November Newsletter

Dear Fellow Gardeners,

Blight Free Potato

Usually November is my least favourite month of the year but leading up to it was really fabulous.  I was harvesting my potatoes yesterday – the first chance I had.  I usually dig them up much earlier – around the second week in October.  So I was worried about slug damage and the tubers rotting away in our wet peaty soil.  I was so positively surprised that they were all perfect and we should have enough until May next year.

Also the carrots were amazing.  I tried two new varieties – Romance F1 and Yellowstone F1 amongst my usual favourites.  They were a perfect and high yielding crop which also taste delicious.  I know I’m with an advantage on peaty soil.  They grow nice and straight.  Unfortunately the beetroot didn’t grow as big as I wanted, but I think it was my mistake – I intercropped it with the parsnips and they seemed to have taken the upper hand.


There are two things I can look forward to in November.  I was given a collection of ocas from a friend in France – Philip Heinemeyer.   I have about 12 varieties growing in Bundoran and at the moment they look exceptionally good.  I need to wait until the frost has killed off the leaves and then still wait for another two weeks before harvesting.

Sweet Potatoes

Earlier in the year I received Sweet Potato plugs from Fitzgerald’s Nursery.  I have them growing in a greenhouse in Bundoran in Glor na Mara as well as in my own greenhouse.  They look very well in Bundoran while the ones at home are only about half the size of leafy growth.  I let them grow up a string and they reached nearly two metres.  I will dig up the tubers once the leaves have died back.  Sweet potatoes actually belong to the bindweed family.  Some varieties show beautiful blue bindweed type flowers.  I also have some growing outside.  They survived – but only just about.  The growth is less than 30cm.

I got quite a few varieties including Beauregard, Burgundy, Evangeline and others.

I will report about them in the next newsletter.


Gardening Courses with Klaus in Wexford and Cork

Title: Winter Vegetable Gardening

Venues and dates:

Saturday          14.11.2015      Springmount Garden Centre, Gorey, Co. Wexford

Sunday             15.11.2015      Hydro Allotments, Blarney, Co. Cork

This course will focus on how to get started early in the year.

It will include:

–         Methods of soil improvement and ground preparation

–         Planning your garden and crop rotation

–         Propagation, both seed sowing and division of herbs

–           Growing early crops

The course will include practical demonstrations on propagation and ground preparation as well as information on theoretical aspects of planning the vegetable garden.

These courses are subsides by NOTS (National Organic Training Skillsnet) and the cost is €30 for the day.  Lunch is not included in the price.  There is the most delicious lunch available at both venues though and do come hungry.

Here is a link to their website

You can also email Margaret on


Breeding a new blight free potato variety

I have an exciting project planned for next year.  This aim is to breed a new blight resistant potato with excellent taste – especially for the Irish palate.  It’s not even too difficult – the process is outlined below but of course I know we need to be extremely lucky.  The chances are low, however, we’ll have fun and learn a lot from the experiment.

The process is actually quite easy.  We’ll plant as many near blight resistant potatoes as possible.  For example we’ll source 3 tubers of 20 different varieties with some blight resistance and then just let them flower.  The flowers will hopefully turn into ‘tomato-like’ green fruits which will contain the potato seeds.  They will have randomly cross-pollinated.

At the end of Year 1 we collect these little fruits and collect the seeds.  Each seed will be a new variety.  In year 2 we’ll sow the seeds and plant them out and then comes the exciting time.  We’ll watch how one by one they’ll be flattened by Phytophthora infestans (Late Blight).  If we are lucky there will be a few plants that will stand up against blight for much longer and if they taste delicious and even behave like a Kerr’s Pink we are very lucky.

From then on it’s easy –we’ll just multiply the crop with tubers.  Each tuber that is replanted in Year 3 will come true to type.

So if you sow tiny little potato seeds they will be genetically different.  If you propagate from tubers they will be genetically identical.


How to breed a new potato variety?

Below I have outlined practical steps on how to save potato seeds and grow them.  It’s really quite easy to develop a new potato variety and imagine the thrill of breeding a reasonably good potato and naming it yourself.

Step 1:

Collect very ripe potato fruits (they should be soft to the touch, ideally nearly rotting).  Ideally you have quite a few different varieties growing because you want them to cross-pollinate.

Step 2:

When the fruit is nearly rotting (very soft and dark in colour) open up the fruit and squeeze out the gunk into a glass and add a tiny amount of water and let the glass stand for 24 hours.

Step 3:

The next day strain it through a kitchen sieve under a running tap in order to isolate the seeds.  Place the seeds on a small plate or saucer and dry them in a warm place (hotpress).

Step 4:

After about a week store the seeds in a seed packet in a dry and cold room over the winter.

Step 5:

In mid February next year you can sow the seeds in a warm place, ideally a heating bench.  I usually sprinkle the seeds into a standard seed tray but you can use a pot as well.  The seeds need only the tiniest covering of compost.

Step 6:

The seeds should germinate within ten days and when the first true leaf appears you should prick them out into modular trays.  Prick out one seedling into each cell.  Leave the trays on the heating bench.

Step 7:

The seedlings should be hardened off around mid April and can be planted out in late April.  Each module is planted out 30cm apart in a single row.  The next row will be 90cm apart.  At this stage use your intuition in regards to which seedlings to plant.  Ideally you have grown dozens or even hundreds of seedlings but you only plant the 10 or 20 of the best.  Remember each seedling will produce a different potato with different taste, texture, flower colour, disease resistance etc.

Step: 8

Look after your crop just like with any other potatoes.  Earth them up.

Step: 9

In October (or earlier if you had to cut the leaves down in summer) you can harvest your potatoes and now comes the time for evaluation.  Maybe you are lucky!!!

Step: 10

After that you can simply propagate the tubers the traditional way – stick a potato into the ground and get lots more.

Good luck

By the way, exactly the same process of seed saving applies to tomatoes with the exception that they do not cross pollinate and come true to type provided that you don’t use hybrid varieties.

If anyone finds a few tubers of blight resistant potatoes from around Europe, please let me have a few tubers for the project.

To date the two most blight resistant potatoes are Sarpo Mira and Bionica.


Update on MSc Organic Horticulture Course

We are already in the 4th year of this course.  This Masters course is run by UCC and is held at the Liss Ard Estate in Skibbereen, Co. Cork.  We already had three sets of students completing their MSc and producing most valuable research in organic horticulture.

Here is a link to their website:

COHR (Centre for Organic Horticulture Research)

On completion of the course each student is presenting a research thesis and we had some very interesting research from COHR:

  • The potential of flax/linseed production in Ireland
  • An evaluation of organic methods of slug control
  • Effect of undersowing tomato plants with various types of legumes
  • Use of coffee grounds for slug control
  • Comparison of dig versus no-dig systems
  • Organic methods of potato late blight control
  • Use of biochar

And many more.


Future Growers Seminar 
If you are interested in a career in organic growing, have already started or are about to start growing commercially, this seminar is for you. It will take place at the Hodson Bay Hotel, near Athlone on Monday the 23rd of November.

The cost for the day will be 10€ payment can be made on the day of the seminar. Lunch is not included in the price but there will be a carvery in the hotel on that day. The day will run from 9.30am to 4.30pm with an hour for lunch.

If you would like to attend please email me Jason Horner with your name and a mobile phone number by lunchtime Friday 20th November at the latest.



Even if November will turn out dull and dark and grey at least we can plan and think ahead for hopefully a much sunnier year in 2016.