet family (Chenopodiaceae) they are actually quite different.

Perpetual spinach is more closely related to chard and beetroot as to annual spinach. I always think it’s one of the best beginner’s crops to grow and also one for the best value for space. About 6 plants can produce enough spinach for an average family for many months and it only occupies about a square metre. I usually make a first sowing in April into modular trays indoors and then again in June. That way you’ll get Spinach from early June right through to the first frost and then again in early spring. Once the plants start to bolt (following May) you can pull them, chop them and put onto the compost. Please note that the one seed you sow is actually a cluster of seeds and will produce 3-5 seedlings. My preferred method is to nip of all seedlings bar the strongest in each module and then just plant one single strong plant which I think is much easier to harvest. Harvesting perpetual spinach is best done by hand rather than cutting the stalks. If you hold the leafstalk low down and then with down push/twist movement the leaves come of cleanly from the plant rather than having to leave a stub. Swiss chard and rainbow chard can be grown exactly the same way.

Annual spinach is much harder to grow and is a lot more temperamental as the plants may go to seed prematurely. I use the variety Chevelle F1 which is quite reliable but still it won’t be as productive as perpetual spinach. On the other hand it makes up with far superior taste. Slightly steamed annual spinach will simply melt in your mouth. Annual spinach is also one of the best gap fillers or intercrop. As it is quite short-lived and is thus ideal for planting into spaces between widely spaced crops such as tomatoes, cabbages, kale, sprouting broccoli and Brussels sprouts. It can make use of available space and once the maincrop uses the space, the spinach is usually ready to harvest. I don’t think there is a need to give annual spinach a dedicated space in the garden. It’s also a great follow on crop when some plants have been harvested early.



I usually sow two batches of peas – one in April and the second in June. This gives a long season of delicious peas. The difficulty is often to remember which ones are garden peas, sugar snaps and mangetout types. It’s important to remember.

Peas are easiest sown directly into the ground in a wide drill and seeds fairly close together in a band (about 5cm between seeds).

One great trick for weed control of peas:

  • Once your pea seedlings are about 5cm tall you can run a rake over the bed, including the pea seedlings. It seems quite rough but it works wonders as all the weed seedling even within the peas seedlings are killed. You can repeat this about a week later. The ideal rake for this job is a wide yellow grass rake.


Cucurbits – Courgettes, Pumpkins and Squashes

I usually sow them in the third week in April ready for planting out in the first week of June. I have been caught out many times when planting them out too early in the last two weeks of May. The reason is that we usually get strong winds at the end of May and these can kill off your tender plants. If you want an earlier crop you’ll have to plant them into a bionet cloche.

I sow individual seeds into small pots (7cm) and pot them on into 10cm pots a few weeks later.


There is a delicious yellow courgette – Parador F1 – with a lovely nutty flavour and both Ambassador and Defender are excellent and reliable varieties. Try not to grow too many plants as they yield a fruit every second day. Three to four plants are usually sufficient but only if you use a lot.

Remember you can’t give marrows (overgrown courgettes) away. Your neighbours will close the blinds and lock their doors once they see you coming yet again with these large clubs.

Joanna actually found a delicious Marrow soup recipe and this way we could use up all overgrown courgettes:

Marrow or Courgette Soup

It’s really fabulous:


2 vegetable stock cubes

1 chopped onion

500g marrow (or courgette) chunks

300g potatoes

200g Philadelphia soft cheese

Salt and freshly ground pepper


  1. Bring 850ml of water to the boil and add all ingredients apart from the cheese
  2. Cover with a lid, bring back to boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Allow to cool slightly.
  3. Add the Philadelphia cheese and then blend until smooth.

We also used this recipe for squashes.


Pumpkins and squashes

There are both very easy to grow provided you grow suitable varieties and delay planting as with courgettes.

Butternut squash really does not grow well outdoors in Ireland. You need to grow these in the tunnel. My favourite varieties are Uchiki Kuri, Delicata, Crown Prince F1, Turk’s Turban (Squashes) and Baby Bear (Pumpkin)


Gardener’s Latin

A lot of gardeners are daunted by Latin names and plant science and a lot of people try to dumb it down as something very boring. It certainly is the opposite. Plant science is probably one of the most exciting subjects and I agree does not need to be presented in such a scientific way that people don’t understand a single word of what the scientist says. There is actually a wonderful book out there. It’s called: “The Science of Gardening – the hows and whys of successful growing.” By Professor Peter Jones who is the main lecturer at the MSc Horticulture Course run by UCC in Skibbereen.

The science of plants is also the science of life and to understand plants better may enable us to build a better and more sustainable future.

This is a great exercise for a family. Get a large sheet of paper, draw a plant in the middle and then find all the uses of plants, both for ourselves and the world itself. You’ll easily come up with at least a dozen. You may find your children pondering over the next few days.

This month we start with potentially most boring subject – Latin Plant Names

Throughout millennia people tried to classify in some form but all efforts differed throughout countries and writers. Some plant names were about 30 words long as the author tried to describe them. This changed in 1753 when Carl von Linne – a Swedish doctor and keen naturalist came up with the classification system that we still use today.

The system that is in use now is called the binomial (“two names”) system. Many children already know one of them: Tyrannosaurus rex. Humans are Homo sapiens. You notice that the Latin name is always in italics and the first name (Genus) is with capital and the second name (Species) is small.

This system is internationally recognised and avoids potential problems of misnaming or even worse mis-diagnosing with herbal medicines. Some plants could have dozens of local names. Just think of goosegrass (cleaves, sticky willie etc).

So if you ever go to China and would like to eat a lettuce you simply find a plant scientist or a keen gardener and buy some Lactuca sativa.

Hopefully you are still reading this because now it gets interesting. The species name of a plant often explains certain traits:

Colour: nigra – black, alba – white, caerula – blue, lutea – deep yellow

Habit: nana – very small, major- tall, arborescens – tree like, fastigiata – erect

Leaf character: hirsute – hairy, incana – downy, angustifolia – narrow

Habitat: sylvestris – woodland, pratensis – meadows, montanus, alpinus – mountains

Uses: officinalis – used in medicine, esculentum – good to eat, oleracea – used in the kitchen


Update on Soil Conference – Soils Matter

Please note that the date has changed from Friday 3rd July to Monday 6th July 2015. This follows the Galway Garden Festival which will be held on the 4th and 5th of July in Claregalway Castle, Co. Galway.

Dr. Elizabeth Stockdale will talk about the most important aspect of soils – the life in the soil.

“Soil life matters! –exploring how agricultural management helps or hurts”

She will explore how the living soil plays a central role in supporting life on earth and consider the current state of soil health and the threats to it. In particular, we will draw on a recent collaborative review between farmers and scientists to explore the evidence on the impacts of farming on soil and identify how agricultural management practices enhance or hamper soil health.



Dr Elizabeth Stockdale is over-excited about soils and is currently a lecturer in the School of Agriculture Food and Rural Development at Newcastle University. She has been involved in a wide range of research projects connected with the study of nutrient cycling in soils and with the environmental impact of farming systems. She also maintains a strong link to organic farming and has carried out research into nutrient cycling (N, P, and K) in organic farming systems.


Organic Nation – Bhutan

The Buddhist mountain kingdom is set out to become the first fully organic country. The initiative is driven by the agriculture minister of the country and in a concerted effort they try to eliminate all pesticides. Bhutan is also famous for the term ‘Gross National Happiness’. Instead of producing more and more and taking more reserves from the land, thus increasing ‘Gross National Product’ other and more important indexes were used to determine GNH. Have a look at the website:



Ireland is the country in EU with the lowest percentage of organically farmed land. Only 1.3% of agricultural land is certified organic and somehow I don’t think Simon Coveney is trying to make Ireland an organic island.

Organic Statistics

The countries with the highest share of organic agricultural land 2012 in Europe are:

Liechtenstein   30%

Austria             20%

Sweden             16%

Estonia            15%

Switzerland     12%

The following website is a good source for all things and statistics on organic farming.