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
It’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.
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 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.
They 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.
Broad 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.
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.
Apart from the usual vegetables grown in Irish gardens such as potatoes, cabbage and runner beans, thanks to Fitzgerald Nurseries, we’ve also been able to grow a wonderful variety of unusual vegetables at the School. Pat started the Andean vegetables off as seedlings at the nursery and brought a few in for the course participants to transplant into larger containers, or plant straight into the soil in the School garden. If you read on you’ll find six of many unusual vegetable varieties currently growing in the School of Food garden.
The gardeners have enjoyed watching the Popcorn Fiesta develop in the polytunnel. Although corn can be grown outdoors, the seedlings were ready before the outside beds so because corn doesn’t like being transplanted, we planted them directly into the polytunnel soil. Corn is wind-pollinated so in its absence inside we had to help it’s pollination by shaking the male antennae on top of the plant, encouraging it’s pollen to fall directly onto the female tassels parts growing in the middle (see here for an older post with photos). It’s recommended to mulch and water Popcorn Fiesta in dry weather, but we’ve been saved this job thanks to an excellent irrigation system that’s been installed in the polytunnel.
Popping ‘Fiesta’ Corn
Growing Popcorn Fiesta
Popcorn Fiesta is available from various seed suppliers and can be sown from March to April in modules. Fibre pots or empty toilet roll holders are great for corn as they can be planted directly into the soil and will cause less root disturbance. Once germinated (around May to June), the seedlings can be planted directly outside or undercover in a polytunnel, (though be warned, they will get tall). Make sure the soil is well-drained and the corn is growing in a sunny spot. Plant them into block-like grids at least three plants deep leaving 45 cm between each plant.
Harvesting and Eating Popcorn Fiesta
The ears of corn are ready to harvest when the husks around them become dry and papery. Just twist and pull the corn off the plants. Once off, peel back the husks to reveal the wonderful cobs growing inside and leave them to dry for a few weeks, somewhere with good ventilation which will cut their water content. The cobs will store for up to a YEAR in an airtight container.
The best way to cook Fiesta Corn is to pop it. Place the cob in a paper bag, tie it closed with string and microwave it for two to three minutes or until the popping slows down to every couple of seconds. Alternatively, remove the dried kernels from the cob and place them in a saucepan with a small amount of oil. Put on the lid, turn up the heat and wait. Again, once the corn stops popping, remove the lid and you’ll find that your Fiesta corn has transformed into tasty popcorn!
(Physalis philadelphica, formerly know as Physalis ixocarpa)
Tomatillos are delightful to look at with their lantern-like papery covering. They’re very popular in Mexican dishes with a flavour that’s been described as a cross between a lime and a beefsteak tomato. However, just like their relatives the tomatoes and potatoes, they are members of the Nightshade family (Solanaceae) and have their poisonous parts. In the case of Tomatillos, all parts are poisonous except the fruit. However, unless you suffer allergies, don’t let that put you off.
We’ve found the tomatillos very easy to grow in the polytunnel. We planted the seedlings into well-drained soil and have done nothing other than water and weed around them, though a high potash feed could be given to them if necessary. Apart from looking pretty, Tomatillos are extremely productive, producing lots of lanterns (potentially up to 10 kg per plant) before the frosts arrive. As they grow you’ll notice that they begin to flop to the side, a natural development as they’ll begin to send out lots of lateral roots as they find new soil, allowing them to produce even more fruit. Like courgettes, two Tomatillo plants should be enough for one family but don’t plant less as they need another plant nearby for pollination.
Seeds can be started off indoors in seed trays in March and potted on to 5cm pots. They can be transferred to their final growing positions (in a polytunnel or outdoors) once all danger of frost has past, planting them around 1m apart.
Harvesting and Cooking Tomatillos
To harvest, once the fruit has developed inside enough that it’s bursting through it’s papery lantern, remove it from the plant, take off the husk and wash in warm water to remove the coating that’s waxy and bitter.
Another member of the Solanaceae family so related to both the tomatillos and tomatoes, Cape Gooseberries are native to Brazil but long ago adapted to the Andean heights and now grow wild up to 10,000 feet. They too carry cute little lanterns but these contain little orange berries that we’re more familiar with when they garnish our desserts.
In the School of Food garden we’re growing Cape Gooseberries in the polytunnel but they’ll grow outdoors in a sunny, frost-free site that’s sheltered from strong winds (given that they’ll grow at 10,000 feet in Puru they should be a dream outside here!)
Cape Gooseberries can be grown just like tomatoes, preferably on a propagator from seed from February to April, potted on to larger pots as they develop, before planting outside when all chances of frost have passed.
Cape Gooseberries need consistent watering if they’re to set a good crop of fruit so once again, the irrigation in the School garden polytunnel has been a real bonus. The plants are pretty easy to grow as they don’t need feeding or pruning but they aren’t tolerant of frost so keep an eye out and have some horticultural fleece ready as the seasons get cooler.
Harvesting and cooking
We will know the Cape Gooseberries are ready as they will fall to the ground, though may not all do so at once as they’ll mature at different stages. Once fully mature the berries will stay fresh in the fridge for several months and out of their little Chinese lanterns, the fruit can be eaten raw, as a garnish, added to smoothies and salsa and as they have a high pectin content, made into great jams.
Oca are being increasingly grown by gardeners in the UK and Ireland as the flavour of the tubers resemble potatoes, though sweeter, but they don’t carry the blight risk we’re plagued with here. We’re growing them in high raised beds at the School and looking forward to harvesting the knobbly tubers during the winter, but we’ll have to keep ahead of the game as they don’t like frost. Again, we will have to be ready with the horticultural fleece!
Oca tubers can be purchased in some garden centres or online during mid Spring and planted individually into pots of multipurpose compost. Once the chances of frost have passed, the developing tubers can be planted outside in beds that have been previously prepared with well-rotted organic matter. Alternatively the tubers can be planted directly into the soil from around May onward. Oca spacing and care is like potatoes, but plant them up to 36cm apart if you want a heavy crop of tubers and to allow them to spread out and grow.
Harvesting and Cooking Oca
Oca tubers don’t begin to develop until after the Autumn equinox and will continue to grow even when temperatures have plummeted, but it’s a good idea to cover their foliage with fleece to prevent the soil freezing and you being unable to dig them out. During December or January try lifting the tubers and take a peek, they should be ready to harvest. Oca will need to be dried fully before storing in a cool, dry shed.
For more information on harvesting Oca, Anni’s Perennial Veggies blog carries an interesting post on her experiences with this unusual vegetable. Anni also curries her Oca which sounds delicious.
Another tasty Andean vegetable that’s grown for it’s tubers, Yacon (also known as ground apple or pear of the earth) are a sweet vegetable, rich in indigestible sugars, just like Jerusalem artichokes, but without the calories of biscuits and cake!
Just like Oca, Yacon is another perennial vegetable and very easy to grow, though does have a long growing season with again, tubers being formed in the autumn months. Yacon can only be grown from tubers or divided plants, and hopefully they’ll become more readily available here in Ireland as Fitzgerald Nurseries continue their trials, particularly as Yacon grow well both inside and out in an Irish garden.
“Nose below the surface in late autumn and you’ll see that Yacon produces two sets of roots – the large edible tubers that act as the energy storage facility for the plant, and the smaller propagation roots (resembling Jerusalem artichokes) which grow just under the soil surface and are the seeds for the following year’s growth.
When you lift your Yacon plants to harvest the tubers, cut the stems back to about 10cm long and store the crowns covered in damp compost in a cool frost-free place where they won’t dry out.
In early spring plant the crowns into large pots and wait for shoots to start growing from each small tuber. Split the crowns into individual shoots with their tubers attached and plant into smaller pots.”
As the frosts come along, we can expect the Yacon foliage to wither and that’s the time to harvest the tubers. We’ll lift them carefully just like potatoes, removing the tubers from the crown.
We have other Andean vegetables growing in the School garden but number 6 of this list of 6 unusual vegetables, is the superfood Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-WAH) which is in the same botanical family as sugar beet. Popular with vegetarians, vegans or anyone who doesn’t mind straying away from the usual meat and two veg, Quinoa grain tastes a little like couscous, and can be cooked similarly too. The best thing about Quinoa however, is that both the leaves and the grain can be eaten and it’s very high yielding, meaning you don’t need a lot of space to produce a good harvest. Ten plants will produce a pound of grain.
Sowing and Growing Quinoa
Quinoa seed can be sown directly into the soil where it’s to grow from mid-April but to get a head start, seeds can be sown in small pots and planted outside at the end of May. Quinoa seedlings should be planted around 30cm apart, watered and left to grow, which they’ll happily do without any fuss from us!
Harvesting and Cooking Quinoa
You’ll know your Quinoa is ready to harvest in the Autumn when the leaves begin to turn yellow and fall off, just leaving the grain clusters. These ‘ears’ can be snipped off with secateurs and popped into brown paper bags to dry in a cool shed.
If you’re planning to use the leaves before they yellow, steam them for a few minutes just like spinach.
To prepare the Quinoa grain, simply rub the dried seed heads gently between your hands over some paper and add to a bowl. To separate the grain from the chaff, take your bowl outside on a breezy day and pour grain from one bowl to another, allowing the wind to catch it and blow the chaff away, leaving the grain in the bowl. Once separated the grain can be stored for up to a year in an airtight container.
To cook Quinoa, rinse the measured grain thoroughly using a blender. Add the grain to the blender, fill with water, leave for five minutes and whizz for a couple. Drain and repeat. It’s now ready to cook.
Ireland’s first commercial crop was harvested this week so perhaps it’s something we’ll see more of in Irish fields in future years.
If you’re curious about these Andean vegetables they can be seen growing now in the School of Food garden in Thomastown and I’ll be posting photos on Instagram as we harvest them. Alternatively, if you’re planning to be at the 2015 Electric Picnic Festival, the school are donating several containers of vegetables to the Global Green Community Garden and Farm so you’ll be able to see them for yourself. You can find the full line-up for Global Green at the Electric Picnic here.
The first Fetac 3 Outdoor Crop Production horticulture course comes to an end this week at the School of Food in Thomastown, Co Kilkenny so it seems a good time to give you a peep into the vegetable garden.
This course is an absolute joy to teach and thanks to funding and support from Kilkenny Education Training Board, 16 adults have learned about growing food and creating a vegetable garden at the school. In the months to come chefs and cooks will be able to see the many different varieties of fruit and vegetables we’ve planted there, helping them to recognise some of their ingredients in their raw form, helping them to understand the seasonality of food, as well as appreciate the sublime flavours that can be experienced from food that’s picked fresh from a kitchen garden. As well as the regular varieties, lots of unusual, Andalusian vegetables have been planted in the garden thanks to Fitzgerald Nurseries who’ve supplied Yacon, Oca, Quinoa, Popcorn Fiesta corn and Sweet Potatoes to name a few.
I’ve been invited to facilitate more gardening courses at the School of Food over the coming months. If you’re interested in joining us and learning how to grow food in a practical environment but mixed with a touch of theory, contact the School of Food and register your interest or sign up for the Greenside Up newsletter and I’ll keep you posted about this and other courses and workshops coming up.
One of many rapeseed crops growing in County Carlow during the 2015 springtime
As the sun shines down on Ireland, apart from running around after a busy family, my life has been about community garden projects, herb garden designs and bees. After a slow start to the year, it’s been a joy to get back out into the community and help two group of gardeners begin to learn how to grow their own food in hobby garden courses in community gardens, funded by our local Carlow/Kilkenny adult training board (ETB).
Sieving homemade compost made from kitchen scraps in the Greenside Up garden. Spring 2015
The older gardeners often talk about how in tune their parents were with nature and how they were the original recyclers. They give examples such as cutting up old leather boots to make new door hinges, working in the fields picking stones in preparation for crop sowing and even spending hours stirring the blood of a pig to make the black pudding, an annual ritual that helped to provide food for neighbours and families in the not too distant past. However, at least two generations are now growing up in a fast, disposable food world that doesn’t compost, or know how to make a tomato based sauce or have held a cabbage seed and perhaps not even a cabbage.
Most of the community gardeners I’ve worked with still aren’t regular users of social media, so unless concerns about the long-term sustainability of industrial scale food production and a fast food lifestyle are being broadcast on mainstream media or by planet friendly educators, the news just isn’t getting out there.
Overwintering vegetables harvesting from the Greenside Up garden in April
Many adults I speak with in gardens believe that manufacturers of pesticides and herbicides have our best interests at heart. If products are legal and on sale they believe without question that the chemicals being recommended to destroy our weeds or ‘pests’ can’t harm us, our wildlife or our food.
That said, when we begin a session it’s apparent that gardeners of all abilities are very keen to learn alternative methods that don’t involve the use of artificial chemicals, though many are disbelieving about the effectiveness. They don’t want to pollute the planet but they don’t know what the alternatives are or the long-term harm they might be doing to the environment by using artificial chemicals. Once again, education is proving key in helping to change habits and perceptions, encouraging people to see the land and food production in a more gentle light that is less about death and destruction and more about living in harmony with nature.
Are the Youth Getting the Message?
This week a YouTube clip fell into my timeline that I found incredibly inspiring. A group of Irish secondary school kids in Dublin are learning about small-scale urban farming following a conversion of their school greenhouse into a ‘GROWlab’. The teenagers are learning how to grow food aquaponically, selling the produce to restaurants and farmers markets. Take a listen to this young man as he eloquently describes the difficulties the planet faces at it looks to the future. If, thanks to some forward thinking teachers, the teenagers are being taught in schools that changes have to happen for our planet to survive, that we can’t continue on the land stripping way we have been, then there is hope.
The mission of Belvedere Urban Farm is to
“save our world one seed at a time”.
Learning about Bees
Thanks to various campaigns, many of us are aware now of the importance of pollinators in our food chains. As a novice beekeeper the knowledge I’m gaining about the lifestyles and habitats of Irish honeybees is invaluable in my work as an organic gardening tutor and it’s hard to describe the joy I’m feeling every time I learn something new about them. It’s purely as a result of keeping bees and attending the lectures that I’ve learnt the importance to bees of dandelion flowers in the early springtime (so please don’t spray them), that ivy flowers should be left uncut in the autumn (they help with winter honey stores) and that there are banned gardening products on sale in DIY shops that can harm bees that would be swept off the shelves in garden centres if the authorities spotted them.
Dandelion flowers are a major food source for honeybees as they emerge from hibernation
School of Food
From Thursday, 23rd April I’ll be starting a ten week beginners gardening course in Thomastown at the School of Food, a centre where adults can learn about food education from soil to seed to kitchen to table in any one of the many courses being offered there. In May I’ll be running two more workshops at the centre on growing salads and another on herbs, a topic I’ve researched in great detail for a private herb garden design that will be the highlight of a new herbal medicine school opening locally in the months to come.
No matter what our age or socio-economic circumstances we are all being offered opportunities to learn and develop our knowledge about food and many other life changing skills in schools and educational centres all around us. There’s scope and potential for so much more if educators could only access more funding to provide it and be trained in new and exciting ways to deliver it.
Irish honeybees caring for their brood and making honey
If we are passionate about wanting to preserve and adapt our planet so that it can cater for the growth of our ever-expanding population, our children and their future generations, shouldn’t we find time to embrace all the learning opportunities that are offered to us, share and talk about them, come up with ideas and solutions about how we can encourage, attend and fund more? Education is empowering, it changes lives. It offers us the opportunity to improve our lifestyles, diets and our culture.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” – Nelson Mandela
One thing is for sure (and the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Programme (TTIP) is an example) if we do nothing, if we choose to stay in ignorance and leave our future to companies who have more money than small countries, we shouldn’t be surprised to find that our best interests are the furthest things from their industrial hearts.
An Gairdín Beo is a lovely Irish saying that literally translates to ”The Garden Alive”. It’s the name a group of us agreed upon last autumn for a very special urban community garden project that’s coming together in Carlow town.
Last year, the Mercy Sisters offered a 36 year lease on a two acre wilderness that sits next to St Leo’s College and Convent, giving the community an opportunity to create a garden that will be:
“based on an ecological orientation, on valuing diversity, sustainability, organic methods and indigenous species. It recognises that we as humans, are part of nature too. It is committed to the preservation and protection of the site as a green area for the greatest diversity of life possible.”
For the past few months I’ve been one of around twenty people who’ve volunteered to get this project off the ground, many representing communities and groups within Carlow town and several with links to St Leo’s College that stretch back to their childhood and beyond.
Watching a Community Garden Evolve
Excellently facilitated by Chris Chapman of The Change Exploratory and encouraged along by Srs Mary Carmody, one of the drivers behind the Baltinglass Community Garden, back in September we split into three teams – governance, landscaping and catalysing. It’s the later that I offered to help out with and since then our group have worked to create the garden’s vision, community involvement and put together documents that will help with funding applications. As one of the coordinators of the Community Gardens Ireland, the experience has been an enjoyable and valuable learning opportunity.
Over the coming months there will be a tremendous amount of physical work to do, money to be found and community engagement to be coordinated. However, a lot of groundwork has taken place already, the foundations of the project have been laid and we hope this community garden will now begin to grow and thrive, helping to positively contribute towards the ongoing development of the town centre and bring some life and purpose back to it. Time and care has been taken to engage everyone from the beginning with the hope that An Gairdín Beo will evolve gradually to “become a space in which diverse people can connect more to nature, to the growing and making of food and to each other”.
Come and Have a Look at the Wild Community Garden
Photo Credit: Eilish Langton
On 21st March, the weekend of th Spring Equinox, we will be holding a “come and have a look” afternoon with various side activities planned from moss graffiti and seed planting and identification to chatting to everyone involved and offering refreshments.
We’ve sent invitations out to around 200 schools, organisations and the community of Carlow in the hope they’ll drop by then leave with the desire to get involved in this project as it progresses. In time we hope An Gairdín Beo will offer a socially inclusive combination of art, food, nature, vegetable growing and community to people of all ages in Carlow who want to engage with it.
We’re lucky to have two buildings on site already that will offer places for educational involvement and perhaps more importantly, hot cups of tea and refreshments and a place to meet and chat. I’m feeling very blessed and honoured to be involved with An Gairdín Beo from the beginning and can already feel new friendships being formed as a result.
If you’re in or close to Carlow town on Saturday, we hope you’ll drop by and “come and have a look” at what we’re up to. If not, I hope you’ll stay tuned to watch the progress of the garden over the coming months, to see how a community project can come together when lots of people are included from the start. You never know, it might help to inspire similar projects in your own communities.
Find Out More About Community Gardens in Ireland
If you’re interested in community gardens, you’ll find lots of resources here on the website. If you’re in Ireland, jot the 28th June into your diary where those of us interested in community gardens will be coming together at The School of Food in Thomastown, County Kilkenny to share our stories and learn more about this social form of gardening.
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