January Newsletter

Dear Fellow Gardeners,
We would like to thank all our seed customers and newsletter readers for your support and wish you a wonderful and happy new year. The year 2018 was challenging for many gardeners while others were quite lucky and had one of their best gardening years. This is what makes gardening exciting – you never know what the next year will bring. It’s humbling to realise how dependant food production is on the climate, weather and soil.

Non-gardeners have little concept about this fragile balance as food can still easily be bought from shops all year round. Long may it last but if we continue to farm without caring for our soils and our climate while the world population continues to grow, the supply of food may not remain as plentiful as it is now. But enough of these negative thoughts.


One of the most positive things everyone can do is to plant trees (I mean proper trees rather than Sitka spruce plantations). Even if we can’t plant trees ourselves (lack of space and time) we can do it the lazy way by choosing Ecosia as a new search engine.
I only recently came across this relatively new search engine (an alternative to Google or Bing). It’s called Ecosia and whenever you search something on the internet through their search engine, they plant trees. It has become an amazing environmental success story. Up to 2017, Ecosia planted 25 million trees throughout the world and now in 2018 they have reached a total of 45 million trees.
I highly recommend switching over to Ecosia as a search engine. It’s really simple, it is free and even with my limited computer science skills I managed to make Ecosia my default search engine.
New Seeds in 2018

We are offering a number of new seed varieties and more will follow throughout the year. We will also have a few oca and Jerusalem artichoke tubers available next month. We will also have a few Yacon tubers– look out for the February newsletter for these.

Ice Plant – Mesembryanthemum crystallinum
Generally grown as an ornamental plant but also very useful as a salad ingredient with its silvery leaves and succulent texture. One of Joy Larkcom’s favourite salad ingredients.

Salsola – Agretti
A popular crop in Italy where it is eaten boiled or raw like samphire. The young leaves are tender and should be harvested regularly. It will grow in a moist corner in a polytunnel or outdoors in warmer parts of the country.

Watercress can be grown in a wet part of the garden or in a polytunnel with very heavy watering. It does better if sown early in the year or in late summer. This strain is selected for slow bolting.

Benjes Hedge

I mentioned this “Dead Wood Hedge” previously but I still think it is well worth mentioning it again. We extended our Benjes Hedge at the Community Gardens in Bundoran just before Christmas and all it costs is the price of a few fence posts which we used there, but you can also make the edging with thick branches stuck into the ground.

It’s such a great method of tidying up dead wood and prunings and at the same time creating a habitat for insects, micro-organisms and nesting places for robins and wrens. Our dead hedge is about 1.5m wide and about 20m long in a semi-circle – giving shelter to the two beehives.
Birds often visit the hedge after they have eaten some fruit containing seeds and then naturally sow them in the hedge.

As the seeds germinate they have shelter and protection for the woody material. It really is a great educational feature in a garden and can be made looking quite nice. Additionally I stuck some blackcurrant prunings into the ground – about 50cm long of which 20cm are stuck into the ground to speed up the process.
The hedge is named after Hermann Benjes who came up with the concept in the 1980’s.

Farming, Forestry and Climate

This question has occupied me for quite a while. The premise is that farming and especially livestock farming, is a major contributor to climate change due to its methane and ammonia emissions. Many researchers believe that large scale planting of forestry trees especially on poorer soils will compensate for excess carbon and methane emissions and absorb carbon.

In theory this sounds like a very good idea but in practice I think this policy is a disaster. The large scale planting of predominantly one species of a non-native tree (Sitka spruce) which as a guess accounts for over 80% (if not more) of all forestry trees planted in Ireland is not very sustainable and good for the environment. Some counties are severely affected by these large scale plantations, especially in Leitrim.

This is the same large-scale monoculture experiment as was done with the potatoes in the 1840’s. This is such a disastrous predicament – nobody seems to be able to see that if any crop – here Sitka spruce – is grown on such a large monocultural scale it is bound to fail. If there is a new pest or disease affecting the trees it has potential for wiping out the whole crop – or 80% of all forestry trees. The alternative is the use of chemicals in forestry which would be even more disastrous in the long run.

Why not?
– Why not plant more trees on farms – can you imagine if every farm would have 10% of the land planted up with mainly broadleaf trees?
– Why not plant a woodland strip as a field boundary about 10m wide rather than the traditional single hedge? These would be amazing wildlife habitats and highways for all flora and fauna?
– During the heat wave earlier this year I came across a field with one large tree under it and at least 100 sheep were competing for a place in the shade. So why not plant trees in fields for shelter and protection?

We need to become more inventive. I think farming in Ireland is often unnecessarily blamed as a contributor to global warming. Especially in the west with low stocking rates of animals and small field surrounded by hedgerows – I could nearly imagine that some of these farms are already carbon neutral.
We need to look more at the larger scale farms which have higher emissions and often larger fields and more carbon emitting inputs (eg. fertilisers).

Do we really need to increase agricultural production in Ireland? Could we not be happy with a slightly lower production but with less inputs and more sustainable practices?

Let’s finish at least with a couple of tips for all gardeners to help with taking some carbon out of the atmosphere:
– Make and use compost in your garden
– Get woodchip mulch for your fruit bushes for weed control and as a feed
– Reduce soil cultivations as much as possible
– Avoid rotavators
Every time you work the soil some carbon is released into the atmosphere.
Every time you put compost into the soil, carbon is taken from the atmosphere and stored in the soil.

I wish you all a wonderful New Year in 2019.
Klaus Laitenberger