January Newsletter

Dear Fellow Gardeners,

January is generally a cold and miserable month in Ireland and it’s far too early to get out into the garden. I do, however, love the cold frosty and clear mornings following a freezing night.  There are just a few jobs that can be done now but overall – it’s time to relax and reflect.

Some of the gardening jobs I do in January include pruning apples and pears, red and white currants and gooseberries as well as the autumn fruiting raspberries.  It’s also a good time to plant bareroot trees and shrubs provided the soil is not frozen or waterlogged.

If you have a tunnel or greenhouse you can get started very early: you can plant first early potatoes and sow a lot of seeds on a heating bench indoors for planting into the tunnel about 4-6 weeks later but if you don’t have that facility there is little else to do.

In this newsletter there will be information on:

  • Gardening courses around the country and at home in Leitrim
  • New research: Touching plants is good for stressed people
  • New research: Forest therapy or ‘Forest bathing’
  • Unusual tubers for sale (Oca, Mashua, Chinese artichokes, Jerusalem artichoke mixture, American groundnut)
  • Recipe for Jerusalem artichoke soup
  • New: Children’s Starter Seed Tin
  • Gardening weekend at my favourite place in Ireland – Renvyle House Hotel in Connemara
  • International Year of Soils
  • There is also a new article on microgreens on my website. Here is the link: https://greenvegetableseeds.com/microgreens-2/


Gardening Courses in Milkwood

In 2015 we are running four gardening courses at our home in Co. Leitrim.  It’s not a large garden but we grow all our own vegetables in our greenhouse (16 x 6m) and outdoor plot (30m x 20m).   Last year we really enjoyed the course especially with the company of such lovely groups of people.

The first course: “A Beginner’s Hands on Gardening Course” will be held on Saturday 21st March. This course is for the complete beginner.  It will be mainly practical demonstrations on seed sowing, planting potatoes, onions and garlic, sowing seeds in trays and directly into the ground as well as valuable tips on weed control and how to grow healthy vegetables.

The day course costs €65 and includes a delicious home cooked lunch and coffee and scones on arrival.  Early booking is recommended.

We are very lucky to be very close to an award winning restaurant – The Courthouse Restaurant and B&B in Kinlough.  There is a special offer – the gardening course with lunch plus early dinner at the Courthouse plus B&B for only  €125 per person.  For more information have a look at:



NOTS Gardening Courses:

In January and February 2015 there will be a new series of gardening courses run through NOTS (National Organic Training Skillsnet).  The venues are not yet fixed but most likely to be in Dublin, Wexford (Springmount garden Centre), Blarney and Bantry in Co. Cork.

For more information contact Margaret on info@nots.ie

I will also give a gardening course in Co. Clare, Co. Kerry and Co. Donegal in February.  If you are interested in those please email me and I’ll forward your details to the organisers.
New research: Touching plants is good for relaxation

It has been recognised for a long time that gardening makes us happy and many healing powers are attributed to plants.  Horticultural therapy has been used for a wide spectrum of people – special needs (Camphill Communities), psychiatric patients, older people, children, prisoners etc.

In my opinion it’s actually quite obvious that there is a positive of effect of plants on the well-being of people but now there is even some scientific evidence on how it works and how gardening can relax stressed people as dissolve tensions, but now there is even scientific proof.  Researchers in Japan could prove that touching plants really does have a relaxing effect on people.

If you want to find out more google: Journal of Phyisological Anthropology – Japan – Touching plants.


New research: Forest Therapy

This is even more interesting:  The stressed Japanese found that spending some time in a forest is highly beneficial to human wellbeing.  The scientific term is ‘Forest Therapy’ or ‘Forest Bathing’

Researchers found that spending time in a forest can lower stress and make people feel at ease.  Physiological experiments such as fluctuations in heart beats and blood pressure, support this conclusion.

Miyazaki – the main researcher argues that: “Humans had lived in nature for 5 million years. We were made to fit a natural environment. So we feel stress in an urban area. When we are exposed to nature, our bodies go back to how they should be.”

There are already over 30 therapy forests recognised in Japan which include free health checks.  Companies which produce stressed workers are now sending their top executives to those forest therapy centres.  I hope they’ll leave their phones and laptops behind.

By the way I completely agree with this research.  When I lived in Germany in my school days it was the local forest that gave me comfort and gave me a sense of life.  I spend many hours being part of it.


Unusual tubers for sale:

In January and February we’ll offer a new range of edible tubers:


Oca is one of my favourite Inca vegetable. The type I grow is not named, but it’s a red variety with yellowish flesh.  It grows very easily and is not susceptible to any specific pests and diseases.

You can grow oca just like potatoes – plant tubers in April about 30cm apart in single drills.  Alternatively pot on individual tubers into 9cm pots on receipt and keep in a cool, light place (unheated greenhouse) and plant outdoors in late April to May.

Only harvest oca about 2 weeks after the frost has killed off the leaves.  The tubers are delicious raw, cooked or roasted.

You’ll get 5 tubers for €4.50


Mashua is definitely one of the prettiest Inca vegetables and I admit that I only grow it as an ornamental and not for its edible tubers.  I tried to eat them once and unless I get a good recipe from somebody with a good recommendation I’m not tempted to grow them again.  But nevertheless they are a wonderful plant growing up trellises, fences or even sprawling over the ground.  Their leaves and flowers are also edible and quite delicious.  In the Andes mountains mashua is grown where the soil is too poor and wet for potatoes – so it’s an excellent plant for Ireland.

Plant tubers in April about 30cm apart around a trellis or wigwam.  Alternatively pot on individual tubers into 9cm pots on receipt and keep in a cool, light place (unheated greenhouse) and plant outdoors in late April to May.

You’ll get 5 tubers for €4.50



Chinese Artichokes are a new addition. Most gardeners have heard or even grown Jerusalem artichokes but very few people know the Chinese artichoke, Stachys affinis. It’s a perennial plant originating from East Asia and growing to about 50cm tall. The small fiddly tubers are a delicacy in many countries, especially France. They have a delicious nutty artichoke-like flavour and can be eaten raw or cooked.

I used to grow these unusual tubers many years ago at the Organic Centre.  Thankfully I got some tubers last year at the amazing Mussel Festival in Tully Cross, Connemara from an excellent local organic grower (Linda).

I admit – they are small, fiddly and you may even call them ugly tubers.  They even look like maggots, but in fact they are quite delicious.

The French absolutely adore them and they feature in the most famous restaurants.  The French name is ‘crosnes’.  Obviously they are also very popular in China.

Plant tubers in late March to early May about 25cm apart each way.  Alternatively pot on individual tubers into 9cm pots on receipt and keep in a cool, light place (unheated greenhouse) and plant outdoors in late April to May.

Harvest tubers from October onwards.

You’ll get 10 small tubers for €4.50


American Groundnut is an exciting vegetable curiosity. It produces the most unusual tubers, round swellings at intervals along the rhizome. It has the appearance of a necklace. The tubers are absolutely delicious cooked, with a distinctive nutty flavour.  It is a very trouble free and easily grown plant.  American groundnut prefers a heavy wet soil with plenty of organic matter incorporated. The plant is a climber and requires a trellis, wigwam or a string to climb up. The tubers can be harvested as soon as the frost has killed off the leaves.

Plant tubers in April about 30cm apart around a trellis or wigwam.  Alternatively pot on individual tubers into 9cm pots on receipt and keep in a cool, light place (unheated greenhouse) and plant outdoors in late April to May.

You’ll get 1 tubers for €2.00


Jerusalem Artichokes are such a superb vegetable both in ease of growing, taste and yield that I can’t believe that they are not more widely grown.  I often say that if you fail to grow them you may as well give up gardening for life and hang up your spade!

All you need to do is to plant the tubers from late February until late April into good soil about 10cm deep and 30cm apart and then earth up the stems as they grow.  From late October and right through the winter you can get lots of delicious tubers.

We offer a mix of 3 varieties (1 tuber of each) – an roundish knobbly type originally from the Irish Seed Savers, the standard smooth type – Fuseau and a new French variety which I originally got from Lough Boora Organic Farm in Co. Offaly.  It’s a purple, roundish and smooth type.

You’ll get 3 tubers for €3.50


Recipe:  Organic Jerusalem artichoke soup

This recipe is from Piero Melis from the Courthouse Restaurant in Kinlough, Co. Leitrim.

It’s simply fabulous.


(serves 6)


1 Garlic Clove

2 Shallots

1 Celery Stick

2 table spoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

4/5 Sundried Tomatoes (not semi)

400 grams of Jerusalem Artichokes (washed and pealed)

4/6 cubes of vegetable stock


Cooking Methods:

Chop the shallots, garlic, celery

Sweat everything in olive oil over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes, then add the Jerusalem Artichokes and sundried tomatoes, increasing the heat for 2-3 minutes.

Continue to stir, then add 2 litres of hot water. bring to boil, and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Now add 4-6 cubes, depending on seasoning preference.

Remove from heat, and blend using a hand blender.

Soup is now ready to serve.

Serving tip:

Add croutons and a few drops of extra virgin olive oil on each dish.





New:  Children’s Starter Seed Tin


We selected 5 really easy and fun crops for children to grow.  They are beautifully presented in a seed tin and growing instructions are enclosed.

The tin contains the following seeds:

  • Giant Sunflower
  • Big ugly pumpkins
  • Cress
  • Bee and butterfly flower mix
  • Radish

More information and growing instructions can be found on:




Gardening Weekend at Renvyle House in Connemara

I’m so looking forward to this weekend.  Renvyle House is the hidden gem in Ireland and without doubt my favourite place to stay.

Press Release

Date: Friday 27th and Saturday 28th February 2015

Renvyle House together with author and organic gardener Klaus Laitenberger and Head Gardener at Kylemore Abbey Victorian Walled Gardens, Anja Coyne

Practical Demonstrations over the course of the weekend on the grounds of Renvyle House include:

  • An introduction to Organic Gardening & Growing Vegetables
  • Pruning Fruit Trees in the orchard at Renvyle House
  • Dividing and propagating herb plants
  • Making good compost
  • Making lazy beds – growing potatoes on all types of soil.


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

Weekend Package includes:
• 2 Bed & Breakfast
• 1 Dinner on an evening of your choice
• Gardening tips and practical demonstrations with Klaus Laitenberger
• A field trip to Kylemore Victorian Walled Garden
• Evening entertainment
Price: 2B&B & 1D  €175.00pp
~No single supplement~

For more information on Renvyle House: www.renvylehouse.com


International Year of Soils 2015

Finally people, farmers and organisations have started to notice that our soils are the basis of all life and that we as a human species do a very bad job in maintaining the fertility of our soils.  I think that the decline of our soil fertility is the biggest global threat that we face.

I’m so delighted that the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has announced that 2015 will be the International Year of Soils.

Here are a few quotes from José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General

“Soils also host at least one quarter of the world’s biodiversity. They are key in the carbon cycle. They help us to mitigate and adapt to climate change. They play a role in water management and in improving resilience to floods and droughts.”

“Soils constitute the foundation of vegetation and agriculture. Forests need it to grow. We need it for food, feed, fibre, fuel and much more.”

“The multiple roles of soils often go unnoticed. Soils don’t have a voice, and few people speak out for them. They are our silent ally in food production.”

“We speak a lot of the importance of sustainable food systems for healthy lives. Well, it starts with soils.”

“We now have adequate platforms to raise awareness on the importance of healthy soils and to advocate for sustainable soil management. Let us use them.”



I wish all of you a wonderful new gardening year