This time last year we were having a mini heat wave and drought followed by weeks of rain, yet here we are approaching the end of March and we still have snow forecasts! It makes you wonder what weather is in store for us for the rest of the year and how climate change will affect us all.
One thing for sure is that food prices will increase as the unpredictability of the seasons makes it increasingly difficult for farmers to grow food crops or animal grain. As a result we’ll definitely be aiming to grow as much as we can here on the Greenside Up patch and I’ll be helping as many community gardeners to grow as I can too,.
With soil temperatures so low we’ve been very limited with what we can sow outside but that worked to our advantage this week in the community garden as it meant we could prune the fruit bushes and trees. I’ve included links to the RHS guidelines on pruning and care as they’re excellent for reference.
Then we moved over to the blueberries. Two have been planted in a large container full of erricasious (doesn,t contain lime) compost.
Blueberries in Goresbridge Community Garden
We finished by tidying up the strawberries which had temporarily been planted in the herb wheel. We plan to move them again into guttering that was donated by Anne (and carried to the garden!) which will be hung up in the polytunnel once we have the plastic cut to size. (There’s a blog post here on how to look after strawberry beds.)
Lots of strong roots on the strawberry plants
Hopefully next week we’ll be sowing the onions, garlic and potatoes if we get a few dry days in between!
Bridget learnt that every tiny seed will grow into a whole head of lettuce. She sowed ten seeds today & not the packet.
We’ve been busy in Goresbridge Community Garden over the past few weeks getting ready for the growing season ahead. Fortunately we met up before Christmas and prepared the beds by clearing them of old produce, weeding then adding manure to all but the roots bed.
Cleaning the polytunnel in Goresbridge Community Garden
Last week we cleaned the polytunnel. I haven’t laughed so much in ages watching Liam get cheeky with the hose and not being able to resist the odd splash here and there! (If your greenhouse of polytunnel is in need of a wash just use phosphate free washing up liquid in warm water and a soft brush.)
Hot Peppers (after 2 weeks, heat on the left, no heat on the right)
Two weeks ago we sowed some chilli seeds from the Greenside Up Feeling Hot range. One batch were sown on a heated propagator, the second batch just left on a windowsill that doesn’t attract much sunlight. Look at the difference! Not a sign of them in two weeks on the windowsill but the ones with heated bottoms have their first true leaves now. Once the have their second set of leaves and a healthier root system, we’ll be pricking them out and placing them in pots on their own.
Liam gets the specs out for some tiny lettered seed packets!
Today we sowed lots more… Gardens Delight tomatoes, California Wonder peppers and All Green Bush Courgettes in the heated trays, then sage, rocket, sweet pea, beetroot, lettuce and spinach into modules.
Colette’s entertaining us all
We’re planning some pallet wall containers for this garden and will be filling it with all sorts of plants, as well as filling containers that you might not be expecting… watch this space to see how an old upcycled deep fat fryer fares!
If 2020 taught us anything, it was that getting outside into gardens or walking in parks and spending time immersed in nature was good for us. Seeds became almost impossible to buy as online suppliers of fruit, herbs and vegetables opened and shut their websites to cater for demand. Garden centres were busy providing online and postal services, cars gathered outside garden and forestry walks as their owners took the time to get some exercise. Gardening photos were shared across all social media channels beguiling us with their vibrancy and enthusiasts prowess.
That was all well and good for those of us who’ve been trying to encourage everyone to grow their own food or get outside for years, or who have some space to potter around. What about the folk who were stuck in apartments with tiny balconies, unable to get out and share in all the fun? It must have been very difficult to sit back and watch our enthusiasm as spring turned into summer, watching our gardens blossom from bare soil to an oasis of colour and calm.
The good news is that a balcony does not have to limit your growing experiences. With food supply chains expected to falter due to new import regulations this year might be the one to have a go at growing food, even if it’s just a few tubs of salad leaves.
In no particular order, for the next few minutes I’ll be sharing some considerations you might like to take into account if you’re wondering how to grow your own food on a balcony garden this year.
Photo Credit: Samantha Murray
Wind direction is a factor in any garden, but especially important on balconies. The wind can damage, break or blow over plants and planters and provide a ‘wind chill’ element that can freeze them half to death. Moisture can be whipped from plants leaves and compost may dry out quicker than you can sneeze.
If you have glass surrounding your balcony, it will benefit by stopping the wind in its tracks, while providing some additional warmth, acting like the side of a greenhouse. If not, you might like to consider adding a clear screen, securing your planters, choosing plants wisely, and adding a mulch on top of the compost to prevent drying.
Safety is always a priority in the garden and balconies are no exception. Ensure your balcony is capable of taking the weight of plants and planters. Think how heavy a bag of compost is then multiply it by the amount of containers you’re planning for your balcony. The weight of water will add even more of a load, especially if the containers become waterlogged.
Mix potting compost with perlite as per the instructions on the bag. Perlite is a type of volcanic rock that should be available in all garden centres.
If using large containers, don’t fill them up completely with soil. Crush some aluminium cans or food grade plastic and place in the bottom third of the container, before covering with a piece of weed proof membrane and topping up with compost. The fabric will allow water to filter through, while protecting the growing medium from the recycled materials.
Some multi purpose composts, which are ideal for for container growing, weigh more than others. Shop around and look for peat free or sustainably sourced peat where possible. Enrich Soil Solutions have a great range of products if you’re struggling to find something suitable.
Use the walls. Put up some vertical planters to take some weight off the balcony floor.
Shade & Sun
Choosing the sunniest spot to grow your fruit and vegetables is a mantra you’ll often hear but if you’re in a flat or apartment, you might not have a choice. If you are north facing with limited sunlight, there are still some vegetables you can grow. A more detailed article can be found here. South facing and you’ll have to consider shading to protect plants from being over exposed.
Balconies provide an opportunity to have a bit of fun with containers, either using upcycled household items or colourful pots from garden centres. You can find a more detailed post about container gardening here. A few tips worth considering include:
Use the largest container possible or you will have to water more often.
Unglazed Terracotta can get frost damaged.
Plastic pots can dry out as they heat up so consider irrigation.
If using upcycled materials, consider the following:
“Plastic that is safe to grow food in/with should have recycling numbers 1, 2, 4 and 5 on the bottom. Plastic with a 3 has PVC in it. In time chemicals leach out contaminating soil, which in turn contaminates the food. Styrofoam is made of plastic number 6 and has cancerous effects, Number 7 contains bisphenol A which is harmful to the behavioral growth of children.”
You can grow pretty much any plant in a container if the container is large enough and you have ensured there is suitable drainage. As mentioned, the main considerations are the direction your balcony faces and how exposed it is. Tender plants such as basil may not survive windy conditions and thyme really dislikes it too.
Variegated herbs can be slower growing, so good for containers.
Perennials should ideally be replanted in fresh compost each year which is a good time to check the roots for pests
If buying plants, choose dwarf varieties, varieties that are expensive or unusual to buy, herbs, or fruit that can be trained vertically to save space.
By its very nature, container gardening requires more watering than planting into soil or raised beds and windy conditions can add to the drying effects.
To save you popping out there twice a day with a watering can during the growing season, consider investing in a drip feed irrigation system, or stand plants on capillary matting. Look out for containers that have built in water reservoirs or stand pots in trays to catch excess water.
During the first COVID lockdown in 2020, Samantha Murray shared some videos and photo updates onto the Community Gardens Ireland Facebook Page from her Dublin balcony and has kindly given me permission to use them here. She was an inspiration to many. Take a look at one of Sam’s videos below that she published in April. You can find more on the Facebook page, including tips on some of the more unusual containers she used to start off seeds such as avocado shells.
For more garden hacks on using recycled kitchen waste to save you some money and the recycling centres from the additional waste, take a look at the Greenside Up YouTube channel here.
If you’ve figured out the best or unusual ways to grow your own food on a balcony garden and have any further tips or observations, please leave them in the comments. With more people growing their own food than ever, we’d love to hear your tips and help the communities of people growing food everywhere, no matter what their size or experience.
“I did an entry level gardening course with Dee a couple of years ago and couldn’t recommend her course enough. She knows anything there is to know about vegetable growing, is very free with her knowledge. Dee genuinely loves what she does and her enthusiasm is infectious. Her class was fabulous, engaging, fun and brimming with useful tips and hints. It truly takes the mystery out of growing your own” Siobhan Jordan, Artist and Illustrator
Gleann na Bearú Community Garden
Gleann na Bearú Community Garden began in the spring of 2015 when Dee Sewell was invited to run six weekly sessions of informal intergenerational workshops via Kilkenny Carlow Education Training Board by the Respond Housing community building manager.
The garden is located within the enclosed walls of their community centre in the heart of a Bagenalstown housing estate and for the most part, the building sits empty. However, in the evenings Carlow Regional Youth Service (CRYS) Bagenalstown Youth Project (BTP) operate a youth club for young people and it was planned that the leaders would attend the garden course and pass on any information learned to the young people.
Gleann na Bearú, February 2015
Until the garden began to be established, the young people were the only ones who had access to the 180m2 space. It was made up of an overgrown lawn, a few tables and chairs, wall art and a pile of painted tyres in the corner that youth members had planted a few bedding plants in.
During the spring of 2015, adults were invited to attend a basic gardening course for six weeks. Dee educated the group about the basics needed for a successful organic garden – crop rotation and vegetable families, weeding and pest control without chemicals as well as garden design, potting, planting and transplanting.
Respond funded four small raised beds and were so pleased with the results and feedback, they applied for another six weeks garden tuition. The informal courses attracted approximately 14 adults who met every week and from then on, further funding was provided by Kilkenny Carlow ETB and Respond housing, which continued in six-week blocks, on and off, throughout 2015.
2016 – Introducing New Stakeholders
During 2016 Respond increased their funding to provide more raised beds and in the Autumn of 2016, Carlow County Development Partnership began to support the project. During this time, Dee was invited to deliver a 30-hour horticulture programme aimed at helping adults get back to work, using the garden as their learning space but offering practical experience to help them gain confidence. The horticulture element was part of a package that included manual handling, first aid responder and a safe pass.
Since the initial ETB funding, Dee has worked and liaised with several stakeholders and material providers in this garden, including local industry (Goresbridge Woodchip, Griffith Timber, Walshes Hardware and Connolly’s hardware), to secure discounts and funding to design, build, develop, educate, tutor and encourage new people into the garden. Stakeholders and funders have included Carlow County Development Partnership, Carlow County Council Local Agenda 21, Respond Housing Association, Kilkenny Carlow ETB, Crown Paints and Carlow Youth Services.
The garden is an important part of people’s lives; apart from learning about flowers and vegetables it’s a place of laughter and friendship and of course a sense of community as its name suggests.
2017 Environmental & Community Awareness
Dee doesn’t simply cover horticultural projects in this garden. She has developed environmental and community awareness too by holding other workshops such as building green roof structures and biodiversity awareness that have attracted up to 20 people thanks to Carlow Council Local Agenda 21 funding.
In 2017, due to a fantastic team effort between all the gardeners and youth members, the garden won the first Carlow Pride of Place Upcycle Challenge for its plastic bottle greenhouse and recycled elements, and is now a showplace for environmental projects that can be considered in other gardens.
In 2017 the community garden was chosen by the Nationalist Newspaper to represent Carlow in the National Get Involved Campaign and featured in an Irish Garden edition about community gardens during 2018.
Community is About the People
However, it’s the stories of personal achievement and development that mark this garden and provide an insight into the positive effects of being in a social community garden with others. One of the reasons the garden works so well is because of the diverse nature of people in it.
One lady mentioned how the garden was helping to take her mind off her redundancy from a long-term job. Until she joined the garden she hadn’t ventured anywhere since the shock of her job loss.
Several adults attend the garden from BEAM services who support adults with additional needs. One of those participants developed the confidence to take on a woodworking course and further his education. Another long-term unemployed lady gained the confidence to begin talking and sharing her knowledge about gardening and landscaping. Her growing personal skills working alongside the BEAM members have been notable.
Finally, another young grandmother who’s been attending the garden since the beginning, who lives in the middle of the rural town and is now officially the garden’s best soup maker, summed up what being a member of the garden meant for her:
“I didn’t know how to garden until I came here, I’d never seen vegetables growing, or knew what most of them were. I didn’t really know how to cook other than the basic ham, veg and potato dinners but now I’m cooking all sorts.”
She also mentioned that the garden was the only place she meets people other than online or in her immediate family circle. Since those comments she has returned to formal education and is studying QQI level 5 horticulture, completed social enterprise training with County Carlow Development Partnership and has launched a small family business selling plants at markets.
Dee believes this garden has thrived due to the ongoing presence of one of the Carlow Youth CE support workers who has acted as a ‘gardeniser’ throughout, ensuring the gates are open every week, organising the tea and biscuits, as well as seeds, plants and compost when needed. Garden regulars know it’s open every Wednesday morning and drop throughout the year, regardless of the weather or if community education courses are running.
The multi-agency support has been tremendous given that it can take time for the benefits from projects such as this to be realised. However, the strong integration philosophy has ensured a cheerful and caring environment for the people and the plants within the garden walls, which make it a joy for those who attend.
“Innovative, creative and has a natural flair for business development” Ann-Marie Lehart, Kilkenny Leader Partnership
Gardening for Food, Health or Pollination?
Are you working in a community or organisation that is looking for some garden design pointers? Dee Sewell, qualified Landscape Designer, has worked with several clients providing ethical garden design for communities of people and pollinators, or providing herb garden planting designs for health and wellbeing.
“Help, I want to grow my own vegetables but my garden is shady. I’ve heard fruit and veg like to grow in sunny places, can I grow anything at all?”
Vegetables to grow in shade
This is one of two questions I was recently asked and it’s a good one. Most of us aren’t blessed with the perfect growing conditions and if we want to grow vegetables successfully, we have to learn to plant to suit our circumstances.
Like many of us, fruit and vegetables enjoy soaking up the light and ideally, 10 to 12 hours will give them plenty to keep them happy. Unfortunately we don’t always get what we want. The following gives tips on the best fruit and vegetables that grow in shade so if that’s the kind of garden you have, why not give some of them a go.
There are varying degrees of shade and recognising what you have in your garden is a good start in helping you to create a vegetable garden.
I’m not aware of any fruit and vegetables that will grow well in gardens that are in full shade. If you know of any then please leave a comment below. If this is all you have, you might have to give up on the vegetable growing idea and join a community garden instead! There are however, some shrubs and ferns that will happily grow without much light; take a look at the RHS list if you need some help.
Partial shade is considered anything from two to six hours without sunshine. and it can be tricky for some vegetables and great for others. The time of the day your garden receives sunlight can be an important factor too. Spinach and lettuce can go to seed quickly if they get too hot so will appreciate a bit of shade, as will coriander and chard.
Dappled shade is often caused by hedgerows or trees where the light filters through. In our own front garden, the area that receives the dappled shade is quite bright as it’s south-facing. Trimming the hedges or carefully removing a lower branch or two or even raising the canopy of the trees to allow more light in to your garden can be a great way of brightening up the area. If you’re not sure how to do this yourself, seek advice from a qualified landscaper or horticulturist.
Choosing what vegetables to grow in a shady garden
If your garden is shady on and off throughout the day, you might like to try growing large leafed vegetables such as kale and cabbage, swiss chard and spinach or lettuce and rocket, whose large leaves will soak up the sun when they see it.
Dwarf, baby or early varieties of beans, baby carrots and even some bush varieties of baby tomatoes can grow well in gardens that are sunny in the morning but shady after lunch .
If your garden is shady in the morning and then bright later on, try growing peas and runner beans that climb on vines.
Most herbs enjoy sunlight but there are several that will grow well in shade, particularly coriander which again is prone to bolting, lemon balm and other herbs in the mint family.
Fruit that originates in woodland areas such as the different currants, gooseberries, blackberries, and raspberries should produce a good crop in dappled shade.
Fruit and flowers need sunshine
If you have to consider shade in your garden, keep in mind that anything we grow for fruit and flowers needs lots of sunshine but anything we eat with leaves or roots will tolerate varying degrees of shade.
Keep up with the weeds. Plants growing nearby that we don’t need will compete for light, moisture and nutrients so if you don’t need ‘em, weed ‘em.
Start vegetable seeds in modules and then transplant the seedlings outside when they’re larger. If you have a cold frame, move the seedlings into it before planting them out into the soil which will allow them to acclimatise. Starting seedlings indoors will give them a good start in life and a better chance of growth and survival.
Give vegetables lots of space. Airflow and too much moisture can often be a problem in shady gardens so make sure there’s lots of space between plants which will cut the risk of disease.
If you’re surrounded by dark walls or fences, try brightening them up with white paint which will help reflect light around the garden. We tried this in Goresbridge Community Garden on the dull grey walls and the transformation was immediate. The light, wood chip paths helped too.
Have you tried growing fruit or vegetables in the shade? How did you get on?
If you’d like more tips about growing and cooking fruit and vegetables, sign up for the Greenside Up newsletter and you’ll receive monthly links to articles that can help you cook and grow your own more confidently and successfully.
I began blogging almost six years ago and the experience has brought me on an amazing journey. I’ve made some special friends, met a tremendous amount of talented people and learnt even more from them all.
On Thursday I received a message letting me know that the Greenside Up blog had achieved a Bronze Award for Health and Wellbeing at the Blog Awards Ireland, an honour and one I’m thankful for given that there were over 4,000 nominations, 1,800 entries and over 80,000 public votes for all the blogs.
Greenside Up Blog
The blogging scene has changed completely since I began writing and so has my blog. After its last big win, I spend a lot of time working on its layout to help you find articles and as a result, the blog has grown to encompass several categories in areas that reached out and enticed me once we begin to grow our own food.
From becoming more environmentally aware, learning about different food crops – both vegetable and animal – my involvement with community gardening, as well as sharing the ongoing love of the mountains, gardens and rivers that surround us here in Ireland; I try to give you a glimpse of an alternative life that isn’t dominated by a work to TV and sofa lifestyle. It’s difficult to measure how rich our lives have become since we embraced a more wholesome lifestyle, but as I scroll back over the posts I can’t help but notice how they’ve become a log of our ongoing quest to become more self-sufficient. From the beekeeping and pig rearing, hens and vegetables to the passion that’s grown to want to help others become more aware of nature and food from its source through community gardening.
I’ve always loved to write and blogging has enabled me to do that and I hope that even in the smallest way, it might have helped to inspire you to make, grow or visit something or somewhere yourself.
Apart from becoming an online and very public diary, blogging has enabled me to share other people’s stories.
It was a lovely surprise to meet up with fellow blogging friends I’ve met during the years who also care passionately about the importance of good quality, locally produced food. They too understand that strong communities will help us all to become more resilient and better able to cope with the challenges that climate change is likely to throw at us.
Susan (Vibrant Ireland) and Frances (The Honest Project) helping to highlight Savour Kilkenny
It’s unlikely I would have had the opportunity to tell these stories without the Greenside Up blog.
So many of us share a desire to make the world a better place and our time spent in writing, tweeting, broadcasting and photographing is usually given up for free, often at a cost to ourselves, in the hope that we can help to spread the word, share the news that real food produced by passionate people is worth the extra cent.
As I become even more involved with community garden projects, I’m not certain which direction the blog will take over the next few months. If there’s an area that I write about that you’d particularly like to read or learn more from, please let me know.
In the meantime, a huge thank you for your ongoing and continued support which is tremendously appreciated and a happy and peaceful Halloween week to you all.
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