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Vegetable Garden

It’s Bath Time!

February 19, 2014

Bath Time

Spring Cleaning in the Vegetable Garden – There’s a Good Reason Why We Should Bother

Is there a job in the garden you try to avoid at all costs? One that has you procrastinating or ignoring altogether in the hope it will go away?

When I’m outside there’s not much I don’t enjoy, though I do like help and company when it comes to digging and sorting out the compost, but that’s as much to do with having a weak back and a fear of anything small with a long tail and sharp teeth than anything else.

My personal pet hate however, is cleaning the trays, pots and modules. Thoughts of standing at the kitchen sink, surrounded by sluggy, cobwebby then wet, drippy plastic has never filled me with joy and I’ll confess to avoiding the job altogether for a couple of years, just knocking the bits of old soil and compost out of the modules as I needed them. That was until now.

With thanks to a tip from Philippa over at Leighlinbridge Community Garden, spring cleaning the garden, and in particular washing the plant pots, just got more pleasant.  Continue Reading…


There’s a new boy in town called Dieback of Ash & it’s bought old memories flooding back

October 29, 2012

Dieback of Ash Disease – Image courtesy of

I’m veering away from my usual vegetable mutterings as I’ve recently been catching alerts about a new fungal disease that’s devastating the ash tree world called Chalara fraxinea, or more commonly known as dieback of ash disease … and it’s not good news at all.

How many of you are old enough to remember Dutch Elm disease? When I was growing up there was an avenue of beautiful old elms that lined the roadway on the long walk to the school bus. Every day we passed the elms, not giving them much thought other than the fact they were always there, come rain, hail or shine.

Elm trees

Elms: Image courtesy of

We’d kick our way through the fallen leaves in the autumn and shelter from rain showers in the summer months when caught out by sudden downpours.

Then all the elms were gone.

I’m not sure when it happened exactly, just that one day they were there, then they weren’t. We noticed the elms then, or rather the complete lack of them. The long line of trees that we’d taken for granted were no more. Instead, miles of ploughed, flat, East Anglian fields opened up to the side of us and we were completely exposed to all the weather systems that were thrown at us on that long school trudge.

I still remember my sense of loss for the elms and not just for the sheltering protection they gave us. I missed their beauty. It was perhaps the first time that I became aware of how cruel nature could be, and in particular the devastating impact a small little beetle could not only have on an entire species of tree, but for all the insects that had made their homes there and depended upon it. I wonder how many of those were lost too.

dieback of ash - chalara

Dieback of Ash Disease – Image courtesy of

And now it’s happening again. Ash trees across Europe are dying in their hundreds of thousands and all we can do is hope that the disease can be halted. In fact it’s up to each and every one of us to try to do just that. It’s been reported that Denmark has already lost 60 to 90% of its ash population to Chalara, a new fungal disease that was first spotted in Poland in 1992. News that it’s been found in a plantation in Co Leitrim may have terrible consequences – not only for our countryside but farmers and business (such as hurley makers) that depend upon ash for their livelihoods.

How do we recognise dieback of ash disease?

The Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) in the UK have published an excellent video that explains the symptoms well – even to those who don’t understand the terms they’ve used to describe the leaves, stems etc should be able to identify the disease based on this description.

What do we do if we think we spot dieback of ash disease in a tree?

Firstly don’t do anything hasty – it’s important that the disease is correctly identified before we go around cutting and burning every ash in sight. Initially we are being asked to report any sitings where there are concerns about unusual ill-health to the Forest Service, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine by email or by phoning 01 6072651.

In the meantime all imports of ash have been banned though given that this disease can be spread by the wind it may already be too late.

Whatever happens, do keep an eye on your local ash trees, do alert your friends and neighbours to this disease if they haven’t already heard about it and don’t become complacent.

I for one would hate to think that my children may grow up never seeing an ash tree in their garden, field or hedgerow, or be able to shelter from the elements under a small cluster of them as they currently do on their own wait for the school bus.

How to Identify Ash Dieback Disease

Healthy ash trees at Halloween – it’s difficult to distinguish unhealthy trees without closer inspection once the leaves have dropped in the winter months


Vegetable Garden

How to Treat Powdery Mildew Without Chemicals

September 8, 2011

Last week in the community garden polytunnel the courgettes were looking fab. I can say that with certainty as we’d closely checked all the plants following the discovery of the red spider mite (see previous post). So the last thing we were expecting this week was a fungal disease, and quite a major outbreak at that.

It’s often the way that during the first year of growing fruit and vegetables everything will perform spectacularly for you. You may be lucky the following year too, but no matter how often you wish or believe otherwise, sooner or later a pest or disease will find your plants and my experience in the Greenside Up garden has been that it will be a different pest or disease each year.
Identifying the pest or disease quickly is the key to preventing a larger, more devastating disaster and there are many books out there to help you do this.
My current favourite is The RHS Pests & Diseases by Pippa Greenwood & Andrew Halstead. It’s full of colour photographs, good descriptions and a great A-Z of pests, diseases and disorders, suggesting ways for tackling them both organically or chemically. 
So, back to the Powdery Mildew….
One of the problems of growing different fruit and vegetables undercover is that they require different growing conditions. Red spider mite doesn’t like moist, humid conditions so it’s often advised to hose down the floors and staging of greenhouses etc to create humid atmospheres… 
…. but then powdery mildew thrives where there’s humid or damp air around the top growth of leaves. This can be very confusing to any of us starting out growing our own! So what do you do???
Mildews and moulds tend to build up where there’s lack of good airflow so keep windows and doors open. Yes, spray the floors and decking if you have to, but try and avoid the water splashing the leaves of your plants.
Ensure there is adequate space around your plants, again to help with air flow and do try to keep on top of the weeding. Lastly, and I can’t emphasis it enough, be vigilant and don’t ignore something if you don’t know what it is hoping that it will go away! (Yep, I’ve done that too…) – it won’t.
Once we’d identified the Powdery Mildew we immediately removed all the badly infected leaves and bagged them up (these weren’t destined for the compost heap). Unfortunately most of the leaves on the two plants had  been affected and we couldn’t remove all of the leaves without killing the plants, so we just removed the very worst. 
An old remedy for Powdery Mildew is to spray the plants with a milk solution (300ml milk, 700ml water mixed together in a clean spray bottle). The enzymes of fresh milk will attack mildew and a stronger solution will result in a foul smell as the milk goes rancid. 
Another is to mix 5g baking soda with 1lt of water.
We didn’t have baking soda to hand but as community gardeners who enjoy the odd cup of tea and slice of tart, we could provide the milk.
Hopefully the milk will do the trick but if it doesn’t, I don’t think any of the gardeners will be too devastated…. even the most avid courgette eaters are secretly looking forward to the day they don’t have to take one home with them again ;).