July Newsletter – Soil Conference

Soil Conference

Dear Fellow Gardeners,

July is the month where we can enjoy the fruits of our labour. I’m always looking forward to the first tomatoes. Again I’m trying out a few new varieties this year. When will it ever stop? Especially when there are thousands of varieties available. Unfortunately one of my very favourite varieties (Rosada F1) is no longer produced. That’s the problem with hybrid varieties. You can save your own seeds from these varieties but unfortunately they will not be the same as they revert back to their parentage.

Jobs to do in July:

In theory, July should be a dry month but this is not always the case in Ireland. If we do get a dry summer you might have to water. If you water your plants give them a thorough soaking. Watering little and often is a disaster as it brings the plant roots up instead of encouraging them to go down. Keep your beds well hoed and weeded.

You can still sow lettuce, parsley, scallions, annual spinach, perpetual spinach, chard, kale, kohlrabi, turnip, radish, Chinese cabbage and Florence fennel as well as all the oriental salads (rocket, mustard, pak choi, mizuna etc). If you have an unused bed you can sow phacelia as a green manure crop.

Aphids tend to be a problem in mid summer especially in more sheltered gardens and in a tunnel. Watch out for ladybirds or hoverflies as they may already control them. If aphids are a big problem they can be sprayed with pyrethrum or soft soap, but both sprays will also harm ladybirds. Aphids can also be washed off plants with a strong jet of water. Keep checking your brassicas for butterfly eggs.


Soil Conference – Soils Matter

I’m getting very excited about the soils conference which will take place this month in Clargalway Castle on Monday 6th July.

There are only a few tickets left and if anyone is still interested please enquire from Margaret at the National Organic Training Skillsnet on info@nots.ie


Soil really matters

The main problem humanity is currently facing is the degradation of our soils.

The world population continues to increase while we destroy more and more topsoil. Every child could do the sums – there won’t be enough fertile soil left to feed a growing world population.

Here are some disturbing facts:

  • 24 billion tonnes of fertile topsoil are lost every year.
  • Or 12 million hectares of topsoil are lost every year.
  • 25% of the earth’s surface has already become degraded. This could feed 1.5 billion people.
  • The UN FAO calculated that we have about 60 years of harvests left – and then?

“We are using the world’s soils as if they were inexhaustible, continually withdrawing from an account, but never paying in.” FAO

More soil facts:

  • Soil stores 10% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.
  • A fully functioning soil reduces the risk of floods and protects underground water supplies by neutralising or filtering out potential pollutants and storing as much as 3750 tonnes of water per hectare.

It takes a long time for a soil to recover:

  • Natural processes can take more than 500 years to form 2 centimetres of topsoil.

We completely depend on our soils. Without soil the earth would be completely different. Apart from some algae, fungi, bacteria and other microscopic creatures there would be no other life. We certainly wouldn’t be around.

So why does nobody care about the soil and why do so many of us still call this precious substance “Dirt”? How come these facts that were known for many decades were ignored by scientists and the general public?

As a matter of immediate urgency we need to wake up to the fact that our soils may just give up. They had enough of the ill-treatment since industrial chemical farming started.

However, there is a little glimpse of hope at the end of the tunnel:

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has declared the year 2015 as the International Year of Soils to highlight the dangers we face.

The organic movement is also increasing throughout the world. One of the key concepts of organic farming is the care for the land and recognising that our soils are the givers of life. They need to be kept healthy and alive. Only a fertile soil can produce healthy crops and only with healthy crops can we have healthy animals and people. The mantra of organic farming is ‘to feed the soil which in turn will feed the plant. The reverse is true for conventional farming where the soil is considered just a medium on which plants grow and anchor themselves. The soil is considered as an inert sponge on which plants are force fed like being on a drip.

Over the last few decades our soils have suffered immensely and are close to the brink of collapsing. As a matter of urgency we need to learn how to care for our soils we need to learn how to “bring soil back to life” as Alex Lavarde appropriately called for.

Yes – I’m pointing a finger. Industrial farming has caused this degradation. Amongst a few other factors, the use of artificial fertilisers is one of the main causes for the degradation of soils. If farmers and growers rely solely on artificial fertilisers our soils will degrade. The reason for this is that artificial fertilisers only do one thing. They supply NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) in a soluble form which means fast release. So they work quickly but also cause damage quickly.

But soils don’t just need NPK. Soils need inputs of manure, compost, leafmould, seaweed or green manures. If you add any of these organic fertilisers you will enliven the soil in many different ways. The billions of living creatures that are in just on handful of topsoil need to be fed and only organic fertilisers will provide this food. Also by adding these bulky organic fertilisers the structure of our soils will be improved. There will be better drainage, water infiltration, less compaction, better water holding capacity and importantly it will be easier to work the soil. If you think about it – through a change of farming systems flooding could be controlled and wouldn’t that be much cheaper than putting up concrete defence structures around our towns?

Artificial fertilisers don’t provide any soil services – they literally just pump up plants.

As a matter of urgency we should give up using artificial fertilisers immediately. They should be treated by governments just like other dangerous substances and should be taxed highly.

George Monbiot summarised this unnoticed danger:

“Almost all other issues are superficial by comparison. What appear to be great crises are slight and evanescent when held up against the steady but unremarked trickling away of our subsistence.”


Confirmed speaker from the soil conference include:


  • Dr. Elizabeth Stockdale (Soil Scientist at Newcastle University)
  • Ian Tolhurst (Organic Grower and Author from the UK)
  • Jim Cronin (Organic Grower)
  • Pat Lalor (Organic Farmer)
  • Frank Macken (Organic Unit – DAFM)
  • Cleo de Vita (Mayo Organic Group)
  • Dara Molloy (Celtic Priest)
  • Clive Bright (Organic Farmer)
  • Anita Hayes (Founder of Irish Seed Saver’s Association)
  • Ernest Mackey (Bio-dynamic Farmer)
  • Padraig Fahy (Organic Grower)
  • Dr. Elizabeth StockdaleTitle of talk:
  • Dr Elizabeth Stockdale is over-excited about soils and is currently a lecturer in the School of Agriculture Food and Rural Development at Newcastle University. She has been involved in a wide range of research projects connected with the study of nutrient cycling in soils and with the environmental impact of farming systems. She also maintains a strong link to organic farming and has carried out research into nutrient cycling (N, P, and K) in organic farming systems.
  • Iain Tolhurst is an organic producer since 1976 operating a 200+ per week box scheme using 90% own produce from 75 different crops on 17 acres of land at Hardwick Estate in south Oxfordshire. The farm was the first to attain the Organic Stockfree symbol in 2004, no grazing animals and no animal inputs to any part of the farm for the past 20 years.The farm is a Community Interest Company and is a working example of agroecology in action that has been developing over a long period of time. It displays a high level of self-sufficiency whilst maintaining close links with the local community. For more information contact Margaret on info@nots.ie 

Galway Garden Festival 2015

This year’s acclaimed Galway Garden Festival will take place on Saturday July 4th & Sunday 5th 2014 at Claregalway Castle from 11am to 6pm each day and will be followed by a National Conference – ‘Soils Matter’ – , on Monday, July 6th to mark 2015 as UN designated Year of Soils (booking – info@nots.ie).


Climate change, food safety, sustainable gardening and sustainable living, as well as planning and cultivating beautiful gardens, are themes of this year’s Galway Garden Festival.


There will be free guest lecturers each day on a range of horticultural, environmental and ecological issues, with some very well known speakers in attendance.


This is always a fun event and once again there will be a huge variety of entertainment and revelry in the grounds of the castle.


All gate profits go to Christian Blind Mission www.cbm.ie and The Galway Simon Community . Entry 8 euros; children free


Guest Speaker Programme




Alice Taylor, Author and Gardener “The Gift of a Garden”

Dr Dilis Clare, Physician and Herbalist – “Grow your own drugs. Hedgerow Foraging for Herbal Medicines”

Kitty Scully , Environmentalist and Head Kitchen Gardener, Airfield Estate “Pretty and Productive Gardening”

Carl Wright Plant collector and garden designer – “A Plant for each month of the year; 12 brilliant plants for better gardens”




Jane Stark, Botanic Artist and Author “The Painted Garden: Irish Botanical Artists, Past and Present”

Evelyn Cusack, Climatologist and Deputy Head of Forecasting, Met Eireann “Wonders of Meteorology explained”   Questions welcomed

Enya Gohlke, Head Gardener Kylemore Abbey – “The Resurrection of the Great Garden of Kylemore – and some insights for Gardeners on the Western Seaboard”

Klaus Laitenberger, Author and organic expert will lead specialist panel discussion to mark 2015 as International Year of Soils




A special highlight of this years festival is a reading by the renowned Poet, Essayist and Memoirist , John Montague, on Saturday evening. This will be preceded by a reception and performance by the RTE ConTempo String Quartet. (This is a ticketed event – 15 euro – and early purchase is advised. Book via claregalwaycastle.com or 087 9419274).




Music lovers are spoiled for choice with the great range of free musical events.

On Saturday, Galway’s much-loved St Patrick’s Brass Band will play from 2-3.30pm. Performances also by University Hospital Choir, Silvermoon Jazz ensemble and at 5pm the internationally famous RTE ConTempo String Quartet.



On Sunday, Sonic Strings from Gort will perform at 1 pm followed by a concert by The Army Band of 2nd Command from 2-3.30 pm. Other Musical delights will include the Baytones, Ragtime with ‘Stride’ O’Brien, Silvermoon Jazz ensemble and the unforgettable Troubadour Mules.


Botanic Art Exhibition


The Claregalway Botanical Art Expo is by now a well-established and popular attraction at the Galway Garden Festival, and a major event for Ireland’s foremost botanical artists. Botanical art has enjoyed a huge international revival in recent years, and this has been evident in Ireland with the formation in 2014 of the Irish Society of Botanical Artists (ISBA), a not-for-profit organisation based at the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin. Look out for this inspirational exhibition.


Entertainment for Children and All The Family

Tommy Bakers Puppets will delight all age groups. The Gombeens make a welcome return bringing mayhem and anarchy and the fabulous Fanzini Brothers and friends will do a World Preview of their new show ‘Circus Jukebox’ on both days. Members of the Medieval Combat Society of Ireland will be settling scores. Other diversions planned.




Nurseries and garden suppliers from across Ireland will offer a range of plants, trees, seeds, garden furniture, and equipment.

Expert craftspeople will showcase their work in the Craft tent.


Birdwatch Ireland, the Green Sod Land Trust and other impressive organizations will advise and share a range of knowledge and experience.


Gardening books, botanical art books etc will be available in the Bookshop.


Freshly cooked food and drinks are available each day.


A free return courtesy bus will run from Galway Ceannt Railway Station to the festival each day, starting at 10.30am and every hour thereafter. (Free Parking facilities also available). You can leave all your plants and purchases in the plant crèche, while you enjoy the many events at this very special festival


Links and further updates: