October 2019 Gardening Newsletter
Dear Fellow Gardeners,
Time to prepare for winter
Please don’t listen to the old tale that you should dig over your garden, spread compost or manure and leave it rough over the winter. Then the freezing and thawing will break the sods and you’ll have a lovely friable soil in spring.
This actually works well in Germany and other parts of the world where you get cold and dry winters. In Ireland it’s very rare that we get daily frosts in winter. Instead we get rain – a lot of it and the more it rains the more plant nutrients are being washed away causing environmental problems. Also because it doesn’t get cold enough in winter, weeds will keep growing.
There are a few better options:
a) You can do the above – autumn digging and spreading compost or manure – but then cover the plot with black plastic. This will prevent the nutrients from washing away and will also prevent your soil from becoming saturated. When you lift the plastic in spring, remove the slugs and snails that stick to the plastic and you are ready! A little bit of raking and levelling and you are ready to sow or plant your first crops into weed free ground.
b) If you don’t fancy too much hard work at this time of year – take your family to the beach and collect washed up seaweed, as much as you can. Spread it thickly (6inches) onto cleared beds. There is no need to dig or weed beforehand if it’s spread thick enough.
c) The third option is to sow a green manure crop. The growing crops will make use of the available nutrients and grow throughout the winter months. In early spring the green manure crop is cut or hoed off and a bit late dug into the soil. Then they release the nutrients again and they will become available for the next crop. Suitable green manures include winter field beans (similar to broad beans) and grazing rye/winter vetch mix. It’s now too late to sow phacelia or buckwheat.
d) A last option, but not the best, is to abandon your garden and come back to it in late winter (February- early March) and start digging then. This is definitely a better strategy than digging in autumn.
Storing root vegetables
All the root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, beetroot and parsnip) can be harvested now and stored in wooden boxes or plastic bins. You can use damp soil or sand or a mixture of the two. Simply place layers of soil/sand and alternate with single layers of vegetables. It’s important that you don’t wash the vegetables beforehand as this would wash away all the protective layers. This way they will last until well into April or even May the following year. When you harvest beetroot, carrots and parsnips it’s best to twist the foliage rather than cutting it so you don’t leave a stump that may rot during storage.
If you are lucky enough and have a free draining soil you can also leave all your root veg in the ground and harvest them as you want them. I can’t ever do that as my soil is saturated during the winter months and I also enjoy the convenience of just going into the shed for some vegetables.
Obviously onions and garlic are stored differently. They require cool and dry conditions. We usually bunch them up and have them hanging in the kitchen tied into bunches.
Last week I harvested the carrots in Bundoran. We had four varieties in a raised bed 8m x 1m. The varieties were Rothild, Chantenay, Sugarsnax F1 and Romance F1. Each row was harvested separately and the 12 community gardeners had to evaluate the taste of each variety. The clear winner was Romance F1 for taste and also for yield. There were also hardly any seconds and no split roots or rootfly damage.
By the way the total yield from the 8m long bed was 50kg. Obviously the carrots were protected with a secure bionet cloche through the entire season and only lifted once or twice for a quick weeding.
Crows educate their young
I always wondered why crows are such pests in some gardens and in others they seem reasonably well behaved. In Bundoran Community Gardens, they pick out every onion set even minutes after harvesting. They even dig out and eat every potato. In our previous garden only 10 miles away the crows never touched any of our vegetables. What a mystery – until Michael – a gardener from Drimoleague Co. Cork educated me. When he observed crows he noticed that the adults were teaching their young how to find and eat ants and also how to steal potatoes. The explanation is that people have stopped growing vegetables in many areas and crows simply didn’t teach their young any longer how to steal potatoes or pull out onion sets.
We are delighted to announce that Joanna will be opening a seed shop in Manorhamilton, Co. Leitrim which will be stocked with all our seed varieties, books and gardening gifts. She hopes to open in November and I will be giving talks there every month. I will have more information in my next newsletter.
Farming for nature
This is such a wonderful and positive initiative to reward farmers and growers for their contribution to nature. These are the Farming for Nature Ambassadors 2019.
Ten farmers and their families were shortlisted by the judges and are put out to the public to vote for an overall winner. Voting closes on Thursday 25th October. On the link below you’ll find a short video of their farms. It’s really interesting to watch. I will be a little partial and support my son Julian who manages Featherfield Organic Farm. Have a look: https://www.farmingfornature.ie/awards/voting/
I gave a course last Saturday in Skerries Mill organised by the Skerries Community Allotments. One of the participants (Charlie Heasman) wrote an interesting piece in the Skerries Transition Town initiative Blog on “Saving the Planet“ – here is the link:
Courses and Conferences:
Unfortunately the Renvyle House Gardening Weekend is now fully booked, but they are already planning a spring gardening weekend.
Bio-Farm 2019 – Ireland’s Second Biological/Regenerative Farming Conference.
Date: Tuesday 5th Nov – Wednesday 6th Nov 2019
Venue: Midland’s Park Hotel, Portlaoise
I’m so looking forward to this event – it will be very inspirational. Early booking is essential as last year’s conference sold out very quickly. Have a look at https://nots.ie/courses/biofarm2019/ orcontact Sean on firstname.lastname@example.org