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grow your own

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.

Vegetable Garden

Gardening for Beginners – Getting started during Spring and beyond

March 22, 2021

Gardening for Beginners

Gardening for Beginners

Are you new to growing fruit, herbs and vegetables and looking for some pointers? With ten years of blogging experience, I’ve published over 500 posts on food growing, eco tourism, the environment, mental health, family, recipes and more. With so many articles sitting on the Greenside Up website, I took the decision a few years ago to divide them into categories to help visitors find their way around, but even I find them difficult to locate at times. I’ve been told that some people enjoy looking at the recipes, others at the eco tourism and travel posts, and many at the gardening advice.

In 2019 I began worked with the Foróige Just Grow Waterford programme, helping families to start growing their own food at home and in community garden projects across the county. During all my gardening workshops, I point people to the archived blog posts as an added resource. For instance Slugs – 15 ways to get rid of them organically never fails to become a conversation piece.

Although the posts are geared towards vegetable gardening, many of them form the basis for all gardening. Seeds are seeds and should be stored the same way whether they are flower or vegetable. Good soil is the foundation of all gardening and garden pests aren’t necessarily fussy whether they’re eating our roses or our beans.

Greenside Up on YouTube

In 2021 I revisited the Greenside Up YouTube channel as a way of connecting with some of the groups that I’m unable to work with face to face. In each of the short videos, I take viewers through the steps I’m taking to grow food in my polytunnel and later, into the raised vegetable garden outside.   You can find the posts that are updated weekly here.

The following links are to key articles on the blog and many are inspired by frequently asked questions from learners. It is hoped they will help you to garden more confidently, no matter what you’re sowing or growing.

How to Start a Garden

The number one tip in gardening for beginners is to plan big but start small which will allow you to see how much time you have to maintain the garden. Here’s several more links that will help to get you started.

3 Ways to Look After Your Garden Soil
3 Essentials to Help You Grow Your Own Vegetables
Annual Vegetable Planner
Fun Experiment to Help Determine Your Soil Structure
Growing Vegetables in Containers
Green Manures
How to Create a Budget Vegetable Garden
Keep An Eye on Your Seeds with a Garden Diary
Looking After the Garden in a Drought
Organic Mulch, What’s It All About?
Weeding Without Chemicals – What Are Your Options?
16 Natural Alternatives to Weedkillers and why you should use them
What does it mean when your vegetables are bolting?
How to Grow Your Own Food on a Balcony Garden


Seeds and Seedlings

Many of these links are the same for flowers and vegetables – storing, caring for and sowing seeds are all the same, no matter what you want to grow.

How to Choose Vegetable Seeds – What Should I Buy?
How long will seeds last? (Vegetables and Flowers)
How to Identify Seedlings
How to choose seeds – Pinterest
How to Grow Tomato and Peppers from Seed
How to look after your seeds – make a seed tin
Making a Seed Bed
Saving seeds
Starting Seeds Indoors – How Do You Know When Its Time to Sow
Thinning Vegetables – Now’s the Time

In the Vegetable Garden

There’s lots of information on the internet about the specifics on how to grow herbs, fruit and vegetables but here’s a few of my own tips.

Best Fruit and Vegetables to Grow in the Shade
14 Vegetables to Grow in a Small Garden
Broad Beans – A Great Crop for Beginners
Growing Autumn Garlic
How to Grow Leeks
How to Grow Your Own Overwintering Onions
How to Grow Your Own Pumpkins and Save Their Seeds
How to Look After Strawberry Beds
Introducing the Stunning Rainbow Chard
Kale – A Hardy Veg and Not Just for Beginners
Lettuce – How Many Should I Plant
Potatoes – All You Need to Know To Help You Grow Your Own
Rhubarb – growing, caring for and eating
Sowing Parsnips
What do I do with my strawberry patch

Pests and Diseases in the Garden

If you want to garden organically, you’ll need to learn to tell the good guys and the bad apart. These links will help you.

Slugs – 15 Ways to Deal with them Organically
12 Beneficial Creatures We Want to See in our Gardens
12 Garden Pests in the Garden
8 Tips for Managing Potato Blight
Aphids and Greenfly
Beet Leaf Minor
Choosing Blight Resistant Potatoes
Companion planting – understanding vegetable families
Cuckoo Spit
Earthworms – 10 Facts
Gooseberry Sawfly
Green Dock Beetles
How to Plan Crop Rotation in the Vegetable Garden
How to Stop Cats Pooping in the Garden
How to Treat Powdery Mildew Without Chemicals
It’s Bath Time
Red Spider Mite
How to get rid of Mealy Cabbage Aphids on your Greens without Chemicals

Gardening Undercover

If you’re thinking of buying a greenhouse or polytunnel, or looking for advice on what you can grow inside one, take a look here.

Growing Undercover – Where to Begin with Polytunnels and Greenhouses
Growing vegetables under a cloche
Polytunnels and Organic Gardening During the Autumn and Winter Months
What to Sow in a Polytunnel in February
How to Build a Plastic Bottle Greenhouse

Other Useful Links

There are many more tips on the blog aimed to help beginners in the garden. These are just a few:

14 Tips for Watering Vegetables and Seedlings
7 Jobs for the Autumn Vegetable Garden
9 Winter Gardening Jobs we can do Inside
Growing Vegetables in Junk Containers
How to Create an Herb Garden
How to Make Nettle and Comfrey Fertilizer
How to Set Up a Rainwater Irrigation System
How to Use Coffee Grounds in the Garden
Month by Month Jobs in the Vegetable Garden
Pollinator Friendly Plants for the Garden
A Beginner’s Guide to Organic Matter
Once you’ve started growing your own fruit, herbs or vegetables you might like to check out some recipes.

If you can’t find what you’re looking for, do get in touch. It may be lurking in the archives somewhere. If you’d like any help with other services Greenside Up can provide such as consultation and advice, garden design, talks or workshops let me know. You can find more details on the What We Do Page.

Best of luck with your gardening journey!


Vegetable Garden

Look After Your Seeds – Make a Seed Tin/Box

January 31, 2021

Have you ever worried that the seeds you’ve sown haven’t germinated, that you must have been sold a dud packet? I remember thinking something similar years ago. It didn’t occur to me that I might be the one at fault, that I might not have kept my seeds in prime condition. As it transpired, there was no might about it, I’d find seeds tucked away on shelves and in drawers, pockets and boxes and hadn’t realised that they were likely to last a lot longer if they were stored correctly.

I wrote a post a while ago, answering the often asked question “how long will my seeds last?” One of the prime considerations for seed longevity is how they’re stored. Seeds are living organisms (albeit dormant ones) and as such need to be treated  well.

Most seeds can remain viable for several years if kept in a cool, dry environment – the cooler the better. By keeping your seeds in an airtight tin or container in a cool, dry room (or even in the fridge) you’ll increase their storage life.

It’s never advised to store seeds in plastic bags which can attract moisture, instead keep them in the foil packets they arrive in. If they’re delivered from your seed supplier in small plastic bags as some of mine have been in the past, transfer them into brown paper envelopes as soon as they arrive before placing them in a container.

Make a seed storage container

So why make a container and not just throw your seeds into a tin or plastic sandwich box in a muddled heap?

Apart from the fact that specific seed packs are much easier to find if they’re ‘filed’ and you’re not having to rifle through the tin every time you want to sow something, filing them  between monthly divider cards will also help with your sowing plans.

Looking After Your Seed PacketsHow to make your sowing life much easier:

  • All you need is a good, rectangular or square airtight tin (biscuit or chocolate tins are perfect) to store your seeds in and some cardboard cut to size with the twelve months of the year marked on them.
  • Sort through your seed packets and take note of the recommended month of sowing. Bare in mind that sowing dates in Ireland can be a few weeks after the UK iwhere many guides arise from. If the packet suggests you can sow the seeds from March onwards, it’s usually worth waiting until the middle to end of March, weather
  • depending, unless you grow your vegetables in a particularly sheltered and sunny garden.
  • Pop your seed packets in between the dividers.
  • Filing seeds like this comes into its own when you’re sowing successionally. After you’ve sown a few rows, don’t put the packet back into the original month, place it into the next month as a reminder to sow a few weeks later.

Always check the use by dates and use those seeds first.  If you find you have too many why not talk to vegetable growing friends and have a seed swap… you never know what you might end up with!

For more more information on seeds, their importance and how to store them, have a look at the video below.

Have you any seed packet storage solutions? What works for you?

Vegetable Garden

How to Grow Your Own Broad Beans

April 4, 2017
How to grow broad beans

Companion planting with limnanthes and broad beans

Learning, Tutoring and Sowing Broad Beans

It was a pleasure to be back teaching an organic outdoor vegetable crop production course at the School of Food in Thomastown, Co Kilkenny thanks to funding from Kilkenny ETB. It mad a change from studies at Kildalton College for the Advanced Level 6 in Horticulture. The months flew after I wrote the article about following my curiosity and returning to education once more. I loved every second there. The workload was a juggle with assignments coming in thick and fast, as well as plant ID tests and written exams, but my knowledge of trees, shrubs and ecology rose exponentially and I came away full of ideas for Greenside Up thanks to a fantastic Entrepreneurship tutor Nicola Kent.

But back to the School of Food where we managed to get some peas and broad beans (Vicia Faba) also known as Fava Beans into the soil. It’s rare to see broad beans in the supermarkets and as a result, home-grown pods are the first many of us will try, but they’re an easy to crop to grow, making them great for children or beginners. For busy gardeners they pretty much look after themselves so they’re a handy crop to grow all round.

You can see a video below about how I plant them in my polytunnel:


How to cook broad beans

How to grow broad beansIt’s the beans that are nestled inside the velvety pods that are usually eaten, although young beans that are no thicker than a finger can be cooked in their pods.

Shell larger beans before cooking and tuck into them hot or cold; they’re great in salads. Big mature beans need to be shelled after they’ve boiled, the tough outer skin removed and the small beanlet inside can be mashed with butter (you’d need the patience of a saint to do that very often!). We usually dish them up with dinner and remove the beanlets ourselves.

More information can be found on harvesting and cooking broad beans in this archive article and Nigel Slater shares a Broad Bean humus recipe here that’s top of my ‘to try’ list when we harvest ours this year.

We’ve always grow Broad Beans in our garden as three of us love to eat them cooked (I usually steam them) and our girls like to eat them raw.

How to grow your own broad beans

How to Grow Broad Beans

Broad beans are a hardy crop and will survive a frost. Most varieties can be sown outside from October/November or February to April; keep an eye out for Aquadulce for overwintering.

How to grow your own broad beansThey germinate at much lower temperatures than most other vegetables and we tend to sow them high up on our hill in or around February, depending upon conditions, making them our first legume crop (pea/bean) of the year.

We usually plant the seeds straight into the soil about 2.5 cm (1″) deep but they can be started off in modules in December, ready to plant out in February. In general peas and beans prefer not to have their roots disturbed so planting the seeds in compost in toilet roll liners and popping the whole thing into the soil when the beans are about 10 cm (4″) or more is a good way to get them growing.

Staking broad beans – this crop doesn’t need to clamber up, they’re happy enough growing unguided, though it’s a good idea to place stakes around the perimeter of the crop to prevent the stems snapping in the wind.

How to grow broad beansBroad beans like well-dug, previously manured soil so are an ideal crop to follow potatoes. Once they’ve all been harvested, if they’re disease free chop the stems off at soil level and compost the rest, leaving the nitrogen-fixing roots in the soil to help the Brassica crops (cabbages etc) that might follow them, depending upon your crop rotation plan. As long as you didn’t plant F1 hybrid seeds, any dried beans that you missed when harvesting can be stored and re-sown next time.

Things to watch out for ……. if you plant broad beans in the Spring, one day you may wander into your garden and find that the tops of them are covered in black bean aphid, insects that adore the sweet flavour of the plant tops. Sometimes just spraying them hard with the hose is enough to remove them, or pinching off the tops of the plants as soon as you notice the little black aphids.  Vigilance is key in ridding yourself of this pest but companion planting can work well too.

How to grow your own broad beans

Black bean Aphid

Because we grow our own using organic principles, we encourage beneficial insects into our garden that will prey on the predatory aphids; Limanthes (poached egg flower) is one of our favourites.


Chocolate spot. This is a disease that’s particular to broad beans and one we’ve suffered most years on crops grown outside here, though the polytunnel beans have managed to escape. Chocolate spot is what it says… chocolate coloured spots that appear on the leaves, and then spread to the stems, flowers and pods, potentially leading to the plant’s death.

It’s caused by a fungus Botrytis fabae that thrives in damp, humid air and can overwinter on the remains of previously infected plants. For this reason it’s a good idea to get rid of old, infected plants rather than composting them. The good news is that it usually affects the pods last of all, so whilst they remain unaffected (or infected), they’re still fine to eat.

Spacing the plants well, about 25cm between each plant – will help with air circulation and is recommended to prevent or delay infection.

So why not give Broad Beans a chance? Have you eaten them or do you have a favourite way of eating them? They’re a great crop for grow your own newbies as their success rate is high, which all helps in raising the confidence levels.


Vegetable Garden

What to Expect at a Greenside Up Grow Your Own Workshop

March 20, 2016

What to expect at a Grow Your Own Vegetable Garden Workshop at Greenside Up

Grow your own workshops at Greenside Up

Last weekend saw the first of four new grow your own workshops planned for the Greenside up HQ and it was a pleasure to welcome everyone to our family home and garden.

Very soon we’ll be hosting the second in the series of workshops being held here and reflecting upon the first day with learners, I’m in a much better place to let you know what to expect if you join us.

What to expect at a Grow Your Own Vegetable Garden Workshop at Greenside UpA holistic grow your own experience

A grow your own workshop at Greenside Up is more than just a ‘how to’ session, it’s an insight into a lifestyle that develops once we make the decision to ditch the chemicals, think more about the environment and make the switch to ‘real food’ rather than mass processed, pre-packaged alternatives.

Don’t expect a pristine garden with neatly trimmed lawns here. Our garden is one that welcomes biodiversity, has pets wandering around and teens that occasionally like to launch a sliotar across the yard and into the veggie patch.

What to expect at a Grow Your Own Vegetable Garden Workshop at Greenside UpWhat you can expect

Compared to a more formal learning environment, the day will be a relaxed affair, though you’ll go home with a head full of information and a clearer understanding of how to manage your vegetable garden without chemicals.

The (loose) structure

Beginning with tea and some home-baked refreshments to ease the introductions, we’ll move on to some more structured time when I’ll be sharing lots of information about organic vegetable growing, sharing the basic principles involved that include crop rotation, vegetable families, companion planting and alternatives to pesticides and herbicides. The morning of learning will be followed by a sociable lunch and then we’ll head outside to prevent that afternoon slump.

What to expect at a Grow Your Own Vegetable Garden Workshop at Greenside UpDuring the practical time, I’ll be encouraging everyone to have a go at transplanting seedlings and sowing some seeds. Weather and time permitting we’ll be planting some of the unusual or blight resistant potatoes I’ve chosen this year that include Mizen, Puru Purple, Pink Fir Apples and Cara’s and we’ll also touch on vegetable garden layout and design as well as composting and general soil management.

What to expect at a Grow Your Own Vegetable Garden Workshop at Greenside Up

Photos Frances Micklem

Limited numbers

If you join one of our unique workshops you can expect an intimate learning experience as we limit numbers to just 8 people.

This allows for a feeling of friendliness in an environment where you won’t feel intimidated by large crowds and a space where questions are naturally asked and discussions take place.

Homemade goodies

Included in the workshop fee is a light lunch and refreshments on arrival so you can expect some tasty homemade treats as we talk and learn. During the first workshop we sat around the lunch table and indulged on butternut squash soup with toasted sunflower seeds, tore into some focaccia bread and wiped our bowls with buttered nutty soda bread as we chatted. When the crops begin to grow in the garden, lunches will be made from homegrown produce or perhaps foraged from the hedgerows. Dietary requirements can be catered for too once I’m aware of them.

What to expect at a Grow Your Own Vegetable Garden Workshop at Greenside UpTake aways

The workshops aren’t just about sitting at a table; there are lots of learning opportunities outside too.

We keep bees and hens here, have reared pigs and grow lots of vegetables during the main seasons. As we walk around outside I’ll point out the various ways we’ve approached our organic garden; there are lots of topics to chat about or shrubs to take cuttings from.

The comfrey patch needs taming and there’s enough raspberry canes popping up in the ‘lawn’ for everyone to take one or two. As our garden has developed we can see mistakes and areas for improvement and these observations are shared.

When’s the next workshop?

Are you tempted? The next workshop is due to take place on Sunday, 10th April from 11am to 4pm and you’re very welcome to join us, though pre-booking is essential. The cost is €65 but if you book more workshops in advance, the price reduces. See the workshop page for more information. If you’re travelling,  a couple of local B & B’s come highly recommended nearby, including a holistic vegan retreat


Here’s some of the feedback from learners who attended the first workshop:

“What a brilliant holistic day, joining the dots between all the existing plants I love and already have in the garden and starting vegetables and pollinator friendly flowers from seeds. Feel able now to grow more of anything or at least give it a go” ~ Frances

“Greenside Up is a fantastic experience, and from the homebakes welcome to the practical workshops it is a rich yet simple experience” ~ Eilish

“Great way to learn in an informal setting” ~ Trevor

Vegetable Garden

Best Fruit and Vegetables that Grow in Shade

January 16, 2016

Vegetables that Grow in Shade

“Help, I want to grow my own vegetables but my garden is shady. I’ve heard fruit and veg like to grow in sunny places, can I grow anything at all?”

Vegetables to grow in shade

This is one of two questions I was recently asked and it’s a good one. Most of us aren’t blessed with the perfect growing conditions and if we want to grow vegetables successfully, we have to learn to plant to suit our circumstances.

Like many of us, fruit and vegetables enjoy soaking up the light and ideally, 10 to 12 hours will give them plenty to keep them happy. Unfortunately we don’t always get what we want. The following gives tips on the best fruit and vegetables that grow in shade so if that’s the kind of garden you have, why not give some of them a go.

There are varying degrees of shade and recognising what you have in your garden is a good start in helping you to create a vegetable garden. 

Full shade

I’m not aware of any fruit and vegetables that will grow well in gardens that are in full shade. If you know of any then please leave a comment below. If this is all you have, you might have to give up on the vegetable growing idea and join a community garden instead! There are however, some shrubs and ferns that will happily grow without much light; take a look at the RHS list if you need some help.

Vegetables that grow in shade

Partial Shade

Partial shade is considered anything from two to six hours without sunshine. and it can be tricky for some vegetables and great for others. The time of the day your garden receives sunlight can be an important factor too. Spinach and lettuce can go to seed quickly if they get too hot so will appreciate a bit of shade, as will coriander and chard.

Dappled Shade

Dappled shade is often caused by hedgerows or trees where the light filters through. In our own front garden, the area that receives the dappled shade is quite bright as it’s south-facing. Trimming the hedges or carefully removing a lower branch or two or even raising the canopy of the trees to allow more light in to your garden can be a great way of brightening up the area. If you’re not sure how to do this yourself, seek  advice from a qualified landscaper or horticulturist.

Fruit and Vegetables that Grow in Shade

Choosing what vegetables to grow in a shady garden

If your garden is shady on and off throughout the day, you might like to try growing large leafed vegetables such as kale and cabbage, swiss chard and spinach or lettuce and rocket, whose large leaves will soak up the sun when they see it.

Dwarf, baby or early varieties of beans, baby carrots and even some bush varieties of baby tomatoes can grow well in gardens that are sunny in the morning but shady after lunch .

If your garden is shady in the morning and then bright later on, try growing peas and runner beans that climb on vines.

Vegetables that grow in shadeMost herbs enjoy sunlight but there are several that will grow well in shade, particularly coriander which again is prone to bolting, lemon balm and other herbs in the mint family.

Fruit that originates in woodland areas such as the different currants, gooseberries, blackberries, and raspberries should produce a good crop in dappled shade.

Fruit and flowers need sunshine

If you have to consider shade in your garden, keep in mind that anything we grow for fruit and flowers needs lots of sunshine but anything we eat with leaves or roots will tolerate varying degrees of shade.

6 Top Tips for Shady Vegetable Gardens

  1. Make sure your soil is as healthy as it can be. Shady garden plants will have enough of a challenge without adding an unhealthy soil into the equation. Add compost or well-rotted manure annually and practice good crop rotation techniques if you can.
  2. Keep up with the weeds. Plants growing nearby that we don’t need will compete for light, moisture and nutrients so if you don’t need ‘em, weed ‘em.
  3. Start vegetable seeds in modules and then transplant the seedlings outside when they’re larger. If you have a cold frame, move the seedlings into it before planting them out into the soil which will allow them to acclimatise. Starting seedlings indoors will give them a good start in life and a better chance of growth and survival.
  4. Watch out for slugs and snails who thrive in shady areas. Lay down beer traps or try any of the other methods mentioned in this ‘15 ways to deal with slugs organically’ article.
  5. Give vegetables lots of space. Airflow and too much moisture can often be a problem in shady gardens so make sure there’s lots of space between plants which will cut the risk of disease.
  6. If you’re surrounded by dark walls or fences, try brightening them up with white paint which will help reflect light around the garden. We tried this in Goresbridge Community Garden on the dull grey walls and the transformation was immediate. The light, wood chip paths helped too.

Vegetables that grow in shade

Have you tried growing fruit or vegetables in the shade? How did you get on?

If you’d like more tips about growing and cooking fruit and vegetables, sign up for the Greenside Up newsletter and you’ll receive monthly links to articles that can help you cook and grow your own more confidently and successfully.



15 Gift Ideas for Getting Back to Basics

December 13, 2015

Back to Basics Workshop Ideas

Over the last week or so my family have asked what I’d like for Christmas and I don’t know about you, but I’m really stuck. Bar a new pair of cozy pyjamas or a delicious smelling soap, I can’t think of anything. As our children grow into their teenage years and along with them all the fears that challenge us, the health and happiness of everyone close really is uppermost. 

Our timelines and news sources are full of tales of uncertainty so rather than material goods, perhaps offering a gift of a skill is the way to go. Getting back to basics was one of the reasons I began tutoring vegetable growing. If all of a sudden the shops ran out of food, or perhaps more likely, we run out of money, how would we eat? A bit dramatic I know, but I’m not comfortable leaving my entire food supply to others, are you? 

Workshops in Ireland

There have been a few workshop ideas floating around that have caught my attention; they eventually prompted me to come up with some of my own workshops here at Greenside Up (see number 15); but I was particularly drawn to Riot Rye’s natural bread making course that I spotted after my recent soda bread efforts (number 5), and I can personally vouch for the South Kildare Beekeepers workshops (number 1).

If you’re looking for a meaningful gift for a friend, loved one or even yourself, perhaps some of the following might appeal. Not only is learning a new skill a present that will keep on giving, you might even make it extra special by combining it with a weekend away in one of Ireland’s beautiful counties

1. Beekeeping

Back to Basics Workshops in IrelandI’m beginning with a Beekeeping course as it’s one that I took in the Spring of 2015 and set me on the path of our beekeeping and honey making. It also provided us with contacts full of experience and advice as well as insurance for our honey bees.

South Kildare beekeepers in Athy have a series of six classes starting in February 2016, cost €50.00 (see here for details) but if you look on the Federation of Irish Beekeepers website, you might find other courses close to you. Definitely the place to start if you’re thinking of keeping bees.

2. Felting

Back to Basics Workshop IdeasFelt making is one of those crafts that I’ve been wanting to learn for years but have never managed. I was sad to have missed a couple of sessions provided by Roisin Markham of Creative Dynamics a few weeks ago in Wexford but will be keeping my eyes peeled if she runs more in 2016.

There are several felt making workshops mentioned online; this one from Cork Textiles caught my eye as learners are taught to make clothing. I was given a huge bag of black Zwartbles wool by Suzanna Crampton last year in the hope it would solve our slug problem. It didn’t but maybe I’ll find a use for it after all one of these days!

3. Dressmaking

Talking of making clothes, this is another skill I’m now very rusty with. Miriam Lloyd of Sewing Concepts runs beginners dressmaking classes from her studios in Ballon, County Carlow. I was tempted to ask for a sewing machine for Christmas as mine hasn’t worked for years and Miriam came up with a great recommendation; could 2016 be the year to brush up on those long forgotten skills?

Want to learn how to sew? Need a sewing machine? I am asked regularly what do I recommend. The Janome 2060 is perfect…

Posted by Sewing Concepts on Sunday, 19 October 2014

4. Cookery

Back to Basics Workshops in IrelandThe School of Food in Kilkenny opened its doors in 2015 and they offer a multitude of cookery classes, from the basic skills right through to chef training.

We’re also blessed to have Anne Neary’s Ryeland House cookery school nearby. There are cookery schools dotted all around Ireland that offer classes on everything from jam making and vegetarian dinners to preserving and butchery, though I’d suggest you’re careful about how you present this voucher if you don’t wish to offend your friend or partner!

5. Bread making

It was Joe Fitzmaurice’s tweet about his sourdough bread making classes that prompted this blog post. We’ve been trying to cut processed foods right out of our diets here in Greenside Up but fail when it comes to bread. However, this recommended bread making course from Joe might just swing it.

If you buy a voucher before Christmas for one of the Riot Rye courses in Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary, before Christmas, you’ll get 10% off. 

6. Cheesemaking

Knockdrinna Cheese are based in the tiny village of Stoneyford, Co Kilkenny and are makers of a range of goats, sheep and cows cheep. They have won over 40 International and Irish awards, including a Gold award for their semi-hard goats cheese at the 2013 British Cheese Awards where it was named ‘Best Modern British’. They now offer cheesemaking courses so if cheesemaking is on your ‘to do’ list, you’ll find no better teacher than Helen Finnegan.

7. Pig rearing

Back to Basics Workshops in IrelandWe swore after we began keeping hens that we’d never have another animal here unless we learnt about it first so we booked ourselves on an Old farm Pig Rearing course and subsequently reared our own for the following three years.

Alfie and Margaret’s courses sell out fast so if you’re considering taking the more humane option for meat eating and getting a pig or two, I can personally recommend this course.

8. Soap making workshops

Have you ever wanted to learn the art of soap making? Tanya from Lovely Greens in the Isle of Man has enticed me with her beautiful blog post tutorials, and as a result, I’d now like to try something more hands on.

Luckily the Organic Centre in Leitrim will be running a cold presses soap making course in April with Vanessa Finlow which sounds perfect

9. River Cottage Comes to Ireland

Well not exactly but Steven Lamb and Gill Meller, two members of the River Cottage team will be sharing their skills at Croan Cottages at Dunnamaggin in Co Kilkenny. During the three day residential workshops, they’ll be teaching participants all manner of cooking techniques from fish to pizzas, breadmaking and curing, making for a very special culinary experience.

10. Basket weaving 

Back to Basics WorkshopsHeike Kahle Hartmann is a gifted basket weaver living a couple of miles from us in County Kilkenny and if you’d like to buy a finished product, her workshops are often open where you can pick up a gift for a friend or relative.

Heike also offers basket weaving classes and after a quick Google, I came across this one in Tinahealy in County Wicklow taking place in February.

For more information or enquiries about Heike’s work or classes, you can view her details here.

11. Sustainable energy

As COP21 closes I’d love to be able to share news of LOTS of courses or workshops about creating energy more sustainably but I’m sad to say I couldn’t find any.

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland offer lots of links on sustainable energy and advice for primary schools, but try as I might I couldn’t find any workshops for adults – there’s a gap in the market if ever one sprang out.

In the end I contacted Davie Philip of Cultivate who told me they are making plans for energy courses at Cloughjordan Eco Village, so although not in time for Christmas, if this is an area you’re interested in, be sure to sign up for Cultivate’s newsletter and stay informed. In the meantime many groups have come together and signed a community energy proclamation which you can view here.

Back to Basic Workshop Ideas 12. Beer Making

If you’re serious about beer making, Beer Ireland are offering a Diploma in Beer Making during 2016, which may also be free to job seekers.

For the hobby brewer there are several workshops throughout the country but this one day workshop from Irish SeedSavers in County Clare caught my eye – Beer making made easy taking place in May for €70.00. With an increase in the price of alcohol due to take place in 2016, this could be a great investment.

13. Sustainable Living Weekend

CELT are a registered charity that offer sustainable living workshops and in 2016 they have another two-day traditional skills workshops planned, where you can learn to make your own jewelery, furniture, cloth, knives, leather, or even build your own home. For more information on this real back to basics weekend, take a look here

14. Foraging Workshops

Mary White of Blackstairs Ecotrails has an amazing knowledge of all things wild and wonderful growing in the Carlow hedgerows. Another course I’ve been meaning to take for several years now, this would make a lovely gift for anyone who has an interest in learning more about hedgerow plants.

Back to Basic Workshop Ideas

15. Grow Your Own Vegetables

Finally, last but certainly not least, how about learning more about growing your own fruit and vegetables. It’s good to see workshops being advertised all over the country but if you fancy a trip to the Carlow /Kilkenny border, for the first time since I began Greenside Up 6 years ago, I’ll be hosting a series of gardening workshops aimed at beginners.

The workshops will be restricted to just eight people, offering a much more personal learning experience with a light lunch and refreshments provided.

We’ll be starting on Sunday, 13th March with seed sowing and propagating, followed by an introduction to organic gardening on 10th April, growing your own herbs on 22nd May and finally tackling pests, diseases and weeds without chemicals. If popular, I’ll be adding more workshops to the list. For more information, prices and booking details, take a look here.

More Gift Ideas

If you’re looking for more gift ideas for friends or loved ones, Vibrant Ireland has suggestions for online shopping in Ireland and you can find a Greenside Up archive post here for gardening Christmas gifts – what gardeners really want.

But back to basics and things that matter, many of the animal charities are looking for sponsorship such as Animal Magic Wildlife Rescue, a gift that animal lovers might appreciate. You can contact Animal Magic here.

If you have any more ideas for back-to-basic workshops, please leave them in the comments, we’d love to hear them.


Do you have any climate change concerns?

September 19, 2015

One Person, One Promise

Electric picnic is over but one activity in Global Green stays with me. The team from Self Help Africa were encouraging festival goers to stop for a moment, write a couple of words or sentences onto sheets of paper and record our words for video.

We were asked to jot down our concerns about climate change on a piece of paper. Once done, we were asked to flip the paper over and note what we were already doing, or planning to do, to help reduce the effects of climate change in our own lives. The activity only took a couple of minutes but the message was powerful. It was a reminder that no matter how large the problem, we can make a difference if we all pledge to make small changes in our lifestyles.

The short video clip below from Self Help Africa shares the concerns and commitments people made:

Climate Change is Scary

Climate change is an enormous and potentially quite terrifying issue and a topic that’s easy for us to ignore or sweep under the rug while it doesn’t personally affect us. It seems too big an issue, too out of control. How could us mere mortals possibly make a difference?

However, writing down my pledge and watching everyone else make their own promises during the sunny weekend in Stradbally brought home to me the power of people. If everyone commits to make at least one change in their lifestyle, all the actions will combine to become a force to be reckoned with. Like a drop of water that produces a small ripple that grows to become a wave as more drops join it, our actions will make a difference.

Here’s a few examples of ways we can work to cut our environmental impact right now:

Shop Locally

Think for a moment if one of us said we were only going to shop locally from now on in. That would be great, we’d be supporting our local economy and every little bit helps. However, imagine if twenty of us in one area pledged to only shop locally. The difference it would make to a community in terms of work, employment and an invigorated sense of belonging would be phenomenal. This article explains how communities can come together to create food co-ops, community supported agriculture scheme or food buying clubs.

Stop Food Waste

Do you have any climate change concerns?Or how about Food Waste? We waste millions of tonnes of food, thrown out every year because we buy too much and don’t use it. Apart from the commercial waste caused by us not (being allowed) to eat perfectly shaped fruit and vegetables, householders alone could save up to €1,000 a year if they used everything they bought. If we all pledged to write a shopping list at the beginning of the week and only buy the food we plan to eat, the impact on food wastage would be tremendous. This would be an achievable and effective action.

The Thrifty Couple have created a ‘no waste meal planner’ that’s worth a look. They take the weekly shopping list one step further by writing down all the products in their cupboards that are approaching use by dates and finding recipes that will include them. 

Grow Your Own

Do you have any climate change concerns?

Grow Your Own Basil

Growing our own food was the single most important change we made to our lives in the Greenside Up household. In doing so it opened up a world of questions and answers about climate change, biodiversity, the soil, weather, food security, food sources, recipes, education, healthy eating and much, much more than we could possibly have imaged. As a result of wanting to know more about growing our own I went back to adult education, studied horticulture and started teaching beginners how to grow their own food.

Maybe we have to see our food growing as a tiny seedling to truly appreciate it; to watch it overcome and evade the pests, the weeds, its competitors, the water or lack of it, and feel delight as it grows into a plant that will feed and nourish us.

As much as I’d love to see it, I wouldn’t seriously expect everyone to pledge to grow their own fruit and vegetables. It can take time that many of us struggle to find. If however, people had a go at growing just one thing – a herb in container on a kitchen windowsill perhaps, or if they visited a community garden for a couple of hours a week, the connection between nature and food would be made and who knows where that might lead.

This thought-provoking article from the Sustainable Food Trust is worth considering as it highlights how our food choices will change in the coming years as our climate changes. We might have to learn how to grow our own tea and coffee!

Saving Water

Do you have any climate change concerns?There are many things we can commit to do, but on my own piece of white paper in the Self Help Africa tent I wrote down ‘save more water’. I’ve written several posts about this topic on the blog. We have a natural well that’s prone to running dry occasionally so know first hand how important it is to have clean, running water in our day-to-day lives.

Over the years Mr G and I have made changes to our daily habits that include turning the tap off when we brush our teeth or wash our hands. We’ve installed rain butts and an irrigation system to the polytunnel that runs from harvested rainwater. We’ve also placed a sink under the outside tap with a washing bowl making it easier to rinse brushes, vegetables and the like. Nevertheless, we have two teenage girls who could easily spend a half an hour each in the shower and that’s an issue that needs to be tackled. So far, asking them not to spend so much time standing under the running water hasn’t worked so perhaps we need to ramp up our game and install a shower timer, or flip the main fuse board switch a few times until they get the message.

We’ve also been meaning to place toilet ‘hippos’ into the cisterns, small devices that will half the amount of water flushed into the septic tank. Now is the time! If you decide to tackle your water usage, some of the tips linked above might help you.

Do you have any climate change concerns?The Power of One

By making one simple promise to save more water, I’m no longer overwhelmed by all the climate change problems I feel the need to tackle, and my sense of helplessness has diminished.

I’m concentrating my energies on one area, I am doing something about it, and that something WILL make a difference.

However, there’s power in numbers. Rather than trying to tackle the shower or water issues in our home on our own, I’ve realised we need to have this discussion with our kids. We might then collectively begin to tackle more issues and instead of it being just the adults who make the promise to reduce our environmental impact, our children would have a vested interest too and they won’t need cajoling.

Do you have any climate change concerns?Make a Commitment

Whether it’s making a promise to use less electricity, recycling or composting the waste, or a commitment to research alternative energies, an agreement to eat less meat or everyone to think about our car journeys and double them up, or cycle more, there are lots of actions we can take that won’t overly affect our standards of living but will collectively help to cut our impact.

Perhaps if we, as parents involve our children in these discussions and decisions so that they understand why we’re doing them, they’ll mention them to friends or school teachers, or at the very least grow up to think more responsibly about the planet too. Sadly, environmentalists are still seen by many as the minority, they’re the hippies on the edge of society, but the more small steps people take, the more usual everyone will seem. 

I use this quote a lot in my work life and never before has it rung so loudly as it does now in relation to climate change:

Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much. Helen Keller

Do you have any climate change concerns or have you started making changes to cut the effects of climate change in your own life? What issue will or have you tackled first? I’d really like to hear your thoughts.