March Gardening Newsletter

Dear Fellow Gardeners,
I hope you have all survived the storm with not too much damage. We were lucky here – there wasn’t even a breeze and not even a chance of making a snowball. The children are so jealous of all the snowman and igloos around the country.

Nuffield Travel
My journey is just around the corner – just another few days before I travel to the Netherlands and meet up with all the Nuffield Scholars from around the world. The Australians and the New Zealanders have probably the highest share, but there are Welsh, Scottish, Canadians, Americans, Brazilians, Kenyans, Dutch, French and probably lots more. We’ll meet for one week and then I’ll travel on with 7 scholars to various destinations. I’m hoping to do a travel blog –in case anyone is interested. In case you are interested in my travels of vegetable plant discoveries – I’ll do a regular blog on our website – starting from mid March as well as regular tweets on #KLaitenberger. I might also do a few videos and put them on my you tube channel:

Onion Sets and Shallots
We now have excellent onion and shallot sets in stock.
A few practical tips:
Onion sets can be planted from mid March to mid April. They require a reasonably fertile soil which should be quite firm. If planted into loose soil – I think they are more prone to bolting as the roots can’t get hold of the soil. Obviously I don’t mean a compacted soil. After preparing the seedbed I lay a board of timber (about 3m long) on the bed and stand on it to lightly and evenly compress the soil.
Onion sets are planted half into the soil and the tops sticking out. Birds are a problem in many gardens and the sets may need to be protected with a bird netting for the first few weeks until shoots appear. The spacing is 10cm in the row and 30cm between the rows.
Onions should be harvested when nearly all the leaves have turned yellow and fallen over. The variety SturBC20 is a wonderful variety which produces top class disease resistant bulbs which also store well. Red Baron is the standard and popular red variety. To find them in the seed shop please click the links below
Onion SturBC20:
Onion Red Baron:

Shallots can be planted until early April. The same ground preparation as for onions applies. Shallot bulbs divide to produce 6-10 shallots so the spacing is 30cm x 30cm. Otherwise they are grown and harvested like onions.
Shallots – Golden Gourmet:

Save Leitrim
As you all heard many times – I’m proud to live in this beautiful county Leitrim. Leitrim has great environmental campaigners. Yet again it’s the small counties that are being targeted, but people in Leitrim can fight back. They won the important battle against fracking and now they are fighting against another invader – Sitka spruce monoculture. Just to be clear – they are not opposed to trees – they are opposed to the large-scale planting of one non-native species all over the county. Leitrim is probably the most affected part of the country, but others are nearly as badly affected.
The organisation “Save Leitrim” states that over 14,000ha (34,595acres) of Leitrim land is now under commercial forestry. That’s 34.5 million Sitka spruce trees. In 2017 alone 1710 acres were planted and forever taken out of agricultural production. Apparently 50% of Leitrim is already under Sitka spruce plantation.
I would campaign for an immediate stop of all monoculture plantings of forest trees and especially non-native Sitka spruce. Have we not learned anything? Any monoculture experiment will eventually fail as the potato disaster has shown in the 1840’s. Already there are problems with pests in Sitka spruce plantations which require regular spraying and dipping of plants in dangerous pesticides (Cypermethrin)
Coillte was granted five-year licence to spray Cypermethrin in forests. These pose a serious threat to wildlife, the environment and human health.
Generally forests are the most natural habitat where no inputs are needed – this no longer applies. According to Save Leitrim, Coillte has used 105,000 litres of pesticide.
Andrew St Ledger (Spokesperson of Environemntal Pillar): “It is high time to move away from this outdated unsustainable forestry model to a more natural forest model based on our native trees which are not dependant on hazardous chemicals”.
This has to stop and thanks to the great people of “Save Leitrim” it will stop.
It’s an example on how global warming measures have gone wrong. These forests now pose an environmental threat (due to pesticide use and soil acidification) rather than acting as a carbon sink.
There is a far better alternative. We could plant community woodlands/forests of mixed native trees. The ultimate, however, would be the large scale adoption of agroforestry. Agroforestry is the marriage of agriculture and forestry. Instead of the mass planting of Sitka spruce why not incentivise farmers to plant 10% of their land in native woodlands in strategic places (even to absorb flood water)? Can you imagine how beautiful Leitrim would look compared to the green Sitka spruce patches littering the landscape?
Please follow “Save Leitrim” on Social Media.

Fitzgerald’s Nursery, Co. Kilkenny
I recently met up with Pat Fitzgerald from Fitzgerald’s nursery in Co. Kilkenny. This was such an amazing experience for me to meet someone with so much integrity and passion for plants. As it happens we share the same passion – the Lost Crops of the Incas. Only one of Inca crops made it to world-wide fame and the rest of them are still largely undiscovered with just a few keen hobby gardeners around the world growing them in their plots. I have grown numerous of them (oca, mashua, ulluco, yacon, maca) on a very small scale but Pat is miles ahead. Pat propagates these plants on a large scale – cleans them from inherent virus diseases (using micro- propagation).
One of his main new enterprises is yacon – one of my favourite Inca crops – and he plans to grow quite a large area and make it into the famous yacon syrup. Watch out for this and also read up about it on the internet. This could be the best sweetener of the future – with no weight gains attached!
Pat’s biggest success to date though is the Sweet Potato. He propagates numerous varieties and they will be available in May in all Irish Lidl stores. They all come from Fitzgerald’s Nursery in Kilkenny. This leads me on to the next topic:

Sweet Potato and Yacon Gardener’s Trial
I tried growing sweet potatoes in a greenhouse in Bundoran a few years ago. I was so excited and the plants looked amazing, but when it came to harvesting – there was nothing but stringy roots underneath. Last month though – when I visited Kinsale Permaculture college – we dug out two sweet potato plants in the polytunnel which came from Pat’s nursery and I was amazed. They yielded at least 5kg of tubers per plant.
The trial:
Pat offers to send out 4 different sweet potato varieties and 3 different yacon varieties to 6 keen hobby gardeners from different areas in Ireland. The plants will be sent free of charge but you need to promise to give us feedback on their performance. So anyone who is interested in trialling these crops in their tunnel (sweet potato) and outdoors (yacon) please contact me on this email address: within the next couple of days. Please add your address and a few words about your garden, tunnel, glasshouse etc. We’ll select 6 gardeners and pass the information on to Pat and he’ll post the plants in May. Unfortunately the trial is limited to 6 people in different location. For any unlucky applicants – Pat’s sweet potato plants will be available in May in all Lidl shops around the country.

Happy Gardening