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Vegetable Garden

A Beginner’s Guide to Organic Matter

March 1, 2020

Beginners Guide to Soil

A Beginner’s Guide to Organic Matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Organic Matter

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

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

Soil Conditioners or Improvers

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

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

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

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

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

Soil conditioners and amendments from Mahtab Rashid

Compost

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

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

Garden Compost

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

Biology of Composting

Well-Rotted Manure

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

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

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

Beginners Guide to Organic Matter

Courtesy: Stop Food Waste

Leaf Mould

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

A Beginner's Guide to Organic Matter

Phacelia in flower

Green Manure and Cover Crops

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

Humus

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

Soil HorizonsTop Soil, Sub Soil or Soil Horizons

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

The importance of soil

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

Mulch

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

Soil Structure

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

Soil Texture

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

How much Organic Matter Should I Add?

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

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

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

 

Vegetable Garden

How to Grow Vegetables in Containers

June 8, 2015
How to grow vegetables in containers

A Container Grown Vegetable Garden

Not all of us are blessed (depending upon your point of view) with lots of land to grow vegetables at home and there may not be an allotment or community garden close to you. The UK has a great scheme called Landshare created in 2009 by River Cottage where people with land share it with those who don’t, now with over 74,900 members, but it’s not something that’s really taken off here in Ireland.

You might have the space to grow your own food but not enough hours to spare, or you may feel it’s a bit of a waste of time when veg can be picked up so cheaply in supermarkets.

How to grow vegetables in containersWe all have reasons for not growing our own food but if it’s something you’ve considered having a go at but haven’t yet begun, container gardening is a good way of starting. Aside from herbs, the very first vegetables I grew were in containers in the form of runner beans, garlic and carrots.

Almost all vegetables can be grown in containers – as few or as many as suits your lifestyle and if they’re recycled pots, all the better.

In fact if you’re new to growing veg, having planters around your door, window or balcony might be all that’s needed to get the veg growing bug. Once you’ve experienced the pleasures of harvesting your own food and eating it, who knows what’ll happen next!

How to grow vegetables in containers

1. Choose your seeds well

Start with reliable, quick-growing veg that you like to eat. Many varieties of seeds are bred to grow especially well in pots and containers, so keep an eye out for them as you’re more likely to receive good results from them.

  • How to grow vegetables in containerschoose what you like to eat: rocket, radish or mixed lettuce, cherry tomatoes or baby carrots, peas or salad potatoes can easily be grown outside a sunny door.
  • Bamboo or hazel canes can be decoratively tied in your container for growing mangetout, peas or runner beans.
  • If you’re pushed for time, buy some ready grown plants from a garden centre and plant them straight into your containers for instant gratification!
  • Look out for the label CCU (Cut and Come Again), more common with varieties of lettuce. This means you can take a few leaves off each plant when you need them and not harvesting the plant.
  • Many of the vegetables suggested in the post “growing vegetables in small gardens” are also suitable for container vegetables gardens.
How to grow vegetables in containers

Greenside Up Pinterest Board – Container Gardening

2. Choose your containers

Most recycled containers are ideal for growing in as long as they’ve been thoroughly washed and cleaned out. Line them before adding compost (old pure wool jumpers or socks make perfect plant pot liners) and bare the following in mind:

“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 have PVC in them. In time chemicals leach out contaminating soil, which in turn contaminates the food. Styrofoam is made of plastic number 6 and have cancerous effects, Number 7 has bisphenol A which is harmful to the behavioural growth of children.”

A quick tip: the smaller the container, the quicker the compost will dry out, so as much fun as some of the quirky containers are that we see on Pinterest, unless you can make sure your plants will get a good water every day, try to stick to large containers.

How to grow vegetables in containers

These colourful containers really make me smile, but be prepared to water them frequently

Old tyres, baths, toilets and sinks have all been used to grow plants in. Thick plastic ‘laundry bags’ are great for growing potatoes, or brush up on your woodwork skills and you could also have a go at making your own window boxes and planters too – pallets are ideal for this purpose.

3. Drainage

Lack of drainage can cause as many problems as lack of water.

Baby bath container Serenity Community GardenWater must be able to escape in whatever you’re using so it’s important to make sure there are holes in the container that you’ve chosen to plant vegetables in. Most shop bought containers already have holes in them, or marks where you can punch the holes out. If you’re making do, you may need to make holes in your bag or container near the base (a masonry drill set at slow speed will work on earthenware, place tape on the surface before drilling).

Once you have holes in your container you can add ‘crocks’ to the base. We save all our broken cups, mugs and plates for this purpose, and are often reminded of old favourites when we clean them out again.

If you haven’t got anything broken to hand, a layer of washed gravel or chippings works well. Placing crocks over the holes will stop the compost from blocking the hole, and if you’re lucky enough to have some zinc mesh that you can cut to size, this can be placed over the holes and then the crocks added, which will help to prevent pests burrowing back into your pots.

container vegetable gardening4. Potting mix

In the past I’ve successfully grown vegetables in multipurpose compost and grow bags but being ‘soiless’ and peat based they dry out quickly and as highlighted by Gardeners World, contribute significantly to global warming. Peat free organic alternatives are now a readily available alternative which work well in containers.

Many gardeners swear by potting mixes that are John Innes based. These have been devised at the The John Innes Centre and each have different component mixes. They’re loam (soil) based with different quantities of loam, limestone and peat, depending upon their usage. So, for example, John Innes Seed Compost is for growing seedlings, and John Innes No 1 more suitable for slow-growing plants or tiny spring seedlings. No 2 is the general multi-purpose compost but No 3, a stronger mix, would be ideal for strong growers such as tomatoes, or sweet peas.

Whichever potting mix you choose or is available to you, it’s important that its fresh and disease free. Buy your compost from a supplier that has a fast turnover and when you get it home, once opened it’s recommended to store it in a plastic bag in a frost-free place. Always use fresh compost for seedlings, or they can suffer a disease called damping off (where they just flop over and die).

Why use compost and not garden soil?

Garden soil will vary in its pH (acidity/alkalinity), is likely to contain weed seeds, may container disease spores and will vary in its nutrient levels.

How to grow vegetables in containers5. Watering

Container plants will need regular watering, and if it’s a particularly hot summer that could mean up to twice a day.

There are a few things you can do to ease this burden.

Set up an irrigation system. Simple drip feed irrigation kits are now readily available, and getting cheaper every year.

  • Look out for window boxes that contain built-in reservoirs.
  • Stand plants on trays lined with capillary mats or wet sand.

How to grow vegetables in containers6. Feeding

Generally, potting mixture has enough nutrients to last a few months. However if you notice a check in growth, or you’ve planted particularly ‘hungry’ feeders in your containers, liquid seaweed is full of nutrients and trace elements and can be watered into the soil in the containers as can home-made nettle or comfrey feeds.

7. Location

Most vegetables like to grow in a sunny spot. The garden highlighted in these photos in the centre of Carlow town is a little sun trap and everything grows really well here. The great thing about container gardening is that you can move the pots to the sunniest place and leave them there – you’re not constricted in the same way you might be with a garden.

Anything else to watch out for?

8. Pests

We have a cat who LOVES to sleep in containers full of lovely, warm compost, not caring a hoot whether it has tiny little carrot seedlings growing in it! If you’ve noticed cats around your containers or beds, this post here is full of tips that might help to keep cats away.

How to Grow Vegetables in Containers

Strawberry Vine Weevil Pupae

Slugs and snails find containers attractive too. Here’s 15 ways of dealing with them organically. Another tip I heard is to smear your containers with Vaseline which apparently makes them too slippery to climb!

Just like garden soil grown vegetables, container veg can be attractive to various pests such as strawberry or vine weevils, chafer grubs and leather jackets. Supernemos are an Irish business that have developed a biological control that are able to deal effectively with them. They might seem a little pricey but believe me, if you’ve ever lost your entire strawberry crop to this little weevil, you’ll find Supernemos worth every cent.

If you’d like some more ideas on container gardening, check out the Greenside Up Pinterest board here. There’s also a board sharing some ideas for a recycled garden that you might like to look at.

Have you had any experience growing vegetables in containers? Any tips you’d like to share?

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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

Seven jobs for your autumn vegetable garden

October 2, 2014

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable garden“And all of a sudden it was autumn”

The words from the social media stream of Foxglove Lane, one of my favourite photographic blogs, captured the almost overnight change in our weather. Our wonderfully long Indian summer is coming to an end. The leaves have started to flutter down in the autumn breeze and the hedgerows are giving us hints of the glorious shades that will soon adorn the landscape in their fall displays.

In the laneways the hedge cutters are busy trimming and tidying and thankfully those around us are doing so with sharpened blades that don’t leave the branches scared, torn and naked. The hedgerows are looking trim and tidy, ready to take the weight of snow that may befall them and the regrowth that springtime will bring.

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable gardenIn our homestead Mr G has been busy clearing out sheds so he has room to cut and store firewood and make space for workshop repairs, a never-ending pastime when you live in an old, rescued farmhouse.

And the garden… I’m beginning to despair at the lack of time I’m managing to find in my own. I do know however, this is a temporary glitch, soon I’ll be able to spend some precious hours inhaling the scent of soil and vegetation, preparing the garden for winter, hopefully before the rains come.

If you’re growing vegetables and are wondering what you could be doing outside now in the autumn days to ready it for winter, here’s seven jobs you could be getting on with. I keep adding to them, this was meant to be a list of five, and of course there’s plenty more, but I might frighten myself if I begin to list them all…

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable gardenSeven Jobs in the Autumn Vegetable Garden

1. Pumpkins, Courgettes and Squash

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable gardenThe days and nights are still warm but that could change, quick as a flash. Keep a close eye on your squash plants and the weather forecast as members of the squash family are frost tender. If you haven’t already done so, cut the stems of any plants that aren’t producing fruit and stop them growing. Small fruit are unlikely to amount to anything at this stage so its sadly time to get rid of them too. It may seem harsh but it will allow the plant to put all it’s energy into developing the remaining fruit on the plant. For more information on growing, harvesting and caring for squash, the RHS have a very useful information page here.

Courgettes will be coming to the end of their season and you may have noticed some whiteness on the leaves. This is likely to be powdery mildew and can be treated by removing the worst of the infected leaves from the plant and spraying the rest with a solution of 30% milk to 70% water. Don’t forget that plants have a natural lifespan and many will be starting to die off at this stage anyway so it may just be time to let nature take her natural course.

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable garden2. Clear away dead plants and debris

Now’s a great time to get outside and clear away all the debris of plants that have finished growing. Compost anything that’s not diseased, tidy away canes and netting. Clear away dead leaves away from plants such as the brassica that will be overwintering.

3. Cover the Soil

Once you’ve cleared away all the old plants and vegetable debris from around your garden, you may be left with beds of bare soil. If you’re not planning on planting any vegetables to overwinter, it’s a good idea to cover the soil with well-rotted manure or compost then cover them with black plastic or cardboard to prevent the nutrients leaching out during the winter months and polluting water streams. This will not only feed the soil over the winter months but prevent weeds growing too.

If you don’t have access to manure or compost, most garden centres and online stores now sell green manures that can be sown and left to grow until the springtime before being dug into the soil before planting season begins again.

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable garden4. Start Collecting Leaves

Leaves are a valuable source of nutrients and will rot down to create leaf mould that will turn into a wonderful soil conditioner. It’s a good idea to keep leaves separate from your compost area. Sacks can be purchased to keep them in or make a leaf mould bin using four fence posts and some chicken wire. The Secret Garden blog explains leaf mould in more detail and why it makes sense to collect our leaves.

5. Look After Your Rhubarb Patch

I spotted some very useful tips from the Real Men Sow blog recently that will tell you how to look after your rhubarb patch in the autumn. If you haven’t done so already, stop harvesting, let the leaves die down naturally then mulch heavily with well-rotted manure. Don’t cover the crowns completely is it may encourage rot to set in. Tending to your rhubarb now will make sure you get a good crop of stalks next year.

6. Harvesting

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable gardenGrab what you can when you can! I’m pining for some time to preserve all the fruit and vegetable growing in my garden but have given up stressing about it. Berries (including hedgerow berries) can be frozen flat on trays then bagged up, ready for some quieter time during the winter months for jam and juice making. Apples can be washed, peeled, sliced and basted with lemon juice before freezing flat on trays, then bagging up. Runner beans can be blanched and frozen in handy sized bags and courgettes will keep for a while in a cool, dry shed. (Whatever would we do without a freezer?!)

7. Plant something new

Just because we’re approaching winter, doesn’t mean we can’t grow anything. Now’s the time to plant overwintering onion sets and garlic cloves. Oriental salad leaves grow well in our climate as well as winter spinach and hardy peas.

If you’d like more than seven things to get on with in the vegetable garden, check out the Garden Tips page on the tab above for a month by month guide, as well as some handy, free downloads. Oh and if you can think up any upcycling ideas for a pile of old bicycles, be sure to let me know!

Vegetable Garden

How to sow Seeds: Hot Peppers

February 27, 2013

chilli pepper & tomatoesIf you like to eat chilli peppers, hot or otherwise, you might like to grow them… there’s nothing like picking a pepper off a plant that’s been growing on your kitchen windowsill, patio, greenhouse or polytunnel for freshness and flavour!

In the Greenside Up Feeling Hot seed collection range three region’s hot peppers have been represented from the Caribbean to Asia and Mexico. February and March are the best months of the year to sow the seeds in Ireland giving the plants a long growing period to form their spicy fruit.

recycled propagatorThe following YouTube clip explains how to sow seeds, propagator use, watering, seed  depth and compost requirements as well as showing you some ideas for using recycled containers to grow the seeds in.

If you have any questions after seeing the video please leave a comment below. For more tips, hints to help you in the garden along with chilli recipes, take a look in the Feeling Hot category of blog posts.

If you sow your seeds over the next few weeks you should begin harvesting, drying or preserving them from late July to August onwards.

Green, Vegetable Garden

International Compost Awareness Week

May 6, 2012

International Compost Awareness Week begins today!

(source unknown)

I only became aware of this on the ICAW Facebook page yesterday when I read that:

“across the United States U.K., Australia, and Canada, composting advocates will be encouraging everyone to use Compost! Those who believe in the Compost Message will be planning events in their community to promote the value of compost. All types of composting events — from “do it yourself” composting in your backyard to large-scale community-wide composting — can be promoted during the week.”

International Compost Awareness Week

Lovely bins courtesy of www.organiccentre.ie

We may be a little late to get into the action this year but we could all do our bit by starting a compost heap or encouraging friends and neighbours to begin building one if they’re not currently doing so.

Local council environmental offices can point you in the direction of subsidised compost bins and are always delighted to help groups or communities with talks on composting, or you can make your own out of pallets. I wrote a post about The Stop Food Waste Campaign a while back where we were told we could save up to €1,000 a year by composting our kitchen scraps and not sending them off to the overfull landfill sites.

Compost: From this ……………………………………….to this

Home composting is one of the easiest and cheapest way of providing organic matter to your gardens – you can add anything from uncooked food, hair, newspaper and cardboard to grass clippings, wood ash and non meat-eating animal bedding (hamsters, rabbits etc). The trick is to get the mix right, just like baking a cake. Layering “browns” or carbon ingredients such as straw, newspaper etc with “greens” or nitrogen ingredients like grass, plant matter and vegetable scraps. I wont go on about the detail now however. Over on the articles page on the website there’s a free downloadable pdf HERE explaining the best way to compost.

So what do you reckon – are you composting yet or as it’s International Compost Awareness Week will this be the year you start?

 

Vegetable Garden

Guest Post: Organic Mulch ~ What’s that all about?

March 4, 2012

Organic Mulching | Guest Post for Greenside Up

When I first started gardening I often heard the terms mulching, soil conditioning, manuring, composting to name but a few and hadn’t got a clue what people were talking about. Were they different or all the same? Did they come in bags or did you make them?
My questions were endless and so I was delighted when Jerry Day offered to clarify mulching for everyone with a guest blog. Jerry has loved gardening and landscaping since he was very young. He loves to write about gardening topics and currently works for 1-800-Mulch-Pro in the U.S. helping others improve the exterior of their homes.

Types Of Organic Mulch That Can Be Used In Vegetable Gardens

Organic gardening is the process of growing flowers, ornamental plants, herbs, fruit,and vegetables without toxic chemicals or harmful pesticides. Some primary concerns for organic gardeners include pest control, soil preparation, weed control, and the preservation of garden plants. Applying an organic mulch as a layer that sits on the top of the soil is the best way to ensure a bountiful harvest throughout the season. A layer of organic mulch will adjust the temperature of garden soil as needed, eliminate fruit rot, and provide overall soil improvement. Organic mulch properly insulates the ground against cold or heat, and the spread of plant disease will be reduced.

Organic Mulch

Straw Mulch

There are several different types of organic mulch that can be used in vegetable gardens. Organic mulch is made from previously living material produced by nature. Straw, wood chips, dried leaves, and pine needles are some examples of organic mulch. The amount of mulch used in the garden will depend on the type of organic material used. If you are using stringy or coarse material like pine needles, applying several inches of mulch will bring the best results. When the growing season has come to an end, simply mix the mulch into the garden soil. This process increases the soil’s organic matter in preparation for the next season.

Gardeners can use different types of natural material for organic mulch. Dried grass clippings are ideal for many root vegetables such as radishes, carrots, and beets.

Mulch made from bark or wood chips are often used in shrubs, ornamental gardens, and garden borders.This type of mulch is not recommended for vegetable gardens. Materials like shredded leaves, hay, and straw are other types of organic mulch that can be used in vegetable gardens. For best results, only use dry materials for organic mulch. Organic mulch can be made from sawdust or shredded newspaper, these materials should also be dry before adding to garden soil.

Organic Mulch | Greenside Up

Home Made Compost

One of the most well-known types of mulch is home-made compost made from organic material. Organic compost is made from natural material and discarded food items. Gardeners can use potato peels, lobster shells, vegetable leaves, citrus peels, and eggshells for organic compost. Natural products such as pea pods, feathers, seed hulls, and peanut shells are also used. If you will be using compost as mulch,it must stay moist to encourage root growth. Cover the soil with a thin layer of compost and top it with mulch made from dried grass or shredded leaves. An extra layer of mulch will allow to stay moist, and plant roots will thrive.

Just about any kind of organic mulch can be used in a vegetable garden. After two or three planting seasons, you will know which type of organic mulch you prefer.

Do you use mulch in your garden? I liked the tip about covering the soil with home-made compost then a layer of dried grass. What do you use?

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Green

Compost – How each household could save up to €1,000 a year

January 9, 2012

Composting: How it can save you moneyIf you’re not already composting, the start of a new year is a good time to start afresh and plan to do so.

Last year I attended a very interesting seminar at the chambers given by Nuala on behalf of theStop Food Waste Campaign which, apart from giving us a free source of organic matter, explained why composting is so important. The campaign is a great initiative primarily aimed at reducing the amount of waste that goes into landfill each year, and encouraging us to think more carefully about how we shop, cook and eat.

Their website is a mine of information and well worth a look but a couple of points that were highlighted include:

  • The average person throws out the equivalent of three grown men of waste each year, 30% of which is made up of food and 7% of garden and landscaping materials.
  • One third of food that Irish households buy is wasted – the equivalent of a third of our groceries being stolen out of our shopping trolleys.
  • The average household could save up to €1,000 a year by avoiding this waste by composting.

From our own perspective I’m so glad we have chickens and dogs for the cooked food leftovers. We also keep our waste to a minimum by writing weekly shopping lists and compost as much as we can, just using a few old pallets to make a couple of containers to contain it. Those practices combined with recycling, means that our family of five produces on average one black bin bag of refuse destined for the landfill every two weeks.

Nuala highlighted a few different composting systems and I was particularly interested in the ones for smaller gardens, as I’m often asked about them.

One was a Bokashi which seems like a really handy way of composting if you don’t have a big garden but use an allotment. Wormeries are another great alternative to compost bins and heaps, especially if you don’t currently compost because you’re worried about vermin. It’s worth keeping an eye on the catalogues or in your garden centres as different products become available, such as this Earthmaker Aerobic Composter where research has shown that it will make twice as much compost as traditional bins over the same period.

If you have a few minutes, do take a couple of minutes to check out the Stop Food Waste website above.

For anybody who isn’t already composting and doesn’t have the Brown bin option for their ‘green’ waste, it was suggested that they get a small bucket with a lid and throw all their food waste into it for a week or two to see how much is thrown away.

Would you be willing to give that challenge a go?

If you’d like to know more about composting, there’s a free downloadable pdf file available in the Gardening Information and Jobs link above, giving full details on how to compost.