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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.

Green

20 Actions Young People Can Take for Climate Action Now

March 7, 2019

20 Actions Young and Older People Can Take for Climate Action Now

It’s difficult not to miss the movement that the incredible Gretta Thunberg has ignited. This Swedish 16-year-old climate activist has helped young and old think about the future, our planet, climate change, the direction its moving in, and why it’s so important that we take action for the climate now.

Across the world, on the 15th March 2019 young people went on strike to protest about the lack of leadership from their governments and demand climate action. As Fintan O’Toole commented in the opening of his opinion piece in the Irish Times, “are we so far sunk into indolence and fatalism that we need our own children to save us?” It would seem so and for that reason among many, globally parents and guardians encouraged young people to get active and stood with them as they did so. As Gretta points out in her TED Talk, “we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction with up to 200 species going extinct every single day”. Doing nothing is not an option.

 

That said not all school children went on strike. Perhaps they didn’t understand the significance, or enough about climate change to stand up for it. As someone who’s passionate about the power of education, the day of climate action by the youth seemed a good opportunity to engage young people and their teachers. How can we help them better understand its importance? What can they, or we all do to enact change? 

Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world – Nelson Mandela

In our local secondary school, with the support of teachers, our oldest daughter and her student council colleagues organised a morning of environmental education and action instead. Choosing some of the actions points below, they helped to inform students across all six years about climate change, empowering them to ask questions for themselves. 

20 Action Points for Climate Change for Young People

The following list provides 20 climate actions in no particular order that students, green school committees, student councils, parents and teachers can do for climate action in Ireland now. If you’d like to add to the suggestions in the comments, please do.

  1. Invite the school to watch the Blue Planet Documentary. Particularly the one about the devastating effect plastics are having on the oceans, or any documentary from Sir David Attenborough where he talks about climate change and what our young people will or won’t inherit.
  2. Invite a knowledgeable speaker in to the school to talk about climate change and how it will affect future generations.
  3. Follow the Earth Day Quiz to see what impact you’re having on the planet and measure your carbon footprint.
  4. If you’re 18 or over, register to vote, ask politicians where they stand on climate change, and then use your vote.
  5. Learn about the EU Covenant for Mayors for Climate and Energy and find out what your local council are doing about it.
  6. Be aware of Ireland’s Draft National Energy and Climate Plan Submission and keep an eye on its progress.
  7. Learn about the Sustainable Development Goals and how you can carry them into your life and community.
  8. Find out if your local County Council has a biodiversity and/or heritage office in place and ask why not if not.
  9. Plant some trees (local Council’s usually have free tree saplings available in March, speak to your Environmental Office). The Tree Council of Ireland have good advice about choosing trees for the right place and how to plant trees.
  10. Write to your local elected officials and ask them what they know about climate change and what they are doing about it. There’s a handy link here that will help you to find your local TD.
  11. Become a Climate Ambassador.
  12. Ask your school debating team to discuss issues that affect climate change such as fast fashion and must-have designer goods or electronics. If you don’t have a debating team, create one.
  13. Play games! Invite your county environmental officer to the school, they might be equipped with various activities that can help students learn about energy, climate change or recycling.
  14. Climate change is happening as a result of global warming. Get the Facts.
  15. Talk to your County Council About implementing the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan. How do they plan to do it?
  16. Ask your teachers to include more information about climate change and climate action in their day-to-day lesson plans.
  17. Stand up for your planet. If you’re in transition year and thinking about a business project, don’t just think about the money. Think about how it might affect the planet and the local community.
  18. Make a submission to the Heritage Ireland 2030 plan. Our heritage includes the landscape. It’s what you will inherit. Note that the deadline for submissions is 31st March 2019.
    20 Actions Young People Can Do For Climate Action

    License: (license)

  19. Get involved in Earth Day or local campaigns about plastic pollution, protecting our species and actions on climate change. Importantly, do something! As Turlough O’Brien, Carlow County Senior Football Club said at a recent rural regeneration seminar, “You miss 100 shots you don’t take”. The resources on our planet will not last forever. Take action to protect YOUR FUTURE.
  20. Nelson Mandela said that “Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world”. Use it.

Don’t for a minute think that you can’t make a difference in the world. Statistically young people can and are doing just that. Do you feel a call to action?

 

Images:
photo credit: Nicholas Erwin Earth via photopin (license)
photo credit: ** Capo Jean-claude * <°)))) >< Les flocons de Printemps, illuminent les chemins, pour peu qu’on s’en approche assez près pour en sentir leurs subtiles essences printanières ……. via photopin (license)
photo credit: blavandmaster Mission accomplished via photopin (license

Green

Irish Seed Savers Workshop in Carlow Town

February 5, 2019

Irish Seed Savers Workshop in Carlow Town

What’s Happening with Irish Seed Savers?

On Saturday, 16th February 2019 from 10am to 3.30pm Wayne Frankham from Irish Seed Savers will be coming to Carlow town to run a workshop about saving our seeds and protecting our heritage. It will take place in An Gairdín Beo, a charitable project and community garden in the heart of Carlow town who are partnering the event. The cost for anyone participating is €10.00 each for the day. This includes refreshments, a light lunch of soup and sandwiches (vegetarian friendly) prepared by local social enterprise The Delta Centre, and the booking fee which Greenside Up has managed to absorb into the costs thanks to Carlow County Council/Local Agenda 21 funding, making this a not-for-profit event.

Pre-booking is essential due to the catering requirements and in helping Wayne prepare his material for the day; as a tutor I know the challenges involved in building a workshop that might be for 10 people or 60 people. If you’re interesting in joining us, the link to the booking site is below:

BOOK HERE

The workshop will include seed background including cultivation, culture & challenges, local & international solutions, basic botanics including classification, producing quality seed, bolting/overwintering, isolation, populations, manual handling, storage.

Why is this event with Irish Seed Savers important?

Irish Seed Savers co-ordinate the Seed Sovereignty Programme in Ireland. It’s a programme which aims to aid and promote the development of agro-ecological seed production in Ireland and the UK.

Set up by The Gaia Foundation in the UK, it works with new and established seed producers to increase consumer and producer awareness, and increase production opportunities for seed produced in the UK and Ireland.

Current figures suggest over 80% of seed is imported. Certified organic seed figures are even higher. Yet a handful of small enterprises including Real Seeds, The Seed Coop and Vital Seeds in the UK, as well as Brown Envelope Seeds, The Herb Garden and Irish Seed Savers here in Ireland, all demonstrate the diverse range of seeds which we can produce in our own environment. And they are all active in sharing their skills and encouraging more growers to produce great quality seed in our own farms and gardens.

Calendula Seed Head - ready to harvest

The programme has enabled training programmes for those wishing to diversify their commercial production to incorporate seed for own use, exchange and market. It’s a development which many growers find immensely rewarding as they engage in the full cycle of plant life. It’s not without its challenges, contending with pests, humidity and seasonal quirks and variables in weather. But with each plant generation, adaptation to regional environments occurs in each crop variety, and experience develops to share between growers.

This is a pattern which is emerging around the world. The Gaia Foundation took great inspiration from the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security who generously share their experiences online and visited the UK in 2014.

The Seed Guardian Programme from Irish Seed Savers

Here in Ireland Wayne Frankham is Seed Outreach coordinator at Irish Seed Savers. They have a dedicated network of Seed Guardians who help to expand the production capacity of the Seed Savers 20 acre farm in Clare. The Guardians have all undertaken four season Seed Saver training, with the most recent trainees beginning last November. Wayne has been visiting established Guardians, taking part in public grower and culinary events, and providing basic seed training for growers and communities, all around Ireland and the UK.

‘a food revolution starts with seed’

Why join the workshop on the 16th February?

This is a great opportunity to learn more about the trials and events touched by the Programme, as well as learning the essentials of seed saving for this and future generations. Because, as the Seed Sovereignty website says ‘a food revolution starts with seed’.

For more information about seed sovereignty and seed security look up Irish Seed Savers and see the links below, or come along to the workshop and find out more.

Seed Security Canada
Seed Sovereignty Info

 

Green

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

November 5, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Has it made a difference?

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

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

Introducing the Stojo Collapsible Cup

The Stojo

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

Introducing the Stojo Collapsable Cup

Stojo cup in a handbag

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

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

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

The IPCC report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

²Mothers of Invention Episode 3: Taking over https://www.mothersofinvention.online/takingover

³Recycling List Ireland provides a list of all the items that can be put into recycling bins. https://recyclinglistireland.ie/

Lifestyle

Dear Garden

October 15, 2018

A love letter

The learning never ends

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

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

When the optimism fades

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

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

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

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

A love letter

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

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

A love letter to my garden

Dear Garden…

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

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

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

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

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

While I worked I began to think towards the future.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dee x 

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