December 2020 Gardening Newsletter
Dear Fellow Gardeners,
We would like to wish you all a wonderful and happy Christmas.
This was certainly a very strange and difficult year for everyone but one of the few positive side-effects of Covid 19 was that a pause button was pressed. It was as if nature – or Mother Earth – asked us to sit back and reflect. I’m sure many people have re-discovered the little miracles of nature during this time and will find it difficult to get back into the ‘fast’ world.
A good start is to grow some of our own food, to connect with nature in the garden and then get a glimpse of the miracles that surround us – the miracle of a seed germinating or a potato sprout emerging from the soil. Digging a basket of potatoes, cooking them and eating a delicious meal with your family – it is so simple but yet – you worked for it and it will nourish you infinitively more. As well as that – you possibly left this plot of land in a better state than when you started.
There are more and more people who are growing their own food again and even starting small market gardens. I recently asked a young organic market gardener why she chose this profession as there are far easier ways of making a living. Her answer was “because it’s cool”. This is a great shift in mindset and hopefully reflects a much wider population.
Up to quite recently, food growing was considered old-fashioned and too much like hard work. It’s easier to buy food from a shop. Now it’s cool to grow your own food and you’ll get the extra benefit of good physical exercise and fresh air. The times are changing!
For me – I had some time spare to write a new book “The Self-Sufficient Garden”. Hopefully it will be available in late January 2021 and will become a helpful resource.
When you ask people to guess how much land you would need to feed a family with vegetables for most of the year the answer is often an acre or two.
This is completely wrong. In this book I’ll outline three vegetable cropping plans ranging from 50m² to 400m². A plot of about 100m² (partial self-sufficiency) to 400m² (full self-sufficiency) would be enough to feed a family of two adults and two children.
And 400m² is 1/10 of an acre (an acre is about 4,000m²). It is fantastic news that one acre can feed 10 families or 25 families per hectare (1ha = 10,000m²).
New Course: Growing in Polytunnels – an on-line course
Another new project in 2020 was the highly successful online course in commercial polytunnel production. 370 people took part in this course which ran for 10 weeks. I must admit I had a great time doing it with Sean McGloin – who is the organiser and co-presenter and also a very entertaining presenter.
Due to its success they are going to run a new course starting in early February 2021. We will be renting a polytunnel at the Organic Centre and we will go through the growing season with online courses every fortnight and Q&A sessions in between. In case you took part in this course already – these will be new recordings and you may hopefully join again.
This course is now available for early bookings and may make a nice “late” Christmas present.
Growing in Polytunnels 2021 online course is now live and open for booking on the NOTS website here: https://nots.ie/courses/growing-in-polytunnels-2021/
“Following on from the incredible success of our inaugural course in 2020, Klaus (and Sean) are back with a more in-depth, “next step” course that covers more material over a longer growing season. As the pandemic gave us little time to prepare in 2020, this year’s course will follow an accurate meticulous growing season pattern, and will include additional material around growing your business, selling to customers and wholesalers, and much more. Growing in Polytunnels 2021 will allow you to grow in real time along with the tutorials and Q&A sessions.
The course will be a minimum of 14 ALL NEW tutorial videos, with Video 1 being released on Wednesday February 10th. None of 2020’s videos will be re-used – this will be all new content for anyone who was on the 2020 course. The course will also include live, interactive Q&A sessions with Klaus Laitenberger focusing on the topics of the videos, and answering the burning questions of our participants. The exact dates and topics of each video will be confirmed in the new year – but you can see an overview of what will be covered on the course page.
The course cost is €50 for NOTS eligible participants, and €75 for overseas.
Go to https://nots.ie/courses/growing-in-polytunnels-2021/ to sign up, and we look forward to welcoming many of you back in 2021.” Kevin Fagan – NOTS
Another great event I am always looking forward to is the Gardening Weekend at our favourite place in Ireland – Renvyle House Hotel in Connemara. This is the already the second scheduled gardening weekend for 2021. The first one in March booked out very quickly and Renvyle scheduled an additional weekend in April. There are only a few places left on it so early booking is recommended.
Gardening Weekend at Renvyle House Hotel in Connemara
Date: 16th – 18th April 2021
With: Anja Gohlke (Head Gardener of Kylemore Abbey) and Klaus Laitenberger
These weekends are one of the highlights of my year and you can relax, learn and immerse yourself into the beauty of Connemara.
Weekend Price: Euro 215.00pp and includes 2 Nights accommodation with Breakfast, one Dinner in the award winning restaurant and gardening demonstrations and tips with Anja Gohlke and Klaus Laitenberger.
For bookings please contact Renvyle House Hotel directly.
Tel: 095 46100 (Renvyle)
While I was preparing various cropping plans for a self-sufficient garden I thought it would be a good idea to find out how self-sufficient Ireland is in food production. One would imagine with a low population density and so much farmland we would be a major exporter of fresh vegetables. Unfortunately this is not the case and a missed opportunity. The good thing is – the land is there and with a few changes in policy this could quickly be changed so that Ireland would be at least self-sufficient in vegetables, fruit and cereals.
In my opinion every country should make it a priority to be able to provide sufficient food for its citizens. In fact – this should be the number one priority alongside clean water and air.
Here are some calculations:
Ireland has 6.9 million hectares of land, 4.4 million hectares are used for agriculture and 0.73 million hectares for forestry. Of the agricultural land area 80% is pasture, 12% rough grazing, 8% is crops (cereals, fruit and vegetables). Cereals account for 272,200 hectares, potatoes 9,100 hectares and vegetables account for 4,500 hectares (2016 statistics).
Carrots and cabbage are the most important crops in terms of land area with carrots accounting for 800 hectares and cabbage 650 hectares.
Let’s presume we only use one twentieth of the agricultural land area (4,400,000 hectares) for vegetable production. This equates to 220,000 hectares. Based on the presumption that 1ha will provide sufficient vegetables for 25 families or 100 people – 220,000ha would feed 22 million people.
So, only one twentieth of the currently used agriculture land area would provide sufficient food for 22 million people and this doesn’t even take into account the actual garden areas where people grow their own food.
In order to provide vegetables for 5 million people we would “only” need 50,000 hectares. Currently we only have 13,600 hectares under potatoes and vegetables. We have a potential (or responsibility) to nearly quadruple the land area for vegetable production. In other words we currently produce vegetables for only 1 million people.
Let’s take carrots as an example: We produce 800 hectares of carrots in Ireland with an average yield of 65 t/ha. That’s a total of 52,000 tonnes or 5,200,000kg. With a population of close to 5 million people we can each get 10.4kg of carrots per person per year. I would eat this in a month!
I think I made my point and hopefully the calculations didn’t put you off. What I wanted to show is that there is a lot of potential to grow your own food as well as planning to set up a market garden. We are nowhere near self-sufficiency in vegetables in Ireland and if there ever is a crisis in logistics or drought or floods in different countries we are not in a good position at the far edge of Europe.
On a positive note, vegetable production in Ireland has many advantages over many other countries – there is still plenty of land and water available especially if we mind it well.
Worldwide, access to water has already become one of the main limiting factors for food production. This puts Ireland in a very important position for the future and we may well change from an importer of vegetables to becoming a supplier to many countries where food production will become more difficult.
Scientists have identified a number of so-called “Blue Zones” around the world where people live healthily into a very old age. The common denominators in all these zones is that people eat a wide diversity of vegetables and fruit, lead an active lifestyle even into old age (working in a garden) and having a solid social community.
This is such a simple piece of advice. So what better retirement present could you give to your spouse than a greenhouse or a polytunnel?
Grow your own food – share it and make good friends and eat a delicious home-grown diet. This nearly sounds too easy but still this seems to be the recipe for a good and healthy life.
Never give up gardening!