Welcome to the February Newsletter and I hope you’ll enjoy reading it.
February is generally the month when I get out of my gardening hibernation. Finally there is work to be done. The days are getting noticeably longer and every day we can notice the beginnings of new growth and new life.
I often think a seed is the most symbolic and miraculous being. If you think of an annual plant a seed is the end of its lifecycle and at the same time the beginning of its new life. No scientist has ever managed to create a new seed in a laboratory. They can tamper with existing seeds and add or delete some information but they have never managed to create a seed from scratch. Isn’t it great that there are still some miracles on earth?
The same miracle happens in a compost pile. We throw in all our unwanted gardening and household waste – the end of many lifecycles. In the compost pile new life is constantly being created. I would go as far as claiming that a good compost is the beginning and a requirement for new life in the garden.
Keen gardeners can really make a great start in February especially if you have a polytunnel or greenhouse.
In a tunnel you can now plant your first early ‘chitted’ potatoes, sow early carrots and beetroot directly into the ground.
Outdoors you can now plant garlic and Jerusalem artichokes and sow broad beans directly into the ground as soon as the soil is workable (when it doesn’t stick to your boots). An excellent variety of spring sown broad bean is Witkeim.
If you have failed to grow decent sized garlic in past simply increase the spacing to 20cm x 25cm between cloves. It’s very simple: the wider the spacing, the bigger the bulbs.
If you have a heating bench (or a large windowsill in your house) you can start off a lot of crops that will later be planted outside or into the tunnel. Crops that will be planted outside later include leeks and very early cabbage. Crops that will be planted in a tunnel include tomatoes, peppers, chillies and aubergines and these ones you’ll need to spoil them with warmth.
You can also sow lettuce, scallions, dill, coriander, chervil, oriental salads, kohlrabi, early cabbage, spinach for planting in a tunnel about 4-5 weeks after sowing. It’s great to get an early and reliable crop from a tunnel.
If you sow an autumn variety ‘Hannibal’ and a winter variety ‘Bluegreen Winter’ in February (on the same date) you will get leeks from August right through to next February. The autumn type will crop from August to November and the winter type from October until February.
Watch your store:
I noticed last week that my parsnips, beetroot and potatoes are starting to shoot and form white roots. This should only happen around March. So I sorted them and rubbed off the shoots and roots and bury them again in a soil clamp in my greenhouse. If you have a large fridge you can place them in a plastic carrier bag in the fridge and they’ll keep for months.
Update on my Huegelbeet:
Last week I made a new Huegelbeet in Croghan Organic Garden. I know I was cheating a bit. I didn’t get the physical exercise that I needed because I had plenty of help. With 8 people it was completed within 2 hours. If you missed the previous article on how to make a Huegelbeet have a look again in the January Newsletter.
Gardening and Wildlife Projects for Schools and Families
I recently received some funding from Local Agenda 21 (Co. Leitrim) to produce a publication on ‘Gardening and Wildlife Projects for Schools and Families’. It’s available for free to download. If you have children or are involved with schools please have a look at it. There are a number of projects and games that will hopefully give children and families an incentive to spend a few constructive hours outdoors.
How to make a wildlife hotel
Creating a tea herb garden
Making a blindfold path
Lazy gardening with seaweed
The publication can be downloaded if you click on the link below:
Next month we’ll start our first gardening course in Milkwood Farm, Co. Leitrim – our home garden. The garden is about 15m x 30m and the greenhouse is 6.5m x 13m. We are more or less self-sufficient in all vegetables when in season. It only takes about 2-4 hours per week to maintain.
The first course takes place on Saturday 22nd March:
Beginners’ hands-on Gardening Course.
It’s a very practical workshop on how to start and maintain your vegetable garden. This course will involve digging, sowing, planting, making beds and composting. It is aimed at the complete novice to vegetable gardening. During the day we’ll be sowing seeds indoors; we’ll plant garlic, onions, shallot, early potatoes and broad beans outside. You’ll also get some useful tips on how to prevent pests and how to manage your weeds.
The course runs from 10am – 4pm and costs €65. The course is limited to 15 people and can be booked and reserved per email: firstname.lastname@example.org
More information on other courses can be found on:
Coffee and scones will be served on arrival and a home-cooked lunch will be served.
There is nothing simpler than growing your own apples and now is the time to plant them. If you choose good varieties, a suitable rootstock and plant them properly you will get delicious fruits for many years – with hardly any work.
There are a few things you need to know:
You can’t just have a single apple tree – you need a suitable partner for pollination. There are three pollination groups: A, B and C (A being the earliest flowering and C the latest flowering types). The most unlucky scenario would be to have one of each type and they miss each other. Two trees of one pollination group that flower around the same time are ideal partners. Crab apples are perfect pollinators for apples as they flower for a long period of time.
I have mentioned this already in a previous article but it is very important: Do not – under any circumstance – buy Golden Delicious, Gala or Cox’s Orange Pippin trees. They don’t perform well in Ireland and are very susceptible to scab and need to be sprayed regularly with a fungicide. Unfortunately garden centres still predominantly sell these varieties to unsuspecting gardeners. My favourite varieties are Discovery, Katy (or Katya), Charles Ross, James Grieve, Elstar and Red Boskoop (cooker/sour eater). It’s really worthwhile researching a little bit and find out which varieties do best in your own area. The Irish Seed Savers Association in Co. Clare will also be very helpful in recommending their best heritage varieties.
Apple trees are available as bare-root trees until early March. They cost about half the amount compared to containerised plants. Bare-root simply means that the trees have been dug up from the nursery, packed in a bag with damp peat.
Some people dig out a large planting hole and replace the old soil with excellent improved and fertilised soil. Obviously the apple trees thrive in such a soil but what happens when they reach the end. Do you think they are willing to leave this cosy environment to grow out into the surrounding poorer soil?
I usually dig a planting hole about 60cm in diameter and about 40cm deep and mix some old garden compost with the existing soil. The next step is to drive in the stake firmly and then place the tree next to the stake. Every tree has a pretty face so you should turn it around a few times to see where it looks best. The stake should be on the side of the prevailing wind. When you plant make sure that the soil level is like it was in the nursery. You should never bury the grafting union. First loosely fill the soil around and make sure it fills all spaces. Every now and again firm the soil with your heels. When finished fix a tie near the top of the stake. If you have a problem with rabbits or hares you’ll need to protect the trunk with a tree guard.
Every spring you can spread a mulch of compost or composted manure around the base of the tree but make sure it doesn’t touch the tree trunk.
Excellent Gardening Websites
I first came across Nicky Kyle last year when she organised the Totally Terrific Tomato Festival. I always admire people that have a passion for edible crops and get excited about trying out different varieties. Nicky has a wealth of knowledge and has a most informative website and write regular blogs. Have a look at:
Another very inspirational website run by a well-known herbalist is Co. Cork – Nikki Darrel. I recently took the MSc Horticulture students to a field visit to her small garden that surrounds a restored church with medicinal plants spilling over onto the adjacent graveyard. I must admit that my first impression of the garden was a bit disappointing but as soon as she showed us around and breathed life into all the ‘weeds’ that we vegetable gardeners want to get rid off – I was impressed.
“The problems we face today cannot be solved by the minds that created them.” Albert Einstein