February Gardening Newsletter

Dear Fellow Gardeners,

One would imagine that after 30 years in a profession one would know everything important and essential about it. But not so with gardening or at least not with me!
At the recent Biofarm conference in Tullamore I came across Dr. Christine Jones work and lecture. This had a profound effect on how I will garden in the future. To be fair – I always had an inkling about it and the pioneers of organic farming made it even into mantra:
The health of soil, plant, animal and human is intimately interconnected. An ailing soil will produce an ailing humanity. I knew that, but what I didn’t know was the key on how to make a healthy, fertile and living soil. I missed the key ingredient, I always concentrated on how to make the best compost and looking at other inputs to enliven soils, but what I missed was the most important thing – the plant itself!

The single best way of improving the soil is to grow a diverse mixture of plants in one area.

This is how it works: As we all know – green plants photosynthesise and make sugars. These sugars are used for many processes in the plant, but plants are also shedding off some of these sugars through their roots. Scientists were puzzled why plants do that – giving away these valuable nutrients. Christine Jones now suggests that these “goodies” (proper name: exudates) are given off to attract a myriad of micro-organisms that surround the roots of plants. The area around plant roots is called the rhizosphere and this is the most alive area in the soil where the interconnection between plants and the microbiome happens (a very similar area than the microbiome in our gut).
So what we need is a constant giving of sugars from as wide a range of plants for as long as possible to feed the life in the soil. By the way – these micro-organisms give something back to plants – they provide soil nutrients such as phosphorus and trace elements to plants. They also link the roots of plants together and there is wonderful recent research on how plants communicate through the network of roots and their associated fungal partners, but more on this in separate newsletter.
Growing a monocrop of wheat or carrots means that the diet of the micro-organisms is very limited, one-sided and possibly harmful. Having a bare soil for many months of the year means they have no food at all for many months and starve.
Christine Jones has done a lot of experiments on cover crops and grazing mixtures with amazing results. If you have a chance have a look at her presentation on the NOTS YouTube channel.

I have been thinking a lot in the last couple of months on how this knowledge could be adapted to vegetable growing. How could I increase the diversity in the vegetable garden. Crop rotations are great at preventing soil-borne pests and diseases, but at the end of the day they are still a monoculture in each bed and only one food source.
What I’m planning to do this year is to grow seed mixtures of root crops, annual herbs, spinach and salads and sow them all together in the same bed (obviously only as a trial in one bed initially). The mixture will contain: Dill, Chervil, Coriander, Parsley, Carrot, Beetroot, Parsnip, Kale, Red cabbage, Rainbow chard, Radish, Tree spinach, Turnip, Annual spinach, Lettuce x 4, Oriental salads x 4, Rocket, Bean-Purple Teepee, Chives and Kohlrabi.

Three possible sowing methods:
a. On very clean, weed-free soil – broadcast (scatter) seeds and rake them in t cover, or even sprinkle some seed compost over it.
b. Sow seeds in modules – 5 seeds per cell and plant out about 4 – 5 weeks later in a bed. (Note: don’t separate the modules). These can be planted in rows to facilitate hoeing or more artistically throughout the bed.
c. Seeds can be sown in seed drills directly into the ground from April onwards.
You can thin the plot by harvesting whatever takes your fancy on the day. Obviously, the radishes, dill, coriander and annual spinach can be harvested much earlier thus making more space for the other crops
We made up a mixture – Rainbow Seed Blend at Green Vegetable Seeds – if anyone wants to try this out too. I would love to get your feedback on this. The packet contains sufficient seeds for a 6m long bed if broadcast or a lot more if sown in modules.

Seed Potatoes and Garlic
We now have our seed potatoes and garlic in stock. We only have a small quantity available so early ordering is recommended.

Growing Potatoes

First earlies:
Plant in tunnel in February and harvest in late May/June
Plant outdoors in mid March and harvest July; Spacing: 25cm in drill (drills widely spaced so you can earth up)

Plant outdoors in mid April and harvest late September to October
Spacing: 30cm in drill (drills widely spaced so you can earth up)

There are about 10-12 seed potatoes in a kilo.
With a spacing of 1 ft (30cm), you’ll get a 10-12ft (3.5 -4m) long drill per kilo.
With a spacing of 25cm, you’ll get a 3m long drill per kilo.

International Kidney – also known as Jersey Royal (First Early)
Jersey Royal certainly sounds a lot better than International Kidney, but only potato growers from Jersey can call them with the real name. This potato originated in Jersey around 1880. A local farmer, Hugh de la Haye, spotted one large kidney shaped potato. Apparently it had 15 eyes and he cut out each eye and planted these. This was the beginning of the Jersey Royals.
The EU protects this variety and it was given protection of designation of origin (PDO), just like champagne that can only come from the Champagne region.
Chefs rave about this early potato variety which has an amazing buttery, sweet and distinctive taste. Jersey Royals are at their best boiled with their skins on.
You can grow them like any early potato and plant the seed potatoes around mid March. Potatoes can be harvested from June onwards. If left in the ground a bit longer they can be used as a maincrop potatoes and can be used for roasting, chips or wedges.

Red Duke of York (First Earlies)
One of the few red-skinned first early varieties. They grow easily and produce a high yield of delicious large tuber suitable for baking and chips. Red Duke of York has been awarded an Award of Gardening Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.
Red Duke of York potatoes can be planted from mid March/early April and harvest starts in July.

Homeguard (First Earlies)
A first early potato which is very popular in Ireland. It has an excellent flavour and good scab resistance. Blight resistance is low but is usually harvested before blight arrives. A great all-rounder suitable for steaming, boiling, baking, mashing, roasting and frying.
Homeguard potatoes can be planted from mid March/early April and harvest starts in July. Also a great choice for early tunnel production.

Lady Christl (First Early)
A delicious waxy extra early potato with a smooth skin and firm yellow flesh. The flavour is exceptional – a real gem. Lady Christl also has very general disease resistance.

Arran Victory (maincrop)
A heritage variety from 1918 bred on the Arran Island on the West Coast of Scotland. It was named “Arran Victory” to celebrate the end of the First World War. We can celebrate its 100th birthday next year. The tubers have deep purple skins and pure white flesh. It’s delicious steamed, roasted or mashed, but falls apart when boiled. The potatoes store well for many months and disease resistance is average, blight resistance is low but once blight hits, the foliage can be cut and removed.
Arran Victory potatoes can be planted in mid April and harvest starts in September/October.

Sarpo Mira (maincrop)
This is the safe one, the one you’ll be guaranteed a massive yield of potatoes and the one that blight will not touch. There have been many years where all other varieties collapsed with blight and this one stood proud with not a sign of the dreaded disease. Sarpo Mira has very large, irregular shaped pink tubers. The growth is very strong and the foliage quickly covers the soil thus reducing the need for weed control. It was bred in Hungary
Sarpo Mira potatoes can be planted in mid April and harvest starts in September/October.

Golden Wonder (maincrop)
A gourmet potato with many followers. It’s quite a unique potato with its characteristic chestnut creamy brown russet skin. It’s one of the most floury potatoes and thus has a lot of fans in Ireland. The flavour is truly excellent. It’s suitable for boiling, steaming and roasting.
If you like floury potatoes – then Golden Wonder won’t be bettered! It is suitable for most cooking methods including boiling, steaming, roasting, chipping, etc.
Golden Wonder potatoes can be planted in mid April and harvest starts in September/October.

Pink Fir Apple (maincrop)
One of my favourite varieties dating back to the 1850’s. It’s also known as a fingerling potato due to the long and narrow, knobbly tubers. The skin is pink and the flesh is white. The flavour is outstanding, a nutty, earthy buttery taste. In fact it tastes like an already buttered potato. It’s ideal for boiling and makes a delicious potato salad.

Shetland Black (maincrop)
Shetland Black potatoes are kidney shaped and have a dark purple skin with a distinctive purple ring within the yellow flesh. The flavour is sweet and creamy and the texture is floury. The tubers are best cooked with the skin. The tubers are smaller than modern varieties. This is a very old variety dating back to 1923.

Mayan Gold (Maincrop)
Mayan Gold originates from the original Phureja potatoes of Peru.
Mayan Gold have a rich golden yellow colour with a full nutty flavour. They have a fluffy flesh which are excellent as chips, or jacket and roasted potatoes. They have a good resistance to powdery and common scab.

Garlic – Picardy Wight
We are delighted to get such excellent quality garlic bulbs. Picardy Wight is a softneck variety that can be planted from February to late March. It has strong flavoured bulbs which keep well.
Space cloves 20-25cm apart each way and plant deep (twice the depth of the clove)
Price: €2.00 per bulb

Food diversity
Yesterday I felt like making a healthy leafy soup. At the community garden in Bundoran I collected over 30 edible weeds, herbs, salads and bits of vegetables. It actually turned out delicious – I was worried about some of the combinations and a trained chef may have frowned at me, but I literally went round the garden and picked up anything that was edible. The soup was delicious and even the children loved it. Again I was inspired by Christine Jones – the soil scientist who said we should eat at least 40 food plants per week for a healthy gut microbiome to feed all the microbes in our stomach with delicious varied food.
My soup contained chickweed, hairy bittercress, dandelion, nettle, plantain, evening primrose, chives, garlic leaves, fennel leaves, coriander, rosemary, sage, parsley, claytonia, various lettuces, various oriental brassica salads, purple sprouting broccoli, different kales, perennial Irish cabbage leaves, beetroot leaves, chard and spinach leaves and possibly a few more.
I chopped the greens lightly, boiled it and simmered for 30 minutes. The only addition was salt, pepper and one vegetable stock cube. Then blend it. I think I will do this regularly with whatever sprouts in the garden.


Courses and Workshops for 2020

Date: Monday 27th January 2020
Talk: Organic Gardening
Venue: Roscommon Abbey Hotel 8pm
Contact: Eilish on roscommongardenclub@gmail.com

Date: Saturday 15th February 2020
Course: Grow your own Vegetables
Venue: Glor na Mara Community Gardens and Allotments, Bundoran, Co. Donegal
Contact: Sr Assumpta Butler 086 3938630

Date: Saturday 29th February 2020
Course: Gardening Tips
Venue: The Organic Centre, Co. Leitrim
Tips and tricks to make gardening easier; how to propagate herbs, fruit and vegetables; how to breed new vegetable varieties – eg potatoes, etc; how to create a free soft fruit orchard with little work.
Contact: info@organiccentre.ie

Date: Friday 6th – Sunday 8th March 2020
Gardening Weekend at Renvyle House Hotel in Connemara
With: Anja Gohlke (Head Gardener Kylemore Abbey) and Klaus Laitenberger
Book early to avoid disappointment.
Email: info@renvyle.ie
Tel: 095 46100
There will be talks and workshops on organic vegetable, fruit and herb growing, a trip and guided tour to Kylemore Abbey Gardens as well as the very popular gardening quiz night.
This course quickly booked up in the last couple of years – early booking is essential.
For more information or booking:

Date: Saturday 14th March 2020
Course: Spring in the Tunnel
Venue: The Organic Centre, Co. Leitrim
The first of our seasonal polytunnel workshops, designed to help you organise and make the best use of your polytunnel and enable you to harvest lots of produce throughout the year. Workshop will cover crop rotation, composting, sowing and planting, tips, pest and disease. Hands on experience with Klaus.
Contact: info@organiccentre.ie

Date: Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd March 2020
Course: Complete Beginner’s Gardening Course
Venue: Featherfield Farm, Lullymore, Co. Kildare
This course is suited for anyone who plans to start a food garden. It is filled with practical tips and demonstrations on how to prepare the soil and make raised beds; compost making session, seed sowing demonstration and how to avoid pests and diseases. There will also be a session on growing fruit bushes and herbs. It will include classroom sessions on crop planning, rotations and tips on which crops are best suited for the small garden.
A hands-on course – so bring gardening gear.
Contact: Julian@featherfieldfarm.ie

Date: Saturday 28th March 2020
Course: Beginner’s Gardening Course
Venue: Skerries, Co. Dublin
Contact: Mary Marsden marsie.mary@gmail.com

Date: Saturday 4th April 2020
Course Title: Grow your own vegetables, herbs and salads
Venue: The Garden School, Dalkey, Dublin
Contact: Ann-Marie Bowring: 087 2256365

Date: Sunday 5th April 2020
Course Title: Growing your own healthy food
Venue: Coolamber, Co. Westmeath
Contact: Ann-Marie Durkin: 087 1436292

Date: Saturday 18th April 2020
Talk: Organic Gardening
Venues: Ardcarne Garden Centres in Boyle and Roscommon Town

Date: 24th – 26th April 2020
Festival: Wildmind
Venue: Fenit, Co. Kerry
It’s an inspirational gathering of people who are concerned about the welfare of our environment and planet. The main ethos is to inform and empower people on environmental issues both local and international and how they can make a difference. The festival is also family focused with lots of events happening throughout the weekend.
More info on: http://wildmind.ie

Date: Sunday 3rd May
Course Title: Summer in the Tunnel
Venue: The Organic Centre, Co. Leitrim
A tunnel based, practical session focusing on: maintenance, plant care, ventilation, feeding and watering, preventing and dealing with pests and diseases. Designed to support your summer production.
Contact: info@organiccentre.ie

Date: Saturday 9th May 2020
Course: Growing in Polytunnels and Greenhouses
Venue: Featherfield Farm, Lullymore, Co. Kildare
This course is for anyone who considers buying a polytunnel or greenhouse or who already has one. Polytunnel growing is far more productive and reliable than outdoor production. Instead of just producing one crop outdoors you could get up to 5 crops per year in one space. The course includes crop planning, detailed guidelines on growing a variety of crops, crop rotations and other practical aspects eg types of tunnels, ventilation, pest and disease control and general management.
Contact: julian@featherfieldfarm.ie

Date: Saturday 16th May 2020
Course: Growing your own organic food
Venue: OURganic Gardens, Falcarragh, Co. Donegal
Contact: Joanne Butler: 086 1789971 or email: ourganicgardensdonegal@gmail.com

Date: Saturday 30th May 2020
Course: Profitable Polytunnel Production
Venue: The Organic Centre, Co. Leitrim
This course is for anyone who considers making a small income from their garden. Polytunnel production is far more productive than outdoor production. Instead of just producing one crop outdoors you could get up to 5 times the amount of crop. The course includes crop planning, crop rotations, selling produce, soil fertility, and other practical aspects eg types of tunnels, ventilation, pest and disease control and general management.
Contact: info@organiccentre.ie

Happy Gardening

Klaus Laitenberger