June Newsletter

Dear Fellow Gardeners,

The 21st of June is the longest day of the year and it’s also one of the most important days in the plant kingdom.  Plants are highly sensitive to the natural world – quite obvious really as they play a major part in it.  Before the 21st June, when day length increases there is expansion and growth in the plant world.  After the 21st June, when day length decreases steadily, there is contraction and crops start to mature.

A couple of examples from the vegetable kingdom:

One example is onions.  You may wonder why the bulbs aren’t bulking up yet.  The reason is that they receive a signal that the days are getting shorter again and that they should mature.  Before then they were quite happy growing leaves.  That means that plants can actually measure time.

Another example is rhubarb.  Up to the 21st June, rhubarb grows stalks and leaves and expands.  After that the plant starts to contract and re-absorbs the food that was produced.  Rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid and when it gets re-absorbs it goes back down the stalk and finally into the stool (roots).  In Germany it is illegal to sell rhubarb stalks after the 21st of June but don’t worry too much as it surely hasn’t killed an Irish person yet even if we eat rhubarb here right into autumn.


A couple of facts:

Legally rhubarb is classified as a fruit even if it hasn’t got a berry.

Legally tomatoes are classified as vegetables even if botanically they are fruits.

Have a look at a grocery shop and tomatoes are always with the vegetables and rhubarb with fruit.


What to do in June?

June is slightly less busy than May.  Most crops are in the ground already and our main job is to maintain the plants and to keep the weeds down.

There are a few sowing that can be made in June:

You can now sow purple sprouting broccoli.  If you sow a mix of varieties you’ll get broccoli from February until May the following year.

Spring leeks should also be sown in June/July.  They will stay quite small this year but will bulk up from February onwards and can be harvest until May next year.  The best variety for this purpose is ‘Blue Solaise’

Also don’t forget the successional sowings for lettuce, scallions, dill, coriander, kohlrabi, radish and turnip.

June is also a great month for sowing swedes – they won’t get too large.  They will last throughout the winter.

June is the best month for sowing Florence fennel, pak choi and Chinese cabbage.  You may have noticed that earlier sowing have bolted prematurely.



Earthing up – even when it is wet.

I’m not really sure any longer if my weather forecast last month will hold true.  So far it has been quite wet up here in Leitrim.  Hoeing is usually the best type of weed control especially if you hoe on a dry day.  You can then leave the weeds on the soil and they will decompose and give their nutrients back to the soil.  If your soil is wet, however, hoeing will have no impact whatsoever – so weeds will just sit there on the soil surface and continue growing.

Earthing up your vegetables is the solution then – you simply bury the weeds.  Potatoes are traditionally earthed up but a whole range of crops could be earthed up and most of them will benefit from it.  If you earth up your leeks they get a much longer and whiter shank.


Brussels sprouts, kale and sprouting broccoli will withstand strong winds much better if they are earthed up.

You can use a rake to draw soil from the path onto the weeds surrounding your vegetables, alternatively a draw hoe or a chillington hoe are great too.

Obviously crops like lettuce, endive, pak choi and also kohlrabi should never be earthed up.



Tomato softwood cuttings

Did you know that you can plant the side-shoots from tomatoes.  Remove the side shoots when they are about 10 – 15cm long  and then nip off most of the leaves and just leave the growth point and a couple of adjacent leaves.  You then plant the cuttings straight into the greenhouse soil or alternatively into a pot.  After about a week the plants sit up again will start to grow and nearly catch up with the mother plants.


Tomatoes and more tomatoes:

Growing tomatoes is a labour of love.  They are not really financially viable.  I you were to grow vegetables for a living you may better concentrate on crops like salad bags, cut herbs, spinach, leeks, cucumbers and even kale.  Tomatoes won’t make you wealthy but there is something very special about them.  In the past they were grown as pretty ornamentals and nobody dared to eat them.  In America it took even longer before they were accepted as food – a man called Mr. Gibbons publicly ate a whole basket of shiny red tomatoes and ‘miraculously’ survived.

I appreciate that I’m becoming repetitive but I’m still searching for the perfect tomato.  In the year 2001 we grew 100 tomato varieties at the Organic Centre in Leitrim and that was when I discovered the variety Sungold F1.  After that I became complacent and only grew Sungold F1 for many years because I felt nothing could beat it for flavour, disease resistance, yield and earliness.  Then I found a fabulous variety ‘Rosada F1’ a cherry plum type which I nearly prefer to Sungold F1 for flavour (I find that hard to admit).

Then last year, Hans Wieland at the Organic Centre grew 50 different tomato varieties.  We only had the best flavoured varieties which were recommended by various seed companies and this time Sungold F1 was officially beaten.  It only came second after a variety called ‘Sweet Aperitif’ which was a clear winner after a tasting trial held in August 2013.  For details have a look at their website: http://www.theorganiccentre.ie/node/1902

Sweet Aperitif was bred by two plant breeders in the UK known as Gourmet Genetics.  Their main emphasis is to produce delicious vegetable varieties specialising in tomatoes and chillies.  Very kindly they sent me samples of all the tomato and chilli varieties that they have bred and I’m trialling them this year in my own greenhouse and in a few other gardens.  If they are as good as Sweet Aperitif I’ll be in for a treat.

This year I grow the following varieties at Milkwood Farm

Sweet Aperitif (winner of last year’s taste test)

Tasty Bite (apparently more attractive to children than sweets)

Rosella (a purple skinned and fleshed tomato –delicious taste)

Black Opal (a very dark skinned tomato)

Fourth of July (I don’t know anything about it)

All the above one came from Gourmet Genetics in the UK.

I also grow my old favourites:

Sungold F1

Rosada F1

Indigo Rose (the blackest tomato of all)

Green Zebra (an old heirloom variety)

Annamay F1 (a fabulous, delicious and reliable variety)


Last Saturday I was giving a course at Springmount Garden Centre in Gorey, Wexford and I got 4 new varieties that Geoff Stebbings propagated – ‘Green Emerald’, Blue Berries’, ‘Purple Bumblebee’ and ‘Chocolate Pear’.  I’m getting so excited.

For more information on tomatoes from passionate tomato experts have a look at Nicky Kyle’s website: http://www.nickykylegardening.com and also on Tanguy de Toulgoet’s website: www.dunmorecountryschool.ie


My favourite garden centres:

The Garden House – Garden Centre in Malahide

Last year in spring I met Bryan Maher when he came to a couple of courses here in Milkwood.  He told me then that he was going to open a garden centre in Malahide.  I think I told him (in my German ignorance) that it was a crazy idea to start a garden centre in a recession when nobody buys plants and while other garden centres and nurseries struggle to keep afloat.  Anyway, I was there twice this spring and was really blown away by the style, the friendliness of the staff and the quality of the plants, not to mention the food which was absolutely fabulous.  Bryan’s motto is: Growing, Cooking and Eating – they are passionate about food.

Have a look at their website- they run excellent courses in a purpose built classroom, including expert gardeners such as Marie Staunton – the gardening writer for The Independent.



Springmount Garden Centre, Gorey, Co. Wexford

This is an amazing garden centre with a wonderful range of plants of excellent quality. They also have a great range of vegetable transplants and fruit.   The garden centre is owned and run by Elaine who has a vast knowledge of horticulture.  When you meet her you’ll be overwhelmed by her passion for plants.

Have a look at their website – they run excellent gardening courses and lectures with gardening experts such as Geoff Stebbings and monthly ‘Morning Gardening Clubs’ with Frances McDonald.  They also host the ‘Totally Terrific Tomato Festival’ at the end of August.  More information is on the website.



Ardcarne Garden Centre

I suppose I’m a bit prejudiced – this is my local garden centre in Boyle, Co. Roscommon and also in Roscommon town.  It’s hard to find a garden centre with so many highly trained and knowledgeable gardeners as in Ardcarne.  All of them have been working here for many years which is always a good sign.  They have an excellent range of vegetable transplants, a great range of fruit trees (including Irish heritage apples) and an excellent new café.  I had the most delicious cup of coffee there.



Future Forest – Kealkil, West Cork

This is not an ordinary garden centre and you won’t get a cup of coffee there but you’ll be blown away and transported into a different world.  It’s mainly a mail order nursery but you can pop in and have a look around.

Have a look at: www.futureforest.net


Wishing you all a wonderful month in the garden.