Dear Fellow Gardeners,
We wish you all a Happy Christmas and a fruitful New Year.
This year was certainly one of the more difficult years in the vegetable garden with enough rain to put any new aspiring vegetable gardener off gardening. The good news is that every bad year is usually followed by a great year, so hopefully 2024 will be an amazing year in the garden. All gardening jobs, especially hoeing and weeding are so much easier and more pleasant if we can do them in the sun.
After moving to Newport in Co. Mayo this autumn, I decided to travel a bit less for work, do fewer organic inspections and spend more time with my family and in the garden.
Our dream is to start a new garden of a thousand edible plants which will also be a place where we can run gardening courses. We plan to start a community garden and integrate social farming. A small Organic Hub.
We are still looking for a suitable piece of land we could buy in Mayo.
Christmas Gardening Gift
For Christmas 2023 we are offering a gift of 12 packets of seeds in a gift box and a copy of the book ‘The Self-Sufficient Garden’ along with 12 wooden labels. This should delight any gardener on Christmas Day! (Cost: €33)
Here is the link to the website:
Online Gardening Course with myself and Assumpta Butler
I attach the links to a couple of videos we did last winter.
If you are interested in the entire season of 23 online videos at the beautiful Glor na Mara Community Gardens in Bundoran – here is the link:
I collected a few new tomato and chicory varieties from Italy this year. I’m most excited about this one:
Tomato – Pomodorino del Piennolo del Vesuvio is a popular variety that grows exclusively on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius near Naples. It’s a local heritage variety that dates back to 1885. The fruits are slightly heart shaped and have a pointed end (known as spungillo). Traditionally these tomatoes were dried and preserved for a long time and could be used during the winter months. Usually the entire bunch of tomatoes is harvested and hung up on balconies to dry.
The locals believe that this variety will only thrive on the volcanic soils of Mount Vesuvius but I will try adding some seaweed around the base and who knows?
I have always been a fan of chicories, but unfortunately I couldn’t ever convince anyone – apart from enthusiastic Italians and the occasional German about chicory. I know it’s very bitter, but it’s still delicious and so good for digestion. A few chicory (or even dandelion) leaves before a meal will help with digestion.
Planning your vegetable garden
Make yourself comfortable with a nice fire and reflect on the past year. Try to remember what crops or even what varieties have done well. Try to remember which sowing and planting dates were the best in your garden. Sometimes we can’t remember the varieties or the sowing dates for many crops. So the first thing is to buy a nice diary and record all the essential cropping information the next year.
I still remember clearly my little notebook I had when I trained with Michael Newton in his bio-dynamic market garden in Scotland over 30 years ago. I referred to it for over 5 years until I could finally memorise them.
A diary will provide you with the most valuable information you can ever get: you’ll be able to identify what does best in your very own garden. If something does well you’ll know how to repeat it the following year and if something fails you know you’ll have to change something. The most likely changes you’ll have to make is changing the variety, the sowing date (probably sow later) or the soil preparation/feeding technique.
Planning can be quite simple. You can set it up in a table format – either handwritten or on the computer. That’s the way I do it:
If you can use excel on the computer, it will allow you to sort your plan and will sort the data as a sowing plan.
I attach two important files to the newsletter:
A Guide to Vegetable Growing
A Guide to Protected Cropping
These tables will give you a nice overview on when to sow, plant, harvest and suggested varieties.
I hope you’ll find these useful.
New Zealand Compost Box
Earlier this year a friend of mine built an amazing New Zealand Composting box for Sr Assumpta at the Community Gardens in Bundoran. This is such a great system and I encouraged him to build some more of them.
How it works:
Chop all composting materials with a pair of secateurs or a good spade into small pieces not bigger than 10cm.
Mix green and brown materials and place in layers of about 10cm depth of each and alternate. Start with the right side compartment of New Zealand Compost Box.
When the first compartment is full, turn it into the middle compartment and start filling the original right side compartment again as before. When this is full again, turn the middle to the left and start again.
This composter is designed that you can easily turn the pile as you can lift both the front and middle dividing pieces of timber.
If you follow these guidelines you’ll get amazing compost – or black gold – within three months.
Have a look at his leaflet on the attachment of this email.
Plant a tea herb garden
You can create the nicest tea herb garden if you have about 3 to 4 m² of garden space available. If not you can grow them all in pots. I’m not really a fan of the pre-packed herbal tea bags, so please even if you don’t like herbal teas yet, give this one a go. This recipe is fabulous.
You need the following herbs plants:
1 Lemon balm
1 Lemon verbena
1 Green or Bronze Fennel
1 Golden Marjoram or Oregano
1 Sage (Purple or Green)
1 Moroccan Mint (grown in a large pot and not in the herb garden!)
3 Lemon or Orange Thyme
These make up the basic mixture but you can add other tea herbs according to your taste:
All those herbs are so easily grown. Apart from keeping them weed free and the occasional pruning there is very little else to do.
Many of them are HERBACEOUS PERENNIALS. This simply means that they live for many years and all the leaves die back in winter before they start to grow again in early spring. This is how they protect themselves from the cold. Examples of herbaceous perennials are lemon balm, mint, fennel, and other culinary herbs such as chives and bergamot. Herbaceous perennials should be pruned back at to ground level in late winter. I also sometimes prune them to ground level in summer when they look a bit tired. New fresh shoots will appear soon after. EVERGREEN PERENNIALS include thyme, sage and other culinary herbs such as rosemary.
How to make a herbal tea?
Making your own herbal tea is so easy – you simply harvest shoots of the various herbs until you have a large handful, squeeze it in your hands to release the essential oils and then put them into a teapot, pour boiling water over it and wait for 3-5 minutes.
Organic Farming Scheme 2024
I would encourage any farming to join the Organic Farming Scheme. There are excellent financial incentives and it is such a growing movement. The deadline is soon though (15.12.2023) but if you are interested contact The Organic Trust on 045 882374.
Weekend Course in Renvyle House Hotel
There are a few spaces left on the gardening weekend at Renvyle House Hotel in Connemara with myself and Anja Gohlke – the Head Gardener at Kylemore Abbey. This could be a lovely Christmas gift.
The course takes place next year – Friday 8th March to Sunday 10th March 2024.
Email: [email protected]
Tel: 095 46100
There will be talks and workshops on organic vegetable, fruit and herb growing.