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Vegetable Garden

3 Essentials To Help You Grow Your Own Vegetables

March 26, 2021

3 Essentials to Help you Start in the Vegetable Garden

3 Essentials to Help You Get Started in the Vegetable Garden

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

1. Start Small

Greenside Up: What We Do

Our original vegetable garden eventually became too high maintenance

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

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

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

2. It’s all about the soil


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

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

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

Photo credit:

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

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

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

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

3. Vegetables live in families

3 essentials to help you grow your own

Garlic – a member of the Allium family

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

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

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

Community Gardens

Growing vegetables in Ballon Community Garden

March 28, 2013

Ballon Community Garden

Thanks to Carlow VEC, in a few weeks time I’ll be running a six-week practical course on growing vegetables at Ballon Community Garden.

Ballon community gardenI was delighted to be asked to tutor in this garden by Ballon Improvement Group as it encompasses so many things I’m passionate about.

Ballon community garden  GIY workshopsFor a start the village of Ballon is very community orientated. In March they won an award from Carlow Enterprise Board for Best New Green Business for a project the improvement group set up to support and fund community work in the area.

Ballon community garden  GIY workshops


Using a disused tyre premises they opened the Siopa Glas in the High Street and invited everyone to drop in their old clothes, shoes, bags, bric-a-brac and furniture. All of the money raised in the thrift shop is returned to the community in terms of funding for street lighting, workshops, tidy towns and planting schemes. The shop has proved very popular with all sorts of events operating from it. From Santa visiting at Christmas for the children, china tea parties for visiting parties or cabbage and bacon days on St Patrick’s weekend this group are nothing if not versatile! They also offer shoppers a free cup of tea and a chat in their  village emporium.

Ballon community garden  GIY workshopsThe community garden itself is at the front of the village primary school and the children are encouraged to get involved and participate. The group is very keen to link up with other community gardens too and swap seeds, plants and have exchange visits.

Ballon community garden  GIY workshopsI love the way they’ve reused the old tractor tyres, old barrels, electric cord reels and even a pre-cast tank from a nearby manufacturer of them.

All the photos in the post were taken on a crisp spring day in March where snow carpets all the nearby mountains so we’ll have a bit of work to bring the garden back to order.

Ballon community garden  GIY workshopsIf you’re interesting in coming along to the practical, hands-on workshops where I’ll be showing everyone how to grow your own fruit and vegetables without the use of chemicals, we’ll be meeting on Tuesday evenings from 7.00pm to 9.00pm for six weeks from the 7th May.

Contact Eileen Murphy on 0872273516 or Marie George on 0872424934 for more details.



Grow a Herb Garden – Operation GIY Nation

June 14, 2012

Have you grown any vegetables yet? Six families are just starting and if you’re new to the idea, why not join them by following the month-by-month projects?

GIY Ireland launched Operation GIY Nation back in April choosing six pioneer families around Ireland to have a go at growing their own as well as be in with a chance to win a prize. As complete beginners the families are being helped and advised be GIY, a charitable organisation that’s doing a great job at helping and encouraging people to grow their own food, and I was delighted to be asked to write the projects for them.

The first month – April started by sowing cress seeds.

Herb Garden

In May the families (and anyone else who wants to join in) had a go at growing their own salad bowl  and in June everyone is being asked to grow a herb garden.

So what do you think? Will you give it a go? Herbs were the very first plants that I grew in my tiny mid-terraced garden many years ago. They need very little maintenance and there’s nothing better than snipping a few fresh leaves and adding them to your cooking pot.



Bloom 2012 ~ Ireland’s Garden Festival

June 4, 2012
Bloom 2012 ~ Ireland's Garden Festival

The Greenhouse – Gold Medal Winner – Designed by Deirdre Prince & Patricia Tyrrell

Ahh, what can I say about Bloom, brought to us from Bord Bia, the name of the festival speaks for itself and I’m not sure how to begin to capture its essence in a few paragraphs.

A family event full of colour, gorgeous floral scents, warmth (human kind, not the weather), friendliness, music, crafts, foody aromas, friendship, fun and showcasing. It was there in bundles this year and of the three Bloom festivals I’ve attended – the first as a visitor, the second as a volunteer and the third – invited by Michael Kelly of GIY as a speaker on the expert stage to discuss community gardening with fellow enthusiasts. It was obvious the organisers had listened to the concerns of previous years (mainly space) as the  2012 Bloom festival was certainly the best so far.

Bloom 2012 ~ Ireland's Garden Festival

Designed by Carlow Designer Deirdre Pender – Silver Medal & Designers Choice Award – Machnamh/Reflection

All the areas were more spacious, walkways wider, marquees bigger (the biggest marquee ever built-in Ireland – an acre and a half!) and the layout of all the stands, gardens and stalls easy to navigate and find. There must have been miles of matting and metal walkways laid around the show grounds to keep our feet dry (it worked!) and the gardai did a great job of helping us park outside of the flooded (for one day only) car parks.

Scarecrow couple

Scarecrow couple

Due almost entirely to social media, this was a day of meeting online friends as well as looking around for new ideas and products as well as talking about a subject I’m passionate about.

I don’t recall attending an event where so many ‘virtual’ friends greeted with smiles, hugs, kisses and handshakes, but that’s Bloom for you.

After months of tweeting and facebooking Slated I finally got to meet the lovely Tara who gave me an adorable set of plant markers ~ the pencil doesn’t wash off making them an ideal gift for a gardening friend… Tara told me a tale of Twitter at it’s very best when she’d put a shout out for wellies and socks and was duly presented with some!

Slated Plant Markers & Slug Gone

Slated Plant Markers & Slug Gone Wool Pellets

In the marquee I came across a slug control called Slug Gone. Made from sheep dung and sheep wool it’s placed around plants, watered in and the tiny barbs on the end of the wool act as a deterrent that annoy the slugs and snails causing them to turn back instead of making their way to your tasty plants. As an organic mulch it can be dug in later. If you’re interested in trying out this product you can email David Brennan.

The OPW Walled Vegetable Garden

If you don’t like crowds, visit Bloom on a wet day! Bliss

It was great to finally meet Tim from BecauseWeCare who was launching his new Urban Composter at Bloom – a great idea for anyone who avoids composting for fear of rodents.

I seemed to find myself gravitating towards the  Caragh Nurseries stand on several occasions. Jo & Ian have one of the most helpful and cheerful daughters I’ve come across helping them for the day and I finally made a purchase of some Nepeta as Caragh’s plants were extremely well priced and healthy looking too.

Jo - Caragh Nurseries

Jo – Caragh Nurseries

Bloom 2012 was billed as a Ireland’s largest gardening, food and family event and I’m sure there will be many food blogs covering the huge artisan food village that was a popular attraction.

Bloom 2012 ~ Ireland's Garden Festival

Floral display – Kilmurry Nursery

However as a gardener, for me Bloom is and should be about the plants – from the indoor floral and nursery displays, to the 27 designer show gardens.

Campunala Ripicola 'sarastro'

Campanula Ripicola ‘sarastro’

I was slightly disappointed that unlike last year, vegetables weren’t used as much in the garden designs as there are many vegetables that are stunning in their own right – just think of cardoons and rainbow chard for a start. This was made up by the fact that purples and pinks were the most popular colours in many displays with Alliums, Digitalis, Lavender, Campanulas and Hostas very much in evidence around the show ground (I bought a Campanula ‘beetroot’ just because…)

Astrantia 'Gill Richardson'

Astrantia ‘Gill Richardson’

If you haven’t yet made it to Bloom, I’d highly recommend it as a day or a weekend to aim for next year…

In 2012 Bloom was priced at €20 for a day but concessions are available, children under 16 go free and many garden centres were offering buy a ticket get another half price. If you like gardens, crafts, foods or just a good day out with the family, Bloom’s the place to head to in Ireland in June.



Out in the vegetable garden on Mother’s Day

March 15, 2010

I almost had a bit of an argument with my son yesterday morning.

“It’s Mothers Day Mum. That means a day off – no computer, no work and no gardening”.  Number one and number two I could almost go along with, but number three…. No Gardening….I’d planned an entire day.  It was to be the nicest day of the year and I’m starting to feel like I’ve been cooped up for weeks.  I could see I would need to do a bit of negotiating here…

“Aaah, Truffles – thank’s guys, my favourites, and lovely flowers AND a cup of tea (our nine year old has just learned how to make a brew and offers all the time so we’re making the most of it) and you’ve all made such lovely cards too.”  The three of them had gone to a lot of trouble and were so excited about giving their presents as they bounced all over the bed in anticipation. “Oops, mind the tea….now about that day not gardening…..” It’s amazing what children will do for chocolate before breakfast – wonder where they get it from?

And so with middle daughter as my helper for the day, after breakfast we set to work, leaving Dad to sleep in.

All of the tomato seedlings were ready to prickout from the seed trays into larger pots and the remaining nasturtiums went into the bin.  I’d moved lots into the tunnel and they all keeled over – shock of the night time temperature I think.  I’d started another tray off and did exactly what I told everyone at GIY Kilkenny not to do last week – put them in a room I barely go in.  Needless to say they hadn’t been watered and those that had germinated were as crisp as, well a crisp I guess!

My helper really enjoyed the pricking out and her fingers were small enough to do it well.  We then went on to sow lots more: Basil, aubergines, marigolds, chilli’s, sweet peppers, squashes and courgettes – I’ll be growing all of these in the polytunnel later this year.

I’m still getting the hang of my tunnel.  Last year I grew summer crops that wouldn’t be hardy enough to grow well outside here – aubergine, peppers, chillis, tomatoes, melon and cucumber.  Following the one day workshop I went on at Irish Seedsavers last November I now realise tunnels have SO much more potential.  This year I’ll try and keep crops growing all year round – it makes sense that it should pay it’s way in the vegetable garden. However, it’s keeping me on my toes when it comes to planning the crop rotation in there.  After a few days of sunny weather the shallots, garlic (both taken from crops harvested last year),  mangetout and broad beans have all had a growth spurt and I’ve tucked in a row of shallots behind the legumes.  The central bed has been raked, fertilised and prepared in readiness for its new crops, and another patch of early carrots have been sown.

Then on to the outside.  Ian’s done a fantastic job widening and digging over the beds over the past week and after lunch we got to work on the onion patch.  I finally managed to plant some organic shallots (Red Sun I think – must check with Highbank), garlic (Arno) and onions (Setton), with some corriander (Santos) at the end of the row to encourage the hoverflies into the garden.

The big surprise of the day was how dry everything is.  We had to water the onion patch prior to sowing and we’re struggling to remember when it last rained.  I think the forecast is for rain all day on Thursday…typical – the day my mum and dad arrive for their first visit in three years. We think they’ll notice a few changes.