I know that sometimes I can be guilty of hyperbole, but recently I visited a garden that I think could transform Ireland. One of the recipients of a community food growing grant from AIB via the GIY Get Ireland Growing Fund last year was the Headlands Community Garden. Headlands is an attractive housing estate in Bray—108 of the houses in this 139-house estate have no private gardens. Led by Hannah Quinn, residents got permission from the management company to develop a community vegetable garden on the green in the estate. The idea was to provide a communal growing space for the families and increase the sense of community in the area. As is so often the case, people were wary. Objections were raised. There will be vandalism and anti-social behavior, they said.
A year on and a vibrant community garden has been established on the green, marked out by a living willow fedge. An orchard has been planted, raised beds installed, a compost-corner established and a polytunnel erected. There’s a sunflower circle, a pea-wigwam and a blackboard with a watering roster on it. There is food growing—lots of it. On Saturday afternoons about 8–10 core group members come together to do some work on the garden and remarkable things happen – curious residents pop by for a look and a chat. Friendships are forged among neighbours, many of whom have never met before. Children learn where food comes from. Plans are afoot to extend operations further with laying hens and a hive of bees.
There are thousands of housing estate greens just like this around Ireland, most of which are underused and simply maintenance headaches for the residents or management companies that own them. They could be transformed in to community food growing assets, and Headlands is a stunning case study of how it can be achieved with some local passion, grit and leadership.
Win a Ballymaloe Cookery School Course
Do you enjoy cooking up a storm for your family? Have you always dreamed of opening your own little café? Are you passionate about home-grown, seasonal food? Or are you looking for a life-changing career switch? Ballymaloe Cookery School has generously provided a fully funded spot on their much-coveted 12-week certificate cookery course as the prize in a raffle to support the fundraising campaign for GROW HQ, GIY’s national food education centre, which will open in 2015. The prize, valued at over €12,000, also includes accommodation in a farmhouse cottage on site. Tickets are €25 from www.giyireland.com, and the draw will take place at the GIY Gathering in September.
Things to do this July
Any ground that has finished cropping must be quickly cleared away to take more vegetables. Use your produce—eat it, freeze it, process it, exchange it, give it away. Continue to water and feed plants and practice good weed control. Earth up brassicas such as Brussels sprouts—these plants will grow tall and require a good deal of support. Net plants to keep butterflies and the cabbage moth away. Cut down legume plants that have finished cropping—leave the roots in the soil as they fix nitrogen in the soil. Give pumpkins plenty of water and apply a high-potash liquid feed.
Continue successional sowings and use quick maturing varieties for autumn use – Swiss chard, lettuce, rocket, salad onions, radish, turnips, peas, French Beans (dwarf), carrots. Sow for winter use—spring cabbage, Hungry Gap kale, parsley, perpetual spinach, chicory and coriander. Plant strawberries now for a good crop next June. Propagate rosemary, sage and mint from cuttings now.
July is a peak month for produce—enjoy it! First crops of French and runner beans, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, courgette and aubergine, marrows, globe artichokes. Continue to harvest new potatoes, beetroot, calabrese, cauliflower, cabbage, spinach, carrots, turnips, shallots, garlic, radish, spring onions, salad crops, strawberries, raspberries, tayberries, currents (black, red and white), gooseberries, loganberries, peas, broad beans. Ask yourself—do you really need to go to the supermarket?!
Recipe of the Month—Grilled Courgette and Tomato Salad
With the polytunnel providing the first new season tomatoes, and courgettes abundant from the garden, we’re loving fresh, zingy summer salads at the moment. This recipe from Jane Baxter’s Riverford Field Kitchen in Devon is a cracker. Serves 4.
- 200g dried cannellini or haricot beans, presoaked
- 2 courgettes
- Small punnet of cherry tomatoes
- 50ml olive oil
For the dressing
- 1 bunch of basil leaves, roughly chopped
- Half a garlic clove, crushed
- Pinch of salt
- 100ml extra virgin olive oil
Cover the dried beans with water and soak them overnight. Simmer until tender, drain, season and dress with 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil. (You can use a can of precooked beans.) Slice the courgettes in to thin slices. Coat them with olive oil and griddle or grill them for two minutes on either side. Meanwhile, oven roast the cherry tomatoes in a little olive oil for ten minutes on 140°C/gas mark 1. Blend the dressing ingredients together in a food processor. Mix the cooked beans, courgettes and tomatoes together gently in a large bowl and add the basil dressing to taste and season.
Tip of the Month—Red Spider Mite
Red spider mite is a common problem with aubergine plants. Leaves begin to appear pale and even eaten, and you can see the little red mites on the underside. A small infestation can be killed off by squashing with your thumb. Garlic or seaweed spray will work as a prevention—spray leaves every week to ten days. This will prevent attacks and strengthen the plants. For a home made garlic spray add three crushed cloves of garlic to a tablespoon of vegetable oil and leave to soak overnight. Strain the mixture in to a spray bottled, add one tsp liquid soap and 1litre water. Shake well.
Michael Kelly is a freelance journalist, author and founder of GIY.
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