Introducing the Stojo Collapsible Cup (and why it’s important)

November 5, 2018

Introducing the Stojo Collapsible CupDuring the past year I’ve been working with ¹VOICE Ireland as a recycling ambassador for County Carlow, visiting community groups and explaining what can and can’t go into their recycling bins. We were asked to stick to the facts and avoid being pulled into discussions about the rights and wrongs of our country’s waste disposal methods.

This proved harder than one might imagine as dismayed people are outraged that they aren’t provided with enough choice that allows them to avoid all the rubbish that manufacturers and suppliers present us with. Most feel they are being punished, both financially in terms of refuse charges and environmentally as they haven’t asked for all the single use plastic rubbish that food is covered in, and they aren’t happy that they are contributing to the mountains of waste.

Despite the fact that we are watching the climate breakdown around us, my observations from these workshops have been that unless people are offered viable alternatives, most won’t or are unable to change their habits as quickly as is needed or recommended by the latest IPCC report (see below). When legislation forced change in ²Kenya, imposing a $38,000 USD plastic bag tax on anyone found using, making or distributing plastic bags, people had to come up with solutions fast to provide alternatives. These included innovations such as making paper products from invasive species. Can we, or will we make changes fast enough across the rest of the world without those kind of tough measures being imposed upon us?

The VOICE  funding is now coming to an end and all the ambassadors have been asked to reflect upon the three to five most surprising things people found out during our presentations. For my groups these included:

  1. Disposable coffee cups aren’t recyclable (use china, glass, or reusable cups).
  2. The recycled symbol isn’t necessarily applicable (it’s usually only valid for the country the product was manufactured in).
  3. No scrunchable plastics are recyclable (I’ve started making Eco bricks).
  4. Items made up of mixed composites (such as crisps packaged in cardboard covered tins) can’t be recycled (switch to crisps with packets that can go into the Eco bricks).
  5. Everything has to be clean and dry (rinse at the end of the washing up session).

Has it made a difference?

A year on, I’ve noticed positive changes. As the plastic debate gains momentum, we continue to see horrific images of plastic oceans and hear stories about how insidious plastic particles can be on our daily lives, from affecting sperm counts in men to ingesting particles through our tap and bottled water supplies, opening our eyes to the problem. As a result, products and solutions are beginning to appear to help us make the transition to a life without single use plastics.

As we have been made aware of the scale of plastic waste on this planet, business’ are seeking alternatives, like Jason Horner, an organic market gardener in Ennis who has managed to track down a supplier of biodegradable bags to wrap his salads in. There’s been an increase in shops and market stalls that offer plastic free products alternatives like Bare Necessities, a social enterprise start-up who sell among other things, bamboo toothbrushes, wax cotton food covers and pulses sold by weight. Many cafes and shops, like the fabulous BeeNice Cafe in Carlow, have become Conscious Cup supporters who also sell bamboo and Keep cups to their takeaway customers.

Introducing the Stojo Collapsible Cup

The Stojo

With that in mind, it might come as no surprise that I was very happy to try out a Stojo cup that was sent to me by their PR company to review. I remember tweeting when I first learnt that over 22,000 coffee cups were being disposed of in Ireland EVERY HOUR, that it was a potentially lucrative and good opportunity for someone to come up with an alternative cup that would fit into our bags and pockets so that we could easily say no to the throw away option. Thankfully, Stojo have done so.

Introducing the Stojo Collapsable Cup

Stojo cup in a handbag

Designed by three New York based friends, Stojo is very light and durable, and is made from recyclable materials such as food grade silicone that exclude phthalates, glues and BPA. It is light, leak proof and easily collapses into a disk smaller than 10cm in height so that it will fit into a bag or pocket and I love it. I don’t buy very many takeaway drinks but have found it useful for water refills, or for hot drinks on the go when I’m in a hurry leaving the house.

My Stojo cup has created a lot of interest as I’ve pulled it out of my bag and it’s something to consider why you’re trying to come up with useful gift ideas of the coming weeks.

The Stojo comes in two sizes, the ‘Pocket Cup’ (12oz, RRP €12.95) and the ‘Biggie’ (16oz RRP €16.95 and are available from independent cafes and specialist stores nationwide, as well as Brown Thomas, Arnotts and Avoca.  

The IPCC report

But we need to do more, and faster. The latest IPCC report that says we have just 12 years to keep the planet from warming more than 1.5°C higher than its post industrial temperatures. We are going to need a much greater bottom-up push for change because a top-down approach from our governments simply is not happening fast enough.

There’s no easy solution but one thing we can begin to do right now is to say no to single use plastics. Plastic is a derivative of the fossil fuel market, one of many contributors to our warming planet. Our newly formed County Carlow Environmental Network has pledged to help local festivals make the transition. Individually we can ask shop keepers for alternatives to single use plastics. We can bring our own stainless steel straws to the club or refuse them altogether. We can take Tupperware or alternatives to the butchers or Indian takeaway. We can ask canteens to provide wooden stirring sticks instead of plastic spoons and workplaces to ditch disposal water cups. We can encourage all our friends and relatives to do the same.

The recycling message the VOICE Ireland ambassadors were being urged to reinforce is: Refuse, Reuse, Recycle

Note that recycle is the last option. Refuse or reuse first.

Whilst ³recycling correctly is better than throwing everything into the black bin, refusing to use single use plastics is even better. 

This is the most dire report from the IPCC yet. It’s a call to arms for us all. The first story in this video clip highlights why our coverage about climate change has to adjust to encourage us to take it seriously, why we have to wake up and make immediate changes to our day-to-day living now. Stopping our use of single use plastics is a relatively easy one to tackle. Are you up for the challenge?

¹VOICE Ireland Ambassador Programme. An initiative funded by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, and the Regional Waste Management Offices to improve Ireland’s recycling rates and reduce levels of contamination in household recycling bins.

²Mothers of Invention Episode 3: Taking over

³Recycling List Ireland provides a list of all the items that can be put into recycling bins.


Dear Garden

October 15, 2018

A love letter

The learning never ends

I wrote about my decision to return to adult education a couple of years ago and this May, I finished the Advanced Certificate in Horticulture, achieving the result that I’d set myself. It was hard work, juggling studies and assignments with family life, tutoring privately and with the Education Training Board, working with The GROW Observatory and volunteering with Community Gardens Ireland, especially having set my bar so high, but I enjoyed it all and with each passing month, my confidence grew. Towards the end while I was sitting my exams and feeling the mounting pressure, I realised that I was juggling over 14 different long and short-term projects. The world record for juggling balls is 11 and I knew that with one slip, all of those projects might all come crashing down around me.

And then it was over. My course finished, projects began to end with the onset of summer and I could breathe again. But rather than enjoy the time, I began to worry about how I could share the financial burden that can weigh Mr G down. It was becoming clear that an extra qualification wasn’t going to change our family circumstances in any immediate way, shape or form and volunteering and working mostly part-time simply wasn’t sustainable.

When the optimism fades

My usually optimistic mood began to muddy, and as I sat one day in tears, frustrated by my inability, I was transported back 15 years to our son’s first week in primary school.

After I collected our tired little boy from the gates and drove up the hill towards home, he began to sob “Mummy, why can’t I read and write, you told me when I went to school I’d be able to read and write”. Mortified that my words had caused his anxiety, I stopped to hug and reassure him that it would come, with work and patience.

The memory jolted me out of my desolation and helped me to realise that I too, was suffering from a similar, though self-inflicted, misunderstanding. As soon as I held those precious exam results in my hand, I believed that I would immediately land myself one well paid piece of work that would solve all our problems and stop me chasing my tail. But of course it didn’t and just like our wee little fella way back then, I was physically and emotionally drained.

One of my last assignments was to write a full business plan for Greenside Up and in doing so, I came up with a social enterprise idea that offered a more sustainable way forward. Unfortunately, having put every ounce of energy into it, when the course finished, I buried it  under a pile of papers on the office desk. However, the opportunity to revisit the plan surfaced recently when Carlow County Development Partnership funded a five-week Social Enterprise training workshop for Carlovians. It seemed like a good time to dig out the plan and sign up for another short course.

A love letter

The group’s homework the first day was to write a love letter to our chosen enterprise. It seemed an odd, slightly embarrassing task at the time, particularly as we had to read our letters out loud to the class during week two, but the exercise was part of a design thinking process that would apparently help us, and others, understand why our enterprises are so important. We have to love our ideas if we want others to love them too. Given that gardens are my enterprise, it was clear that I had to fall back in love with my own. Having abandoned it at the beginning of the year, I was forced to step outside so that I could complete this task. As I did, the fog began to clear and a sense of peace descended upon me.

I’ve decided to share my short love letter with you for no other reason than if you too are feeling a little lost, you’ll consider  heading outside for a few hours and seeing if being in a garden or outside surrounded by nature, works a similar kind of magical healing that it did for me.

A love letter to my garden

Dear Garden…

I’ve neglected you of late. I’ve been so caught up with college, work, family, community and global issues that I ignored you as I walked past the thistles and nettles on the way to the chicken coop. For a long while I was feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work I had to do to bring you back to your glory. It all got too much. As the pressures increased, my mood plunged and darkness threatened, I even stopped visiting the hens, relying on other family members to do it so that I could avoid the twice daily stroll across the tassely lawn. Instead I locked myself behind the door at every available opportunity. My mojo was gone.

Sadly I forgot how healing you can be when I needed you the most.

Thankfully, my dear garden, you are incredibly  forgiving. One clear, bright, day I got up, pulled on some old, painty clothes, grabbed my favourite small trowel that’s now encrusted with dried soil, picked up what was once a bright pink kneeling mat, and plonked myself down in the corner of an overgrown, square-shaped, shrubby ornamental border.

It only took a short while of feeling the sun on my face, listening to the birds singing in the beech and hawthorn trees that were touched with autumnal colours,  that I began to feel my soul relax. As the almost rhythmic sound of my hand tool chopped and dug its way through the creeping buttercups, dandelions and docks, aided by my warming muscles, I began to unwind.

As I begin to see the dark, crumbly, worm laden soil once more, my heart glowed as the simple pleasure of being outside, wrapped up in nature, engulfed me.

While I worked I began to think towards the future.

A love letter to my gardenWhat vibrant flowers would I like to see bloom in the newly created space. Will I choose pastels or summer shades? What healing herbs or tasty pollinator friendly morsels will I provide? Maybe the calm, sleep inducing lavender would sit well under the apple tree, or the citrus scented lemon balm and cleansing sage might nest well in the newly created space by the bench. Perhaps the creeping thyme might be a perfect fit between the paving stones, enabling it’s scent to release when footsteps crushed it. Possibly, I’d finally plant some Dahlia’s, something I’d been promising myself I’d do ever since I saw them in Mount Congreve several years ago.

Just a few hours of hard work and your beauty began to shine through, bringing a smile to everyone who saw the efforts of the work. Even the teens want to sit out there again now you are looking ‘presentable’.

Spending time with you has left me feeling fulfilled and I’m smiling once more. I can’t wait to return and experience this feeling again. I’m at peace, the madness that surrounds a busy life has faded.

You have provided me with a sense of hope. The effort I have put in today will not be seen for months, but then, when the days lengthen and warm once more and the flowers fill the garden with colour, we will all experience a sense of paradise in the garden.

Spending time with you is a healing pastime. It has allowed me to reconnect with the forces that feed you, to feel my own roots and recognise the investment into our future.

I’ve loved spending time with you. I’m reminded of the pleasures you share and I’m looking forward to planning and tackling the vegetable garden over the coming weeks as I make plans for our food garden.

I promise not to neglect you again and not only will I make you a priority once more, I will also share news of your magical healing effects and hope that others will take steps to find you in their own surroundings.

Thank you for your generosity my beautiful garden, you are truly wonderous in your ability to heal. I am blessed to live with you and I love you for all that you provide.

Dee x 

If you’re interested in using social and therapeutic horticulture to benefit community groups when working in the areas of community development, wellness, recovery, social inclusion, training and employment, I’ll be talking on the subject during Mensana, Carlow’s annual Mental Health Festival. Join us in An Gairdin Beo, Carlow Town (next to St Leo’s School) on Friday, 18th October between 10am and 12am where I’ll be sharing case studies, as well as discussing the concept, research and education opportunities. Contact me for more information. Talk sponsored by Carlow County Development Partnership.


3 Ways to Be a Sense-Able GROWer in a Changing Climate

October 2, 2018

3 Ways to Be a SenseAble GROWer in a Changing Climate

Don’t Ignore the Warnings, Start Monitoring Soil in Your Changing Climate

It’s difficult to ignore the impacts of a changing climate yet easy to ignore the warnings. The words ‘climate change‘ do not grab people’s attention in a way they should. We’ve jumped from extraordinary winter snow events, to a forgettable spring, then straight into a summer of drought with land that is yet to recover adequate soil moisture levels in the south of Ireland. Talking to friends and colleagues across the globe, these unusual weather patterns are being replicated and scientists are telling us that we are to expect more of the same.

3 Ways to Be a SenseAble GROWer in a Changing Climate

Unusual snow event in Co. Carlow 2018

Where does that leave food growers, land owners and gardeners? Do we invest in expensive irrigation systems or not? Do we cover our land in polytunnels or glasshouses? Should we be changing our planting practices and choosing different varieties of seeds and plants? How can we predict the sowing and harvesting dates of the crops we choose to grow? How do we adapt?

These are some of the questions we’ll be discussing at the next Community Gardens Ireland (CG Ireland) Gathering in East Clare where all are welcome. In the meantime, these weird weather patterns have been making my life a little easier as one of two part-time Ireland champions for the European GROW Observatory project.

Joining eight other GROW Places in Europe, Joanne Butler from OURGanic Gardens and I, have been provided with the opportunity to help people gain a greater understanding about their soil in the Changing Climate Mission. We are doing this by distributing free GROW Observatory soil moisture sensor to people with access to land and supporting them in their endeavors.

3 Ways to Be a SenseAble GROWer in a Changing Climate

Soil Moisture Levels at 305m above sea level in Co. Carlow

A constant talking point, the weather has offered us the opportunity to show real-time soil moisture data, light and ambient soil temperatures, collected fortnightly on our mobile phone apps, from our gardens. We’ve been able to share the news about the exciting Horizon 2020 European Citizen Science project and encourage more people to get involved, place soil moisture sensors in their own soil, and begin sensing their land.

(The GROW Observatory Introduction to Citizen Science: From Data to Action)

Thanks to this exciting European citizen science project, we can learn to understand our soil and its needs, help to provide climate change scientists with real-time data that will help to predict floods and droughts, provide policy makers with factual information based on verified data, and offer numerous entrepreneurs the opportunity to develop innovative ideas that can help growers in the future.

“Soil . . . scoop up a handful of the magic stuff.   Look at it closely. What wonders it holds as it lies there in your palm.  Tiny sharp grains of sand, little faggots of wood and leaf fiber, infinitely small round pieces of marble, fragments of shell, specks of black carbon, a section of vertebrae from some minute creature.  And mingling with it all the dust of countless generations of plants and flowers, trees, animals and – yes – our own, age-long forgotten forebears, gardeners of long ago. Can this incredible composition be the common soil?”

–  Stuart Maddox Masters, The Seasons Through

3 Ways to Be a SenseAble GROWer In a Changing Climate

The GROW Observatory has a number of missions that citizens can get involved with from a local to global level. You can read about them in detail on their website.

In summary, here’s three ways that can help you and others make sense of your soil now in the changing climate.

3 Ways to Be a SenseAble GROWer in a Changing Climate

No. 1: GROW Missions.

The GROW Observatory currently have two missions taking place. In the Ireland GROW Place, The Changing Climate mission is taking place in Donegal and the South-East of Ireland.

Joanne and I are encouraging people with access to land in those areas, to deploy soil sensors that will take soil moisture, light and ambient ground temperatures. We will be supporting volunteer citizen scientists with sensors to take soil samples that will help to validate Sentinal 1, a European Space Agency Satellite, giving European scientists and themselves, a better understanding of the soil beneath them.

The Living Soils mission involves data collection without the sensor. It involves experiments to test regenerate growing techniques and can be done from anywhere in the world.

No. 2: Join the Forum.

The GROW Observatory have created a forum that all gardeners and growers can join to share their experiences, connect with others, ask questions and perhaps come up with solutions. With links to an educational and informative blog, as well as offering information on other European wide citizen science projects such as the Edible Plant Database, the forum offers us all an opportunity to connect and help one another.

3 Ways to Be a SenseAble GROWer in a Changing Climate

No. 3 Sign Up for the MOOCS – Massive Online Open Courses

The free MOOCS give everyone an opportunity to develop their knowledge and skills on soil and growing for food, while taking practical steps to preserve the soil for future generations. The GROW observatory courses, affiliated with the University of Dundee in Scotland, are for any scale of food grower – from back garden to commercial. You can sign up now to be alerted when the next course is about to begin.

Soil is home to billions of living microorganisms that help to provide the growing conditions for our food. Taking more than 500 years to make two centimeters of topsoil, it’s essential that we learn as much as we can about it and practice regenerative land practices.

Are you in? Contact me if you’re interested in placing soil moisture sensors in your soil or visit The GROW Observatory and sign up for their newsletter for more information about the various missions. Whatever you do, don’t delay. We need healthy soil to grow great food! We absolutely need to gain a better understanding of it and stop treating it like dirt.



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
  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?


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.


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.


The Wellwood Centre and The Story So Far…

December 4, 2017
The Wellwood Centre and The Story So Far...

Pat and Mary Gaynor. Image courtesy of The Wellwood Centre

The Wellwood Centre

Last year I attended a silent meditation and mindfulness weekend at The Wellwood Centre, a holistic enterprise close to Bagenalstown in County Carlow and just a few miles down the road from Greenside Up. During the past year I’ve been back to visit a few times for acupuncture, iridology, an herbal treatment, as well as attended a couple of vegan cookery courses where health and well-being were paramount but fun and roaring laughter stole the day. The Wellwood Centre is such a pleasure to be in. No matter what time of year, it’s an oasis of calm and tranquility, so much so I’ve been keen to share the story of Pat and Mary Gaynor, the creators and managers of the enterprise, ever since.

Carlow’s Hidden Gem

The Wellwood Centre. The Story So Far...The Wellwood Centre is set in just over eight acres of landscaped gardens and it’s already caught the eye of local people. A year after opening the doors of the refurbished warehouse, Pat and Mary picked up the Chamber of Commerce 2017 Carlow’s Hidden Gem Award, placing The Wellwood Centre firmly on the Carlow map.  

I’m going to jump straight in there. You’re both heading towards an age where most people are thinking about retiring. What made you decide to leave the industrial paint business, return to education and start a new enterprise instead of putting your feet up?  

Mary: Because we had the place and the privilege to be able to return to education, to pursue careers we loved. It felt decadent having an eight acre garden with just the two of us here once the original business had moved to Carlow and the kids had grown and moved out. We weren’t ready for retirement, we wanted to extend our working lives but with more chosen careers. The paint business was there to provide a living but it wasn’t really a career that we pursued, it was more something that evolved for us and allowed us to provide for our kids. Once they had moved out, we had the time and we both wanted to learn more. We’ve now handed the paint business over to our children so they can provide for their own families. They’ve moved the business to Carlow which left us free to make-over the empty store.

The Wellwood Centre. The Story So Far...

Friday Morning Class. Image courtesy The Wellwood Centre

The Wellwood Centre has just passed its first birthday. What courses and workshops have you held so far?

Pat and Mary: We’ve held courses in Mindfulness, Yoga, Tai Chi, The Chakra Alexander Technique, Chakra Dance, Teaching Traditional Chinese Medicine (updating your skills for acupuncture) Reiki 1 and 2, Fun Day (soul retreat), garden visits by appointment, corporate days, active retirement groups (drumming day, yoga) and healthy cookery classes.

We currently have nine therapists on board, including Karen Comerford, Mary & Pat Gaynor, Deirdre Germaine, Timothy Guidera, Catriona Mulhall, Helena O’ Donnell, Jacinta O’Rourke, Carmen del Pozo. We can offer anything from Acupuncture, Counselling and Psychotherapy, Reiki, Reflexology, Iridology, Aromatherapy Massage, Indian Head Massage, Shiatsu Massage and Thai Healing Massage, Cranial Sacral Therapy, and Herbal Medicine.

The Wellwood Centre is such a calm place and both the centre and gardens are beautifully designed. Did you bring in a team of designers and architects in or did you do it yourselves?

Mary: We started with a garden architect, Bernadette Doran from Kilmuckeridge. She designed the overview of the garden and told us where to site the house and the (paint) store. The first thing we did was plant 4,000 forestry trees, they were the cheapest and we were able to access a grant for them.

The Wellwood Centre - The Story So Far...

Aerial View of The Wellwood Centre. Image Courtesy of The Wellwood Centre.

In 2007 Diarmuid Gavin came on board with his “I Want a Garden” series and added Jerry Hall at the back of the house. Jerry helped to screen the new motorway but primarily added a touch of magic to the garden. Emer MacDonald designed the old ruin and solar dome garden and of course you Dee, came in and designed the planting plan for the medicinal, tea, aromatherapy and edible herb garden. We used an architect for the building change of use, Patrick Weafer and we added all the finishing touches.

Who’s the cook in the family? I really enjoyed attending two of your recent vegan cookery classes Pat, both ably assisted by Mary and your son Aaron. Do you follow a vegan diet yourselves?

The Wellwood Centre. The Story So Far...Pat: Mary is an excellent cook but she multi tasks, she hasn’t the patience. Mary: Pat loves cooking and with a bottle of O’Hara’s beer he’s very happy. Pat: We’ve changed our diets over the years, always evolving. We tried vegan for a while and are now introducing a little bit of meat and oily fish as we can see the benefits. We’ve reduced our meat considerably over the years, and are now balancing it. I add meat to flavour the dish rather than to be the main component.

Pat, it was an absolute pleasure to be involved in the design of your herb garden. Have you always had an interest in herbalism?

Pretty much. I was into wild plants and had a collection in my late teens and early twenties. The interest was reinvigorated after I attended an acupuncture course. I realised that acupuncture and herbs were a good combination so undertook a four-year course and now have a Licentiate in Master Herbalism from the Irish School of Herbal Medicine.  I became interested in Western plants rather than Chinese: local plants for local problems, though they can cross over. For instance, Horny Goat Herb is a Chinese herbal remedy that can be used for erectile dysfunction.

The Wellwood Centre. The Story So Far...

Milk Thistle (Silybum Mariabum) growing at The Wellwood Centre

Mary, I know you’ve recently qualified as a psychotherapist after studying for four years. Do you specialise in certain areas?

In this area of work, Psychotherapists are often referred to as ‘the wounded healers’ and I suppose the issues surrounding adoption and the ever unfolding horrors of Mother & Baby Home’s and the fallout from that, is close to my heart. However, I work with what is presented to me, bereavement and loss, anxiety and depression, relationship problems as well as stress which seems to be endemic at the moment. I am an Humanistic & Integrative psychotherapist, working according to the ethics of IAHIP,  but I also incorporate mindfulness and CBT techniques as there is a big demand for both.

You’re very much a husband and wife team. Any tips for the rest of us in making that work?

Pat: We challenge each other all the time but don’t take anything personally. Men, go sort out that cave! Get out of it, and start talking to one another. It’s not easy, we have to keep working at it. There’s a great book that sums it all up: Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, it’s so true! Oh and of course, Mary thinks she’s always right (she always fecking is).

What’s next for the Wellwood Centre?

Pat and Mary: We will keep developing it, adding more courses. Karen is relatively new to The Wellwood Centre and she works with chronic pain as well as with exam students and their parents who are suffering stress during the study time.  Mindfulness is used as part of the tool kit in stress reduction and for chronic pain. We have some new massage therapists with fantastic background training. Carmen gives Shiatsu massage, but also specialises in Japanese facial lifting techniques and she teaches you how to continue this at home. Forget the Botox and experience this! It’s amazing.

Mary and Helena are busy and  really enjoying the psychotherapy. Pat is writing a dissertation on natural ways to help fertility which includes acupuncture, herbal medicine and diet. Currently it feels like we’re crashing a nut with a sledgehammer in trying to deal with fertility issues. However, in herbal medicine, small changes can have a big effect without major ramifications. For instance, from a traditional Chinese perspective, the biggest reason for low fertility is a cold uterus, so just working on that can help. Swapping from salads to hot foods, wearing more clothes will help to warm up the body and hence the reproductive system.

We’ve started to offer alternative healthy hen parties, as well and we are able to design health and well-being packages to suit.  The studio in the centre is open for AirBnB guests and the recent Charity garden open day was so successful for the Carlow Homecare Team that we plan to offer more of those.  The gardens are open by prior arrangement and are free for people to wander around if they’re using the centre for treatments.

You can find out more about The Wellwood Centre on their website, or keep an eye out on the Facebook page for updates on events and courses. Maybe I’ll see you there!



Social Enterprise: 10 Examples in Horticulture

November 10, 2017


“A social enterprise is like any other business. It works to deliver goods and services to make a profit. The difference is, it is driven by social and environmental purposes and any profit that is made is reinvested towards achieving those purposes.”

Recently I was invited by the Waterford One World Centre to talk about social enterprise opportunities in horticulture. Several of the ten examples I’m sharing below are related to our food system. Whilst horticulture covers many areas from landscaping to nurseries, golf courses and parks, it’s food and social community gardens that have been my passion for the past eight years, and more recently market gardening, a subject I’m now studying at Kildalton Agricultural & Horticulture College.

Social Enterprise in Ireland

The FORFÁS Social Enterprise Report for Ireland published in July 2013, mentioned that there were “1,420 social enterprises, employing over 25,000 people, with a total income of around €1.4 billion”. It was also suggested that there could be over 65,000 social enterprises if the sector reached the levels set out by the ‘Europe 2020’ Strategy, leaving massive room for growth.

The FORFÁS Report describes social enterprise as“business models set up to tackle social, economic or environmental issues. While they are driven primarily by social and/or environmental motives, they engage in trading or commercial activities to pursue these objectives and produce social and community gain.”

A philanthropy study a few years ago found that social enterprises were more likely to be recession proof than other charity because they have a diverse mix of funding. They rely on commercial income but also public-sector grants and contracts as well as grant making trusts. They make significant use of volunteers.

Vegetable Farming in Ireland

According to figures published by Agriland in 2016 only 1% of Irish farms grow vegetables, which is the lowest percentage of all other Member States in the EU where the average is 12.4%. Less than 1% of Irish farms have orchards compared to an EU average of 14.6%.

Teagasc rightly argue that vegetable growing is a tough business in Ireland. They say it’s “mainly due to the pressure of supplying supermarkets and coping with the vagaries of the weather. This has resulted in a consolidation of the business with some growers leaving the industry and others scaling up to reduce costs.”

But where does that leave the consumer? In the opinion of many, with little choice. It’s a regular and common occurrence when I’m working with groups for adults to admit that they don’t recognise vegetables. They can’t believe the different flavours that arise from different varieties of the same vegetable that we’ve grown. They don’t know how to cook or prepare many of the vegetables because they’ve only been ‘fed’ the same old half-dozen. Industry is missing out.

Organic Horticulture

According to Bord Bia studies, consumer demand for organic food is increasing globally. In Sweden during 2014, demand increased by more than 40%. In Ireland, sales of fruit and vegetables make up 34% of the organic market, 70% of which are imported. However, there is little encouragement from the government to get into this business. There are no degree courses available in organic farming or horticulture in Ireland, yet as figures suggest, it is one of the major growth areas in food production.

The Value for Money Review of the Organic Farming Scheme published in 2013 by the Department of Agriculture concluded that “there is significant market demand for the produce of organic farming”.

There will always be markets for cheap imports and export led businesses, but increasingly people want and are willing to pay for Irish, organic fruit and vegetables and they are not being catered for.

This is where social enterprises in horticulture have an opportunity to work in the industry.

I recently asked a friend who runs a vegetable box scheme, “what do you do with the waste vegetables that nobody wants, I think that would kind of put me off getting into market gardening.” She laughed: “There’s no waste she said, we can’t grow enough for the demand…”

10 Social Enterprises in Horticulture – UK and Ireland


10 EXAMPLES OF SOCIAL ENTERPRISE IN HORTICULTUREWhile I was researching for this post, I came across many examples of social enterprise that have been created within the area of education. My own enterprise Greenside Up began on that basis, working to create transformative change by educating people about social food growing.

In Waterford, GIY Ireland are primarily about supporting, connecting and educating people about vegetable growing nationally and now even internationally. Ballybeg Greens began as an educational opportunity to tackle the unemployment issues that surrounded the area. The landscaping and salad and herb social enterprise that followed came from those beginnings.

The Garden School Growth Project near Marley Park offers free education to unemployed and disadvantaged people. They fund the initiative by revenue generated by fee paying customers.

Grow and Supply

In the UK, Edible Eastside in Birmingham is run by Urban Grain Social Enterprise Partnership. A former petrol station, they converted an acre of canal side land into a pop up ‘edible park’. They supply businesses and educational institutions with a space to master horticulture. They rent out raised beds, provide a cookery school and café and promote urban food production in the city. They also sell produce to restaurants in the city whose development chefs visits every week to pick flowers and herbs to garnish dishes.

Social and Therapeutic Horticulture

Growing Support in the UK tackles loneliness, social isolation, and inactivity. They deliver “social and therapeutic horticulture services” for older people. They run garden clubs, supported by trained volunteers, where older people are enabled to work together in the garden, to grow their own food and to connect with nature. Activities include sensory stimulation, exercise key muscle groups, increase social interaction and all this helps to promote a sense of purpose and achievement.

Addiction Recovery

10 EXAMPLES OF SOCIAL ENTERPRISE IN HORTICULTUREThe Severn Project outside Bristol was founded in 2010 with the aim of creating a more effective and person-centered model of drug and alcohol recovery. Beginning as a pilot on 4 acres of waste ground, clients and volunteers cleared the land and have created a thriving horticultural social enterprise that produces a variety of fruit and vegetables.


Streetscape is an award-winning social enterprise in south London. They provide apprenticeships in landscape gardening to 18-25 year olds who are long-term unemployed, helping them to build skills, experience and attributes they need to fulfill their dreams and move into and retain work.


Carraig Dulra is a family owned social enterprise dedicated to providing education, experiences and connections related to sustainable living in Wicklow. Among other things staff and volunteers often work with and set up school and community gardens and they run an OOOOBY scheme (Out of Our Own Back Yard) which facilitates a local box scheme.

10 EXAMPLES OF SOCIAL ENTERPRISE IN HORTICULTURELastly, back to a growing Irish social enterprise, OURGanic Gardens in Donegal started out as a network of community gardens and is now basing itself at home on a four-acre small holding. They’ve formed a community garden on site and when they are up and running, plan to sell through a Community Supported Agriculture scheme, with any profits made being ploughed back into that enterprise and further community projects.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

I’ve written about community supported food schemes before, often described as Social Cooperative Enterprises. CSA’s in particular can meet the needs of the community and the farmer or grower. Kevin Dudley, one of the Cloughjordan Community farm growers, mentioned that just four acres of land is all that’s needed to feed 70 families with fruit and vegetables year round. The community has a personal stake and understanding about the food that’s growing for them and the farmer can concentrate on doing the job he or she enjoys doing the most.

Growing Social Enterprise Support

Our Government is showing its commitment to social enterprise, offering supports and educational programmes to Local Area Partnerships and others. An Cosán Virtual Community College (another social enterprise) run an eight week QQI Level 6 course in Social Enterprise. There is also a new European Entrepreneurship in Food course being developed by Dr Lisa Ryan and Maria McDonagh of the GMIT Department of Natural Sciences, School of Science & Computing in Galway. The course will focus on rural communities, helping them to create and develop their own food businesses; hopefully a social enterprise element will be included within that.

The biggest reason most people mention to me for wanting to grow their own food is because they “want to know where their food comes from”. If we, as social entrepreneurs in horticulture, can find more ways to help them do that, or provide them with food that they can be assured is as cleanly and locally grown as they hope for, perhaps we can come up with new answers for addressing many of the social justice and environmental problems we are faced with today.

We can be influential in creating healthier and happier communities through social enterprise, reversing the trend towards an inward and individualistic society to one of a more connected and collaborative nature.

Now you know what they are, can you see a social enterprise opportunity in your community? Will you seize it?