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Community Gardens

Callan Community Garden ~ Progress At Last

April 14, 2013

This is my first post about my Monday gardening group at Callan Community Garden as we haven’t had many pictures to show you!

I started working with this Kilkenny Leader funded project back in the autumn of 2012 with a four-week, indoor, introductory course that approximately 15 people attended. Of those around eleven signed up to participate in the community garden that I’m working with for the coming year.

As you can see from the picture below, our area is quite small and was very overgrown with perennial weeds when we began. However, as soon as the soil was dry enough and not frozen solid, we headed out and got stuck in.

Callan Community Garden - winter 2012/2013

It might be small but we expect great things! Callan Community Garden

First on the agenda was some serious hand weeding. The bed was chock-a-block with creeping buttercup, dandelions and docks – all indicators that we were working in a clay soil – something we’d already established during the four-week introductory course. 

Well Rotted Horse ManureIt appeared that no organic matter had been added to the soil since the beds were built some time ago, so thanks to a donations, we remedied that by adding several wheelbarrow loads to all but the area allocated for the carrots and parsnips.


The bed really needed the addition of well-rotted organic matter to help to break down the heavy clay soil

We’ve spent a lot of time preparing the soil for this garden as it was so neglected. Inside the polytunnel our small allocated area was like dust…

Inside the polytunnel at Callan Community Garden

The area for the community gardeners, the rest of the tunnel is shared with St Bridget’s School & the BTEI Group

At last the weather warmed up enough to plant the chitted blight resistant potatoes, onions, garlic and broad beans.

Planting onions at Callan Community Garden

We use a board to avoid standing on the prepared soil

Today we were able to start sowing seeds inside the polytunnel. As we’ve been waiting for funding for equipment, it’s been a great excuse to show everybody how they can reuse and recycle household “rubbish”. The gardeners have been very inventive but it’s meant that the precious funds can be spent on seeds rather than pots!

Using recycled household "rubbish" in the Community Garden

Using recycled household rubbish in the Community Garden

Recycled pots and trays only for Callan Community Garden

Westland Peat Free vs Suretart Seed & Cutting Compost

Westland Peat Free Compost (top) vs Suretart Seed & Cutting Compost (bottom)

We’ve used this to our advantage by running some experiments on the differences and I’ll let you know how they compare over the coming weeks.

Lastly Alma filled the onion section with twigs to stop the birds pulling them out of the ground ~ no those little brown things aren’t worms, they’re our alliums trying to grow roots!

I’ll keep you updated over the coming weeks on how the garden’s progressing. Sign up for the blog posts at the bottom of the page if you’d like to keep up to date.


Vegetable Garden

What does it mean when your vegetables are ‘bolting’?

September 29, 2012
onion flower

Onion (Allium) Flower

When you’re involved in gardening it’s very easy to forget that simple terms we use on a day-to-day basis might as well be written or spoken in another language to non-gardeners. A question I’ve been asked a few times recently is “What’s a bolting vegetable?”, followed by “Why does it do that?” and “Can I stop it happening?”. As several of my plants are currently bolting, or in other terms ‘going to seed’, it seems like a good time to explain.

What is Bolting?

Visions of carrots uprooting, donning Lycra and sprinting across fields aside, the term bolting is used to describe plants that are starting to flower prematurely – or in other words before we’d like them to. Many plants can be affected – this year I’ve seen lettuce, spinach, cauliflower, kale, chard and onions produce flowers much earlier than we would have liked.

Parsley Flowers

Parsley Flowers

What causes Bolting?

Vegetable plants will turn to seed automatically when their life cycle is coming to an end – it’s their natural state to want to reproduce and spread their seed before they die. However, if they become stressed they may produce flowers much earlier.

Another reason is that some plants (radish, lettuce and spinach for instance) are sensitive to the lengthening daylight hours and will take the opportunity to start producing flowers.

How do plants become ‘stressed’?

So what causes our onions to throw out long stems with pretty pompom flowers on top or our kale to develop delicate yellow flowers that the bees and hoverflies adore?

Unsettled weather conditions are a prime cause of stress that will cause bolting and 2012 gave us a good example.

Chive Flower

Chive Flower

We experienced a mild winter which continued into early spring. This was followed by a couple of weeks of lovely warm weather at a time many of us were sowing our seeds – if memory serves me correctly the end of May was a bit of scorcher (by Irish standards) and under normal circumstances would have been the prime direct sowing time for many plants. However, by early June the warm days continued (albeit quite damp) but night-time temperatures plunged, almost to zero on a few occasions. These fluctuations in temperature would have been enough to stress developing seedlings.

Another stress factor might include dry soil – a result of warm days and erratic watering which can be avoided once you’re aware of it.

Kale Flowers

Kale Flowers

Can we stop bolting?

We can certainly delay it. As soon as you spot a thick stem starting to appear in the middle of your onion plant, snap it off – if you allow it to continue it will put all its energy into producing a flower and not into developing an onion bulb as can be seen in the example below. If you notice kale developing flowers rather than leaves, snap them off too.

An onion that has been allowed to flower ~ at the expense of a large bulb

An onion that has been allowed to flower ~ at the expense of a large bulb

You can buy bolt resistant seeds for vegetables that are prone to it – there’s a popular variety of beetroot for instance called ‘Boltardy’.

Starting seedlings off in modules and planting them out once temperatures have settled often helps (although this year may have proved the exception).

Ensure your soil is in good condition. If it is, your plants will be stronger, grow faster and you’ll be harvesting them earlier, often before they’ve had a chance to become weather stressed or succumbed to the lengthening days.

Is there anything else I can do?

It might be worth remembering that many vegetable flowers are not only beautiful but edible too. There’s a lovely article here in the State-by-State Gardening Newsletter that has images of some very pretty vegetable flower arrangements. Here’s an example of one I like that is totally edible containing flowers from kale, fennel, verbena, rocket, peas, onion, beet and chard:

Edible Bouquet

Photo credit: Cindy Shapton,

Did you notice an increase in bolting this year or have you made flower arrangements from vegetable flowers? I’m heading out now to pick a few kitchen garden flowers for my table that I mightn’t have thought of before. If you can’t afford to buy cut flowers on a regular basis, perhaps you need look no further than your own garden or hedgerow…


Vegetable Garden

How to Grow Your Own Overwintering Onions

October 13, 2010
How to Grow Overwintering Onions

Onions and parsnip seedlings

Following on from 10 reasons why you should grow your own onions, here’s a post about how to grow overwintering varieties (planted in the Autumn).

Something to remember if you’re aiming for a year round supply of Alliums:

  • Overwintering onions will not be ready to harvest until early to mid-summer and don’t tend to store as well as onions that are sown in the spring (although they can be diced and frozen).
  • They do fill the gap (spring planted sets are usually ready late summer to autumn and will store until mid-spring the following year if stored well). Some people grow shallots to fill any gaps as they store particularly well.

1.  Find a supply

Luckily with the trend in grow your own building, finding a supplier is getting easier.  I bought two varieties, Radar and Senshyu Yellow in a local garden centre who were selling several varieties.  Priced at just €1.75 for 50, sets are generally considered easier to grow and less prone to disease (although they often bolt or run to seed).  Sets are also available on-line.

2.  Prepare the ground

Avoid planting onions in soil that’s been freshly manured or they will be too lush. I’ve planted mine in the patch that I’d manured for potatoes at the beginning of the year. Onions also prefer soil that has a fairly neutral pH of 6 to 7 so test it with a pH kit (easy to do, just follow instructions on the packet) and add lime as per instructions on the box if it’s very acidic. Avoid planting them where onions have grown in the last three to four years to prevent pests and diseases.

Use a marker to measure distance.

3. Position the Onions

Planting onionsI find it easier to place all the onions in position and then plant them.  I usually follow the recommended planting depths and distances on the packet but if I don’t have a packet usually plant them about 7-8 in apart each way.  The two packs I planted today recommended 5 in apart.

I then use a marker snapped to the correct length and a rake handle (or bamboo cane) laid across the bed as a marker.
(spot the health & safety hazard!)

From experience I’ve found it easier to place all the bulbs before planting so that I can see where they all are! It also gives me a second chance at checking that they’re the right way up.  The bottom of the bulb is usually flatter and the tip pointed.

4.  Plant the onion sets.

10 reasons to grow your own onionsOnions are sown quite high in the soil, about an inch deep, as opposed to garlic which is planted deeper.

If your soil is quite firm avoid pushing the bulb into it as you may damage it.  Use a dibber or a stick to loosen the soil first.

5.  Label.

Once you’ve planted all your sets, label them with the variety and date and watch them grow.

6. Aftercare

Keep an eye on the sets and re-plant them if birds dislodge them.

Ensure the soil is kept watered if there’s a dry spell.

Keep the soil weeded (which is much easier at this time of year as they’re not growing as quickly, if at all).<

In the spring you can add a seaweed-based feed which is full of nutrients and minerals to give your plants a boost.

7.  Pests and Diseases

If you’re prone to onion fly (where small maggots attack the seedlings), you can grow them under fine netting. Unfortunately you wont know you’re prone until you’ve experienced them!

There are no organic remedies for mildews and rots of onions (which will be worse in damp weather) that I’m aware of.

All that’s left of our summer crop, oh no!

8.  Harvesting

onions drying

You can lift and use the onions as you need them once they’re a reasonable size.  If you’re hoping to store them, wait until the foliage dies down and the tops bend naturally (see blog in September).


For more information about growing onions from seed, see the YouTube clip below:

Vegetable Garden

The Great Onion Harvest

September 6, 2010
31st May 2010

Ooooh, not sure whether to show you my onions or beans today…. onions I think as I harvested them all last week…..

Back in March I picked up a packet of Setton onion sets (small bulbs) from Heatons in Carlow.  I was a tad unsure about them as I usually buy my seeds/bulbs etc online or from garden centres.  However, on a whim I paid my €2.00, brought them home and planted them.

June 2010

Onions like to be kept as weed free as possible and they are last in my four year crop rotation, so were planted in the bed that last year housed the brassicas.  This is because the soil can build up eelworms (and other pests/diseases) if onions are grown in the same patch year after year. I didn’t manure the bed as I’d added a couple of barrow fulls before planting the broccoli.

So after what seemed like a slow start, they grew and the grew and they grew until the grew so much that I stopped them!

16 August 2010

You can tell when onions are ready to harvest as their tops start to die down and bend over. 

Although we’ve been using them fresh from the ground they were getting really big so I used a garden fork to ease them gently from where they’d rooted and then left them for a couple of weeks for the foliage to die down (almost naturally) before lifting them fully and drying them out (first in the garden and then moved into the polytunnel once the weather turned wetter.

 (Note: avoid bending the tops over to stop them growing as it increases the risk of rotting when they’re in storage.)

29th August 2010 – Onions drying in the sun once they’d been lifted

Once they’re fully dried out (the skins will feel like paper), I’ll hang them in bunches in the shed. I’m not great at plaiting onions (garlic’s easier as it’s smaller) but a similar effect can be achieved by wrapping them around string.  If you missed my Facebook link, here’s a great video on Garlic Braiding.

Last year we started to lose a few onions through rotting but managed to save them by trimming off all the bad bits then throwing the rest into a food processor, chopping them up and bagging them into meal sized bags and freezing them.  This turned out to be a great time saver as they could be placed straight into the saute pan from frozen!

Vegetable Garden

Battening down the hatches in the vegetable garden

March 29, 2010

Ian says I’m a pessimist – I say I’m a realist.  I guess we’re both right but I’m not taking any chances this week.  The weather men are forecasting snow tomorrow and having been caught out in the new year (i.e. snowed in for 5 days) this week we’re getting prepared.

It was a beautiful spring day yesterday so hard to believe the warnings.  However, we took the opportunity to tidy up the vegetable garden, do a bit more weeding and make it more weather proof.

First off we covered the potato bed with a double layer of horticultural fleece.  Potatoes are not frost hardy and although their haulms (stems) are not poking through the soil yet, being frozen into the soil wont do them much good either.

Then we covered the onion bed with a cloche.  Although garlic and shallots are pretty hardy, young onions are not so we’re taking no chances.  Sudden changes in temperature now can either destroy the young seedlings or cause them to bolt (flower at the expense of a large bulb).  We had some spare pipe and clear plastic laying around from the house renovation so are making use of it.  I also noticed last week that the birds have lifted a few bulbs so covering them for a while will prevent this.

Finally we’ve surrounded the plot with a light gauge wind fabric to give it more protection.  Unfortunately next door’s horses took a huge liking to the native hedge we’d planted and it’s now very sparse at the north end.  Initially Ian didn’t like the idea of the ‘artificial’ fabric. However, it’s made the garden feel much cosier and strangely more manageable and we’re now delighted we took the time to do it.

The optimistic side of me is now hoping the experts have got it all wrong.

Ian’s gone shopping ‘just in case’.