Browsing Tag


Vegetable Garden

Does a Cuckoo Spit? Surely not…

June 15, 2013

Cuckoo Spit & Froghoppers

Several years ago I recall seeing lots of white, bubbly ‘spit’ on flowers, leaves and stems and wondering what it was. On enquiry I found it was “cuckoo spit”, which didn’t really help my over active imagination as however hard I tried, I couldn’t picture a bird that’s synonymous with spring with such a bad habit? Surely this couldn’t be?

cuckoo spitSo I looked it up. I very quickly found that the connection between the unsavoury looking froth and cuckoos is tenuous. You’re most likely to see the ‘spit’ in your garden at the same time as you hear the cuckoo sing – from late spring onwards. The birds have nothing whatsoever to do with it’s production.  Continue Reading…

Vegetable Garden

Slugs & Snails – Slug Defence Gel

June 10, 2013

How are you finding the slugs this year? Quite frankly I’m fed up with them already and we’re only half way through. Despite various attempts at protecting seedlings I’ve lost all bar one of my own kale plants as well as chard and beetroot seedlings and have had to re-sow them. I can completely understand why people get so exasperated with these destructive and hungry little creatures!

sluggel.jpgI don’t mind slugs and snails too much in my flower beds as they don’t seem to do as much damage there, but in the veg patch it’s a different matter.

Mr slug didn't like the gel at all!

Mr slug didn’t like the gel at all!

We’ve been suffering the same problems with slugs and snails in the community gardens too.

In Goresbridge the beer traps have worked very well in the polytunnel and are full every time we check them.

Today in Callan community garden we’re trying a different product that I haven’t spotted before – Slug Defence Gel that one of the gardeners Siobhan picked up in the local Woodies store.

You can see from the photos, it’s exactly what it says it is on the bottle – a liquid gel. We’ve added a ring of it around the brassica plants that we planted out in the garden today, as well as squirted a ring around the entire bed in an effort to dissuade the slimy creatures. Continue Reading…

Community Gardens

New structures in the community garden

May 6, 2013

As spring belatedly arrives, the small community garden in Goresbridge begins to take shape…

New Structures in Goresbridge Community Garden

Can you spot the new structure that’s appeared between the beds? We managed to lure Peter back into the garden with his handyman skills and he’s built a lovely arch out of the old posts and wire that we found in the shed last week. We’ll be training the runner beans up and over it in a few weeks time.


Bridget’s learning how to toil the soil gently with the tip of the spade and knock the lumps of clay out.

Goresbridge Community Garden

It wont be long before the beds are full of flowers and vegetables

Inside the polytunnel the warmth has helped the plugs plants to come on. Thankfully we only found a couple of slugs and snails this week so no more seedling devastation for now. Continue Reading…

Community Gardens

Pests, Plugs & Posts – all in a morning’s work

April 27, 2013

The polytunnel at Goresbridge Community Garden is full to overflowing with plug plants for the village planting scheme. A couple of weeks ago we looked through the catalogues and chose a variety of plants for the flower scheme and they arrived last week, typically just after the morning class had finished, in two cardboard boxes.

Plug plants potted on for the village planting scheme

Plug plants potted on for the village planting scheme

Potting upA few of the gardeners went back to the garden later in the day and transplanted most of the plants from their plug trays into modules. Unfortunately not all of the trays were cleaned and when we arrived at the garden this week we noticed that some of the plants had been nibbled.

snailLiam started to check under each tray and lo and behold, the polytunnel was like a boarding home for molluscs. Every single pot and module had at least one if not three slugs or snails hiding under it and they were immediately dispatched. It did however, give the gardeners a dilemma. We’re gardening without chemicals which means NO regular slug pellets but the worry is that there’s a lot of money’s worth of plants that might potentially be breakfast for our hungry ‘little friends’.

Tidy Garden at Goresbridge

Grow mat pictured at the front donated to the garden by

Should we or shouldn’t we give in at the first major hurdle? The answer is no, we’ll do our best to manage the situation without the chemicals. We checked the tunnel and every pot in it from top to bottom and eradicated each and every slug and snail – there were just too many for the bird table and I think the ones that were placed on it managed to slither away before they were eaten. We then set about garden hygiene – tidying, moving and getting rid of anything unwanted that might lurk under it. Community gardeners will be popping in and out of the garden throughout the week and checking whether they’ve moved back and in the meantime I’ve been brushing up on this old post I wrote last year giving 14 methods of organic slug control. I’ll let you know how we get on!

the fruit and flower bedAside from a big garden tidy up, the fruit bed was weeded and raked over ready to take a sowing of some annual flower seeds that we’ll be adding to the bed the Bridge Boys prepared last year. Also Peter was lured back by the banter, tea and biscuits to build something that I’ll unveil in the next couple of weeks out of recycled bits and pieces that had been left in the compost shed.

reuse recycle

Things are certainly looking up in this pretty little garden. How are your own growing preparations going?

Green, Vegetable Garden

8 Tips for Managing Potato Blight

August 22, 2012

Potato BlightHere we are, almost at the end of August and three months after first being alerted, still hearing potato blight warnings in Ireland. Not surprising really given the damp warm conditions Ireland has been under for many weeks, but if you’re growing potatoes or tomatoes it’s imperative you keep vigilant.

Blight is tricky to control organically and there’s a lot of confusion about what home growers are ‘allowed’ to use or not.

A couple of years ago I was informed that I could use copper sulphate, which was available as Bluestone in most chemists and that I could make up my own Burgundy mixture (a mix of copper sulphate, washing soda & water).  However, on enquiry at the local pharmacy I was told that they were no longer allowed to sell Bluestone and that it was illegal to make up my own solution, so that scuppered that idea.

Potato BlightWhat can organic growers do to prevent blight affecting crops?

Blight is a parasitic fungus (Phytophthora infestans) that usually attacks in the summer months in humid conditions and is carried on the wind.  It can attack leaves, stems and tubers and can also cause Tomato Blight as tomatoes and potatoes are in the same (Solanacea) family.

  1. The method that has been the most effective in my experience is to plant resistant varieties. Sarpo Miras (an early maincrop), Sarpa Axona (maincrop) and Blue Danube (early maincrop) all show excellent blight resistance. Setanta (maincrop) and Orla (early) are Irish varieties that have shown good resistance too.
  2. Planting early crops of potatoes (new potatoes) will help as the idea is that they will have matured before blight warnings are issued. However, in 2011 warnings were issued mid-May so that can’t always be guaranteed.
  3. Keep earthing up potatoes as they grow (bringing the soil up around the stems). This will help to protect the potato tubers in the ground should blight attack.
  4. When placing the seed potatoes into the soil, use the maximum spacing suggested. This will ensure there’s an airflow between growing plants.
  5. Practice good crop rotation
  6. Good hygiene. Ensure beds are as weed free as possible.
  7. Vigilance. If you notice blight on the leaves, cut the stems at ground level leaving the tubers in the ground for at least ten days before moving them. Unless you have a really hot compost system, you will need to move the foliage away from your site, disposing of it safely. Blight is often recognised by a white furry ring on the underside of leaves that outlines the brown splodge (see top picture).
  8. If none of those methods appeal or you’ve tried them before and they haven’t

    image courtesy The Secret Garden Centre

    worked, Bordeaux Mixture is approved for organic use and can be sprayed onto your crops. (Thanks to @KathyMarsh for the update: Under Irish organic standards you may use up to 6kg per hectare per year. You no longer have to ask permission but must record why you used it.) This is a preventative measure however and should be sprayed before the risk of blight. It’ll be no good whatsoever spraying it on afterwards. Bordeaux Mixture is available from good garden centres or online.

It’s difficult to talk about blight without mentioning the GM potato trials that will going on in Teagasc at Oak Park, Carlow that many of us alarmed by the increase in GM crops are nervous about. I’ve written about GM in previous posts and here’s a link to an excellent article in explaining that GM crops aren’t just about the science – they’re about the politics. are running an awareness campaign to educate the public about the availability of naturally blight resistant varieties that are available in Ireland. If you’d like to find out more about what they’re doing, please head over to their website, sign up for their newsletter and show them some support.

Have your crops been affected by blight this year? Did you find that planting resistant varieties has helped?


The Greenside Up Vegetable Garden – Video Blog

June 5, 2012
Structures in the Vegetable Garden

It’s a ‘soft’ day here – Structures in the Vegetable Garden

My Vegetable Garden (4th June 2012)

So here we are three months after my first video and it’s starting to look like a ‘proper’ vegetable garden once again. All the frames and structures are in place with seeds, seedlings and plants growing in most of the beds now.

Herbs in the Polytunnel

An insect eye’s view of the herbs

We’re picking and harvesting herbs, broad beans, lettuce, spinach and strawberries and with the warm weather a couple of weeks ago, at last we’re all noticing growth in everything. It’s been slow this year with the cold night-time temperatures causing many people I speak with problems. Even the heated benchdidn’t help us much here – my chilli seedlings are still tiny! The hope now is that the potatoes don’t succumb to blight when vegetable growers have only just got over the frost damage.

Slugs have been the most destructive pest here to date. I’ve tried egg shells (not bad), coffee (seems to deter them), organic slug pellets (see the photo on last month’s post – they were rubbish) and NemaSlug (think it was too hot for them and despite watering, the soil just not wet enough). I’m now trying a sample of Slug GoneWool Pellets around a couple of bean plants to see how they fare.

The Greenside Up Garden - 5 June 2012

The Greenside Up Garden – 5 June 2012

The best method I’ve found by far has been going out to the garden and picking the slugs off the grass surrounding the beds or even the seedlings themselves. I know Jane Powers suggested in her recent Irish Times article that the kindest way to dispose of slugs is by snipping them in half with scissors but I’m sorry, I just can’t bring myself to do it. So into a bottle of hot water it is for them 🙁 maybe my nerves will strengthen in time and I’ll try the more humane method soon.

If you have any questions, observations or comments on the methods I’m using here please feel free to ask/say. Feedback is good and I might learn something!

Vegetable Garden

Slugs ~ 15 ways to deal with them organically

April 11, 2012

Slugs, slugs, slugs…. what’s the best solution to ridding our vegetable patches, gardens and borders of these slimy little beings without automatically reaching for the slug pellets? It’s the question I’m asked the most and everyone has their own answer.

Slugs ~ 15 ways to deal with them organically

Before you start obliterating the garden of every last slug in sight however, it’s important to know that not all of them are baddies. Leopard slugs (which we found with a mouth stuffed full of cat food one evening!) also eat dead animals and hunt other slugs.  Defra have a page here containing the most common which will help with identification, and I’d recommend you take a peek as slugs can do great work for us in our compost heaps.

So now you know your leopards from your common or grey keeled varieties, what can you do to get rid of them?

From beer to salt, copper to egg shell’s, I’ve heard lots of tips and advice over the years. Here are the most common fifteen:

Slugs ~ 15 ways to deal with them organically

No. 1 – Encourage predators

Birds, frogs, toads, Devils coach-horse beetles and hedgehogs all like to snack on slugs. Ducks and some hens (sadly not mine!) enjoy snacking out on them too if you’re lucky enough to have them. Turning over soil will expose the slugs to birds in dry weather.  If you let your poultry roam the  garden but are worried about your seedlings and plants, covering the soil with horticultural fleece should be enough of a deterrent to keep them away.

No. 2 – Beer traps

Bury shallow plastic containers around your garden (take away containers are the ideal size) and sacrifice a drop of your favourite brew. If you can’t bear to give up your drink, pubs may give you something from the slop bucket if you ask nicely. Be careful not to fully bury the container though – leave a small ‘lip’ above the soil level so that beneficial beetles don’t fall in and drown. Alternatively pour some beer into a spray bottle and spray all the weeds. As the slugs like the beer so much the idea here is that they’ll eat the weeds, leaving your veggies alone. You’d have to question whether you want your garden to smell like a brewery though.

No. 3 – Egg shells

I’ve tried these and I personally didn’t notice a difference. However, as we have hens and use a lot of eggs I heard a new method recently that I’m going to try. Collect and wash egg shells then heat in the oven to harden them. Put the egg shells in a food processor and blitz until small, then place a protective ring around seedlings. A friend swears by this! You could also use sawdust, sand or seaweed – all of which are might to hinder the slugs movements.

No. 4 – Copper

Mr G spent ages stripping the copper out of some old electrical wire a few years back, patiently stapled it around the raised beds and placed a slug in pole position to test out the theory that slugs don’t like copper. The slug smooched his way over the wire and straight into the veggie bed. The trick with the copper is to use lots – thick bands can be purchased at garden centres, or even better if your budget will allow, buy copper tools that discard tiny pieces into the soil.

Slugs ~ 15 ways to deal with them organically

No. 5 – Traps

If you don’t like to kill creatures of any description you can trap slugs safely. Cover an area with cardboard or black plastic before sowing. The slugs will all hide under it so that when you expose them a few days later you can pick them off. Slugs also like grapefruit so leave halved and emptied shells lying around (dome side up) with little doorways cut into them. The slugs will head into them, hiding away until you can  collect them up and add them to the compost heap.

No. 6 – Instant Death

If you prefer to permanently get rid of slugs the quickest way is to put boiling water into an empty milk carton, pick them up and drop them in. I’ve read that after a few days this foul-smelling solution can be watered onto soil which will detract other slugs from venturing onto it, but have yet to try it. I’ve another friend who simply cuts them in half with scissors – I guess when you’ve seen slugs wipe out your entire seed collection the war is on!

Slugs ~ 15 ways to deal with them organically

Leopard Slug

No. 7 – Microscopic nematodes

‘Phasmarhabditis hermaphrodite’ also known as NemaSlug are available online that can be watered onto plants. They’re supposed to be very effective but the downside is that they’re quite pricey and will have to be re-applied after six weeks or so.

No. 8 – ‘Safe’ iron based phosphate slug pellets

Such as “Growing Success Advanced Slug Killer” or Ferramol Phosphate which is approved for organic farming. Unlike ‘regular’ slug pellets these will only kill slugs and snails. Regular slug pellets are usually made from poisoned cereals containing Metaldehyde or Methiocarb which (because they are food based) are also attractive to cats, dogs, birds and hedgehogs.

No. 9 – Caffeine

Slugs and snails do not like coffee. Sprinkling coffee grounds around plant bases will act as a repellent, as does filling a spray with cold, strong coffee and spraying slugs.

Slugs ~ 15 ways to deal with them organically

Slug Damaged Bean

No. 10 – Bran

This came out tops in a Gardeners World trial a few years ago. They placed a ring of bran around each plant ensuring it didn’t touch the stems. As slugs are almost entirely made up of water, the bran had a desiccating effect which killed them. Salt would have a similar effect but as its toxic to all but a few salt tolerant creatures and plants, and not good for the soil it isn’t recommended.

No. 11 – Planting flowers and herbs

Some plants are known to repel slugs so placing plants such as Astrantia, Lady’s Mantle, Dianthus, Foxglove, Geranium, Peony, Lavender, Phlox, Alyssum and Lobelia, African violet, Strawberry Begonia and Gloxinia may help. It’s unlikely that anybody with a standard vegetable patch/allotment arrangement would go to this trouble but may be worth trying some. I can’t help but think how lovely a lavender hedge around my patch would look and smell though, and attract lots of bees and hoverflies in too.

Slugs ~ 15 ways to deal with them organically

Slug Protection

No. 12 – Start seedlings off indoors 

Once they’re a decent size of around 10cm or so in height, transplant them outside. If you’re unable to do this, place a cut-in-half clear drink bottle around seeds/seedlings until they’re bigger and stronger (leave the lid off to allow for ventilation.

No. 13 – Watering

Slugs prefer dark, damp conditions so if they are a problem in your garden, avoid watering in the evenings.

No. 14 – Diatomaceous earth and or rock lava

These have been used as a barrier around plants as their sharp edges lacerate the soft-bodied slugs, ultimately leading to dehydration and death.

No. 15 – Garlic

Slugs don’t like the smell so you could try crushing a clove and adding it to the watering can, sprinkling the mixture over areas worse affected.

Have you any sure-fire tips for saving your vegetables from slugs? Have any of these worked for you? 

Vegetable Garden

Wednesday Wigglers ~ Red Spider Mite

September 1, 2011

Yesterday we discovered the dreaded red spider mite in the community garden polytunnel. After the initial surprise, the questions flowed:

Red Spider Mite

Red Spider Mite

How Do You Know it is Red Spider Mite?

Initially we noticed a pale mottling on the surface of the leaves of plants, namely aubergines in this case (which the mites have a particular taste for).

As you peer closer, particularly if you have a heavy infestation as we had, you may notice webs speckled with tiny flakes of dust. As you look closer still you’ll notice that the dust moves and isn’t dust at all, but the tiny mites (they’re less than 1 mm long).

Red Spider Mite

What Do Red Spider Mites Do?

Red spider mites are sap-feeders which means they have a toxic saliva that results in the leaves discolouring. In the case of glasshouse mites, initially the leaves become a dull green but then increasingly a yellowish-white. Eventually leaves can dry up and fall off.

The mottled leaves can resemble a mineral deficiency so if you notice any discolouration in leaves they will always call for further investigation.

Red Spider Mite

So Red Spider Mites aren’t Red Then?

Red spider mites only turn an orange-red in the autumn and winter months when the adult female hibernates. Until then they are yellowish-green in colour, so no, they’re not the little red spiders that you often see scurrying across paths and brickwork.

Will Red Spider Mites attack everything?

They have a varied diet, are fond of a range of plants in a greenhouse, polytunnel or even indoors. In dry summers they will also feed on strawberries, currents and beans as well as other outdoor plants.

How did we get them?

As they’re so easy to miss because of their size the likelihood is that they were brought if from another garden/polytunnel with an infestation.

One of the lovely things about gardening is swapping plants but unless you can be absolutely sure they were grown in a pest free environment, be cautious. Always clean and disinfect pots and containers every year before sowing as they can harbour pests, and of course – be vigilant.

I hadn’t been to the community garden over the summer holiday weeks, only returning last week for a tidy and catch up and unless you’ve seen an infestation before, it’s very easy to miss.

Red Spider Mite

What do we do? How do we get rid of them?

Undercover in warm, dry conditions they breed rapidly so regularly hosing down in greenhouses, etc will help to raise the humidity and give some control. They can over winter though so once you’ve identified you have them, you need to eradicate them before they start to breed again in the spring time.

If you’re gardening without the use of pesticides as we are in the community garden, then biological control is likely to be the most effective method of ridding them.

This means we will be introducing predatory mites Phytoseiulus Persiliis into the polytunnel in the hope that they will target and attack the Red Spider Mites.

If the infestation isn’t too severe insecticidal soaps can work too.

In the meantime, we’ve removed all the aubergines from the polytunnel and away from the garden entirely as they were heavily infected and we’re keeping a very close eye on the cucumbers that are in the next bed.

We’ll all be looking very closely at our own gardens and polytunnels/greenhouses too and hoping that they didn’t hitch a ride home on any of our clothing.