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gleann na bearu

Community Gardens, Food & Drink

A Recipe for Friendship

December 19, 2016

Community Gardening - A Recipe for Friendship

Sharing Food

December is a time of year synonymous with friendship as we exchange cards, gifts, hugs and best wishes. Last week a group of community gardeners and stakeholders involved in  Gleann na Bearu garden in Bagenalstown, Co Carlow sat together and shared food. We were celebrating the achievements of the 11 people who had just completed a 12 week horticultural pilot programme I’ve been facilitating in the garden. I asked one of the community gardeners, Susan, if I could share the Kale and Spinach Soup recipe she made for the occasion using produce from the garden; you’ll find the recipe below.

Though the format was similar, this gardening course was different from others I’ve been involved with. It goes a step further in that the group will be undertaking three more modules in the New Year funded by Carlow County Development Partnership (CCDP), namely First Aid Responder, Manual Handling and Basic Machinery.  

All this basic training will combine to provide members of the group with a Certificate they will be able to present to future employers, giving the community gardeners a helping hand back to work if they ever need to use it. Their work experience is ongoing, albeit in a voluntary capacity in the community garden.

I wrote a case study about how this garden began and their progression over the last two years on the Community Gardens Ireland website, but as we were all reminded by Denis Shanahan from Respond during the end of year celebration, “it was due to the willingness of all the stakeholders to work together, that the garden and the people who meet in it were given the best support we could offer them.”

Carlow Youth Services, CCDP, Carlow/Kilkenny Education Training Board, Respond Housing and Carlow Council through Local Agenda 21, as well as Greenside Up have all put time, money and effort into this project and in a way, Susan’s soup was a marker for us all on its success to date.

Gleann na Bearu Community Garden Went Live on Facebook:

As we shared the homemade bread, buns and sandwiches provided by the other gardeners and listened to the short presentations from a couple more about what the course has meant for them (you can read Frances Micklem’s summary here on her Harmony Hall blog), Susan, who lives in the middle of this rural town and who is now officially our best garden soup maker, summed up what being a member of this community garden has meant for her:

“I didn’t know how to garden until I came here, I’d never seen vegetables growing, or knew what most of them were. I didn’t really know how to cook other than the basic ham, veg and potato dinners but now I’m cooking all sorts.”

Susan had also mentioned in the past that the garden is the only place she meets people other than online or in her immediate family circle.

Gleann na Bearu community garden is full of laughter, singing and fun as well as work and learning. My thoughts are that it’s due to the diversity of people who come together every week to learn and socialise in it. I should also mention that Susan made vegan blueberry buns recently to cater for one of our gardeners and she also participated in the Community Gardens Ireland Better Together video entry below. It’s not just the flowers I’ve watched blossom in that garden:

Kale and Spinach Soup Recipe

At a time of year when we need as much energy as we can muster, we hope you’ll cook, taste and share this soup recipe. Kale and Spinach are packed full of vitamins, fibre and minerals that will help keep our digestions healthy. Susan assured us all that even the non cabbage eaters in her home enjoyed it and the gardening group can confirm, it was delicious! Apart from the ginger and coriander, all the ingredients listed below were grown in the community garden this year, making it an almost free meal for up to 20 people.

Community Gardening - A Recipe for Friendship

Susan – Photo Credit: Esther Hawe

Susan’s kale and spinach soup ~ serving 20 people

6 bunches of kale
6 bunches of spinach
3 onions
2 leeks
1 bunch of parsley
2 kg potatoes
6 cloves of garlic
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp coriander
4 vegetable stock cubes in about 3 ltrs of boiling water (enough to cover the vegetables)


Chop your onions and garlic and lightly fry them do not let them go brown.

Add your chopped up kale spinach and potatoes along with your seasoning and cover with your vegetables stock which you make using your stock cubes and water.

Bring to boil then simmer for 30 minutes or until vegetables are cooked.

Using a hand blender blend your vegetables to make a smooth soup and serve and enjoy.

Community Gardens

Community Gardening - A Recipe for Friendship

Creating Friendships – Photo Credit: Esther Hawe

Community gardening is so much more than planting a few veggies, digging or making compost. There are jobs for everyone and you can usually chose the one you like the best; the enjoyment one might get from digging can often be offset by the pleasure another gets from weeding. Community gardening is about friendship and sharing, it’s about empowering people, learning about food and the environment, biodiversity and working alongside others; it’s about supporting one another and inclusiveness. It’s as much about creating a community as it is about gardening.

If you’d like to learn more about community gardening or are looking for a community garden speaker, consultant or tutor in Ireland, contact me for further information. Let’s get community gardens growing everywhere.

Lets make 2017 the year that everybody hears about community gardening in Irealnd!

Community Gardens

Growing Vegetables in Small Spaces

June 26, 2016

Growing Vegetables in Small Spaces

Growing Vegetables in Small Spaces

Growing vegetables, fruit and herbs in small spacesI published an article a couple of years ago with 14 varieties of fruit and vegetables that suit smaller gardens, as well as another giving detailed information about container growing, also helpful if you’re growing on a balcony. The varieties might include tumbling container tomatoes or cut and come again salad leaves, strawberries or in slightly larger containers, leafy kale instead of whole cabbage.

We’ve practiced growing vegetables in small spaces in several community gardens over the years but in Gleann na Bearu, a community garden in Bagenalstown, Co Carlow with an overall space of 14m x 8m, we’re hoping it will give visitors and participants ideas they can replicate at home.

Growing plants in tyres

Growing Vegetables in Small Spaces

Last year almost all the growing in the garden took place in old tyres happily donated by the local tyre shop. The teenagers from the youth club painted them with donated paint (and anything else that didn’t move). We then lined the tyres to protect them from the rubber with weed membrane, then filled them with multipurpose compost and added the plants where they flourished. You can grow almost all vegetables in containers once they’re large enough and have drainage. 

When the tyres were stacked three or four high to give the displays interest and save on soil, we filled them to around two-thirds deep with empty plastic bottles before adding the weed membrane, compost and plants. This worked very well and gave us another opportunity to talk about recycling and waste.

Growing Vegetables in Small Spaces

Gleann na Bearu Community Garden early June 2016

Raised beds

Over the winter months we added raised beds to the garden design, some large, some small, which helps to give visual ideas for people who want less of a upcycled look in their own gardens. These are very easy to work at and have helped ease childhood memories of stone picking out in the fields where their parents grew vegetables. The volunteers are instead discovering that growing food in raised beds is productive, they look tidy, are low maintenance and can be relaxing as the group work away outside.

Growing food in small spaces

Vertical Pallet Planters

This year we’ve started to think vertically. Mr G took apart a single pallet and rebuilt it into a vertical wall planter that for the moment we’ve added bedding plants to, grown by the community gardeners. Next year it might house salads, strawberries or herbs alongside more vertical neighbours.

I would love to share with you how Ian made the vertical planter pictured but every pallet is different so it really depends upon what you’re faced with. To make a planter like this one, the trick for anyone with woodworking skills is to assess the pallet they have in front of them and only remove the pieces of wood that are absolutely necessary.

Growing Vegetables, Herbs and Fruit in Small SpacesPallets aren’t easy to dismantle due to their curved nails so the less they’re messed around with the better. In this example Ian cut the pallet completely in half, leaving the top (the back) in one piece. He then used the pieces he’d removed to fill in the sides and make shelf planters in the front. Weed proof membrane was then stapled into each planting area before adding multipurpose compost and the plants.

Pictures speak louder than words so zoom into the photos if you can for a better look.

On another wall in the community garden tyres have been hung up, colourfully painted and planted, having had drainage holes drilled into them first.

Growing food in small spacesVery soon we’ll be adding a small, safe pond to the garden that we hope will attract beneficial wildlife and insects. I need to research whether we can grow watercress for another edible addition to the garden; I’ll share with you how we get on with that project soon.

The Gleann na Bearu community gardening project has been a real joy to work with and more details about how it begin and the different funding streams its attracted can be found on the Community Gardens Ireland website where the garden featured as an In Focus article recently.

We’ll be continuing to stretch our imaginations in this garden, giving people ideas for growing food in small spaces or using recycled materials.

If you have any tips or suggestions we’d love to hear about them.