March Gardening Newsletter

Dear Fellow Gardeners,

Hopefully we’ll soon be getting the first glimpses of spring. I still don’t understand why February should be the beginning of spring. It can often be the coldest and most miserable month.

I always look forward to March though. We will certainly get some good spells of weather – hopefully in time to plant our early potatoes, onions set and shallots on St. Patrick’s Day. You can still plant garlic, broad beans and Jerusalem artichokes. Apart from these there is little else we can sow outdoors.

If you have a polytunnel/greenhouse or even a large windowsill you can now start off many vegetables from seed:

  • Leeks

I have a little trick with leeks – I sow both autumn leeks (Hannibal) and winter leeks (Bluegreen winter) on the same date and plant them out at the same time in late April. By having two types you can harvest the autumn leeks from September to November and the winter leeks from November to February.

  • Celery and celeriac

Mid March is a good time to sow the seeds. I broadcast the seeds in a pot (about 20 seeds in a 9cm pot) and then prick them out individually into modules about 4-5 weeks after. After a further 4 weeks they are ready to be planted outdoors.


Lifting plastic or remove seaweed

I usually lift the black plastic which was covering the beds in my garden at the first spell of good weather. It’s a good idea to remove slugs that stick to the plastic at this stage.

In one garden I have all beds covered with seaweed. I also remove the seaweed in March and either spread it around fruit trees or put it in the compost. I never dig it into the soil as it makes it very difficult to make a good seed bed otherwise.


Soil Matters

I had a meeting with the Mayo Organic Group last Friday. What an enthusiastic group of people they are. They so kindly offered to help organising the Soil Event on the 3rd July in Claregalway Castle. I am really grateful for that as I – innocently – didn’t realise how much work is actually involved in organising such an event. They also offered to organise a fundraising raffle to cover some of the costs. One of the raffle prices they managed to secure is a stay at most incredible Mount Falcon Hotel in Co. Mayo (more on that later).

Also many thanks to NOTS for helping and offering support. Most importantly thanks to Eamonn O’Donoghue who offered the venue for the conference.

To be honest I’m quite surprised about the positive feedback I received from so many people and most of the speakers offered to give their time for free which is quite incredible. I thought there are very few people that would find a subject like soil interesting. I was always giving out that there is no “Protection Society For Saving Our Soils”. So when I heard that 2015 was declared the International Year of Soils by FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) of the UN, I was determined to initiate an event in Ireland.

The speakers and panel members confirmed to date include: Ian Tolhurst, Dr. Elizabeth Stockdale, Pat Lalor, Kitty Scully, Trevor Sargent, Jim Cronin, Dara Molloy, Dan Clavin, Frank Macken and others to be confirmed.

What I’d like to achieve from the day is to give a very broad overview of the importance of soils.

First will be the negative – the shock therapy. How many millions of tons of topsoil are being destroyed every year and the causes of it. Then a lecture by Dr. Elizabeth Stockdale from Newcastle University about the importance of living soil and what is going on down there. She is one of the most enthusiastic and knowledgeable scientists in this field. We’ll have some of the most experienced organic growers and farmers who will give short talks on their experiences working the land and practical suggestions for everyone (Pat Lalor, Jim Cronin, etc). We’ll also have a few success stories from around the world on how already degraded soils were brought back to life (Kitty Scully). We’ll also have Dara Molloy who will talk about our attitudes towards our living world and the urgency to re-connect. The second keynote speaker – Ian Tolhurst will talk about how to maintain soil fertility in a sustainable way.


Mount Falcon Hotel

While meeting the Mayo Organic Group I was invited to stay at the Mount Falcon Hotel in Ballina. What a wonderful hotel and also – what a wonderful garden. This is a garden in the making overseen by Head Gardener Alex Lavarde. Keep an eye out for it – it will be spectacular. Can you imagine the combination of a French Head Chef and a French Head Gardener? You’ll find many new treasures and experiments. The garden has recently been laid out and already there is a charming tea herb garden, a wild fruiting hedge, a salad garden, plenty of cultivated fruit and also lots of asparagus. It’s a garden I’d like to see evolve.


Renvyle House

The last two days we spent at Renvyle House in Connemara. Along with Fionnuala Fallon and Anya Gohlke (Head Gardener at Kylemore Abbey) we were part of a gardening weekend. The group was absolutely amazing and we all learned so much.

I learned the Connemara way of making lazy beds from David Coyne (Anya’s husband). He grew up with this technique and even after over 20 years not practising it he was still perfect. First he gave out about the name ‘Lazy Beds’ – this was definitely not the way it was called in Connemara and it certainly is not a lazy technique. I even learned the local slogan but nobody could help me with the spelling (filibin, shuch, scraw and umragh). Please email me if anyone has any suggestions for spelling and meaning.

So the Connemara way is quite different to the Leitrim technique with its narrow drills only about a foot wide. These drills were at least 3 feet wide. I will definitely have a go at this year.

Thanks so much for Ronnie and his team in Renvyle for making it such a relaxing and pleasant stay.


Events in March

Saturday 7th March

Killruddery Market, Bray Co. Wicklow (10.00am-4.00pm)

We’ll be there with seeds, onion sets and seed potatoes.


Monday 9th March

Talk in Skibbereen, GIY


Monday 16th March

Talk in Mountcharles, Co. Donegal


Sunday 22nd March

Talk in Malahide Castle


Unfortunately the course on the 21st of March at Milkwood is fully booked but there are still a few places left on the ‘Grow your Vegetables and Fruit’ course on the 11th April.


Hope we’ll all get a wonderful spring!