December Newsletter

Dear Fellow Gardeners,

Wild Bird Seed

In the last two weeks we were nearly drowning up here in Leitrim.  The wind and rain never stopped.  I’m quite annoyed with myself for not having covered the vegetable garden yet.  I usually do that as soon as the crops are harvested and in store.  Up to about two weeks ago we actually had reasonably dry weather and I could have done it then, but was too busy with lots of other things.

Anyway on the first calm day I’ll put black plastic onto the beds to stop nutrients from leaching out.  After that I won’t go out into the garden until February.

I was at Airfield House a couple of weeks ago.  Kitty Scully, the Head Gardener of the Kitchen Garden gave me a tour around the garden and the tunnels.  It’s quite amazing how well the garden looks even at this time of year.  I also had a look at the farm.  They have the wonderful Jersey cows and you’ll even get their milk when you visit their café.  I probably had the best coffee in my life while walking around Airfield in the rain with foamy Jersey milk and a snowman imprinted in the milk.

I will bring the whole family over to Airfield to their amazing Airfield Christmas Experience.  Please have a look at the press release below.  I think it will be a magical day for our children.  As they are very busy you’d need to book in advance.

Grow you own wild bird seed

Everyone enjoys having wild birds in the garden and most of them are not only entertaining to watch but also help us in the garden with pest control eating slugs, snails, aphids and many other crop pests.  In fact it is hard to imagine a garden without birds and their wonderful entertainment.

Many people feed birds throughout the winter months to secure their survival during a time of year where little food is available.   Have you ever thought of growing bird food yourself by creating a little patch in your garden and sow seed crops that the birds can feed on throughout the lean months.  You can either harvest the seeds/grains and feed them to the birds in winter in your bird boxes or easier let the birds ‘Pick-their-own’ seeds.

Apart from being an important food source for birds it will also make a beautiful feature in your garden.  Suitable plants include: Barley, triticale, linseed, white millet, red millet, quinoa, radish, sunflower, teasel, poppies, great mullein, teasel, phacelia and buckwheat.

They all produce a range of seeds that a whole range of birds will be fond of.

The most reliable way is to sow the seeds in modular cells (5-7 seeds/cell) between March and June and plant the modules 15cm apart each way about 4 weeks after sowing.  Alternatively you can sow the seeds directly into shallow drills (about 2cm deep) with rows about 15cm apart.

A ready-made wild bird seed mixture is now available



Jersey Cows

I recently met a farmer and he told me a story about the Jersey cow.

After an MMR injection his 3 year old daughter changed – she refused to eat, sleep and drink.  After a week they got advice from an alternative health practitioner to buy either a Jersey or Kerry cow.  Immediately he set out to find a suitable cow.  All he could locate were two Jersey heifers over a hundred miles away.  He drove off and met the farmer and told him that he is not interested in buying the heifers but that he needs a cow in milk.  He told his story and the farmer ended up giving him the cow. Within a few days the farmer brought back the Jersey cow and the girl drank a whole bottle of untreated, unsterilized, unpasteurised etc – in English – milk directly from the cow.  She slept for 12 hours and was content for the first time since the vaccination.  Five years later her only food is still the Jersey milk and she has been diagnosed since with autism.

Quite amazing that this milk can provide all the food needs of a person and what a pity it is how milk is treated these days.  Maybe all this processing of such a natural product is responsible for a lot of milk intolerances nowadays?




Gardening Course in Tallaght and Hydro Farm Allotments

Last month I gave a workshop in Tallaght at St.Mark’s Youth and Family Centre (Fettercairn).  It’s a wonderful community initiative with wonderful people running it and volunteering.  It’s a city farm with a tunnel, all sorts of ducks, hens and geese and donkeys.  It’s a great place to learn about growing your own.  I was amazed how well they use the space.  Not an inch of growing space was wasted.  There were raised beds along a south-facing wall and in November they still had a few tomatoes – outside!  I never fully believed that tomatoes will do well outdoors in Ireland – I suppose Dublin is different.

Here is a link to their website and if you are nearby I’m sure you are welcome to have a look.

I was also back at the amazing Hydro Farm Allotments near Blarney for a course on Winter Vegetable Growing last month.  I seem to be a regular there.  If anyone wants to see a great example of a well-run allotment you should visit the gardens there and you’ll


Gardening Weekend at Renvyle House

Renvyle House Hotel in Connemara is our favourite destination and place to stay in Ireland.  Earlier this year they organised their first gardening weekend which was a great success and fully booked out.  Everybody had a great weekend even if the weather was miserable.  It even included a tour around the nearby Kylemore Abbey Victorian Walled Garden with the Head Gardener Anja Gohlke.

In February 2016 they organise another gardening weekend.  Have a look at the programme below.  The special guest for the weekend is Evelyn Cusack who really needs no introduction.  Evelyn will tell us all why it rains so much in Connemara (and Leitrim) and will also be part of an evening’s entertainment – ‘A Gardening and Weather Quiz’



on the Wild Atlantic Way
Friday 19th to Sunday 21st February 2016

With Klaus Laitenberger, organic gardener, journalist with Irish Garden magazine and author and Anja Gohlke, Head Gardener at Kylemore Abbey Victorian Walled Gardens
Practical Demonstrations on the grounds of Renvyle House include:

  • How to prepare your garden soil for planting
  • What to do in the garden in early spring
  • How to take cuttings
  • Making good compost
  • Biodiversity and attracting bees, butterflies and birds
  • Planting an orchard

A visit to the Victorian Walled Gardens at Kylemore Abbey with Anja Gohlke, head gardener

Price: 2B&B 1 Dinner €185.00pp

T: 095 46100 | Email:



Christmas is in the Air at Airfield

Experience a Christmas like never before at Airfield Estate this festive season. Be enchanted by giant nutcracker soldiers, twinkling lights and a warm elf welcome; all before stepping into Santa Claus’s cottage for a magical experience with story-telling and gifts. Airfield’s Christmas Experience takes place from Saturday November 14th to Tuesday December 22nd. Tickets costing €12.50 for adults and €22.50 for children, including a gift from Santa, can be booked at

Whether you’re on the naughty or nice list, Airfield Estate has the perfect adventure for all the family to get you in the festive mood. Visitors will be welcomed by Santa’s little elves, guiding them through each stage of this enchanting yuletide experience. Meet the man himself; step inside Santa’s Christmas cottage and enjoy an exciting story-telling session with him before receiving an early gift; he won’t mind if you open it before the 25th.

After that it’s time to wrap up and head outside to meet Santa’s reindeer –will you be able to remember all of their names, before taking part in Airfield’s very own Christmas Fairy Trail, an enchanted adventure around the grounds. Keep warm along the way with hot chocolate for the children and seasonal mulled wine for parents.

Visitors to Airfield’s Christmas Experience will even get the chance to peek inside Mr & Mrs Claus’s bedroom. What more could you want from a Santa experience? Well maybe a photo in Santa’s sleigh. Then before heading off our little visitors will also be invited to write their letter to Santa and even have the chance to send it directly to the North Pole thanks to Airfield’s special postal service.

The Airfield Estate Christmas Experience will last approx 1.5 hours with 30 minutes of this time allocated to a group Santa experience in the cottage. Visitors are advised to dress appropriately for outdoors and indoors as the Christmas Experience takes part in different locations both inside and outside on the estate.

Tickets cost €12.50 for adults and €22.50 for children which will include a unisex gift. Children under 12 months can enter for free but will not receive a gift. Airfield Estate members receive a 20% discount.

For further information log onto or follow Airfield Estate @airfielddundrum or


Book Recommendation:

Agri-Culture – Reconnecting People, Land and Nature by Prof.Jules Pretty.

I have read this book many years ago and still keep dipping into it.  Prof. Pretty’s argument is that agri-culture has changed into agri-business.  The culture has been taken out of agriculture.  He explores the social and environmental costs of this ‘divorce’ of farming and culture with case-studies and scientific analysis. He gives a great balance between story telling and analysis.  He also attempts the massive task on calculating the external costs of agriculture (cost of degraded soil, water pollution through run-off, pesticide damage etc)


I wish you all a wonderful and festive season