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Vegetable Garden

14 Vegetables to Grow In A Small Garden

May 11, 2013


Vegetables for a small garden

14 Vegetables to Grow in a Small Garden

“I don’t have much space, what are the best vegetables to grow outside in my small garden?”

This has been one of the most often asked questions which is encouraging as one of the first pieces of advice is start small! Why? Because you’re less likely to give up growing your own if you don’t take on too much at once.

You’ve installed a couple of raised beds, you’ve cleared a space for some veggies somewhere bright and sunny in your garden, or you’re even planning on planting vegetables among your flower borders or in containers; now you’re wondering what you might grow in your small vegetable garden that will give you the most return for your efforts. The following might help you take the next steps to growing vegetables in a small garden. Continue Reading…

Community Gardens

Choosing flowers & planting spuds. A day in the life of a community garden.

April 4, 2013

Choosing Bedding Plants in the Community Garden

Still very cold at night but sun at last!

We spent a good part of the morning pouring over a catalogue from a nursery that sells plug plants and coming up with an order list for the village planting scheme. There are lots of beds, hanging baskets and containers that we’ll be filling full of colour but it was no easy task choosing and agreeing on the combinations!


Meanwhile Liam and James escaped from the women for a few minutes and headed outside where they dug the potato trenches and planted the chitted potatoes. We also laid down the growing mat that Sow Easy Sow had donated which we’ll be planting our brassicas in.


We moved the rhubarb (giving it a double layer of protection to help to prevent shock.


James planted peas into modules full of multipurpose compost. Although the seed packets will be telling you to sow from April, it’s still too cold to plant most seeds directly outside just yet.

How about this for a recycled plant pot idea that a visiting gardener bought along?


How are your garden preparations going? Are you making the most of the dry days?

Community Gardens

In the Community Garden in March

March 27, 2013

Here we are, the last week of March and more snow, more biting cold winds and still nothing at all sown outside in Goresbridge community garden! Thankfully the weather hasn’t been remotely as bad as those living in Co Antrim or the UK, (Lorna over at the Irish Farmerette blog has written a post about their hardships and the difficulties farmers are facing due to the long winter-spring). 

A tree in March in BaunreaghAs I left home to meet up with gardeners this week, the sky was heavy with its frosty load and the huge flakes softly floated around me as I tentatively set off once again down the slippery hilly lanes.

There was snow in the community garden with most of the beds frozen, but inside we were starting to see slow signs of life.

The potatoes are chitting nicely…


We transplanted strawberry runners into guttering that will be hung on the wall outside when the weather warms up a bit.

strawberries at Goresbridge community gardenVery few seeds have germinated that were sown two weeks ago, it’s been so cold. The rocket is just up, a few tiny lettuce plants and some kale. We’ll be sowing fresh seeds over the next few weeks to counteract the losses/non germination…

Lastly we were able to thin out and divide the chives that we planted from seed a couple of years ago that were in danger of taking over the herb bed.

goresbridge community garden chives

There is one delightfully uplifting area of the garden during this barren time… a large container full of pretty spring flowers. Fingers crossed for a warmer Wednesday next week!

spring flowers in the community garden


Vegetable Garden

Growing Vegetables Under a Cloche

February 25, 2013

Photo Credit: Mr H of Subsistence Pattern Food Garden

If you want to get ahead of the game and start sowing early vegetable crops, a very effective way of doing this is to plant seeds or seedlings under a cloche.

This is something that growers in colder parts of the world such as Mr H. in North Idaho of Subsistence Pattern Food Garden has had to do by necessity if he wishes to grow his own food for more than a few brief months of the year (he’s self-sufficient for 365 days of the year incidentally).

In Ireland early peas, carrots and lettuce can all be sown outside under cloches in late February and this handy piece of vegetable gardening kit can be quite useful if you don’t have a greenhouse, polytunnel or windowsills to start seedlings off inside. A cloche can also be placed over potato or other frost tender plants if a late frost threatens and will prevent their leaves being burnt.

Fleece ClocheCloches come in all shapes, sizes and materials including glass, fleece or plastic or you can make your own and are most often used to give your crops an early start or a late finish.  They’re placed over the soil or crops, protecting them from frost, rain and wind.

Bell Cloches (Photo Credit Nutley’s Kitchen Garden)

It’s recommended that cloches have end pieces to prevent them from becoming wind tunnels – in the case of fleece or sheet plastic the ends can be gathered up and pegged down.  Remember to ventilate them too as the weather gets warmer – temperatures can get very high, very quickly. By covering your plants you’ve effectively made a mini greenhouse or polytunnel for them. The hoops on the long horizontal cloches can be made from metal, flexitube or wood.

It’s important to remember to water plants when under a cloche and that the leaves don’t touch the structure (just as in cold, in warm weather they may burn too).

To make your own mini cloches, cut the bottoms off clear plastic bottles remove the lids and push the top part into the soil over the seedling.

These bottles have the added bonus of protecting delicate small plants from slugs, birds and mice are another great way of recycling.


Do you use cloches to enable you to start sowing vegetables earlier or protect the plants from frost or do you wait for the weather to warm up?

Green, Vegetable Garden

Will You Ditch the Chemicals and Choose Blight Resistant Potatoes This Year?

February 8, 2013

As a result of conversations with community gardeners this week, today’s post looks at the alternative to spraying for potato blight every year, by planting blight resistant varieties instead.

I’ve written an extensive post on choosing, understanding the terminology and growing potatoes in the past. I’ve also written one listing eight ways of managing potato blight, but as minds turn towards garden centre shelves and catalogues full of seed potatoes, blight resistant varieties can offer a real alternative to spraying.

Why Choose Blight Resistant Potatoes?

potato blight

potato blight

If you choose blight resistant varieties it will eliminate the need to spray with fungicides. I remember Irish weather forecaster Evelyn Cussack telling us that Ireland sees blight conditions nine years out of ten.

For several years we’ve grown Sarpo Mira potatoes in our garden. They’re a maincrop variety so are actively growing during the usual humid months that the blight fungus (Phytophthora infestans)  thrives. So far the Sarpos have never been infected with blight, even when the tomatoes succumbed (same vegetable families will pick up the same diseases).

Feeling complacent from our blight free years, last year I planted Red Duke of Yorks (not blight resistant but I’d heard they were delicious). I didn’t spray with the organic blight alternative Bordeaux Mixture, as we generally steer clear of all sprays here, organic or otherwise. It really didn’t come as a surprise when the day before we headed off to the US for the summer, I saw the first signs of blight appearing on leaves.

Chopping the plants off at soil level as soon as I spotted the initial signs (see picture above for symptoms) may well have saved my two potato beds from serious infection, but leaving the tubers in the soil for two months over a very wet summer while we were away didn’t. Despite the problems, we managed to save two small sackfuls and can rest assured that we now have vegetable beds full of very plump worms! I’ve learnt my lesson. From now on in I’ll be choosing one of the blight resistant varieties listed below. (If I’d planted Sarpos, because of their blight resistance they would have been growing throughout August, the foliage would have protected them from the worst of the wet weather and we wouldn’t have come home to mushy spuds.)

From a commercial point of view, farmers face great difficulties growing potatoes in Ireland with our unpredictable weather, as well as suffer huge expenses. Popular potatoes that we’re familiar with in greengrocers and supermarkets are likely to be sprayed 20+ times during their growing season (chemicals such as Dithane can be sprayed every 10-14 days). That’s a lot of unnecessary chemicals entering your bloodstream, however ‘safe’ they claim to be, when a home-grown chemical free alternative can be planted as an option.

anti gmo marchIn an attempt to address the problems faced by farmers, under a mass of controversy, Teagasc have been growing and researching genetically modified crops in a field in Carlow. Organic farmers and growers (myself included) have been up in arms about this development, concerned that humans are being used as guinea pigs for this untested science.

However, convincing commercial farmers to swap their tried, tested and popular potato varieties for blight free replacements will not be easy.

In 2012 SPUDS (Sustainable Potatoes United Development Project) run by the Lifeline Project in partnership with the Savari Research Trust asked Irish growers to grow naturally blight resistant potatoes (such as Sarpo Mira) as part of their research project (I missed the press release hence the Duke of Yorks). Their website is still under reconstruction so I can only assume they’re busy collating responses. I’m anticipating hearing good results given the feedback I’ve heard from other growers, as well as my own experiences of planting Sarpos.

blight resistant potatoesBlight Resistant Varieties available

For a full list of potato varieties and their resistance to various disease including early and late blight, see the The British Potato Variety Database which is regularly updated. The following includes the popular blight resistant varieties you should be able to find in your garden centres or online garden shops along with their waxy/floury qualities – one of the first question I’m asked by people looking for advice on what varieties to sow.

blight resistant potatoesIt’s important to note that the blight pathogen mutates regularly so potatoes that may once have been able to resist blight, may no longer be able to.

Have you grown blight resistant potatoes in the past? Did they resist the parasitic fungal disease and importantly if more people are to be encouraged to grow them, did you enjoy eating them? I’d love to hear your own experiences.

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?

Food & Drink

St Patrick’s Day – Gardening, Parades and Potato Cake Recipe

March 17, 2011

St Patrick's Day in Ireland - parades, food and familyDetermined to take a day off, the holiday started well with a long lay in, mug of tea and a copy of Gardeners World. Unusually, and totally out of character, the children were all up and dressed in their scout uniforms (waiting for the local parade to start at 3.00pm) by the time I got up. It was 10.30am and a gloriously sunny St Patrick’s morning.

After a couple of free overseas mobile phone calls (thank you Vodaphone), I left the bacon to soak and headed out to the garden. The front flower beds are always the last to receive attention, with all work usually centred around the veggy beds.

However, feeling inspired by my earlier reading, I attacked the docks, dandelions and little tingly nettles with enthusiasm, imagining the scent and colour that will hopefully fill the garden in a few months time.

As Mr G can attest, gardening often gets in the way of mealtimes, but I tore myself away from the weeding, and with our middle daughter as a willing helper started to prepare the St Patrick Day’s lunch.

Freshly picked today

Even though Mr G was away for the day we’d planned a traditional lunch. Bacon accompanied by home-grown parsnips, kale, a few of the remaining swedes, and some french beans that were frozen last summer would all be on the menu, leaving carrots and potatoes to prepare from the shop bought veg.

I won’t harp on about boiling bacon and peeling veg, but I will share an old favourite potato cake recipe that I cook whenever friends of family visit from the UK, or on a special day like today. It’s a handy recipe to have up your sleeve too for those annoying times when you only have a few spuds left but have to feed a big crowd.

Potato Cakes

Potato Cake Recipe (feeds 4-5)


70g butter
225 gm self-raising flour
225g mashed potato, cooled
salt, pepper
a little milk


Preheat the oven to 225oC. Sieve the flour into a bowl, then add the butter, rubbing it in. Add the mashed potato and seasoning and mix together. Add enough milk to bring the mixture together and make a dough.

Roll out the dough on a floured board, place on a greased baking tray, marking it in triangles and place in the oven for about 25 minutes.

I also made a mustard seed sauce to accompany the bacon but didn’t measure the ingredients, so I’m guessing to a certain degree. There’s just about enough here for two portions as the flavour’s are a bit too strong for the children!

Potato Dough

Mustard Seed Sauce

Pour 3 ladles of the bacon cooking liquer into a saucepan and boil until it is reduced by about half. Add half a carton of creme fresh and cook for about 10 minutes. Add a teaspoon of mustard seeds and a small knob of butter to taste.

Sadly, as also happens regularly in this house, the yummy dinner was placed on the table 10 minutes before we were due to leave for the parade. It’s always such a rush here! The good news was that we had a pudding to look forward to when we returned – strawberry and rhubarb crumble that Granny and middle daughter made and froze last summer. Numumumum!

Happy St Patrick’s Day

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’.