Dear Fellow Gardeners,
Winter has arrived and gardening in the cold and rain is not much fun unless you have a polytunnel or greenhouse. Last week we pulled out all the tomatoes at the community garden in Bundoran, dug over the soil, sprinkled organic poultry manure pellets (Greenvale) and raked it into a fine bed. Then we planted winter salads – claytonia, rocket, wild rocket, mizuna, red and green frills mustard, Bloody Mary mustard and coriander. In one day the whole greenhouse was transformed and rejuvenated. We hope that within the next few weeks we can harvest and sell salad bags. These salads should keep cropping until next March.
Putting the garden to rest:
We often feel like abandoning our vegetable gardens at this time of the year. Gardening is the last thing we feel like doing but there will be a few sunny days left to do one last important job.
The most common (and bad) advice at this time of the year is to dig your garden over and leave the frost to break down the clumps of soil leaving a wonderful tilth.
Please don’t follow this advice. In Ireland we get hardly any frost in the winter and instead a lot of rain. The rain will saturate the soil and leach out a large amount of important plant nutrients. It will also be quite difficult for the little helpers in the soil to survive these waterlogged conditions. Also weeds continue to grow in Ireland throughout the winter.
Personally I think the best solution is to employ your worms to dig over your beds and in return we can pay them with some good food and a nice cosy ground cover.
From now on – as soon as a bed is cleared from vegetables – I spread a thin layer of compost or well composted manure on the beds (without digging) at a rate of one wheelbarrow per 5 square metres and then top it up with a thick layer of seaweed (15-20cm) that was washed up on the beach.
Worms absolutely love it under there and will do the digging for you. I generally leave the mulch until February/March. I’m always shocked on the number of worms under the seaweed – at least 100 in every square metre. So I remove the leftover seaweed carefully. Generally there is very little left as most of it has decomposed into the soil and what is left in spring I usually place around some fruit trees as a mulch. In some years the worms have done such a great job at digging that I just have to rake the beds over and I’m ready to sow or plant directly into them.
If you have no access to seaweed you can still spread the compost or composted manure onto the beds and cover them with black plastic for the winter. This will stop the leaching of nutrients and leaves the soil in a very easy and manageable condition for the next year. In spring you simply lift the black plastic and the worms have mix your soil with the compost and decomposing weeds. I forgot to say: there is no need to weed the beds before you do that. The black plastic cover will kill the weeds.
You need to make sure that the plastic doesn’t blow off in winter storm. I usually dig in the sides, cover with stone and if I have wood chip mulch available- I spread this over it. This also takes away from the bad look of the plastic.
Renvyle Gardening Weekend
We had a gardening weekend a couple of weeks ago at the wonderful Renvyle House Hotel in Connemara with Joy Larkcom, Kitty Scully, Anja Gohlke and myself. Apologies for anyone who couldn’t get a place on the course. The course was fully booked and some people were disappointed. Ronnie, the manager of the hotel, already asked me for a new date for next year – the first weekend in March 2019.
Joy Larkcom gave two wonderful talks on “Creative Vegetable Gardening” and also on her travels “The Grand Vegetable Tour”. Joy has always been a great influence on my gardening life. Have a look out for the newly printed book: “Creative Vegetable Gardening” – it would make a lovely Christmas present.
Sweet Potato and Yacon
I was very excited about these two crops this year. We got three varieties of sweet potatoes (Bonita, Orleans and Beauregard) and two varieties of yacon from Pat Fitzgerald. The sweet potatoes were grown in the greenhouse in Bundoran and yielded between 1.5kg and 2kg per plant. As I had failed miserably a couple of years ago – I was like a little child digging up these wonders.
Pat explained that sweet potatoes need to be cured: “Curing is simple – 90% humidity and 28C for 5 to 7 days. I often put them in a sealed plastic bag in hot press checking every day.”
Together with Pat we sent yacon and sweet potatoes out to 10 gardeners to report on yield and quality. If there is anyone else who grew any of these would you mind giving me some feedback please? I would be interested in the yield, where they were grown and the quality.
I really believe that yacon will become a very popular vegetable in the next few years due to its health benefits and ease of growing. I’m kind of surprised that it took so long. Yacon is the study of my Nuffield travels and I went to research the crop in its native Peru and also in New Zealand – the first country where it is commercially grown.