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Vegetable Garden

How to (Re) Start a Vegetable Garden – Our Story on Instagram TV

May 21, 2020

How to Create a Vegetable Garden with Greenside Up

(Re) Starting a Vegetable Garden

The COVID-19 global pandemic has been many things to many people bringing trauma, pain and heartbreak but also space and time for reflection as the world slows down. There’s not a day gone by during the past three months when we haven’t felt blessed to be living in the countryside, forgetful of the many inconveniences that can dwell alongside it. Living miles from anywhere yet with a garden, albeit one that had become overgrown and unkempt from almost three years of neglect, has helped our mental health considerably during these difficult times.

How to Create a Vegetable Garden with Greenside Up

Encouraging biodiversity

On the 11th March 2020, as for many of us living in Ireland around that time, our world changed. All of my work stopped for the foreseeable future in what was to be my busiest year to date. Five of us were living under the same roof again and as parents, not only did we have our own worries and concerns to deal with, but had to consider how a lock-in might affect our three offspring as all their physical social contacts were cut.

New Skills

Luckily we had saved for and planned to make changes to our garden this year which included an entertainment area. As soon as it became apparent that garden centres and hardware stores were about to close and that fresh food shortages might develop, we threw ourselves into the work. I was able to use the new garden design skills I’d learnt in the part-time Advanced Landscaping course that I finished remotely in April. I also drew upon the personal experience gained of needing a low maintenance vegetable garden, and ensured we planned our space more efficiently whilst allowing habitats for biodiversity. Unexpectedly the kids got involved and helped to create new areas that far exceeded our own visions for relaxation.

During this unexpected time at home, I’ve had the opportunity to pull all my recent years of learnings together and in doing so, I’ve been sharing them on my new Instagram TV channel with the idea that I can continue to educate remotely and hopefully help some of you. Unfortunately I don’t have the video editing skills for fancy how to video’s, nor the broadband to allow for Zoom or live screenings, but Instagram TV gave me the opportunity, usually to film in one take, what’s been going on in our garden, warts and all.

All work, no play

It seems ironic that my hobby of growing vegetables at home, which turned into a working passion where I could help others start their own vegetable garden, became a monster that took me away from our own haven, where not a single seed was sown.

On the one hand I’d be talking to groups about the importance of not loosing life skills, of growing and buying local food and of food security, and on the other, was lucky to spend an hour or two outside a week at home cutting the grass. COVID-19 has changed that. It has given us time to reconnect, rethink and refresh.

I am thankful every day, not only that my friends and family have managed to keep their health, but to have had the time to spend in our garden and make the changes that were necessary. I hope that you have found the rewards that gardening and nature can bring too.

The following links to a sample of several videos I’ve made that you can find on Instagram. You don’t need an account to view them. If you’ve been thinking of creating a vegetable garden, or are looking for some tips and ideas on growing vegetables, I hope they’ll be of help. You can find the full series here, but in the meantime, here’s a few tasters.

How to Design a Vegetable Garden

I began with a practical session on How to Design a Vegetable Garden where I shared tips about how we planned to turn our lawn into a raised vegetable bed garden. There are more videos in the series that share how we did that, including the costings, soil and wood used.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Dee talks you through the process she uses to plan and design her raised bed garden

A post shared by Dee Sewell | Greensideup.ie (@greensideupveg) on

How to Plan a Polytunnel Garden

This was followed by a mixture of short films that covered the almost overwhelming job of reclaiming the soil in our freshly covered polytunnel. Thank goodness I’d bought the new polythene back in the autumn from Highbank, even though I was cursing that we didn’t have time then to put it on the hoops back then.

How to Build a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden

The film clips moved onto the front lawn where we installed the raised beds, planned for in the design video above. Although most vegetables are now planted and sown into the beds, we’re not finished yet as we still plan to cover the surrounding lawn with stones when funds allow, completely ridding ourselves of the patchy grass and its continual mowing regime.

How to Grow Courgettes

As the garden comes to life and seeds are being sown, I’ve started to include timely ‘How to’ guides for growing vegetables using techniques that have worked for me. For instance I recently planted courgettes in the polytunnel, saving some for outdoors.

There have been introductions to the various family members here, feathered and furry and how they will help to add organic matter to the vegetable garden in the months to come.

I’ve added some garden tours that follow the progress across all the areas. The most recent is a new Forest Bathing area in the little woodland on the property (or a potential Rave in the Woods once restrictions ease!)

During the past three months we’ve built raised beds, covered and filled the polytunnel, started to make a duck pond, cleared derelict buildings and made a garden bar. We’ve created a tranquil space in the woodland and made lazy beds for the potatoes in our one acre plot, we’ve sown seeds, transplanted plants, hardened them off, planted and pruned. The work is ongoing and I plan to continue with the videos over the coming months.

If you have an opportunity to watch all or any of the clips or have any questions or concerns in relation to creating a new vegetable garden please leave a comment. If you’d like to share how you’ve managed to get by during and if the garden or nature has helped, we’d love to hear from you. In the meantime #staysafe

Forest Bathing At Greenside Up

Vegetable Garden

A Beginner’s Guide to Organic Matter

March 1, 2020

Beginners Guide to Soil

A Beginner’s Guide to Organic Matter

When I started growing food in the earth as opposed to container gardening, one of my first conundrums was how to treat the soil. I  remember gazing around, thinking that if I’m taking plants out, surely I must have to put something back in. But I didn’t know how much or what. Everything I read pointed to adding fertilisers, (chicken pellets, blood, fish and bone etc.,) but they fed the plants: add this for extra nitrogen for your cabbages or that for potassium for your tomatoes. What about the soil? I knew that worms were great, but what should I be adding to keep them happy? Alongside that, magazines were talking about organic matter, manure, soil conditioners and compost as if I knew what they were talking about. I didn’t.

Hoping to learn more about soil was a primary reason that I enrolled as a mature student to study horticulture.  As it transpired, soil science was the module I had to work the hardest to get to grips with given its ions, cations and anions. Chemistry was a  subject I’d barely looked at 30 plus years ago, never mind one I’d be tested on in middle age. I almost quit on the first day.

Thanks to technology, we’re learning more than ever about the complex world that lives below our feet. We’re finding that it’s the millions of microbes, fungi, nematodes and their associations within the soil that are so beneficial, how they communicate, live and get along with one another. Feed the soil and the soil will feed the plants. As a result, no dig and no till methods of soil care are becoming popular as they cause the least upheaval to this microscopic world. Matthew Wallenstein, associate professor and director of the Innovation Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Colorado State University, wrote a piece for The Conversation about feeding the microbes which is worth a look at.

If, like me, you’ve ever wondered what the common terms are in relation to organic matter (OM), you might find the following guide helpful. In no particular order and with links and tips to some interesting videos and slideshows I’ll be looking at:

  • Organic matter
  • Soil conditioners or improvers
  • Compost
  • Garden compost
  • Well rotted manure
  • Leaf mould
  • Green manure and cover crops
  • Humus
  • Mulch
  • Top soil, sub soil and soil horizons
  • and a brief foray into soil structure and texture.

I hope this helps to dispel some of the confusion. Adding well-rotted organic matter to soil is a more holistic and sustainable approach to gardening and one of the underlying principles of ‘organic’ growing methods.

Soil most definitely matters! https://t.co/UcbFBEn3y8

Organic Matter

One of the simplest definitions for OM is that it’s something that was once alive. Organic matter is derived from a living thing. Whether that’s us, farmyard manure, twigs or leaves, over time the materials will rot down to become organic matter. When gardeners talk about adding organic matter, they can mean anything from garden compost, animal manures and leaf mould, to the remains of plants that have been planted as cover crops (green manures), as well as some soil conditioners.

OM adds nutrients to the soil that will feed the plants, and organic materials that will feed the soil microorganisms. It’s great for soil structure. No matter what soil you have, clay, loam, peat or sand, organic matter helps to break it up, increase drainage or improve porosity, allows oxygen to move around and plant roots to find water and nutrients. Organic matter also prevents the erosion of top soil, protecting it from the elements.

Soil Conditioners or Improvers

Soil conditioners or improvers can be made from organic material that is added to the soil to improve plant growth and soil health such as organic matter above, or fertilisers. Examples include compost, manure, coir, green manures and peat. Soil conditioners can also include inorganic minerals such as clay, sand, lime or silt and some can adjust the soil pH.

Just like ourselves who need proteins, carbs and vitamins to keep our bodies functioning healthily, several nutrients are necessary for plants to grow and fight off pests and diseases. The major elements they need in various quantities depending upon the plant include Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P), Potash(K), Sulphur (S), Calcium (Ca) and Magnesium (Mg) and the trace or minor elements essential for plant growth but in much smaller quantities include Baron (B), Manganese (Mn), Molybdenum (Mo), Copper (Cu), Zinc (Zn), Iron (Fe), Chlorine (Cl) and Nickel (Ni).

Seaweed is one example of a soil improver that contains all of these elements in abundance. It can be dug in or added as a mulch. Stephen Alexander from Teagasc lists in detail the nutrients required for all common vegetables in his publication A Guide to Vegetable Growing.

Organic growers apply regular applications of organic matter, toping up with organic fertilisers to feed the soil when necessary.

You can find a more detailed explanation about the differences in this slide share from Dr Radhey Shyam below:

Soil conditioners and amendments from Mahtab Rashid

Compost

Compost is a synthetic manure that can be made from various amounts of decomposing organic matter, fertilisers and soil. Usually sold in bags, some composts contain top soil, most contain peat, despite the knowledge that the later is not a sustainable source of organic matter. Peat bogs take hundreds of years to create and are fantastic carbon sinks. Its extraction releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, a major greenhouse gas.

If you’re planning to garden under strict organic guidelines, avoid using store bought compost unless it carries a symbol to say that it’s organically certified. Some manufacturers are misguiding shoppers by printing ‘organic compost’ on their bags. It may have been derived from an organic base, but unless certified, compost is not ‘organic’ as we think of it and you’re wasting money buying organic seeds to plant into it. Research your source carefully.

Garden Compost

Composting your own waste materials is a great way of creating organic matter that will add nutrients to your soil and help with soil structure. If you’re planning to start composting this year, or you’d like some tips on how to do it better, head over to Stop Food Waste for more information. The image in the top photo is of our own home made garden compost made from uncooked kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, grass clippings, animal bedding, twigs and garden waste. It took over a year to make but felt great to be making our own and the soil benefits immensely from its addition.

Biology of Composting

Well-Rotted Manure

Is what it says on the tin. Manure primarily derived from herbivores: cattle, horse and poultry that’s been left to rot until it no longer smells or resembles it’s original form. Do not use manure from meat eaters (dogs etc) as it can contain harmful bacteria. It takes three months to a year or more for manure to rot down sufficiently for garden use depending upon the type and heat of the pile. If the manure is too fresh when you add it, it can harm the roots and microorganisms within the soil. Be careful where you source the manure from too. The chemical aminopyralid hit the headlines in recent years when it was found that residues could pass through animals in sufficient quantities to cause damage to many crops.

Take a look at the Greenside Up IGTV channel for a short video clip about adding animal manure to a vegetable bed.

Composting toilets are gaining in popularity but it’s advised not to use the waste on edible plants. More information can be found here.

Beginners Guide to Organic Matter

Courtesy: Stop Food Waste

Leaf Mould

Leaf mould is made by collecting leaves in the autumn, placing them in a container separate from the normal garden compost (they take longer to rot down), and patiently waiting. Different leaves can provide more nutrition or less and some take longer than others to deteriorate (anything from one to three years), but leaves are a great soil conditioner and you can make your own potting compost with them as a base. The RHS have a handy guide to leaf mould here.

A Beginner's Guide to Organic Matter

Phacelia in flower

Green Manure and Cover Crops

Cover crops or green manures are plants that have been grown specifically to protect the soil by covering it (nature tends not to leave soil bare) between crops. Usually before they flower, green manures are cut and dug in to the soil which helps with soil structure and provides food for bacteria, worms and microorganisms. They can also be cut and left on the top of the soil to act as a mulch. Cover crops are a great way of adding organic matter to soil if you don’t have ready access to compost or manures. A PDF containing some of the more popular green manures can be found here. Green manures include plants like Alfalfa, Phacelia, field beans and Hungarian grazing rye. Seeds can be brought online or from garden centres.

Humus

Humus is more than the organic matter that’s added to soil, humus includes decaying insects, animals, microbial bodies and fungus. It’s a dark organic material that builds up over time. Think of the soil beneath leaf litter in a forest to envisage humus. It’s rich, dark and earthy. It can occur naturally or is the result of a well managed compost pile.

Soil HorizonsTop Soil, Sub Soil or Soil Horizons

Soil is divided into layers known as horizons. These include: O – organic matter, A – topsoil, mostly minerals with organic matter incorporated, E – eluviated, missing in some soils, B – subsoil, where the minerals that have leached down from the higher horizons settle, C – parent material from which the soil developed, R – bedrock such as granite, limestone or sandstone that forms the parent material for some soils. If you stick a spade into the soil and dig down, you can see the different colours and textures of the horizons.

The importance of soil

It takes around 100 years to creat 2.5cm of topsoil and the majority of the world’s food is grown in this horizon. In 2015, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations published a technical summary of the World’s Soil Resources. They summarised that ” the overwhelming conclusion from the regional assessments is that the majority of the world’s soil resources are in only fair, poor or very poor condition. The most significant threats to soil function at the global scale are soil erosion, loss of SOC [soil organic carbon] and nutrient imbalance. The current outlook is for this situation to worsen unless concerted actions are taken by individuals, the private sector, governments and international organizations”. Using sustainable soil management techniques which includes adding organic matter to soil will help to reverse this trend.

Mulch

This is a layer of organic or inorganic material that sits on the top of the soil. Made from straw, compost, wood chips, dried leaves or pine needles, mulch can also be an aggregate such as pebbles, slate or stones.  Mulching adjusts the temperate of soil, insulating the ground against cold or heat, helps with moisture retention, and the spread of plant disease can be reduced by its application. More information about garden mulches can be found in this archive guest post from Jerry Day.

Soil Structure

Soil structure refers to the architecture of the soil, or the arrangement of all the particles (clay, sand, silt etc) within it. In heavily compacted soil there will be little drainage or oxygen available to plants and soil biodiversity. A more detailed explanation of the A, B, C’s of soil structure can be found in this Teagasc guide.

Soil Texture

Fun experiment to determine your soil textureSoil texture is the type of soil you have, sand, clay, peat etc. Knowing your soil texture can help you to determine what plants to grow. An example is carrots that prefer a looser, sandier soil if they’re to develop the long roots of say, an Autumn King variety. If you’re gardening in a clay soil, choose shorter or round varieties of carrot seed such as the Chantenay. Work with your soil where possible rather than fighting against it. I’ve shared a simple experiment to learn your soil texture in an archive post here.

How much Organic Matter Should I Add?

Now we’ve established what the definititons are, how much organic matter should you add? Unfortunatrely that’s a million dollar question as it depends on what gardening method you’re following and what soil you have. As a rule of thumb I use two parts top soil to one part organic matter when creating raised beds. No Dig guru Charles Dowding recommends a layer of around 15cm or 6″ of well rotted organic matter mulched on top of the soil to create a new No Dig bed. An early organic, Gardeners World presenter Geoff Hamilton used to recommend a bucket full per square yard. I aim to add around 10kg per square metre in our clay soil.

For a closer look below the soil surface, here’s a lovely short video ‘The Living Soil Beneath Our Feet’ from the California Academy of Sciences. We need to stop treating soil like dirt and look after it. Our lives may depend upon it.

If you really dig your soil or would like more information on regenerative agriculture, some great resources that include videos, podcast and peer reviewed papers can be found:

 

Vegetable Garden

Gardening for Beginners – Getting started during Spring and beyond

February 21, 2020

Gardening for Beginners

Gardening for Beginners

Are you new to growing fruit, herbs and vegetables and looking for some pointers? With ten years of blogging experience, I’ve published over 500 posts on food growing, eco tourism, the environment, mental health, family, recipes and more. With so many articles sitting on the Greenside Up website, I took the decision a few years ago to divide them into categories to help visitors find their way around, but even I find them difficult to locate at times. I’ve been told that some people enjoy looking at the recipes, others at the eco tourism and travel posts, and many at the gardening advice.

Recently I began worked with the Foróige Just Grow Waterford programme, helping families to start growing their own food at home and potentially in community garden projects across the county. During all my gardening workshops, I point people to the archived blog posts as an added resource. For instance Slugs – 15 ways to get rid of them organically never fails to become a conversation piece.

Although the posts are geared towards vegetable gardening, many of them form the basis for all gardening. Seeds are seeds and should be stored the same way whether they are flower or vegetable. Good soil is the foundation of all gardening and garden pests aren’t necessarily fussy whether they’re eating our roses or our beans.

The following links are to key articles on the blog and many are inspired by frequently asked questions from learners. It is hoped they will help you to garden more confidently, no matter what you’re sowing or growing.

How to Start a Garden

The number one tip in gardening for beginners is to plan big but start small which will allow you to see how much time you have to maintain the garden. Here’s several more links that will help to get you started.

3 Ways to Look After Your Garden Soil
3 Essentials to Help You Grow Your Own Vegetables
Annual Vegetable Planner
Composting
Fun Experiment to Help Determine Your Soil Structure
Growing Vegetables in Containers
Green Manures
How to Create a Budget Vegetable Garden
Keep An Eye on Your Seeds with a Garden Diary
Looking After the Garden in a Drought
Organic Mulch, What’s It All About?
Weeding Without Chemicals – What Are Your Options?
16 Natural Alternatives to Weedkillers and why you should use them
What does it mean when your vegetables are bolting?

Seeds and Seedlings

Many of these links are the same for flowers and vegetables – storing, caring for and sowing seeds are all the same, no matter what you want to grow.

How to Choose Vegetable Seeds – What Should I Buy?
How long will seeds last? (Vegetables and Flowers)
How to Identify Seedlings
How to choose seeds – Pinterest
How to Grow Tomato and Peppers from Seed
How to look after your seeds – make a seed tin
Making a Seed Bed
Saving seeds
Starting Seeds Indoors – How Do You Know When Its Time to Sow
Thinning Vegetables – Now’s the Time

In the Vegetable Garden

There’s lots of information on the internet about the specifics on how to grow herbs, fruit and vegetables but here’s a few of my own tips.

Best Fruit and Vegetables to Grow in the Shade
14 Vegetables to Grow in a Small Garden
Broad Beans – A Great Crop for Beginners
Growing Autumn Garlic
How to Grow Leeks
How to Grow Your Own Overwintering Onions
How to Grow Your Own Pumpkins and Save Their Seeds
How to Look After Strawberry Beds
Introducing the Stunning Rainbow Chard
Kale – A Hardy Veg and Not Just for Beginners
Lettuce – How Many Should I Plant
Potatoes – All You Need to Know To Help You Grow Your Own
Rhubarb – growing, caring for and eating
Sowing Parsnips
What do I do with my strawberry patch

Pests and Diseases in the Garden

If you want to garden organically, you’ll need to learn to tell the good guys and the bad apart. These links will help you.

Slugs – 15 Ways to Deal with them Organically
12 Beneficial Creatures We Want to See in our Gardens
12 Garden Pests in the Garden
8 Tips for Managing Potato Blight
Aphids and Greenfly
Beet Leaf Minor
Choosing Blight Resistant Potatoes
Companion planting – understanding vegetable families
Cuckoo Spit
Earthworms – 10 Facts
Gooseberry Sawfly
Green Dock Beetles
Hoverflies
How to Plan Crop Rotation in the Vegetable Garden
How to Stop Cats Pooping in the Garden
How to Treat Powdery Mildew Without Chemicals
It’s Bath Time
Leatherjackets
Red Spider Mite
How to get rid of Mealy Cabbage Aphids on your Greens without Chemicals

Gardening Undercover

If you’re thinking of buying a greenhouse or polytunnel, or looking for advice on what you can grow inside one, take a look here.

Growing Undercover – Where to Begin with Polytunnels and Greenhouses
Growing vegetables under a cloche
Polytunnels and Organic Gardening During the Autumn and Winter Months
What to Sow in a Polytunnel in February
How to Build a Plastic Bottle Greenhouse

Other Useful Links

There are many more tips on the blog aimed to help beginners in the garden. These are just a few:

14 Tips for Watering Vegetables and Seedlings
7 Jobs for the Autumn Vegetable Garden
9 Winter Gardening Jobs we can do Inside
Growing Vegetables in Junk Containers
How to Create an Herb Garden
How to Make Nettle and Comfrey Fertilizer
How to Set Up a Rainwater Irrigation System
How to Use Coffee Grounds in the Garden
Month by Month Jobs in the Vegetable Garden
Pollinator Friendly Plants for the Garden

Once you’ve started growing your own fruit, herbs or vegetables you might like to check out some recipes.

If you can’t find what you’re looking for, do get in touch. It may be lurking in the archives somewhere. If you’d like any help with other services Greenside Up can provide such as consultation and advice, garden design, talks or workshops let me know. You can find more details on the What We Do Page.

Best of luck with your gardening journey!

 

Green

Art, Can it be the Key to Helping with Environmental Grief?

December 31, 2019

As a new decade dawns, it’s an opportunity to reflect upon the past, to shake off and learn from our mistakes, to look at the challenges ahead and resolve to make positive changes. This isn’t the usual blog about contemplations or optimistic resolutions. More a reflection on the past, future and present. The next ten years are likely to be quite different to previous as the realities of climate breakdown become apparent. Unpredictable and frightening weather events, floods and droughts, food shortages and the displacement of people are all possible if the global temperature continues to rise at the speed it’s doing now. Along with that, environmental grief will become more common as we collectively mourn the loss of flora and fauna. If ever there was a time to take stock and make serious plans for the future, it is now and perhaps Art can help us with our resolve.

The past is behind, learn from it. The future is ahead, prepare for it. The present is here, live it. Anon.

The past is behind, learn from it.

I find it astonishing that leaders of my generation have ignored the philosophical and scientific predictions for the future of our planet, seemingly surprised by their authenticity. I’ve been environmentally active for over 40 years, aware of the problems associated with overpopulation since then. How could they not know this was coming? Did nobody believe Johnathon Porritt and his peers in the ’70s? Having spent the last couple of years increasingly grief stricken at the frightening legacy we’re leaving our children, I’ve found myself going through the motions of life rather than embracing it.

In August 2019, at the launch of a Special Report on Climate Change and Land by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a document produced by 107 scientists from more than 50 countries across all regions of the world, more stark warnings were provided:

World food security increasingly at risk due to ‘unprecedented’ climate change impact,

“…the rise in global temperatures, linked to increasing pressures on fertile soil, risked jeopardizing food security for the planet.
Humans affect more than 70 per cent of ice-free land and a quarter is already degraded, noted Valérie Masson-Delmotte, Co-Chair of one of three Working Groups that contributed to the bumper 1,200-page report.
“Today 500 million people live in areas that experience desertification,” she told journalists. “People living in already degraded or desertified areas are increasingly negatively affected by climate change.”

Source: https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/08/1043921

Apart from diminishing fertile soil meaning less available, nutritious food, the unprecedented weather events, food insecurity, war and civil unrest that we’re experiencing will all lead to the displacement of people as they move to seek better or safer living conditions elsewhere. Now is not the time to ignore the situation and pretend climate change is in the distant future, or for activists like myself to stick our heads in the sand and consider spending our pensions, now is the time to knuckle under and be courageous.

But that’s a difficult ask. For those of us interested in environmental issues, our algorithmic media channels bombard us minute by minute with headlines like the ones emboldened above. I spend most days with a sense of increasing panic about what’s in store for our natural world and the rest of humanity.

Whilst it’s encouraging that some politicians are taking the IPCC warnings seriously, and it’s a welcome breath of fresh air to see Greta Thunburg leading a new movement of activists, it’s not nearly enough, quick enough. Sadly, the years of inaction coupled with clear signs that climate change is accelerating faster than predicted, have resulted in an environmental heartache that many of us may, or may not realise we are experiencing.

Environmental Grief

The seven stages of grief begin with shock and denial, pain and guilt, anger and bargaining, depression, and then comes the upward turn, reconstruction and working through, acceptance, courage and hope. Are any of these ringing true for you? Once we recognise that environmental grief is a real thing, acknowledge and talk about it, and that for many there are stages to work through similar to the grief of death for loved ones, we can begin to heal.

Is Art the Answer?

County Carlow based Dr Cathy Fitgerald believes that we can do that with the help of art. She completed a PhD by Practice – ‘The Ecological Turn’ that allowed her to fully explain eco-social art practices. She believes that art has a critical role in these times, providing an immense social power to inspire communities to live differently and well.

Unexpectedly, I realised the healing powers of art when I returned to college in September to study a part-time QQI 7 Landscape Design course. This might on the outside have appeared a folly, another act of environmental denial as I crept away from the fundamentals of growing food and market gardening that I’d previously qualified in. However, losing myself in such a creative process has rekindled a love for my craft that I can now acknowledge has been flailing. Art has rekindled my sense of wonder. Not growing food in our home place didn’t happen because I was too busy, it occurred because I’ve been feeling drained with grief for the breakdown of our planet. Instead of dealing with my fears, I had allowed self destructive practices to creep in.

Irish author Donal Ryan commented at the Festival of Writing and Ideas in Borris earlier this year that “The function of art is to restore the world’s store of empathy”. I can’t speak for the world but it has been helping me to restore my own. Once we open our hearts to the stores of empathy within us, we can begin to build social connections, manage our own feelings and are more able to help others.

Art and Design in Landscapes

By learning about the history of landscape art and the principles of design, my curiosity for gardens and passion for the beauty that surrounds us has awoken. From Roman to Islamic, Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, English Landscape and the more recent styles of Gardenesque, Picturesque and Robinsonian, there is so much to wonder and admire about the processes that have shaped our landscapes, whether we’re fans of the particular designers or not.

I’m excited about reshaping our own garden after a two year hiatus, becoming mentally and physically fitter in the process. Feeding and protecting our soil, caring for the growing plants that will feed my family provides a feeling of empowerment and a symbol of hope. Simply growing food, an act of creation, can allow us to believe that we’re not helpless in the face of the coming adversity.

Art and Design in the Environmental Theatre

For the past year I’ve been volunteering with the County Carlow Environmental Network. We have achieved so much already in helping local festivals to green up their act.

For the 2020 spring season, we are working in partnership with the Visual Arts Theatre in Carlow to screen a series of uplifting, educational films addressing significant issues to do with climate change; specifically proposing solutions to move us toward a low carbon and climate resilient future. This ties in with the Visual’s continual drive to highlight environmental and sustainable practices through their arts programming.

Details will be shared on my social media channels as soon they are published but we hope to help raise awareness and provide a space where people can talk or learn about actions they can take, with the support of the collective.

Art and Design Through Gardening

There’s an inspiring community garden in North Belfast which tags itself as a public park, growing space and outdoor gallery. Peas Park has recognised that art brings new people into their garden and, combined with the biophilia effect of nature, can help with a healing process that can unite.

During 2020 I will be working with many groups, from my regulars to new, across counties Carlow and Waterford. In each of these spaces I will be encouraging them to think about and include art into their gardening programmes and to practice regenerative ways to improve their soils. In January I’ll be returning to college to study the QQI 7 Advanced Certificate in Landscape Design where the focus is on public and community spaces. I hope this will help me to continue to help others design the spaces that surround us, filling them with the wonder that gardens can bring.

The present is here, live it.

By acknowledging the past and the future, it frees our minds to enjoy the present and this can be the biggest challenge. Mindfulness. Being here, in the moment. We often start with great intentions but it’s very easy to forget to be mindful when we’re busy doing so many other things.

Isn’t it odd that we have to remind ourselves that we are alive, and should be paying attention to what’s happening in the present moment, even if it’s by the simple process of acknowledging our breathing and being aware of the subtleties that accompany that?

Accepting that the world is changing rather than worrying about how it will change, allows us to savour every wonderful part of it, whether that’s noticing the colour of a flower, the intricacies of a spider web, or climbing into a warm, dry bed at the end of each day.

The global destruction happening to our planet is out of my hands. I’m doing as much as I can in this moment of time and space to reduce my impact. To make the changes necessary to slow global warming down we need such a momentous, coming together of minds and actions that I’m no longer convinced we can do it. Kate Marvel, climate scientist and writer suggests we need courage rather than hope to face climate change.

I believe that art and nature can help us work our way towards that. I’m ready to face up to the challenges ahead of us in the next decade.

My courage is growing. Is yours?

Lifestyle

Irish Road Racing: Skerries 100

July 10, 2019

 

Skerries 100 Irish Road Racing

Road Racing Ireland Skerries 100

Where might the Skerries 100 motorbike road racing weekend fit into an eco/environment/gardening blog you might wonder? Well, as a lifestyle blog too, it seems fitting to share a passion with you that I’ve carried since I was 14: motorbikes and the scene that surrounds them.

I feel at odds with myself as someone who’s committed to environmental causes yet now sharing my enjoyment for petrol guzzling engines. But it seems more important than ever that we consciously keep life in perspective whilst in the midst of a climate breakdown, otherwise we’re in danger of burnout, turn off or total despair.

Currently, no motorsport is environmentally friendly. That said, there is a shift towards electric motorcycles and they’re worth keeping an eye on. The first MotoE™ World Cup took place on 7th July in Germany, though the almost intergalactic sound of the bikes might take some getting used to. We might have to get used to the (lack of) sound on motorbikes but for electric cars, changes are underfoot. Following a new EU regulation that came into effect on 1st July 2019, electric and hybrid vehicles with four or more wheels that want to be approved for EU road use will have to have an “Acoustic Vehicle Alert System” fitted, making a continuous sound of a least 56 decibels if the car is travelling at 20km (12 mph) or slower. For the moment, it’s not applicable to motorbikes and scooters.

You can hear the new electric Harley Davidson debut bike in the video clip below that they sent out on the Goodwood track on the 8th July. I have a feeling it’s unlikely we’ll see many mainstream electric motorbikes on Irish roads for a while, but would like to be proven wrong.

Whilst we wait for alternatives to fossil fuel transport, we still have several traditional motorcycling road racing events taking place around the country, as well as more bike races at Mondello Park. If you’re interested in supporting the Skerries 100 motorcycle road race in 2020, or any of the other Irish bike racing events, scroll down for some spectator tips.

I mentioned lifestyle, so here’s a glimpse into my motorcycling background and why, after a break of a few years, we’ve rediscovered motorbikes.

The Early Years

Road Racing Ireland Skerries 100

Check out those flairs; Dee at 16

The first bike I rode at 14 was a BSA Bantam around a motocross event in Hadleigh, Essex and from then on, I was hooked. Weekends were spent riding various borrowed bikes up and down the Dengie sea wall, until I left home. I passed my motorbike test on an XT125 aged 22, progressed to a Honda 400 four and started a bike club with a friend from work. That group became the Stonedragons MCC and the core have remained lifelong friends. For almost ten years we spent every weekend together, camping out, holidays and bike rallies, loving one another, arguing with one another, but always having the craic.

I’ve toured all of The Netherlands, most of the UK, as well as a good chunk of France travelling to and from the 24 hour Bol d’Or endurance bike race as a pillion (his were bigger and faster than mine ever were). These trips were usually fully packed with a tent and associated camping equipment strapped behind, often keeping me in place when I might doze off on the long mile-crunching journeys.

Biking is a fantastic way to view the world. I was perched on the small seat of a ZX10 when I first fell in love with Ireland, zigzagging across from Dublin to the Burren, Galway, Clare and back again. The countryside spoke to me way back then. As the sea and land mist engulfed us, leaving only a sense of what was beyond the rough and ready tarmacked roads, the ancient hills and mountains wrapped themselves around me, whispering paternal memories as they did so.

Motorcycling is one of the most exhilarating ways to travel, being buffered by wind, sun and rain, exposed to everything that nature throws at you, watching rivers, fields and loughs pass by while you’re alone with your thoughts in a personal little bubble that is your crash helmet.

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Starting Again

Fast forward several years to a time when I was living alone with my 250cc Honda Superdream in a new town in the south-east of England. I joined the local bike group and met Mr G. He was the Ipswich MAG rally secretary, I became the Colchester MAG secretary. Love blossomed amongst the bikes (or was that the beer…). Now with a different bunch of friends we rallied and camped and played cricket, until Mr G and I decided to settle down and move to Ireland. We sold four of our five motorbikes to raise money for our new life, bringing the fifth over in a box of bits. And therein our bike scene ended as we became responsible adults, rearing our three wee children.

Road Racing Ireland Skerries 100

Father and daughter 2018

Into Middle Age

Or so we thought. Once motorbikes get into your blood they stay there. After the bulk of our house renovations were complete, Mr G took out his box of bits and began to rebuild his 1976 Triumph Tiger. Still not finished, and fearing that he’d never have a bike on the road again, a couple of years ago he spotted a Triumph Tiger 995i online. He caught a plane over the Irish sea, took a train to Surrey, bought the bike and road it home in February at -2°C.

Skerries 100 Irish Motorbike Racing

Mondello Park Superbikes 2018

Now with a small camper van to transport the family, and with Mr G pacing the way on his bike, we ventured to Mondello Park for Mothers Day and the start of the Superbike series. We then tested our toes at local bike rallies without the teens and headed to Donnington in the UK with the whole family in the summer of 2018 to watch our friend Gavin Kidwell race his classic MT125 in the CRMC racing championships. Sunday’s aren’t the same unless we’re watching what is arguably the most exciting motor sport on TV, the MotoGP. As bikes return to our life, I’ve taken an interest in the small ads as I try to envisage what bike a middle aged woman might throw her leg over to travel to work.

Irish Road Racing | Skerries 100

Classic B 500 – 1000cc Irish Championship

We fell upon the Skerries 100 by accident after searching online for Irish bike and racing events that we could venture to. It didn’t take too many clicks to unearth a series of road racing meetings that take place in Ireland every year from Cookstown to Cork. This was a revelation. Neither of us have made it to the Isle of Man TT, but figure we can wait several more years now that we’ve seen the Irish road racing calendar, with 10 races scheduled for 2019 between April and September. Sadly, we were at our first Skerries in 2018 with our girls when William Dunlop had his fatal crash, a sobering weekend for all who love this sport, with thoughts immediately turning to his family and friends.

Skerries 100 Irish Road Racing

Derek Shiels, Winner of the 2019 Skerries 100

2019 Skerries 100

We returned to Skerries this year with our youngest and her friend and having been once before, had a better idea of what to expect and take along to make the most of a weekend bike festival.

Thankfully there were no serious accidents, always a relief for motorsport enthusiasts, no matter what their discipline.

We were all delighted to see Guy Martin, who lives a few miles from my folks, win the Classic B 500-1000cc Irish Championship race on his BSA Rocket 3, and with a new lap record of 92.688 mph. I couldn’t help but cry out a loud cheer as Melissa Kennedy from Enniskillen crossed the finish line in second place on her KNR Honda 250cc during race 6. One of only a couple of female racers at the Skerries 100, she was averaging around 91 mph around the short road circuit. It was a treat to watch Gary Dunlop, and all the other dedicated riders out on the track, or road, following their own passion and giving it their all.

If you’ve made it this far, and I’ve wetted your motorcycling appetite and are looking for things to do in Ireland, why not consider supporting this fantastic sport that takes place, literally, on many doorsteps. Here’s a few tips to help you get the most from it.

Skerries 100 Irish Road Racing

Samuel Kinkead rides a Drixton Honda 350cc at Skerries 100

5 Tips for Spectators of the Skerries 100 (and other) Motorcycle Road Race

1. Cost and Programme

Skerries 100 Irish Road RacingThe Skerries 100 is very well organised and great value for money. It’s been running for over 70 years in and around the area and the club have a superb team working throughout the year, as well as during the race weekend. It costs just €25 each for over 16s (Friday night through Sunday) which includes camping at the back of the paddock, wristbands and a programme. During Saturday afternoon, practice and qualifying takes place, with 10 races of different class motorbikes competing on the Sunday during 2019 between 10.30am to around about 6pm. Race commentators mentioned that the organisers, Loughshinney Motorcycle Supporters Club, have to raised over €125,000 to run the weekend racing. This is raised through sponsorship, fundraising, volunteers and ‘sponsor a bale’, something we happily did this year given the reasonable entrance fee.

2. Skerries 100 Camping and Accommodation

There are a few spots for camping as well as local accommodation providers, but we really enjoyed being in the paddocks just off the R127, soaking up the festival atmosphere. With portaloos and refreshments, everything is available on site though take ear plugs if you don’t want to be bothered by the supporter parties and motorhome generators. We took our campervan and a tent for the girls which enabled us to have a very low cost weekend as we barbequed and packed lunches up every day. Be prepared to pay up to €7.50 for two portions of chips otherwise.

Skerries 100 Ireland Road Racing

Skerries 100 Road Race Map 2019

3. Skerries 100 Road Closures

The roads close from midday Saturday, and then again all day on the Sunday so stock up with provisions. The race site is more than a good walk away from shops and town.

4. Race Day Comfort and Track Viewing

Consider taking a small stool, chair or blanket to sit on during the racing. With over seven hours of racing and breaks throughout the Sunday, it’s a long day and the scaffold grandstands that are provided around the course are dusty and unforgiving. That’s not a complaint, they provide fantastic views in safe positions. Use them.

(Derek Shiels crosses the finish line, winning the Grand Final of the 2019 Skerries 100

There are several great viewing spots around the circuit, consider checking them out on the Friday or during the breaks between practice on the Saturday. Spectators are allowed to move around between races unless long delays have been caused for various reasons. One of the races was red flagged during Skerries 100 because spectators were in a prohibited area and refused to move when the volunteer marshals asked them to. Racers and spectators had to wait for the Gardai to move them before the racing could continue. Not cool for many reasons.

Pack for all eventualities: a large umbrella for rain or sun, suncream, hats, waterproofs, cold or hot drinks, and if you’re not in biking leathers, layers. The wind can be cool coming off the Irish sea and the sun unrelenting.

You can take a slightly blurry trip around most of the 2 minute Skerries 100 track from the comfort of a car here to give you a flavour of the track:

5. Keeping Track

Grab a pen and follow the programme. If you’re new to road racing and aren’t familiar with all the racers and bikes, it will help you make sense of it all and add to the enjoyment. You can also download an app, Speedhive, that helps with lap times etc. This becomes essential when you’re watching mixed classes such as the 250 and 400 cc race.

Finally…

Most of all stay safe. These guys and gals are fast. Really fast. The winner of the 600cc Supersport race was averaging 107.24 mph on the 2.9 mile circuit. When you’re roadside, rather than sat comfortably in a grandstand, it can be difficult to watch never mind describe the bikes as they fly past on the narrow, bumpy lanes. Track safety determines where it’s likely to be safe to watch the race from, but anything can happen. Motorsport can be unpredictable.

Skerries 100

Have you and tips or thoughts to add for spending a day or weekend at an Irish motorbike event? We’d love to hear them.

Green

Pollinator Friendly Plants for Containers

May 22, 2019

Pollinator Friendly Plants for ContainersA large pollinator friendly container garden designed by Dee Sewell. Image courtesy of Carlow Local Enterprise Office

A question I’m being asked almost daily at this time of year is “what pollinator friendly plants do you recommend for my hanging baskets and window boxes?”  In order to address the queries, I’ve spent some time researching to see if there’s any new or helpful advice for us to consider. You can fine some suggestions below.

Edible Plants for Containers

Having spent the past ten years mostly concentrating on fruit, vegetables, herbs, green manures and companion planting, my initial thoughts turned to anything edible. Almost all edibles can grow in containers once there’s drainage. Container gardening can be more costly in terms of extra compost, more time consuming given the amount of watering, but you get the satisfaction of being able to walk outside and pick fruit, vegetables and herbs right outside your door, windowsill or balcony and you can move them around. Pollinator friendly edibles include:

Pollinator Friendly Plants

Bumblebee on a broad bean flower

  • Broad beans
  • Baby tomatoes
  • Dwarf runner and French beans
  • Salad leaves
  • Nasturtiums
  • Oca
  • Courgettes
  • Mangetout
  • Cucumbers
  • Flowering herbs such as lavender, thyme, rosemary, oregano, marjoram and sage.

More ideas of vegetables that will grow well in small gardens and containers can be found here.

As horticulturalists begin to turn away from years of growing flowers for people rather than insects, or perhaps try to keep us all satisfied, more pollinator friendly ornamental plants are becoming available in local garden centres which is great news for us all.

Creating a Raised Pollinator Friendly Flower Bed

I was recently asked by Carlow Town Development Forum to design a pilot flower bed in the centre of town for the launch of Carlow town’s biodiversity plan. Due to soil conditions and services below the grass, I opted for a raised bed which was beautifully enclosed in willow wattle by the talented Beth and Paul from Willow Wonder. When designing a garden plan, there are thousands of choices to consider, including natural Irish Wildflowers like those donated to the project by Sandro Cafolla of wildflowers.ie that we guerrilla planted around the nearby trees.

Pollinator Friendly Plants

Bergamot – Monarda Didyma

 

However, as a showcase garden, I decided to raise awareness of some of the beautiful herbaceous perennials that pollinators love to visit, choosing varieties of cone flowers and salvias, with a backbone of pollinator friendly evergreen plants for all year interest running throughout. Overplanted for initial impact, the idea is that the garden will be low maintenance. After the initial outlay for plants and soil, this bed will need very little maintenance over the coming years other than watering, deadheading, some light pruning and moving plants to new beds as they grow into their space and squeeze others out.

Pollinator Friendly Plant Lists

There are several resources online to help with our plant choices. Biodiversity Ireland are looking after us with their excellent pollinators.ie website and list of pollinator friendly plants, as are the Royal Horticultural Society in the UK. All of the plant genus I chose for the garden above are mentioned in these lists, with various pollinator friendly species available from local garden centres.

If you’re travelling through Carlow town and spot the pollinator friendly flower bed photographed above, or if you’re local to it and will be watching it develop over the coming months, these are the plants you’ll find there, all obtained from an Irish nursery:

Pollinator Friendly Plants in Barrack Street Garden Carlow Town

Pollinator Friendly Bedding Plants

Whilst my summer favourite bedding Impatiens (Busy Lizzie) doesn’t fall on either of the pollinator lists, thankfully the very pretty Chaenostoma also known as Bacopa does. A trailing plant that flowers from mid-June through to the end of August, this is an excellent addition to any summer container display.

Peter Cuthbert also recommends another favourite of mine in his article Summer Bedding for People and Pollinators, Bidens. We planted these annuals in containers in Castle Activation Unit one year and the hanging baskets were beautiful. Peter also mentions that adding pollinator friendly plants to traditional displays will “make a significant difference to the overall sustainability of the planting scheme”, so perhaps my Busy Lizzie’s are safe for a while longer.

Pollinator Friendly Plants

Limnanthes (poached egg flower) excellent companion flower as attracts hoverflies

One plant I can guarantee that’s a bee and hoverfly magnet is the colourful Limnanthes douglasii or poached egg plant. I scattered some seeds in the vegetable patch a few years back and it self seeded all over the place thereinafter. A container might contain it better and has the advantage of being easy to move around so that this plant that resembles its popular namesake is closer to plants that attract aphids. Hoverfly larvae are veracious eaters of aphis, making Limnanthes a win for the pollinators and their offspring. You can find more information about beneficial insects here.

Herbs for Bees

Many herb varieties are attractive, functional and pollinator friendly such as chives, lavender, rosemary, oregano and thyme. Single flower germaniums (not pelargoniums), snapdragons and fuchsia, dahlias, calendula, cosmos, agastache, salvias, calendula, asters (daisies, sunflowers and zinnias), scabious and alyssum are all attractive to pollinators and colourful too.

You might also consider having a few containers dotted around with borage, phacelia and crimson and white clover, champagne and caviar for our pollinator friends.

Many of our usual summer bedding plants have been grown for show rather than energy for our pollinators, and sadly these will have been sprayed with chemicals to keep them in top condition for retailers rather than bees. However, we can live in hope that these practices will change as we read startling headlines such as ‘how plummeting insect numbers threaten the collapse of nature.’

Pollinator Friendly Plants

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly on a chive flower

In the meantime, try growing plants from seed yourself to avoid this practice, avoid spraying with any kind of insecticide during the day (including homemade ones and preferably none at all). Choose single rather than double flowers as pollinators tend to prefer them, and make more pollinator friendly plant choices. More tips for creating pollinator friendly gardens with additional plant choices can be found in this article.

In the UK, the RHS are involved with a citizen science project called Blooms for Bees where they are asking gardeners to promote and improve gardening for bumblebees. Keep an eye out for updates and results as they come in.

Have you changed your gardening practices to encourage and help pollinators, insects, wildlife and biodiversity at large? Please share your experiences so we can all learn from them.

Food & Drink

Nettle Soup Recipe

May 12, 2019

Nettle Soup Recipe

Nettle Soup Recipe

If there’s one wild plant many would recognise it has to be the nettle, also known as stinging nettle, burn nettle, or botanically as Urtica dioica. With its soft green leaves and tiny stinging hairs that break off and release acid into the skin, nettles are difficult to avoid in gardens and the countryside.

Nettle Soup RecipeI’ve never forgotten my first nettle rash having fallen in a patch aged around 6 years old while I was playing in a nearby field; the searing pain! I didn’t think it would stop until Mum rubbed a dock leaf together in the palm of her hand, releasing juice that soothed my tormented skin. It didn’t occur to me that I’d be eating stinging nettle soup years later, made from the serrated, tender, young leaves of the nettle plant.

Multi-Use Nettles

Nettle Soup RecipeWith records dating back to the bronze age, nettles have been used in the textile and culinary worlds, as well as medicinally thanks to the plant’s powerful therapeutic applications. Back in pre-pharmaceutical days when herbs and plants were used to treat ailments, stinging nettles were used for internal haemorrhaging, as a diuretic, for jaundice, a laxative and dermatological problems including eczema. They were also used in the cloth and paper making industries up to the 12th century, and cultivated in Scandinavia and Scotland.

If you have nettles in your garden, be sure to leave a patch for the wildlife too. They provide habitats for butterflies and moths, particularly when the plants are flowering, as well as insect eating mammals such as hedgehogs, frogs and toads.

These days when I’m working with groups, I often extol the virtues of homemade fertilisers and provide a nettle tea recipe. During these sessions, older people have regaled us with childhood memories of their mammies using nettles as tonics during the early springtime, washing their family’s hair with nettle rinses or conjuring up various nettle recipes to cleanse ‘their insides’ after long, damp winters.

According to 1600’s herbalist Nicholas Culpeper “…the decoction of the leaves… or the seed… kills the worms in children, eases pain in the sides and dissolves the windiness in the spleen. The juice of the leaves, or the doctation of them, or of the root, is singularly good to wash either old, rotten, or stinking sores or fistulas and gangrenes, and such as fretting, eating or corroding, scabs, mangeness, and itch in any part of the body, as also green wounds, by washing them therewith, or applying the green herb bruised thereunto, yea, although the flesh were separated from the bones…” apparently they can be hung up to dissuade fleas from entering the home too. It might be an idea to seek an herbalist or GP rather then self-treating at home if you’ve a fistula that needs treating.

Unable to share any medicinal recipes for nettles, I can share a culinary one that we often cook at home. It’s practically free to produce so great for large crowds, contains various amounts of Vitamins A and C, as well as mineral salts including calcium, potassium, silicon, iron, manganese and sulphur.

Nettle Soup Recipe

Nettle Soup Recipe

The trickiest part of this recipe is collecting the nettles before they flower. From my experience, this is when they are at their stingiest, but that’s easily solved with a pair of long cuffed heavy duty or rubber gloves. If you’re collecting them from the wild, be careful to avoid any that might have been sprayed with herbicides and don’t use nettles that are flowering. According to Rachel Lambert, at that stage they produce microscopic rods of calcium carbonate that can interfere with kidney function.

Once picked and plunged into the hot stock, nettles lose their sting and the subsequent nettle soup only takes half an hour to prepare and cook. This lower fat recipe, where the original cream and butter have been swapped, has been inspired by our trusty New Covent Garden Food Co Book of Soups. It will provide enough nettle soup for six hungry mouths; simply double up for an inexpensive meal for a crowd.

Ingredients

25g (1oz) Sunflower oil
A finely chopped onion
400g (14oz) finely chopped and peeled potatoes
450g (1lb) freshly picked, young nettle tops
1 litre (1¾) vegetable stock
*1 tablespoon (19g) cornflower mixed with 120ml milk
Freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Variations

*The full fat version uses butter instead of olive oil and double cream instead of the cornflower mix. A vegan alternative is to mix soy milk with olive oil. Simply combine 159ml soy milk with 79ml olive oil to make 237ml.

Method

  • Cook garlic and onions gently in a covered pan without colouring.
  • Add the potatoes and nettles to the pan and cook for another two minutes or so.
  • Add the stock to the mix, pop on the lid, bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Allow to cool for a short while then puree using a hand held mixer or a liquidizer.
  • Return the liquidised soup to the saucepan, add the cornflour and milk mix and season to taste with nutmeg, salt and pepper.
  • Reheat gently.
  • Extra: we sometimes add dry roasted sunflower seeds to soups for an extra bite, or serve with a tasty bread like this variation of an irish soda bread.

Do you have any nettle tips, stories or recipes to share?

 

Sources:

Breverton’s Complete Herbal A Book of Remarkable Plants and Their Uses. Terry Breverton, Quercus, 2011
The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism. Edited by Malcolm Stuart, Guild Publishing, 1986

Green, Vegetable Garden

How to Build a Plastic Bottle Greenhouse

April 28, 2019

How to Build a Plastic Bottle Greenhouse

How to Build a Plastic Bottle Greenhouse

This is a long overdue blog post for many reasons, not least that I keep thinking I’ve already written about how to make a plastic bottle greenhouse and referring people to an imaginary article!

I’ve had the joy of working with a lovely community group over recent years. Gleann na Bearu community garden, in partnership with Carlow Youth Services, was awarded with Local Agenda 21/Carlow County Council funding to buy the materials and tools needed to make a plastic bottle greenhouse. I’d like to finally share some images and instructions with you about how we built it.

Upcycled Greenhouse

Serenity Community Garden

Serenity Community Garden

The garden needed an outdoor potting space and a greenhouse made from water and mineral bottles seemed very fitting with the upcycled/recycled theme running there. Since we began in 2011 we’ve been highlighting waste and encouraging people to think about what they use, how it might affect the environment we live in and save the budding gardeners money in the meantime.

Since its completion, the greenhouse has won Carlow’s Pride of Place Upcycle Challenge in 2017 and received many complements and visitors. However, we weren’t the first to build an upcycled greenhouse, nor I’m sure the last. I first spotted a greenhouse made from water bottles in Serenity Community Garden in Dublin, followed by another in Ballymun.

How to Build a Plastic Bottle Greenhouse

An Taisce published a ‘How to Build a Plastic Bottle Greenhouse’ pamphlet in An Gaeilge and English that we used to be able to download but I haven’t found the link so here’s an image:

How to Make a Plastic Bottle Greenhouse

Using the pamphlet as a guide and with the help of volunteers, Mr G adapted the Gleann na Bearu greenhouse to fit the space and it wasn’t an overnight job. It took several months to collect enough bottles (around 2,000 I think they mentioned) and was a fiddly job cutting the bottles to fit the bamboo poles the bottles needed to thread through. Mr G used polytunnel plastic, excess from another tunnel build, for the roof which was then covered in chicken wire to prevent neighbouring cats damaging it. He also made it so that the bottles could be replaced when the sunlight broke them down.

All in all the new greenhouse has been a big success. A couple of growing seasons later, heaps of tomatoes have been sown, grown on and planted out from the greenhouse, as well as cucumbers and other seedlings.

Unexpectedly, the plastic bottle greenhouse has added to the art that decorates the garden. “When the sunlight catches it, the bottles sparkle like a waterfall” mentioned one of the regular gardeners. “It’s a joy to have here”.

Thanks to Kilkenny Carlow ETB Adult Community Education, I’m back in the garden providing gardening classes from 1st May, 10am to 12am for 6 weeks, costing just 50 cent a week to cover the refreshments, all welcome, come and see the greenhouse yourself.