I often hear the phrases “I don’t have green fingers” or “I haven’t got a clue about gardening” and I would have said the same myself in the past. We can apply that to all areas in our lives where we haven’t learnt some basics – “I can’t type” or “I can’t bake”. In the end it comes down to education, learning and practice and when we begin to open ourselves up to new experiences, our confidence grows and usually there’s no looking back.
In the gardening world we never stop learning. It doesn’t matter whether we’ve a PhD or a participation certificate, there’s so much to excite inquiring minds; nature isn’t something we can pin down and understand every nuance of, we’re always discovering new mysteries.
This week I grabbed a day out of the busy work/family schedule to clear out the polytunnel and found myself ridiculously excited to find so many dried beans hanging from the climbing plants that had gone beyond their best. One of the reasons pea and bean plants in the legume family stop producing is because we stop picking them; they think their job is done and they start to produce viable seeds instead of luscious green pods ripe for eating.
Chemical Free to Organic Gardening
Saving the seeds of vegetables I’ve grown isn’t a habit I’ve developed but as I make the transition from chemical free to organic gardening, it’s opened up so many possibilities.
During the spring I joined Irish Seedsavers who sell organic, heritage varieties of seeds suitable for the Irish climate, one variety of which were Mr Fern Climbing Bean. The beans were a delicious and prolific crop, giving us many summer dinners and several bag full of beans in the freezer for the cooler months. We didn’t pick them all and consequently, the seeds began to dry naturally in the protected environment of the polytunnel. I’ve been able to save enough for my seed tin for a couple of years and will give some to community gardening friends too. I might even soak and boil a few to add to a supper dish during the winter.
Smallholder Gathering at 2016 Savour Kilkenny
As more people begin to take an interest in the food they eat, opportunities for learning new skills are increasing. This year at Savour Kilkenny Food Festival the organisers have added a Smallholder marquee to the cookery and food market village. There are lots of workshops planned to help people interested in growing food, rearing animals, learning traditional skills, or meeting up with like minded people and I’ll be joining them.
Greenside Up Talks About Herbs
On Saturday, 29th October from 11am -1pm you’ll find me talking about growing and using kitchen garden herbs and planting up a herb container. This is a free event and anyone watching will be given the opportunity to sow their own herbs and take them home. Herbs were the first plants I grew successfully back in my twenties and are part of the reason I returned to full time education to study horticulture in more detail.
There are many more talks and workshops planned throughout the weekend given by people passionate about food, all free or low cost. If you’re interested in learning more take a look at the Savour Kilkenny website where you can plan times or book tickets.
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.
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…
The 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.
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
We 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.
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
Heike 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Suzanne Campbell of RTE Drivetime asked me early on the Friday morning if festival goers at the Electric Picnic were ready for a community garden in the midst of their music and arts festival. I stumbled a response and it didn’t air – I wasn’t able to give a direct answer as we’d never done it before. Now the festival is over I’ve had time to reflect. I believe that EVERYONE can be ready for a community garden once they’ve been given the opportunity to experience and get a flavour of what they’re about, no matter where they appear.
A *recent study found that experiencing nature makes us more likely to want to save it. I wonder if Cultivate, before they invited several groups to create the pop-up community farm and garden at Global Green in Electric Picnic already knew that…
Creating a Community Farm & Garden at Electric Picnic
We only met once, several months earlier, but the groups involved in the garden share a passion for the environment, health and quality of food. Within the space of a few hours on the Thursday before the Electric Picnic opened to the public, we worked together to create an area of tranquility and calm in the midst of an eclectic, chaotic festival that was expecting around 50,000 people to pass through its gates. We quickly felt a tangible sense of acceptance as we pooled our plants, resources and ideas and enjoyed each others company as we did so.
We succeeded in creating a community garden that became a welcome retreat for some and a place for others to connect with like-minded people in as natural environment as you can build in a small, festival space. We created the garden with a few straw bales, a pile of pallet chairs and dozens of container grown fruit, vegetables and trees and it worked.
For three days, we were immersed in plants, people and music. We shared stories and conversations with people who are doing their best to make our world a better place, and were hugged for doing so. While we were there we learnt from and soaked up the positive energy from one another.
If you keep reading, you’ll find out about some of the people involved in building this little garden in the Global Green eco-village, as well as some of the inspiring community projects taking place in Ireland, where people are making changes within their own communities.
Community Gardening by the Coast
Festival goers stop by to paint stones
Festival goers saw some beautifully crafted surf boards and were able to paint beach stones brought along by an inspiring bunch of sun-kissed surfers who glowed with health and vitality.
The friendly young group from Moy Hill Community Gardenare growing and swapping organic food on land they’ve now bought on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean and by getting stuck in and digging, are attracting others to get involved in their garden by the sea too.
During the weekend passers by were encouraged to place tiny tiles in colourful mosaic patterns on circular boards
As we walked and talked we stroked trays of microgreens perched on pallet seating, were inspired by potatoes growing in large water containers, and goggled at new hybrid flower sprouts brought along by the Urban Farm who, among many things, are showing teenagers how to grow food in urban Dublin.
Niel Chills out with Percy Throwaway
The Community Gardens Irelandintroduced several varieties of Andean vegetables that are growing in County Kilkenny, helping to highlight how limited our food choices are when we shop in supermarkets, and the fantastic food choices we have when we grow our own.
We also launched Percy Throwaway to the world, a steam punk bug hotel built by Mr G that offered many photo and learning opportunities.
Festival goers were able to discuss the pros and cons of beekeeping and learn about, vertical pallet building and Master Composting schemes. They threw balls through cutouts and answered thought-provoking questions about nature and climate change in a game from Cloughjordan Community Farm.
In the Tipperary Eco village they grow food for families who are paying a regular fee to develop and run the farm that provides their vegetables throughout the year in their Community Supported agriculture scheme.
Dublin Cycling Campaign showed us some quirky, homemade bicycle contraptions, built to encourage us away from our fuel pumping cars, whilst the Bike Institute encouraged fitness as punters raced against one another on static bikes to the tunes of various DJ spun tunes.
Climate and Seeds
Self Help Africa displayed wonderful photographic images that captured dusty villagers in Africa coping with the effects of climate change that the West have inflicted upon them. Irish Seedsavers invited us to play a human fruit machine game that saw festival goers leave with big smiles and small packets of seeds to plant at home.
Meditation and Art
Surrounding us all were charming yurts, an art-filled tent and a comfy, cosy tepee, as well as carefully crafted sculpture and trickling water that flowed from a natural feature, creating spaces and encouraging visitors to absorb or reflect.
Despite looking out on the Despacio big top and the funfair, a comment was made that the community garden was
“a haven in the midst of all the noise and crowds”
No better compliment for a garden. Everyone who took the time to visit us walked away with a smile, and a glimpse of how many of us are working in and with nature to create and promote richer, more connected ways of life in their communities.
Giving people everywhere the opportunity to be in a community garden is an educating and enriching experience, no matter whether it’s on a rooftop, a two acre field or a small scrap of land.
The more people are able to visit, experience or work in community gardens, the more they’ll be likely to join, create or support them and as they do so, learn about the origins of food, soil, wildlife, food security and working with nature. Importantly, in an age that is becoming more disconnected as human interaction swings towards virtual, getting outside in a garden with people allows us the opportunity to continue to interact with one another.
Nature attracts us. Nature can calm and heal us. Nature connects us, and those of us who experience and love being surrounded by nature, simply want to save it.
Have you spent some time in the company of nature recently?
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