December Newsletter

Dear Fellow Gardeners,
The year 2018 has been a very busy and exciting year for me travelling and discovering new (or old) vegetable crops from the Andes and trialling them here.
Apart from the Inca crops we also trialled a North American crop that has been grown in Europe since the 1700’s but has never made it as a mainstream vegetable. It is the highest yielding vegetable I have ever come across, it’s an ideal food source for people suffering from Diabetes 2, it might help with weight loss and on top of it all it produces a lot of biomass and thus has the potential to absorb more carbon from the atmosphere than any other vegetable crop. It also tastes delicious – both raw and cooked.
This year Colman Power and I did a trial in Co. Cork at his organic garden testing 10 different varieties. You’ll find out more at the end of the newsletter. Did you guess which vegetable it is?

Green Vegetable Seeds Christmas Gift Promotion
This year we are offering a Christmas Gift promotion. All three books (Vegetables for the Irish Garden, Fruit and Vegetables for the Polytunnel and Greenhouse and The Vegetable Grower’s Handbook) plus a free seed packet for €32.00. The usual price for the books is €45.00.
Here is the link:

Renvyle House Gardening Weekend (1st March – 3rd March 2019)
Next year’s gardening weekend at the wonderful Renvyle House Hotel is now open for bookings. It will take place from Friday 1st March to Sunday 3rd March 2019. Early booking is recommended as the last gardening weekend was booked out quickly.
The course is run by me, Anja Gohlke (Head Gardener at Kylemore Abbey Gardens) as well as Irish Times Gardening Journalist Fionnuala Fallon and Renvyle’s own Head Chef and Eurotoques Commissioner Tim O’Sullivan. It will include talks and workshops on seed sowing, protected cropping, organic pest and disease prevention as well as a trip to Kylemore Abbey with Anja. Fionnuala will give a talk on Growing Cut Flowers and Tim will do a cooking demonstration.
The cost is €199 for the weekend and includes 2 Night accommodation and breakfast, 1 Dinner in the restaurant, trip to Kylemore Abbey Gardens and Gardening Quiz night on Saturday evening.
Contact: Renvyle House Hotel – Tel: 095 46100 or
More info on Renvyle:

Cotton or Wool? Woolow – the organic wool pillow
The problem with many farmers is that nearly all their products are sold cheaply to wholesalers and everyone else seems to make a profit while the farmer struggles to break even. One example is wool – there is no value on wool and it nearly costs the same to get a sheep sheared as what a farmer gets for the wool. Last year it cost nearly €3 to shear a sheep and the farmer received less for the wool. Most Irish wool is exported to China.
I often wondered why most of our clothing is either synthetic or cotton, both not very sustainable. We know the problems with synthetic products, but cotton production is also not very sustainable. First of all – most cotton is genetically engineered. Genetically modified cotton is grown on 25 million hectares around the world. GM cotton is often engineered to be resistant to Roundup – the weedkiller that is under much debate in the last few years. These cotton crops can be sprayed with Roundup even while they grow. Also the WWF found that 20,000 litres of water are needed to produce one kilogram of cotton (the equivalent of a single T-Shirt). Apart from the highest water consumption for all agricultural commodities, cotton production also severely degrades soil quality and requires high inputs of pesticides.
Sorry for the long introduction – all I intended to do is to promote our own local home- produced fibre – wool – and rescue it from its demise as a waste product. Ireland currently has 3.9 million sheep and with a yield of around 3kg of wool per sheep there should be over 10,000,000kg of wool. We could easily be self-sufficient in fibres. It would be far better for the environment as wool is far more sustainable and also for us.
Finally I come to the point – I visited an organic farmer in Co. Galway (Michael Burke) and he started a new business – Wool Pillows – from his own sheep and started the company WOOLOW. Have a look at his website to find out more about this wonderful initiative and the benefits of wool. I sincerely hope he will do well with this enterprise and maybe will make a change.
For more information have a look at

Plant a tea herb garden
You can create the nicest tea herb garden if you have about 2-3 square metre of garden space available. If not you can grow them all in pots. I’m not really a fan of the pre-packed herbal tea bags, so please even if you don’t like herbal teas yet, give this one a go. This recipe is fabulous.
You need the following herbs plants:
1 Lemon balm
1 Green or Bronze Fennel
1 Golden Marjoram or Oregano
1 Sage (Purple or Green)
1 Moroccan Mint (grown in a large pot and not in the herb garden!)
3 Lemon or Orange Thyme

These make up the basic mixture but you can add other tea herbs according to your taste:
Blackcurrant leaves
Lemon Verbena (the most divine tea herb of all, but hard to get)

All those herbs are so easily grown. Apart from keeping them weed free and the occasional pruning there is very little else to do. Many of them are HERBACEOUS PERENNIALS. This simply means that they live for many years and all the leaves die back in winter before they start to grow again in early spring. This is their own protection from the cold. Examples of herbaceous perennials are lemon balm, mint, fennel, and other culinary herbs such as chives and bergamot. Herbaceous perennials should be pruned back at to ground level in winter. I also sometimes prune them to ground level in summer when they look a bit tired. New fresh shoots will appear soon after. EVERGREEN PERENNIALS include thyme, sage and other culinary herbs such as rosemary and lemon verbena.
How to make the tea?
Making a herbal tea is the easiest thing imaginable. You simply harvest shoots of the various herbs until you have a large handful, squeeze it in your hands to release the essential oils and then put them into a teapot, pour boiling water over it and wait for 3-5 minutes.

Jerusalem artichoke trial
In case you wondered what the wonder vegetable from the intro was – it’s Jerusalem artichokes. First of all it’s quite misnamed. The word Jerusalem has nothing to do with Israel – it came about from a mispronunciation of the Italian word “Girasole” (sunflower – turning to the sun). The word artichoke was taken due to its similarity in taste to the globe artichoke. The original name from some native American tribes is “Sunroot” – a far better name.
The top 5 varieties in terms of taste, smoothness of tubers and yield were:
Gotlanst Lilafleckig
Buttlede Berta
Earthing White
The yield from one drill 16m long was 167kg. No other crop can beat that yield. I will continue to promote this neglected plant.

Featherfield Farm in Co. Kildare
A little more advertising for an organic farm specialising in the most delicious Dexter beef. I’m a little partial as my son Julian works there since May. We recently bought one quarter of a Dexter cattle for the freezer (at a lower price than conventional beef from Lidl).
I’m not partial about the taste though – it’s the best beef I ever had – and it’s fully organic and completely grass-fed. Very difficult though to eat any other beef in future.
They are also planning to introduce laying hens, broilers and lamb in the next year.
Look out for their website: