June Newsletter

Dear Fellow Gardeners,

May has really been a terrible month all over the country.  Let’s just hope that June will be better just as the New Zealand weather prophet predicts.  He was right about the miserable May so let’s hope he’ll be right about the sunny June.

Sowing and planting vegetables in June

June is the best month to plant out all your cucurbits (squashes, pumpkins and courgettes).  They absolutely hated the cold and windy conditions of May and some gardeners have probably found some casualties of those crops.

It’s quite surprising that early June is actually a great time to get many crops started.  I usually sow my main crop carrots and beetroot in the first week of June and they will be perfect for harvesting in October and will store right through the winter.  It’s also the best time to sow Florence fennel.  Rondo F1 is my favourite and most reliable variety.  Towards the end of the month you can sow your Purple Sprouting Broccoli.  Most people sow it far too early and the plants often get too big before the winter and blow over or start cropping too early in winter.  They are best sown in June/July and they should stay reasonably small throughout the winter and put on growth and broccoli from February till May.  We have a mix of different varieties all with different harvesting season.

You can also still sow the spring leek ‘Blue Solaise’.  This one also fills the ‘hungry gap’ in early spring.  They will be ready for harvesting from March until May next year.

In case you tried to grow oriental salads, such as mizuna, mustards, rocket and pak choi earlier this year you would have noticed that they bolted very quickly.  If you sow these again after the summer solstice on the 21st June you’ll find they are far slower to go to seed.

If you have cleared beds of early crops and no follow on crops planned I would recommend sowing the green manure crop “Phacelia”.  Simply rake the soil and make a good seed bed, sprinkle the seeds evenly over the bed and rake it in.  This prevents leaching of nutrients and keeps the soil alive.


Seed Potatoes

Just a couple of weeks ago I received samples of potatoes from the Irish Potato Marketing Board (IPM) of some exciting new potatoes.  I only planted them in early May but I hope they’ll do okay.  The varieties are “Imagine” and “Bikini”.


Sweet Potatoes

A couple of weeks ago I was talking to Pat Fitzgerald from Fitzgerald’s Nursery about Inca vegetables (Oca and Yacon).   Apart from the Inca crops he also has a selection of Sweet Potatoes.  I ordered 7 different varieties of Sweet Potatoes and will trial them to see which ones will perform best in Ireland.  The plants arrived last week and they are planted in my greenhouse and I can’t wait to see them grow.

Can anyone guess to which plant family the Sweet Potato belongs?


Earth’s rhythms

My boggy soil is still saturated with all the rain in May.  There is one thing I can do to dry out the soil.  It’s hoeing or raking the soil in the morning of a sunny day.  This really dries out the soil as you open up the soil to the elements.  You can look back at what you did 10 minutes ago and you’ll notice that the surface of the soil is dry while the soil ahead of you is still wet.  So – hoeing or raking in the morning will help drying out your soil.

The opposite is true if you hoe or rake in the evening.  You open up the soil for re-absorbing moisture during the night.  You can use this knowledge as a valuable management tool.  So if we get another heat wave you have to hoe in the evening.

This is how it works.  The earth takes a deep inward breath during night-time and a big long exhalation during day-time.  Early in the morning you can sometimes even see it when the morning dew starts to rise.   Plants act as the earth’s lungs and breathe out during the day.

If you were a commercial grower you’d be harvesting your lettuce at sunrise because they are still at full vitality.  As soon as the earth breathes out the plants will lose their vitality.

A “6 o’clock Lettuce” will stay fresh for a whole week in a plastic bag in a fridge while a lettuce harvested at midday on a sunny day is already wilted before it makes it into the kitchen.


Good compost

A good seed compost is absolutely essential in raising good plants.  A seed compost needs to be able to retain moisture while at the same time be able to let excess water drain away.  I think all plants need a good start.  Many composts such as multi-purpose composts are mostly too rough for seed sowing – one big lump will fill a module and no root can ever develop there.  Others may stay too wet and your little plants turn yellow from a lack of oxygen.

My favourite compost is the KKS Klassmann compost which is available from Fruit Hill Farm and many agents around the country.  It’s really fool proof and I have used it successfully for over a decade.  Last year I tried another seed compost and it worked really well.  Unfortunately I had terrible results this year with many seedling rotting away and others turning yellow.  I quickly changed back to KKS.



About a week ago I received an email from a keen gardener and a photo of distorted looking tomato plants.  My suspicion was that it was caused through herbicide damage.  There is one herbicide farmers use to kill broad leaved weeds such as docks and thistles.  The residue of the weedkiller goes through the animal and survives in the manure and then kills your plants.  Quite shocking isn’t it.  The weedkillers are Clopyralid and Aminopyralid.


Softwood cutting

June is the great month for taking softwood cuttings.  A softwood cutting is about 10 -15 cm long.  I usually take them with a heel – that means pulling off a new shoot from the older branch.  The heel is still attached and this part has the best rooting potential.   Most gardeners would use rooting powder (a growth hormone called auxin).  Personally I never use it.  Most plants root easily without it.  And if they don’t I don’t mind either.

I plant about 5 cuttings per 10cm pot.  Fill the pot with free draining compost (I just use the Klassmann seed compost), strip off most leaves and just leave maybe 3 or 4 leaves on the top.  Make sure that the cuttings are halfway in the compost.

Because the cuttings have little food reserves and are losing water quickly through their leaves you can put a clear plastic bag over the pot supported on two sticks to hold it up.  Turn he bag over every few days and remove it after about 10 days.  Place the pots in a shady place (under a table in a tunnel or greenhouse).

Most plants will root within a week or two.  If there is no sign of rooting after 3 weeks and the leaves have fallen off, that means that it hasn’t worked.  But you have very little to lose.

Apparently in Botanical Gardens security cameras usually zoom in on old ladies with big hand bags.  They are the most feared.  My mother was great at that too.

You can do it much more honestly though and you’ll find that gardeners are the most generous people when it comes to swapping plant materials.

Most plants are so easy to propagate and so expensive to buy.



Soils Conference – Soils Matter

A quick update of the Soils Conference – Soils Matter at Claregalway Castle

The date has changed to Monday 6th July (instead of Friday 3rd July).  The cost is €40 for the day.

NOTS is doing the bookings for the event.  If you are interested in attending contact Margaret on info@nots.ie or look at www.nots.ie.  There are already a third of the tickets booked.

The wonderful Claregalway Festival is taking place on the 4th and 5th of July and this is probably the nicest garden festival and a wonderful day out.  Apart from plants there is a lot of amazing entertainment.  Have a look at their programme at their website: www.galwaygardenfestival.com

During the whole weekend (Saturday and Sunday) the Mayo Organic Group who have been a brilliant help at organising the Soils Matter conference will have an interactive SOIL stall at the Garden Festival.  We are all so grateful for Eamonn O’Donoghue’s generosity for letting us have this wonderful venue free of charge.

New speakers confirmed are Ernest Mackey an excellent bio-dynamic farmer from Co Wicklow who will talk about his experiences as a bio-dynamic farmer and Anita Hayes – the founder of the Irish Seed Savers Association.

A more comprehensive update will follow in a couple of weeks.


Book:  “Building Soils for Better Crops”

Please have a look at the link below.  This is a pdf version of the best book on Soils ever written.  It’s called: “Building Soils for Better Crops” by Fred Magdoff and Harold van Es.  Unlike many other text books this one is even readable and importantly it’s the only one which focuses on organic production.  The whole book is in this pdf file.



Organic Revival in Ireland

2015 should finally see a marked increase in organic production in Ireland.  As you may know Ireland has the lowest percentage of organically farmed land in the EU.  Only 1.3% of the land area is certified organic.  Austria is the country with the highest has about 18% of its land area certified organic.

The DAFM Organic Unit have substantially increased payments for organic farmers and this should see a marked increase in numbers and land are being farmed organically in 2015.

Many new organic farmers that I inspected respected (for the Organic Trust Ltd.) have become disillusioned with the conventional farming system.

They said that costs of feed and fertilisers was getting higher and higher so it actually cost them more to produce the meat than they got from it.

To be honest I’m very happy about that and I think that artificial fertiliser prices should become even higher and they should be taxed like any other dangerous/harmful substance.

What new organic farmers now find is that their costs are minimised (no artificial fertiliser costs and possibly no or less feed inputs), they keep fewer animals but whatever they sell is profit.

The interesting part is that animals thrive under organic methods.  They are far healthier and vet bills are usually halved after a couple of years.  Under organic methods there is a much greater diversity of grasses, herbs and flowers in a meadow.

Have you ever tasted Irish organic beef?  Nothing can be better.

A couple of days ago I visited an excellent farm in Co. Sligo – Irish Organic Dexter Beef near Tubbercurry.  It’s well worth a trip if you pass by.



Sweet Potato belongs to the Bindweed Family (Convolvulacea)