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Vegetable Garden

Fun experiment to determine your soil texture

November 23, 2021

How to do a soil texture test

How to do a Soil Texture Test

I first published this article in November 2011, but with better cameras, and a flurry of tests being undertaken this year in various community gardens, it seemed like a good time to update it.

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

Soil texture describes how soil feels. It can influence how plants grow as it affects water and nutrient efficiency. If you can identify your soil type, whether it’s clay, sand, peaty or loam, you can work with the soil you have and grow plants that prefer the growing conditions, rather than constantly fighting against them.

How to find out what your soil texture is

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

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

Shake the jar for five minutes or so (you may need help!) then leave the jar undisturbed where you can see it. After a couple of days the soil particles will settle into layers.

Reading the Results

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

As you can see from the results of this soil sample taken from a community garden and marked on the jar, a layer of sand has settled at the bottom, then a layer of silt, followed by a small layer of clay at the top.  We have estimated that this sample is 65% sand, 30% silt and 10% clay. If you follow the lines in the soil texture chart below to cross reference, you can see that the soil sample is considered sandy loam.

Soil Texture Triangle

Source: USDA Soil Texture Triangle

 

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

How to determine soil without the experiment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to improve your soil texture

You can improve your soil texture and structure by adding well-rotted organic matter. It will help to bind the particles in sandy soils and separate them in clay soils, providing space for air, water, nutrients and organisms to travel.

If you’d like to delve deeper into soils, Teagasc, the Agricultural and Food Development Authority in Ireland have produced a comprehensive soil map that you can find here.

Green

Time to Talk About Soil

September 7, 2017

Time to Talk About Soil with People 4 Soil

People 4 Soil

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

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

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

Time to Talk About Soil with People 4 Soil

What is soil?

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

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

Time to Talk About Soil with People 4 Soil

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

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

Soil History

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

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

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

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

 

Vegetable Garden

Three Ways to Protect Garden Soil

December 5, 2014

Three ways to look after garden soil

How to Look After Garden Soil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to look after garden soil

Green Manure ~ Rye

2. Keep soil covered.

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

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

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

Or better still, switch to organic gardening methods.

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

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

Symphony of the Soil from Lily Films on Vimeo.

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

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

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

Vegetable Garden

Klaus Laitenberger The Self Sufficient Garden

March 5, 2022

Interview with Klaus Laitenberger ~ The Self-Sufficient Garden

An interview with Klaus LaitenbergerI came across Klaus Laitenberger in what seems a lifetime away now. It was 15 years or so, when we finally managed to get reliable internet into our house and I could browse online instead of relying solely on books for my gardening advice.

Klaus was working at The Organic Centre in Leitrim and I remember the feeling of joy at discovering there was a place in Ireland where I could learn more about organic vegetable growing. Klaus also appeared on Garraí Glas with Síle Nic Chonaonaigh, along with Hans Wieland, also of the Organic Centre and now co-founder with his wife Gaby of Neantog Farm a kitchen garden school in County Sligo. Knowing there were people out there who were as passionate as I was about growing food without chemicals gave me great comfort and encouragement. Unbeknown, they were instrumental in helping me forge my own path in environmental and horticultural community education.

Klaus Laitenberger The Self Sufficient GardenSince then, Klaus has written four gardening books: ‘The Self-Sufficient Garden’, ‘Vegetables for the Irish Garden’, ‘Fruit and Vegetables for the Polytunnel and Greenhouse’ and ‘A Vegetable Grower’s Handbook’ which I refer my own students to.  He works as an Organic Inspector for the Organic Trust  and manages a number of private gardens.

Together with his wife, Joanna, they started a seed company, specialising in the most suited vegetable varieties for the Irish climate, as well as the most resistant and delicious ones. Klaus is a regular contributor to the BBC Gardener’s Corner and to various gardening magazines eg. The Irish Garden, Irish Independent and Irish Examiner. He also works as an organic advisor and runs gardening courses throughout the country.

I was delighted when Klaus agreed to chat with me about all things gardening and growing, and about his latest book, The Self-Sufficient Garden.

What brought you to The Organic Centre and how did you help to develop it?

I came to the Organic Centre in January 1999.  I noticed an advertisement in a UK organic growers magazine.  At that time I was running a bio-dynamic market garden in Gloucestershire and couldn’t resist the wonderful opportunity in the “beautiful and un-spoilt Co. Leitrim”.  I only found out about the rain when half the vegetable field washed away in the first month!

There was one polytunnel and two shared sheds – one for staff and the other one for 15 trainees.  Even the weekend courses were held there.  It was a wonderful pioneering phase with lots of hard work and youthful passion with wonderful trainees.

“If you can’t do anything else you should become a gardener”

Was there much interest in growing food organically in Ireland at the time, and have you noticed a change in attitude?

In 1999, the interest for organic food and gardening was just beginning.  The job as a gardener, however, was still completely undervalued.  The attitude was – “If you can’t do anything else you should become a gardener” and I was even worse – I am an organic vegetable gardener!  Luckily this attitude is quickly changing and so many young people are becoming organic market gardeners.  This is partly due to inspirational growers like Richard Perkins in Sweden, Charles Dowding in the UK and Jean Martin Fortier from Canada.

My heroes were Joy Larkcom, Eliot Coleman and Iain Tolhurst.

I also noticed in the last few years that many people are seeking a closer connection to nature and growing your own food gives a great sense of belonging.

I visited the Community Garden in Bundoran, Co. Donegal that you are involved with. What do you think are the benefits of community gardening? Do you think there should be more in Ireland?

Cooking Pumpkins in the Community

I’m still heavily involved in the community gardens/allotments in Bundoran.  We are actually currently giving an online organic gardening course there.  I do it with Sr Assumpta who is running the community gardens.  There are still spaces available if anyone would like to join.

Gardening Courses – Green Vegetable Seeds Organic Gardening Courses

I think every town should have a community garden.  It’s wonderful to see how it brings people together as a group and how a piece of land (mostly grass) can be transformed in a haven of fruitfulness and biodiversity.  A community garden can also be very productive and all participants usually bring home a large bag of fresh vegetables.

You have published several excellent books about growing food in an Irish climate, and in a polytunnel, that I often recommend. What prompted you to dig deeper with your latest book, ‘The Self-Sufficient Garden’? 

I realised that there was an increasing interest in being self-sufficient in food while at the same time Ireland becomes less and less self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables with fewer and fewer growers.  Imagine there are only around 40 commercial apple growers left.  That’s the same amount as in the village I grew up in Germany!

I also wanted to show that it doesn’t need to be a full time commitment and can be done in a day per week.  There are a number of scenarios from partial self-sufficiency to literally grow all you can eat and store.

For more information about Klaus and his work, books and courses, check out Green Vegetable Seeds. If you’re looking to try a different growing technique in your vegetable garden, you might find this video about constructing a Huegelbed of interest. It’s a great method to start a new garden plot and tidying branches away whilst storing carbon in the soil, something we’ll be trying in the Greenside Up garden.

 

Vegetable Garden

3 Essentials To Help You Grow Your Own Vegetables

March 26, 2021

3 Essentials to Help you Start in the Vegetable Garden

3 Essentials to Help You Get Started in the Vegetable Garden

Have you been planning to grow your own vegetables but haven’t started yet? Perhaps you’ve begun growing your own but aren’t sure if you’re doing the right thing? With all the good intentions in the world, sometimes it’s difficult to take the first steps or spend the time to learn more. Perhaps you’ve just been too busy to start a new project, or you simply don’t know where to begin. If that sounds familiar, here are the three most useful things I learnt when we began working in the vegetable garden that may help you to grow your own successfully.

1. Start Small

Greenside Up: What We Do

Our original vegetable garden eventually became too high maintenance

Even if you’d like to grow lots of veggies, don’t attempt to be fully self-sufficient in the first year. Plan big but start small, only clearing enough space or building enough beds to get you started.

If you clear too much land at once you may find it daunting to keep up as the weeds begin to grow. One of the busiest times of the year isn’t springtime as you might expect with all the sowing and planting, but later during the summer and autumn as you start to harvest and then have to find time to pick, preserve, pickle or freeze your produce. Starting small will allow you to see how much time you have to grow your own food and whether it’s something you’d like to do more.

We began with two beds, increasing ever year until we had 17, but that eventually got too much for us and we’ve had to resort to a smaller growing space again with raised beds for easy maintenance. Don’t be afraid to admit defeat if you’ve overstretched yourself. Learn from it.

2. It’s all about the soil

 

What we add to the soil now will repay us in produce later. As you can see in the short video clip above, fertile soil is vital to our existence. Did you know it takes 2,000 years to create just 10 cm of topsoil? We ignore it at our peril. Adding well-rotted organic matter to the soil in the form of garden compost or old farmyard manure will help to feed it with vital nutrients as well as  help with soil texture and drainage.

You can find a post here that provides a beginners guide to organic matter in more detail.

3 essentials you need to know to help you grow your own

Photo credit: organiccentre.ie

Autumn/Fall is a good time to prepare for the following year as it will allow the microbes, organisms and worms to do their job over winter, incorporating all the goodness you’ve added, back into the soil.

Don’t worry too much if you miss the opportunity to get some winter preparation done, it’s not too late to do it in the springtime. Just leave three or four weeks between preparing the soil and sowing time, which will allow weed seedlings to grow and you to remove them, a technique that’s known as a ‘stale seed bed’. Remember, don’t work the soil when it’s too wet or frozen or you can do more damage than good.

A general guide for adding organic matter is to add about one, big bucketful of well-rotted organic matter per square metre to the top of the soil. If you’re doing this in the autumn, cover with cardboard, weed membrane or black plastic and leave it be until the springtime. Once you’ve removed the cover, if you’re not following the ‘No Dig’ method of gardening, lightly fork any remaining organic matter in, before raking the surface of the soil flat.

One essential soil tip before we move onto the third point, and especially vital to remember if you’re visiting a garden or you could attract a fierce look of displeasure from the gardener: avoid walking on garden soil at all costs as over time it will damage the soil structure and compact. Soil and plants need air for healthy growth. If you have to walk on your soil, place a wooden board down first which will help to distribute your weight more evenly. You can find more soil tips here.

3. Vegetables live in families

3 essentials to help you grow your own

Garlic – a member of the Allium family

It’s generally easier for gardeners if we don’t split up and scatter our vegetables all around the beds. Where possible, plant them in their families. You may have heard of Alliums (onions, garlic, leeks) and Brassica (cabbage, kale, broccoli) but there are several other families too. Here’s a PDF of the most popular that you can print off and keep handy. If you plant vegetables in their families, they will be easier to feed, care for and protect from pests and disease. Planting vegetables in families will also help you to plan and remember where they have grown before as you move them around from year to year in what’s known as crop rotation.

There’s lots more you can learn that will help you to grow your own vegetables successfully such as figuring out what are the easiest or best vegetables to grow, the importance of keeping seeds dry, as well as pests and diseases to look out for. I’ve written several blog posts to help you in your quest to grow your own vegetables, just take a look under the Vegetable Garden Tab here.

Subscribe to the blog (above) for more timely tips.

Vegetable Garden

Gardening for Beginners – Getting started during Spring and beyond

March 22, 2021

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.

In 2019 I began worked with the Foróige Just Grow Waterford programme, helping families to start growing their own food at home and 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.

Greenside Up on YouTube

In 2021 I revisited the Greenside Up YouTube channel as a way of connecting with some of the groups that I’m unable to work with face to face. In each of the short videos, I take viewers through the steps I’m taking to grow food in my polytunnel and later, into the raised vegetable garden outside.   You can find the posts that are updated weekly here.

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?
How to Grow Your Own Food on a Balcony Garden

 

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
A Beginner’s Guide to Organic Matter
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!

 

Vegetable Garden

How to Grow Your Own Food on a Balcony Garden

January 23, 2021

How to Grow Your Own Food on a Balcony Garden

How to Grow Your Own Food on a Balcony Garden

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.

Flowers & Vegetables growing on a balcony

Photo Credit: Samantha Murray

Wind

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.

Weight

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.

Pallet Garden in GoresbridgeBalconies are covered under the Building Regulations but the boom years saw some shoddy workmanship. If you’re unsure, check with the owner or management company. In the meantime there are steps you can take to reduce the weight.

  • Choose light weight containers.
  • 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.

Fruit and Vegetables that Grow in ShadeShade & 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.

Choosing Containers

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.

Watering

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.

Lockdown Videos

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.

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.

 

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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