Friday, September 25, 2015

Vegetables to grow for winter

How many of these cabbages could you eat in a month?

One cabbage a month. That’s more than enough for anyone when they are growing their own. 

One large plant can provide enough greenery for about five meals, and like kale we sometimes grow a bit too much of it. It’s good news for the compost bins though.

Growing your own veggies is always a fine balance between feeding yourself and family or the compost bin so the longer we can stretch the season, the less likely we are to get fed up of one type of vegetable. How many times have you looked in the cookery books to find yet another way of cooking up your courgettes? A lot I’ll bet. With the help of a bit of cover, and carefully selected varieties of seeds, it is possible to grow vegetables and herbs all year round in our climate, and there are advantages to doing this too.

Advantages to growing vegetables in winter:
Mature overwintered veg keeps growing until December under cover, stands for the winter then comes on quickly in February. They can be picked for much of the winter. There might be lean pickings in January but there is usually something – perhaps a bit of kale, land cress, claytonia, lamb's lettuce, herbs and carrots.

Later autumn sowings will overwinter as seedlings that get going quickly again in February and are ready long before spring sowings. This eliminates the 'hungry gap' – that period of time when seeds have been sown in spring but little is ready to eat.
Vitamins and minerals are harder to obtain in winter, especially vitamin C. Having something fresh from the garden can make a big difference.

Fresh organic produce is more expensive in winter. Therefore winter veg saves you more money than summer veg. Rocket, radishes, salad leaves, parsley and mint are all expensive in winter yet easy to grow at home and  the ground is as well growing something as sitting there empty.

What to grow in winter
Loads of vegetables can be overwintered. Perpetual spinach, chard, parsley, rocket, lettuce , radish, Land cress and lamb's lettuce, Pak choi, leeks, broccoli and  greens can be juiced, used in salads or frozen 

Winter planting

Winter lettuce
Cut-and-come again varieties, such as Niche Mixed, can be sown until very late in the season. Plant under a fleece.
Broad beans
Planting these beans stops nutrients leaching through otherwise fallow soil, which allows its structure to deteriorate.
They are ready a good month earlier than those sown in April, and they don't get black fly. If the beans are in an exposed position and grow too tall (above a foot ) over winter, they can wave around and split just above ground level, so put in canes or sticks and string if necessary.
If you pick out some tops to cook before the pods are formed you will delay pod production, which can help stagger your crop. Small pods are delicious cooked and eaten whole.
Asparagus varieties are now available for autumn planting, which helps them establish that bit quicker. You do wait for two years before you can cut them, but it is a small price to pay for a gourmet extravaganza.
Peas and pea shoots
For a late spring crop, it's worth trying sowing seeds now. If you sow direct into the ground, plant them one inch deep and relatively closely at about one inch apart, to make up for a higher loss rate.
With peas, don't forget the pea shoots are tasty: just pick off the tips and add to stir fries and salads for that intense, delicious fresh pea flavour.
Sugarsnap peas
Although not usually known for sowing now, their slow growth over winter helps to produce a crop of smallish, edible pods earlier next year.
This is the easiest crop to grow. Plant the cloves individually to a depth of 2.5in deep on light soils and a lot less deep on heavy soils, but always a minimum of one inch below the surface.
Onions, spring onions and shallots
There are quite a few varieties of onions from sets that can go in now. This is the easiest way to grow onions, and they can be harvested earlier on in the year.
Many garden centres have shallots available for planting now.
Lambs lettuce
This is good filler: it's undemanding, easy to grow and useful for bulking out the salad bowl.
It is useful in that it does not need high light levels and tolerates low temperatures, and so can be sown up until the end of October outside; it can be picked until December or into the New Year with some fleece or milder weather.
Pick it young and just wilt the leaves rather than ruin it with overcooking. It’s great in salads, too.
Spring cabbage
Young plants can be bought now.
Plant 12in apart each way and earth up the soil around their stems after they have got going to help them against the cold. If it gets icy in colder areas, fleece or cloches can help. Remember though, there’s no need to plants too many unless you are thinking of giving them away to passers-by.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

OURganic Gardens - Community gardens are growing in more ways than one !

The seasons pass quickly and sometimes it’s a challenge to keep up with them in the vegetable garden.  If you are interested in keeping the crops growing a bit longer on in getting the garden ready for next years harvest, you might find this day course of interest. 

Day Course Saturday 26th September

Barrack Hill Park & Community Gardens in Carndonagh is delighted to be welcoming Organic Gardening Expert Klaus Laitenberger to Barrack Hill for a Gardening Workshop on Saturday 26th of September. 9:30am until 4pm. The workshop will be about growing in tunnels through the winter, setting your garden aside for the winter and planning for the following year. The cost of the day including lunch is €40 and open to everyone.

Booking can be done through the Barrack Hill Facebook page page or contacting Stephen McGirr on 0862745886 or Janine Strong

Growing OUR own in Donegal - community gardens are growing in more ways than one !
As I am on the subject of “What’s On” I was chatting to Joanne Butler, who promotes co-operative gardening in the home and Donegal through the OURganic Gardens. Joanne tells us of their visit to the Donegal Garden trail gardens.

Joanne tells us: “What started out like any normal dull and blustery day in Donegal last week ended in sunshine and delight as community gardeners from OURganic Gardens in North West Donegal took a tour of gardens on the Donegal Garden trail in Donegal town, Inver, Bruckless and Kilcar.” 
“Basking in the glory of plants from all over the world the gardeners got a true taste of the passion and enthusiasm behind the glorious gardens, meeting the owners and talking all things green and bountiful.” Joanne was delighted with the turnout to the event and I asked her for a bit more information about the idea behind OURganic Gardens.

OURganic Gardens
OURganic Gardens was started by Joanne in 3013 as a platform for setting up natural vegetable growing courses and promoting community gardens in Donegal.
“At its core OURganic Gardens is about co-operative gardening.” Joanne tells us. “It’s a place where people come together to exchange skills, knowledge and enthusiasm. This year alone the gardeners have not only planned the gardens and produced some lovely fresh vegetables but they have learnt how to grow without the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.”

Since setting up OURganic Gardens Joanne has taken charge of seven community gardens in the local area, creating a network of well over 100 gardeners passing through the gates at various locations.  The community gardeners have the opportunity to attend biweekly classes from March through to October learning all there is to know about growing vegetables naturally. 

Hand On
Participants are encouraged to take a hands on approach getting to grips with the planting and digging or they can simply sit and listen to the advice given, by both Joanne and other experienced gardeners. 
Joanne then tells me just how varied the group activities are. “The group members have experimented with different feeding plans on vegetables such potatoes and carrots and have put crop rotation and companion planting into action.”
There is more though as Joanne continues. “Alongside that they have made numerous cakes, quiches, juices and even soups on site, and have gone on educational walks such as the Donegal Trail and showcased floral displays.
Environmental awareness is also something encouraged and promoted at the gardens as climate change most definitely takes hold, the gardeners learn to observe nature and become proactive , making a real difference in their local and global community.” 

Future Plans
Next year Joanne hopes the community gardens continue to grow in Donegal and for OURganic Gardens to create new links with other gardens in the county. 

"I would like to create an umbrella forum for seed swaps , knowledge barters , social enterprises and further special days out around the country , having just taken this group of people away  I can see first-hand how sharing experiences and exchanging tips encourages mental enrichment and wellbeing , the bringing together of like-minded people in an environment where they can not only grow vegetables but confidence, joy and many other things, is something really special and the gardeners currently involved in OURganic Gardens are more than happy to vouch for that "
If you would like more information about the OURganic group you can contact Joanne directly - - 0861789971 – or through the website

Thursday, September 10, 2015

3D Printed Butterfly as Pest Control and Sweet Chestnut Fencing

 A 3D printed plastic White Cabbage Butterfly

Organic gardeners and farmers like to talk about balance in nature and working with natural systems, not against them. For larger pests such as some birds there have always been scarecrows. But what about smaller flying creatures?  There wasn’t really anything natural to scare away pesky cabbage white butterflies from laying eggs on our brassicas, until now.  A gardener in New Zealand has come up with a unique solution and all it took was a 3D printer and a bit of research. 

It turns out that cabbage white butterflies are antisocial when they're laying their eggs. By sticking up simple decoy butterflies, you can scare them off your crops. And just in case you see butterflies trying to mate with yours, “don't worry”, Vic, the designer tells us “They are stupid males and will not be laying eggs."

Sweet Chestnut Fencing
Our local park has put up a secure sweet chestnut fence running along a few hundred metres adjacent to a new outdoor 5 a side football complex. I’m not entirely sure why this is, it could be something to do with allowing the newly planted small trees and shrubs to mature without dogs treading on them or it could be something to do with the spraying that they need to do to allow the new planting to flourish. There are a lot of blackberries in there too so it’s probably just as well there’s no access for jam makers if they have been doused with Roundup. 

The fence they put up though is the rustic sweet chestnut in a picket style, which I adore. This type of fence has been around for centuries and for good reason, it’s very long lived and versatile. If ever you get a chance to see this type of fence being made, I think you’ll find it mesmerising as the wires are turned one way and then another to fix the sticks into place.
So why is sweet chestnut so useful as a fence? Here are some reasons:

Why Sweet Chestnut?
  • Sweet Chestnut is a hard wood and well known as being amazingly strong, durable and long lasting.
  • Chestnut Coppice is 100% sustainable.
  • Most are cut and grown in sustainable woodlands. The cut stools regrow vigorously, taking up far more carbon dioxide than a newly planted tree; if done well these trees can be harvested on rotation for years to come. A coppice will yield good straight poles which are turned into fencing using traditional tools and skills.
  • Chestnut is full of tannin (a natural preservative) and has very little sapwood, which makes it incredibly resistant to rotting.
  • Good value and attractive.
  • By using Chestnut you can be confident you are using the most suitable timber - other woods will rot long before chestnut which can last for up to 20-30 years. Cheap softwood is a false economy - the cost of mending or replacing rotten fences is high.
  • Coppicing is good for wildlife.
  • The act of cutting an area of woodland lets light in, stimulating wild flowers and creating a habitat for many of our favourite birds, butterflies and mammals.
  • Support the woodland industries, woodlands need to be managed.
  • Made to measure. The wood can be made up to the buyer’s needs, if the fence is needed to keep out dogs the sticks can be placed closer together for example.
Glossary of terms for fencing
The forestry and fencing world can be quite confusing so here are a few terms you might hear about wood. It’ll come in useful when you are down at the wood yard ordering a new fence!
CHAMFERED - This is the act of finishing a post - taking off the top edge to relieve tension in the wood and let rain run off.
CLEAVE -To cleave means to split the wood along its natural grain - rather than sawing through the fibres. This helps to protect the strength and character of the tree.
COPPICING - is a traditional method which involves cutting back the woodland to stimulate new growth. The act of cutting an area of woodland lets light in, stimulating wild flowers and creating a habitat for our favourite birds, butterflies and mammals.
DEER PARK FENCING - A type of fencing made to discourage deer from leaping over. Tops are uneven / staggered.
LATH - A lath is a very small profile cleft strip of wood, traditionally used in buildings for holding plaster. In fencing it refers to the smaller component of a lath and picket fence.
MIXED CLEFT - Mixed cleft means that the wood has been split along the grain rather than sawn and could be in halves, quarters or round shapes.
NAIL FRAMED - Nail framed means the product is secured by nail frame. This is a lighter and cheaper alternative to mortised frame.
PALE - A wide picket is called a pale. Pales are loose, as opposed to paling, which is on wire.
PALING - Paling is fencing made from pales. On a wire, with a girth of about 4 inches.
PEELED - This simply means that the bark has been removed from the wood.
PICKET - Pickets are cleft in a 'slice of cake' profile - triangular in shape. POST AND RAIL - Post and Rail is a fence made up of upright posts either nailed to rails or fitted through mortises.
UNPEELED - Unpeeled means the bark has been left on the wood.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Setting up a Seed Circle

Most major seed companies would obviously like us to keep buying from them every year.

A lot of both flower and vegetables grown in these companies are hybrids or F1’s and don’t come true to form when they go to seed, which keeps our dependency on their stocks. There are a lot of companies that offer Heirloom seeds and like Klaus Laitenberger only produce seed from their own stock which has been acclimatised to our area over a twenty year period.

There is one company in the UK called Real Seeds who actively encourage you to grow some of your own plants to maturity so you can collect your own seeds and eventually never have to buy from them again! If grown, picked and dried thoroughly there is no reason why our own home produces seed isn’t as good, if not better than the shop bought varieties.

Last week I looked at how to dry your seed. This week I would like to tell you about a really cost effective and social way to save your seeds, it’s called a “Seed Circle”

Setting up a Seed Circle
A Seed Circle is a simple idea:  You get together a group of friends, gardeners or neighbouring allotment holders, and each of you signs up to save seed of one sort of vegetable.
You’ll each get lots of seed when you save your own (far more than one person can use), so at the end of the year you can all swap with each other.

It’s a great way to start seed saving – you’ll all get several types of good seed for free, but each person only has to learn how to grow one sort. And you can help each other learn as you go.

A Beginners Seed-Circle

Start with a small, simple seed circle of five people.

What you need:
  • One person to organise the seed circle (you!)
  • Four more people to sign up to grow seed as well
  • A bit of time to occasionally check how people are doing
  • A few simple kitchen implements to pick, dry and store the seed
  • Good quality, real, non-hybrid seed to start with
  • Tea and some nice biscuits
It is really good if you organise a get-together occasionally, especially at harvest time, to all have a bit of an inspect of the process and the seed being saved, so you can all learn how to do it together. (hence the tea and biscuits)

It’s best if people save seed from a vegetable that they really like, as they will be more fussy about the plants they save from. So if you have someone who is really passionate about carrots, then they're the person to grow carrot seed for your circle.

Here are a few vegetables that are easy to save seed from, and which make lots of seed. You can of course make up your own list too if you prefer.

One Variety
Each person is to save seed from just one variety. This keeps it simple. To reduce work you need to do to stop things crossing, it can be best if you also only grow for eating that one variety that year.

Suggested Vegetables to Save Seed From:
Squash, Tomatoes, Sweet Pepper or chilli, Lettuce, Kale, Melons, Cucumber, Peas, Beans, courgettes and carrots.

It can take up a bit of room saving plants for seed . I have the leeks from last year coming on well but they have been in the ground for so long that I haven’t been able to plant anything else. It’s a good idea then to miss a few patches out of the crop rotation plan as the plants mature their seeds. Some plants such as peppers would do better in a polytunnel too.

Processing- ALL SEEDS
In addition, to dry your seed, you'll all need access to an oven, a baking tray, some rice, a clean dry jam-jar, and some small bags made from a pair of tights. And some plastic baggies to store the dried seed in for distribution.

The person organising the seed-circle can do the drying if they like at their house, it is more efficient that way - only one person has to bake the rice, make little baggies and ties as well just for fun.

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