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Green

Time to Talk About Soil

September 7, 2017

Time to Talk About Soil with People 4 Soil

People 4 Soil

It’s not often I reach out and ask people to sign a petition but time has almost run out for Ireland to register 8,250 signatures for the European People 4 Soil campaign and we’ve still a way to go to reach that target.

The campaign that launched a year ago is calling for the European Union to create a soil directive, similar to the air and water directives. If successful the Irish government would have to assess the condition of the soil beneath our fields and feet and take action where needed. Soil, the foundation of our existence, is currently unprotected.

If 1 million signatures are received from at least 7 member European states by mid September, the European Commission will have to react within three months. Can we do it? With your help yes, but please click the button below and share the petition with your friends, families and colleagues today.

Time to Talk About Soil with People 4 Soil

What is soil?

Soil has been described as the skin of the earth and it’s incredible to consider that without this shallow layer, life on this earth as we know it would not exist. Formed slowly from thousands of years of physical and biological processes, soil provides a habitat for billions of living things. Soil holds and purifies water, it processes and stores carbon and it acts as a medium for plant growth.

Every teaspoon of soil is full of living organisms. Just 1 gram can hold up to a billion bacteria, nematodes, protozoa and fungal filaments. It’s not simply dirt, soil is alive! When we understand that we begin to understand why artificial fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides are so damaging to it, why it’s so important that we protect soil from erosion, and why we continue to study and educate people about it.

Time to Talk About Soil with People 4 Soil

This clip from David R Mongomery explains how important the symbiosis between plants and the hidden mycorrhizae living beneath us is to soil fertility, plant health and subsequently our own health.

David R. Montgomery on Symbioses in the Soil from Center for Food Safety on Vimeo.

Soil History

Recently I was gifted a beautiful 1946 revised edition of “The Living Soil – evidence of the importance to human health of soil vitality’ by E.B. Balfour. Within the book the author quotes Professor N. S. Shaler of Harvard University who in 1896 wrote:

“If mankind cannot devise and enforce ways of dealing the with earth, which will preserve the source of life, we must look forward to a time – remote it may be, yet clearly discernible – when our kind, having wasted its great inheritance, will fade from the earth because of the ruin it has accomplished.”

Yet here we are, over 120 years later, still not protecting the very substance we came from and one day will return to. Soil is the mother of all things. Please honour and protect her.

You can read more about the People 4 Soil campaign here.

 

Vegetable Garden

Three Ways to Protect Garden Soil

December 5, 2014

Three ways to look after garden soil

How to Look After Garden Soil

Muck, dirt, clay, mud – all words I’ve heard people use to describe garden soil yet it’s such a valuable resource it deserves so much more. It’s easy to take soil for granted yet soil is a substance that provides us with all our basic needs, such as food, shelter and clothing.

It takes *between a 100 and a 1,000 years to form just one centimeter of soil yet our lack of understanding or knowledge about soil management can help to destroy that centimeter of soil within 1 to 10 years. That’s quite startling given that most of the things we depend upon start their life in this incredible substance.

Therefore, in no particular order, I’ve listed three basic soil requirements that will help you to protect your garden soil, so that it keeps giving its best in the future. There’s also a link at the end of this post to People for Soil, who are looking for signatures to help give soil a voice by asking the EU for specific regulations.

How to Look After Garden Soil1. Add organic matter to your soil.

Adding organic matter to garden soil not only helps to add nourishment to it and increase plant health, it also benefits soil structure and texture which will  prevent soil erosion and aid drainage, helping to prevent vital nutrients washing away. Organic matter is decaying animal or plant material and can consist of homemade compost, well-rotted animal manure, leafmould or green manures.

If you’re not already doing so, and if you have the space, start composting or collecting leaves now to make compost. Here’s a link to a PDF which gives more information about composting. Compost is free and a fantastic alternative or addition to well-rotted animal manures if you’re not sure where to source them.

Just a note, avoid working the soil if it’s wet or frozen as this can damage soil structure too.

How to look after garden soil

Green Manure ~ Rye

2. Keep soil covered.

At last, a great reason NOT to be TOO TIDY in the garden.

Plant roots such as those on weeds and green manures help to protect soil structure and the fungal interactions that occur between plants and soil will help to nourish it. So don’t stress if you didn’t weed the garden before the onset of winter, you can now rest easy with the knowledge that those little weed roots are protecting your garden soil.

3. Reduce or preferably stop using artificial chemicals and fertilisers on soil

Or better still, switch to organic gardening methods.

Research is ongoing about the effects of artificial chemicals on soil health so far better to err on the side of caution until we know more.

If you’re not sure, don’t add it. Stick to more natural fertilisers such as compost, seaweed, plant or animal based fertlisers until you’re more informed, and don’t forget to practice good Crop Rotation practices.

Symphony of the Soil from Lily Films on Vimeo.

If you haven’t seen it yet, keep an eye out for a screening of Symphony of the Soil, a documentary film that shares the beauty and importance of soil. I have a licensed copy of the film so if you’d like to screen it in Ireland, contact me for more information. It might make you view soil in a completely new light.

Meanwhile, why not pop over to People 4 Soil and sign the petition to give soil a voice. People 4 Soil are a free and open network of European NGO’s, research institutes, farmers, associations and environmental groups. The proposal for a Soil Framework Directive was withdrawn in May 2014 after it ran into a minority that blocked it for eight years. The current EU policies are not able to to offer soil adequate protection. We’re hoping to change that.

Source: * http://www.fao.org/globalsoilpartnership/information-resources

Vegetable Garden

Fun experiment to determine your soil texture

November 13, 2011
Fun experiment to determine your soil texture | greensideup.ie

Soil Texture Experiment

Getting to know your soil is half way to determining how well your plants will grow.

Your soil contains nutrients and minerals that allow plants to thrive so if you can identify your soil type – whether it’s clay, sand, peaty or loam, you can work with the soil you have rather than constantly fighting against it.

How to find out what your soil texture is

A fun experiment you can carry out at home (and a great one for the children to help with too) is to place about a cup full of your soil into a straight sided, clean jar, removing any larger pebbles or stones first.

Add a tablespoon of laundry detergent and a tablespoon of salt to the soil then fill the jar with water to the top before screwing on a lid tightly.

Shake the jar for five minutes or so (you may need help!)

Leave the jar undisturbed where you can see it. After a couple of days the soil particles will settle into layers.

Reading the Results

As the sand particles are the heaviest they will sink to the bottom first, followed by silt then clay. The thickness of each layer will help to determine how much of each is contained in your soil.

So as you can see from the result of our Greenside Up soil above, a small layer of sand has settled at the bottom, then silt, with clay at the top, at roughly 20% sand, 30% silt and 50% clay.

The Greenside up soil is therefore considered a heavy clay soil.

You can usually identify your soil type just by looking at it and feeling it, without the need for an experiment (this was just for a bit of fun) – sandy soil is lighter in colour than clay for instance.

So how do I determine my soil without the experiment?

Grab a handful of dry soil and add a few drops of water, mixing well until it become pliable. Try rolling the soil into a ball.

If it feels gritty, if it crumbles when you try to roll it into a ball then your soil is sandy.

Course sand feels like granulated sugar when rubbed between fingers.
Medium sand feels like table salt when rubbed.
Fine sand is harder to detect unless you hold your fingers near your ears as you rub it.

Sandy soils are easy to dig but water and nutrients flow through them easily, meaning they dry out quickly and will have to be replenished regularly. Sandy soils warm quickly and retain their heat (just think of a warm beach) which some plants especially like, particularly carrots and their roots will swell.

If, when you try to roll the soil into a ball in your hand it holds together well, or if it feels much finer than sand, then your soil texture will be silt or clay. If it feels like plasticine then its fine clay whereas silt particles will leave it feeling like icing sugar. If you can roll the soil into a sausage and it forms a ring, its clay. If it forms a sausage but breaks up as you try to make a ring and feels silky, its silty loam.

Clay soils are described as heavy and can be very sticky to dig. If you try digging when clay soil is wet you can damage the structure of it. Clay soils are slow to warm up but retain water better in the hotter months and therefore keep their valuable nutrients for longer.  Because their particles are so tiny they tend to pack together tightly which creates poor drainage and aeration and can contribute towards roots rotting.

Silty soils feel silky or soapy when moist.
Clay soils feel sticky when moist.

Peter Donegan wrote a much more detailed blog post about Ireland Soil Types back in 2008 if you’d like to delve deeper into them.

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Green

3 Ways To (Re)Ignite Your Environmental Mojo

July 15, 2018

3 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Environmental Mojo

Is your environmental mojo waning? Are you losing the will to get out there and campaign, to fight the battle for nature as major corporations and politicians put their own agenda before those of people, wildlife, flora and fauna? Have you stopped thinking that you can make a difference in the tsunami of climatic problems that are engulfing our media?

Whether you are looking for a way to become more environmentally active, or are in need of some fresh motivation, this article is for you. It suggests three Irish (and European) community based initiatives that might help to fire up your enthusiasm. However, It took a blip in my own mojo for me to realise that we need them as much as they need us.

Algorithms – good or bad?

Algorithms are set in social media to show and share our interests so they have meaning for us. Most of the time I feel that’s a good thing; I enjoy reading and learning more about favoured topics that have been suggested for me, and that includes the environmental news and stories. Lately, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by the barrage of doom filled stories and false information that I’m not sure whether to believe or not, so much so that I was beginning to think that ‘they’ve’ finally worn me down. I’ve been suffering from activists burnout and my instinct has been to hunker down and protect myself before exhaustion overwhelms.

It all came to a head after I finished my horticulture studies. I was thrilled to receive my provisional results having achieved the grades that I had worked hard for in the Advanced Certificate for Horticulture, but that quickly fell to a flatness that I wasn’t expecting. As I sat in tears on the phone to my Mum I was reminded of the time our eldest teen started school and came home bawling after just a week there. “Why can’t I read and write Mammy?” he asked. “You said I’d be able to read and write when I went to school”. I guess the same thing happened to me.

For two college years I’d worked hard to better myself, to validate everything I’ve been doing for the previous ten. I had juggled, in no particular order, our teens, marriage, home life, garden, work, volunteering, funding applications, educating and being educated as I filled my mind with facts and figures about market gardening, ecology and the environment, trees, shrubs, customer services and entrepreneurship. Throughout that time I had somehow talked myself into thinking that a sustainable well paid job would miraculously appear at the end of the months of assignments and study and that all would be well in my world. I would be free to write news, articles, tips and tales on my blog for the joy of it again and not waste time worrying over self-employed cash flow problems. But of course life never flows seamlessly. What we think we want the most often eludes us, until we finally figure out that perhaps we were looking in the wrong direction or had set the wrong goals. Once I realised that’s what was happening, things began to look up.

We Are Not Alone

Perhaps because I’d taken three consecutive weekends off, or maybe because I found a new bunch of people who have revived my sense of hope, I’m starting to feel a lot better. I learnt that while I was just about hanging on as an individual, what I needed most to keep me mentally afloat was my community, and I think I’ve found them.

I often use the following quote from the Dalai Lama XIV when I talk at events or to groups:

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito”.

That quote is quickly followed by another from Helen Keller:

“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much”.

Whilst a tiny mosquito can make a tremendous difference, imagine what a scourge of them can do! All they need to do is find their community (hopefully they won’t) and they’ll be free to create tremendous havoc.

If you’re reading this article because you’re looking for ideas to (re)ignite your own environmental motivation, here are three community projects that I’m involved with that might help you find it. Whether you jump in head first and embrace all they have to offer, or simply wiggle your toes at the edge, these and many more community initiatives are out there and they’re all looking for our help.

No. 1: Join (or if you still have some energy, create) a local Community Environmental Network (CEN).

3 Ways to (re)Ignite Your Environmental MojoA couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Catherine O’Toole, Development Officer with the Irish Environmental Network who is working with groups across Ireland to set up local community environmental networks. Catherine had arranged a meeting in Carlow to introduce CEN to attendees, and host an open discussion on attendees’ interests and future focus of the Network. We heard about the possibilities for changing local policy through the Public Participation Network and importantly, met other local like-minded people who are passionate about the environment. These networks offer individuals and groups the opportunity to work with others to make changes, and to support one another.

If you think a local environmental network is for you, contact Catherine at the IEN for more information or to find out if there’s already a CEN close to you.

No. 2: Learn to Recycle Properly with VOICE Ireland and help others to do so.

3 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Environmental MojoI use  to think we were the best recyclers ever until I learnt more about recycling from VOICE Ireland. It was a massive shock to learn that scrunchable plastics aren’t recyclable. VOICE stands for Voice Of Irish Concern for the Environment and it’s a member-based Irish environmental Charity that was founded in 1997 following the closure of Greenpeace Ireland. VOICE are currently highlighting three campaigns: Zero Waste Cashel, The Conscious Cup Campaign and the Recycling Ambassador Programme but are involved in several others.

Last year I became the Carlow Recycling Ambassador for VOICE and am being funded to provide free recycling workshops to groups, business’ and organisation  in Carlow. I am joined by ambassadors in every county in Ireland who are spreading the word about what should and shouldn’t go into the recycling bins and it is making a difference.

Ireland is recycling just 35% of its plastic waste. By recycling better we will cut the need for incineration and landfill and reduce the need for additional raw material extraction (oil) as more materials will be available for preprocessing and reuse.

If you would like a workshop, get in touch with VOICE who will point you in the direction of one of us, or check out the Recycling List to find out what can and can’t go into the recycling bins so that you can individually do your bit to help the environment. Don’t forget to share what you learn with friends and family and help them to recycle correctly too. This is something that can quickly make an impact and that each one of us can easily do to make a difference #binsorted.

No. 3: Learn More about Soil and its Importance with the GROW Observatory

3 Ways to (re)Ignite Your Environmental MojoI’ve written several articles about soil and how we should stop treating it like dirt. This relatively shallow layer of material that covers the land across the globe, feeds, clothes, houses and provides sustenance for us all, yet is often mistreated and little understood.

Now, we are in a position to change that as the European GROW Observatory offers everyone across the world, as well as nine GROW Places across Europe, the opportunity to learn more about soil. Partnered by 18 organisations, including Dundee University, the UK Permaculture Association, Starlab in Spain, the UK’s MET office, Cultivate in Ireland and the University of Miskolc in Hungary, getting involved with GROW is something that can provide tangible results that can help scientists understand our changing climate.

This year, Community Gardens Ireland were chosen to work with the European-wide initiative by creating two GROW soil monitoring areas in Donegal and the South-East. Joanne Butler and I are championing the project in Ireland by issuing free soil monitoring sensors to interested growers and farmers across these areas. They are helping to validate data collected by Sentenal 1, a European Space Agency satellite. The validation of Sentinal 1 data will help to develop more accurate climate change models and the prediction of severe weather events such as droughts, flooding and fires.

If you want to get involved in this European community initiative, GROW are looking for people who grow food, who care about their local environment and who want to contribute to climate change adaptation. They offer:

  1. Four free online courses a year, delivered through the leading online learning platform, futureLearn.
  2. An online community of growers from across the world at www.growobservatory.org.
  3. Up to nine local GROW Places distributing soil moisture sensors that link to your smartphone to give you and the Observatory, continuous soil moisture, light and temperature data in your growing plot.
  4. Activities designed to build your knowledge of soils and crops.
  5. An e-newsletter to keep you up to date with GROW
  6. An active website with blogs, activities, useful information and ‘how to’ notes.
  7. A new GROW Observatory app, designed to give you growing advice designed for your growing area, including advice on what to plant when.

You can sign up to become a part of GROW through their website, by signing up to their newsletter, by keeping an eye on their social media channels or by signing up to the GROW courses through Futurelearn. If you live in Donegal or the South East of Ireland and are interested in monitoring your soil with sensors, contact Community Gardens Ireland for more information.

We Need our Community as Much as They Need Us

As I mentioned at the beginning, there are many organisations and communities that we can join that suit our passions and interests. They all connect one way or another with the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals. They all need our support in more ways than we can imagine; without a healthy environment, they and we will all falter. However, one of the many things I’ve learnt this year, is that we need our community as much as they need us. We do not need to try to save the planet alone.

Every new parent is told to mind themselves first or they won’t be fit to look after their newborn. It’s a message that needs to be understood by everyone, parent or not. It’s okay to step back, to take ‘me’ time and cocoon ourselves until we recharge. Activism burnout is real and we have to mind ourselves. Then, when we feel the stirrings of motivation resurface, we can look for our communities and be supported by them.

We need to care about our planet more than ever before. We might not have the money that the ‘big boys’ have but we have the passion. Now is not the time to disengage for too long, it is the time to take positive steps to stand up for what we care for. Humankind needs a healthy environment to exist and thrive. Are you able to help?

“The truth is: the natural world is changing. And we are totally dependent on that world. It provides our food, water and air. It is the most precious thing we have and we need to defend it.” – David Attenborough

 

Vegetable Garden

How to get rid of Mealy Cabbage Aphids on your Greens without Chemicals

June 12, 2018

How to get rid of Mealy Cabbage Aphids on your Greens without Chemicals

Mealy Cabbage Aphids on Brassica Crops

There are a vast array of aphids in the natural world. We usually think of greenfly on our roses or black bean aphids on our broad beans but there are many more varieties of these little pests, including Mealy Cabbage Aphids. They are all unwelcome visitors to our vegetable, community gardens and allotments but there’s an easy way to dissuade them. Creating great soil conditions that keep your plants healthy and attracting beneficial insects is a start.

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Aphids have a tendency to head for the soft tips of our plants, reducing yields as they munch their way through flower and growing tips. They leave their skins, wax and honeydew in situ as they move from one plant to another, often killing young plants and attracting ants who like to farm the aphids for their sticky excretions.

How to get rid of Mealy Cabbage Aphids on your Greens without ChemicalsMealy Cabbage Aphids can transmit virus, including turnip mosaic virus and cauliflower mosaic virus as they pierce the leaves with their proboscis, sucking the sap and then depositing the virus into the next plant as they move around. They can smother leaves, flowers and stems, look unsightly and make the vegetables quite unappealing and unappetising.

One of the first and most important steps in Integrated Pest Management is prevention, making the crop walk a necessary and vital element of organic gardening and growing. If you do it regularly, you’ll notice changes in your plants before major problems occur. If you’re not sure what to look for, invest in a good book such as the RHS Pests and Diseases by Pippa Greenwood. An invaluable asset on any gardener’s bookshelf.

Unfortunately, we missed the attack of the Mealy Cabbage Aphids on the kale plants photographed above. We were leaving the plants to set seed in Gleann na Bearu community garden, hoping to save the Irish Seed Saver seeds for the next growing season. By the time we spotted the little pests, we were only able to rescue a handful of seed pods, the rest of the plants were too late to save.

How to recognise a Mealy Cabbage Aphid Attack

The first symptom of an attack in vegetable Brassica that include greens such as kale, cauliflower, cabbage, turnips, swede, broccoli and calabrese are small, bleached patches on the leaves. You will then notice that the patches become yellow and the leaves crumple. Small, wingless, bluish-grey aphids up to 2.6mm long cluster together, often on the undersides or tips of the leaves.

Non Chemical Control for Mealy Cabbage Aphids

How to get rid of Mealy Cabbage Aphids on your Greens without ChemicalsVigilance is the number one control.

If you spot aphids of any kind early enough, you can rub them off with your finger tips or blast them with the hose if the plants aren’t too delicate.

Remove and destroy infected leaves and stems, don’t compost them; the pests will simply move from your compost heap back to your plants.

Provide Habitats

Providing habitats for natural predators such as parasitic wasps, ladybirds, hoverflies, lacewings, spiders and predatory flies will help with organic pest control. Herbs such as Calendula, chives, feverfew, yarrow, dill, fennel, marigold, angelica and caraway will attract ladybirds, as will leaving patches of stinging nettles. Avoid sprays of any kind. Even ‘natural’ soap sprays are indiscriminate, killing the beneficial insects as well as the pests.  There’s a lovely list of plants that attract beneficial insects on the Permaculture News website.

I hope you haven’t suffered a serious aphid attack in your garden but if you did, which ones have been the most problematic for you?

Green

How to Build a Sedum Green Roof Structure

February 22, 2018

How to build a living green roof

As a social enterprise Greenside Up seeks funding from all avenues in an effort to provide support and education to people volunteering in social community gardens. During the last round of Local Agenda 21 funding, Carlow County Council funded a project in Gleann na Bearu community garden in Bagenalstown. During the spring of 2017 Greenside Up created a small living green roof structure and provided a morning workshop to the local community about creating living green roofs in gardens and how they can attract beneficial pollinators. The following details the steps we took to build the green roof structure and why we should all consider installing one.

Before you begin to make plans, be aware that this isn’t a project for tight budget. The material costs can quickly add up with an *inclusive sedum pack costing in excess of €45 per square metre alone. However with some basic maintenance, a green roof will happily grow for many years, outlasting patio furniture or barbecues. We bought our green roof ‘package’ from Green Roofs Direct in Belfast who supply projects of all sizes, from 10m² to 10,000m². We also found Landtech Soils in Tipperary extremely helpful.

How to create a living green roof

Benefits of a Green Roof

There are several benefits to having a living green roof on your property, whether it’s on a small structure like the one we installed, or on home roofs, workplaces or sheds. They include:

  • How to grow a green roof

    Sedum is easy to propagate by division

    Mitigating water runoff and subsequent overflow into the sewage system.

  • Soil and vegetation acts as a sponge, absorbing and filtering water that is normally taken into gutters.
  • The plants remove air particulates, produce oxygen and provide shade.
  • Green roofs help to cool the air as water evaporates from the leaves of the plants – a benefit in urban areas in a warming climate.
  • Green roofs have a biophilia effect, softening hard structures and making us feel better.
  • Green roofs can provide safe, secluded spaces for wildlife and pollinators.
  • They provide great views for you and your neighbours!

How to create a living green roof

Step by Step How to Build a Green Roof

Build the structure.

The Gleann na Bearu community gardeners asked for a structure that would hide the wheelie bins in the corner of the garden by the oil tank. They wanted it to be high enough so they could lift the lids of the bins without pulling them out. Although we might have been able to source cheaper upcycled materials, we wanted to provide a professionally built structure that would last. We therefore sourced treated wood from our local timber yard Griffiths Timber who offer a great service.

How to create a green roof structureAlthough we could have chosen various grass mixes for the green roof, we chose sedum for its low maintenance and pollinator friendly attributes. Woodworking skills are necessary for this project but once the structure is in place, the green roof itself is very easy to install and maintain.

The following gives a general guide to creating a living green roof using various varieties of sedum. The varieties included Sedum acre auream, Sedum album Coral Carpet, Sedum album Mini, Sedum album Athoum, Sedum hispanicum, Sedum Summer Glory, Sedum reflexum, Sedum Weihenstehaner Gold and Sedum voodooedum.

How to Create a Living Green Roof

Materials needed for the small 1.5m x 1m green roof structure pictured included:

Tape measure, spirit level, saw and drill
Plans or drawing
Enough timber and bolts to create the skeleton
Marine plywood for the top
Heavy duty plastic to cover the marine plywood
Waterproof sealant
Environmentally paint or wood treatment
*Green Roof Kit including drainage layer, substrate and sedum blanket

  • How to create a living green roofDraw your plan, cut and bolt the pieces of timber together to fit and paint the structure with an additional protective layer to ensure it will last. We chose a treatment that isn’t harmful to the environment and is relatively long lasting.
  • Once the skeleton of the structure was in place. We added a slightly angled piece of marine plywood on to the top, added more timber around the top edge of the roof to ‘hold’ the sedum and drainage materials in place. At the lower edge of the sloped timber we cut a few notches to allow excess water to drain.  Finally a sheet of heavy duty plastic was placed over the marine plywood and all the edges were then sealed with a waterproof sealant, leaving the structure ready for the drainage layers, substrate and sedum.
  • Drainage: The root system is the work force of the plant. It’s where vital food and water is absorbed. It’s therefore crucial to make sure the root system is as healthy and strong as possible. The drainage layer is designed to give the plant roots extra room to breathe, expand and absorb more water. This will maintain healthy foliage and avoid the dark red shading of stressed Sedum. We ordered How to create a living green roofour sedum blanket from Green Roofs Direct who supplied the drainage layer, substrate and sedum in kit form.

Add the Drainage Layer and Sedum Blanket

Once the green roof structure has been built, adding the drainage and plants is easy. Simply cut the three layered drainage provided and fit it to size, add a 30mm layer of substrate over the top and rake it until smooth. Finally unroll the sedum blanket and cut the pieces to size, taking care not to overstretch it. Once covered, water the sedum until the water runs out.

Maintenace

Green Roofs Direct recommend a straightforward maintenance plan. For the first twelve weeks simply water and weed. Watering in the first week is crucially important. If the sedum blanket is rolled out in very dry conditions it must be watered every other day during the first week. A quick establishment is very important for the plants to cope with the harsh conditions on a roof.

How to create a living green roof

Slow release granular fertilizer can be applied in April at a rate of 10 grams per square metre. A handheld broadcaster is ideal for larger roofs and can be purchased in any hardware or DIY store or hired. Flowers can be cut and removed in August then slow release granular fertilizer applied again in October at 10 grams per square metre.

Have you considered installing a green roof into your garden? This one never fails to bring a smile to our faces.

*includes three piece drainage layers, 50mm depth of substrate and one year matured Irish Sedum Blanket.

Vegetable Garden

How to Grow Your Own Broad Beans

April 4, 2017
How to grow broad beans

Companion planting with limnanthes and broad beans

Learning, Tutoring and Sowing Broad Beans

It’s a pleasure to be back teaching an organic outdoor vegetable crop production course at the School of Food in Thomastown, Co Kilkenny thanks to funding from Kilkenny ETB. It makes a change from my studies at Kildalton College for the Advanced Level 6 in Horticulture, though I can’t believe there’s only a few weeks left before we finish at the college, the months have flown since I wrote the article about following my curiosity and returning to education once more. I’m loving every second there. The workload has been a juggle with assignments coming in thick and fast, as well as plant ID tests and written exams, but my knowledge of trees, shrubs and ecology has risen exponentially and I’m full of ideas for Greenside Up thanks to a fantastic Entrepreneurship tutor Nicola Kent. It’s great to be studying at one of the best agriculture and horticulture colleges in the country too.

How to grow your own broad beansBut back to the School of Food, we’ve a hardworking, enthusiastic group of 14 adults eager to learn the basics and after several weeks discussing soil preparation and the importance of organic matter, we’re finally sowing seeds and planting.

Last week we managed to get some peas and broad beans (Vicia Faba) also known as Fava Beans into the soil. It’s rare to see broad beans in the supermarkets and as a result, home-grown pods are the first many of us will try, but they’re an easy to crop to grow, making them great for children or beginners. For busy gardeners they pretty much look after themselves so they’re a handy crop to grow all round.

How to cook broad beans

How to grow broad beansIt’s the beans that are nestled inside the velvety pods that are usually eaten, although young beans that are no thicker than a finger can be cooked in their pods.

Shell larger beans before cooking and tuck into them hot or cold; they’re great in salads. Big mature beans need to be shelled after they’ve boiled, the tough outer skin removed and the small beanlet inside can be mashed with butter (you’d need the patience of a saint to do that very often!). We usually dish them up with dinner and remove the beanlets ourselves.

More information can be found on harvesting and cooking broad beans in this archive article and Nigel Slater shares a Broad Bean humus recipe here that’s top of my ‘to try’ list when we harvest ours this year.

We’ve always grow Broad Beans in our garden as three of us love to eat them cooked (I usually steam them) and our girls like to eat them raw.

How to grow your own broad beans

How to Grow Broad Beans

Broad beans are a hardy crop and will survive a frost. Most varieties can be sown outside from October/November or February to April; keep an eye out for Aquadulce for overwintering.

How to grow your own broad beansThey germinate at much lower temperatures than most other vegetables and we tend to sow them high up on our hill in or around February, depending upon conditions, making them our first legume crop (pea/bean) of the year.

We usually plant the seeds straight into the soil about 2.5 cm (1″) deep but they can be started off in modules in December, ready to plant out in February. In general peas and beans prefer not to have their roots disturbed so planting the seeds in compost in toilet roll liners and popping the whole thing into the soil when the beans are about 10 cm (4″) or more is a good way to get them growing.

Staking broad beans – this crop doesn’t need to clamber up, they’re happy enough growing unguided, though it’s a good idea to place stakes around the perimeter of the crop to prevent the stems snapping in the wind.

How to grow broad beansBroad beans like well-dug, previously manured soil so are an ideal crop to follow potatoes. Once they’ve all been harvested, if they’re disease free chop the stems off at soil level and compost the rest, leaving the nitrogen-fixing roots in the soil to help the Brassica crops (cabbages etc) that might follow them, depending upon your crop rotation plan. As long as you didn’t plant F1 hybrid seeds, any dried beans that you missed when harvesting can be stored and re-sown next time.

Things to watch out for ……. if you plant broad beans in the Spring, one day you may wander into your garden and find that the tops of them are covered in black bean aphid, insects that adore the sweet flavour of the plant tops. Sometimes just spraying them hard with the hose is enough to remove them, or pinching off the tops of the plants as soon as you notice the little black aphids.  Vigilance is key in ridding yourself of this pest but companion planting can work well too.

How to grow your own broad beans

Black bean Aphid

Because we grow our own using organic principles, we encourage beneficial insects into our garden that will prey on the predatory aphids; Limanthes (poached egg flower) is one of our favourites.

Diseases

Chocolate spot. This is a disease that’s particular to broad beans and one we’ve suffered most years on crops grown outside here, though the polytunnel beans have managed to escape. Chocolate spot is what it says… chocolate coloured spots that appear on the leaves, and then spread to the stems, flowers and pods, potentially leading to the plant’s death.

It’s caused by a fungus Botrytis fabae that thrives in damp, humid air and can overwinter on the remains of previously infected plants. For this reason it’s a good idea to get rid of old, infected plants rather than composting them. The good news is that it usually affects the pods last of all, so whilst they remain unaffected (or infected), they’re still fine to eat.

Spacing the plants well, about 25cm between each plant – will help with air circulation and is recommended to prevent or delay infection.

So why not give Broad Beans a chance? Have you eaten them or do you have a favourite way of eating them? They’re a great crop for grow your own newbies as their success rate is high, which all helps in raising the confidence levels.

 

Lifestyle

Follow Your Curiosity

January 8, 2017

Follow Your Curiosity

Returning to Education

In 2008 I made, what turned out to be, a life changing decision to return to education as a mature student. For the previous ten year’s I’d been a stay at home mum of three and was project managing our ongoing house renovation on top of a Carlow hill.

This week, aged 53 (I’ve finally said that out loud), as well as working with Carlow and Kilkenny community gardens, over the next two years I’ll be continuing with my own education as I head to Kildalton College in Pilltown, Co Kilkenny two days a week to study the Advanced Certificate in Horticulture.

I’m embarking upon this new journey with an open mind. I had no idea when I returned to education in my forties that it would lead to me starting Greenside Up a month after finishing, or that I’d go on to become one of the founders of Community Gardens Ireland. Who knows where this new adventure will lead.

A Stay at Home Mum

I was blessed to be able to spend ten years at home with our children before I returned to education, watching them develop and grow. Giving up a wage meant our lifestyle was very basic but it was a decision we’ve never regretted.

If Ian and I had stayed in the UK things would have been very different. There’s no doubt I would have continued to work full-time so we could pay the mortgage on our semi-detached town house. We’d have spent all the extra money on childminders, watching someone else bring up our kids and sharing their special moments instead of us.

If I’d been following my dream career, I might have justified it, but I wasn’t. My job was simply a way of earning money to pay bills. There was no satisfaction and the desire to rear our family outside of a polluted town environment was partly what influenced our decision to move to Ireland almost 19 years ago.

Follow Your Curiosity

An early school leaver

Like many of my generation, I left school at 16 with a handful of basic qualifications, to join the female equivalent of an apprenticeship. In a school of 1,300 around 30 stayed on for sixth form before moving on to study for their degrees. I wasn’t one of them. I hated the authority of school and couldn’t wait to leave and join the workforce. In the beginning, I worked in a large international business as a secretarial trainee, learning from the other departmental secretaries four days a week, then heading off to college one day a week to develop my shorthand, office practice and typewriting skills, qualifying at 18.

After several years, I left that job to join the throng of ‘commuters’ who travelled by train to London, first finding employment in a glamorous design company a few doors away from Oxford Street, before moving to a large accountancy firm close to St Paul’s Cathedral. My last City job, now in the fast-moving financial district, held the most responsibility as I supported the Marketing Director of an international financial news agency, helping him set up offices around the world. My twenty something lifestyle was a busy one – working hard and playing harder. However looking back, other than my friendships and the motorbiking lifestyle the money I earned supported, I felt very unfulfilled. I was an ‘earth girl’, never a city one.

Follow Your Curiosity

Falling in love

And then I met Ian. We fell in love and within a couple of years I found myself in a new country where I barely knew anybody. We shared the rental of an old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere with another couple and their child, living miles from the local village with only one van between us and no phone. I used to write to family and friends to begin with; they’d reply with stories of their new online world of email, Facebook, summer holidays and winter parties and I felt homesick and left behind. We didn’t own a computer for several years, weren’t connected to the internet for many more, and despite joining a couple of toddler groups, I’d only made once close friend.

As a stay at home mum, the one thing I hadn’t anticipated about being out of the workforce was how it would diminish my confidence. We’d left the UK, a large circle of close friends and extended family to relocate to a new country and as my social circle closed, so too did my ability to fit in. I joined the primary school parent teacher group and became involved with our local scout group, attending leadership courses, but I was still searching for my  elusive ‘tribe’.

Horticulture – it’s not just about digging

And then my life changed. It’s another story how I ended up choosing a full-time Horticulture course. I knew I never wanted to work as an executive secretary again; as a full-time mum I was used to being my own boss and the opportunity of returning to adult education helped me look for alternatives.

From day one as I headed out every day on my own without little ones in tow, I studied and learnt, handed in assignments, quizzed tutors, and attended work experience. I felt empowered. Adult education was more than learning about flowers and shrubs, soil and plant science. It was a transformative experience.

Follow your curiosity

Horticulture enabled me to design our own garden and other people’s. Armed with my new knowledge I could grow heaps of organic vegetables which enabled us to feed our family healthier meals and then teach others how to do the same.

I developed a love of writing and began to blog. I set up a small business, taught myself about business plans and how to use social media, to create and update websites, design logos and lesson plans. After the sheer horrors of public speaking I began to feel more comfortable with it which led to gardening talks and demonstrations and coordinating pop up gardens at Electric Picnic. I spoke to journalists on radio and print and regularly met others in the realms of business and social enterprise.

Follow Your Curiosity

Horticulture developed my forever love of our planet as I stepped out of the indoor office and home environments and outside into the garden, learning to fully appreciate the magic, healing and wonder of the natural world around us.

Kildalton College

This week I’ll starting again, continuing my education as I learn more about entrepreneurship, ecology and the environment, trees, and shrubs. Next year I’m hoping to add commercial market gardening and other modules that will make up the Advanced Certificate. Perhaps in my sixties I’ll find enough time and money to finally study for my degree.

Or maybe I won’t.

I really have no idea where this new adventure will take me but I’m willing to be open to changes, opportunities, and new ideas.

I have half a lifetime of experience behind me and now I’m adding structured education to the mix and all because nine years ago, I took the plunge and followed my curiosity. I’d love to hear if you’ve followed yours.

 

“If you can let go of your passion and follow your curiosity,

your curiosity just might lead you to your passion”

Elizabeth Gilbert