Dear Fellow Gardeners
Yesterday was the first day I could feel that spring was in the air. I lifted the seaweed which covered the beds over the winter months and gently dug over some beds that are needed for the early crops that need planting soon (see below). While digging a robin kept me company. The little bird was with me for many hours wherever |I worked and gave me serenades of thanks for the worms I exposed for his snacks. Of course I’d rather he’d eat some slugs and leave me my worms but you can’t ever be cross with a robin. These are the days when I awake from my winter slumber, when gardening becomes a passion again and I feel honoured to be part of nature again.
Sowing and Plantings in March
Broad beans – Witkeim (any time in March)
Garlic – as early as possible
Onion sets – mid March
Shallots – any time in March
Early Potatoes – St. Patrick’s Day
Jerusalem artichokes – any time in March
If you have a tunnel or greenhouse there are lots of crops you can sow now directly into the greenhouse beds (early carrots, early beetroot –Pablo F1, oriental salads) or raise them first in modular trays or pots for planting out later.
March is really the busy month where everything starts.
Course at Milkwood Farm
We have a few spaces left on our course on the 12th March. It’s a very practical course where you can learn how to plant and sow a whole range of crops. There will be sessions on propagation, soil preparation, weed control and how to prevent problems in the garden.
The course costs €65 for the day and includes a home-cooked 3 course meal with a glass of wine. If you are interested you can contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org
I needed to dig the beds carefully because the soil was full of worms – all brightly coloured large ‘Lumbricus terrestris’ – the good old common earthworm. These are the most amazing and important animal species in every garden and every field. They create temporary deep burrows and come up to the surface to feed and then drag the decaying plant material into the earth. They are great cleaners and while they are doing this they open up little drainage channels and spaces for plant roots to follow their burrows. Charles Darwin was one of the first scientists who discovered the importance of earthworms and published a ground breaking book about the earthworm in 1881: The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms. Prior to this book most people thought of worms as pests.
Unfortunately our native worms are under threat from two foreign invaders:
New Zealand Flatworm and Australian Flatworm
One of the worst aliens that arrived in Ireland are the New Zealand and Australian Flatworms. Every gardener should be worried about them because they feed almost exclusively on our beloved earthworms. We all know that without the hard and continuous work of earthworms our soils would simply collapse. They will quickly become compacted and waterlogged. Worms eat their way through the soil mixing crop residues and anything else that is decaying with the soil and by doing so they create little drainage channels for the water to infiltrate. Worms are really our best friends in the garden and every gardener should do anything possible to encourage worms into their garden.
Unfortunately our native earthworms are in danger from these alien species.. It was first found in 1963 in Northern Ireland. It possibly came in with plant imports as it likes to live under pots. It has since spread to most areas of Ireland and Scotland. Strangely enough it’s not a big problem in England.
What do they do?
The New Zealand Flatworm is a lazy creature. It plays no part in soil improvement as it just follows the passages that the worms have made. In fact, it can make itself as small as the tip of a needle. Many years ago I caught a dozen flatworms in a garden in Scotland, put them in a jam jar with a pierced lid and a muslin cloth tied around. The next day they had all escaped.
The New Zealand Flatworm follows the earthworms or even waits until they come near and then climbs on worms’ back, injects something into it and the worm turns into a ‘soup’ and will then be sucked out by the flatworm. Not nice, really.
How to find out if you have it?
You will have to look under heavy stones, black plastic, large pots, water barrels, especially in the wetter parts of your garden.
If you have the New Zealand Flatworm in your garden you should not spread it around to your friends.
- Do not give away potted plants that have stood on the ground
- Do not divide plants and share them out
There is no chemical control available and quite luckily so as it would also kill your earthworms.
The best way is to trap them under stones etc and collect them regularly.
Mount Falcon Hotel, Ballina, Co. Mayo
I’m giving a course at Mount Falcon Hotel with the organic Head Gardener – Alex Lavarde. The course is on Saturday 16th April 2016. Alex has established one of the most beautiful organic and productive vegetable gardens. He loves experimenting and growing new varieties and crops. This is naturally encouraged by the hotels excellent chefs who demand vegetables and varieties that are impossibly to buy from a greengrocer. Alex is also part of our potato breeding programme. For more information have a look at:
Ardcarne Garden Centre, Boyle and Roscommon
I’ll give two talks at Ardcarne Garden Centres in Boyle and Roscommon on Saturday 9th April 2016. Ardcarne is a real Garden Centres where the staff actually know their plants give their advice willingly.
This weekend I am giving a course on Growing Vegetables for Snails – a bit ironic for a vegetable gardener to think of vegetables that can be grown as snail food.
Nots (National Organic Training Skillsnet) is organising courses for prospective snail farmers to produce ‘Escargots’.
All vegetable gardeners know that slugs and snails love Ireland. Both winters and summers are mild and they can thrive 24 hours a day and 365 days in the year. That’s a little exaggerated but still close to the truth.
In a couple of years we’ll have delicious snail on our menus in Ireland. What’s the Irish word for Snail?