Have you ever worried that the seeds you’ve sown haven’t germinated, that you must have been sold a dud packet? I remember thinking something similar years ago. It didn’t occur to me that I might be the one at fault, that I might not have kept my seeds in prime condition. As it transpired, there was no might about it, I’d find seeds tucked away on shelves and in drawers, pockets and boxes and hadn’t realised that they were likely to last a lot longer if they were stored correctly.
I wrote a post a while ago, answering the often asked question “how long will my seeds last?” One of the prime considerations for seed longevity is how they’re stored. Seeds are living organisms (albeit dormant ones) and as such need to be treated well.
Most seeds can remain viable for several years if kept in a cool, dry environment – the cooler the better. By keeping your seeds in an airtight tin or container in a cool, dry room (or even in the fridge) you’ll increase their storage life.
It’s never advised to store seeds in plastic bags which can attract moisture, instead keep them in the foil packets they arrive in. If they’re delivered from your seed supplier in small plastic bags as some of mine have been in the past, transfer them into brown paper envelopes as soon as they arrive before placing them in a container.
Make a seed storage container
So why make a container and not just throw your seeds into a tin or plastic sandwich box in a muddled heap?
Apart from the fact that specific seed packs are much easier to find if they’re ‘filed’ and you’re not having to rifle through the tin every time you want to sow something, filing them between monthly divider cards will also help with your sowing plans.
How to make your sowing life much easier:
All you need is a good, rectangular or square airtight tin (biscuit or chocolate tins are perfect) to store your seeds in and some cardboard cut to size with the twelve months of the year marked on them.
Sort through your seed packets and take note of the recommended month of sowing. Bare in mind that sowing dates in Ireland can be a few weeks after the UK iwhere many guides arise from. If the packet suggests you can sow the seeds from March onwards, it’s usually worth waiting until the middle to end of March, weather
depending, unless you grow your vegetables in a particularly sheltered and sunny garden.
Pop your seed packets in between the dividers.
Filing seeds like this comes into its own when you’re sowing successionally. After you’ve sown a few rows, don’t put the packet back into the original month, place it into the next month as a reminder to sow a few weeks later.
Always check the use by dates and use those seeds first. If you find you have too many why not talk to vegetable growing friends and have a seed swap… you never know what you might end up with!
For more more information on seeds, their importance and how to store them, have a look at the video below.
Have you any seed packet storage solutions? What works for you?
October is Reuse Month here in Ireland and over the coming weeks it’s likely you’ll come across several actions encouraging people to think about reducing, reusing or upcycling their ‘rubbish’. Running for the second year, this is an initiative of the Regional Authorities (@CRNIIreland) to promote reuse and a great opportunity for us all to think about waste and how we can re-imagine or eliminate it.
Cress seeds growing in an upcycled chocolate box
At a SUSY in Ireland event in Waterford recently, I was invited to demonstrate how everyday items can be used in gardens to save money, create art, as well as protect the environment. From Ferrero Rocher chocolate boxes that we can reuse as seed containers and old cutlery as garden chimes, there are so many other uses for our rubbish once we begin to look at it differently.
One very quick way we can make a difference in helping to reduce rubbish that otherwise heads to landfill is by stopping or reducing our use of single use cups. As a nation we managed to decrease our plastic bag use by a whopping 90% with the introduction of a small tax, surely we can do the same with disposable cups without one?
In July, the Green Party introduced a Waste Reduction Bill to the House of the Oireachtas encouraging this and more initiatives; the bill has since been referred to the select committee for consideration. The transcript of Eamon Ryan’s debate explaining the reasons behind the bill can be found online. One of the problems we face with disposable cups, is that even if single use cups say they are recyclable, there are no recycling plants in Ireland that are able to recycle them and only one of two in the UK are actually doing so.
The Conscious Cup Campaign in Ireland are doing a great job highlighting the shocking waste caused by disposable cups and are encouraging cafés around the country to pledge to help by offering discounts on customer bills if they bring their own reuse cups. Minister Naughten commented on the problem of single-use containers and waste in Ireland during a speech to The Dáil in July 2017,
“As a society we discard an incredible 80% of what we produce after a single use. It gravely concerns me that 2 million disposable coffee cups a day are going to our landfills.”
VOICE Ireland Recycling Ambassadors
When I returned to adult education earlier this year, it galled me to see plastic spoons, non recyclable cups and plastic lids being thrown into black plastic bags in their hundreds, on a daily basis. I asked the canteen if they’d consider doing something about it given the negative environmental impact and was pleased to see a box of wooden stirring sticks appear on the counter the following week; sticks that can at least be composted or made into plant pot labels. Sadly that was the only move to sustainability I became aware of while I was there. I began taking in a travel mug every day and asked for my tea to be made in that.
Photo courtesy: Conscious Cup Campaign
Wouldn’t it have been amazing if the contractors had taken the initiative on-board and encouraged all students to do the same? They could have reduced the cost of the cuppa on till receipts if they did so, after all, we’re saving them money on their cups, but alas, this wasn’t the case. As a newly appointed VOICE Ireland Recycling Ambassador, when I return to my studies next year I’ll be banging the recycling drum even louder and talking to the canteen contractors about the Conscious Cup Campaign and see if they’ll follow Trinity College’s footsteps!
Baring all of this in mind, I was pleased to be sent a KeepCup (@KeepCup) by a PR company recently. After a few weeks of use, I’m happy to say it’s the best reusable cup I’ve tried. I’ve gone through a few brands over the years but usually give up on them because they drip. Whoever designed the sippy lip on the KeepCup got it exactly right. No more spillages down the front of the tee-shirt, it’s a marvel. I was invited to choose a colour from many variations and carry it around with me most days now.
KeepCup is an Australian brand developed by Abigail and Jamie Forsyth, a sister brother team who were dismayed at the large volume of waste that resulted from their Melbourne based café.
The reusable cups come in a variety of sizes, colours, materials and designs and are available to purchase in premium cafés nationwide or online. Cafés and businesses can order larger quantities of KeepCups from Dublin based, family run distributor EA Symmons. The one I received (12oz original) retails between €12.99 – €14.99 and is BPA free.
According to Canadian chemist, Dr Martin Hocking, the requirement to manufacture a reusable plastic cup versus a paper cup over a lifetime use was under 15 uses. Disposable cups are lined with polyethylene and there is enough plastic in 28 disposable cups to make one small KeepCup. The cups are guaranteed for a year under general wear and tear use.
Single Use Water Bottles
It would be good to see a similar reuse campaign for single use plastic drink bottles next. If anyone can recommend a decent reusable water bottle that I can take to my fitness class, please leave a comment or get in touch!
Will you pledge to reuse, reduce or upcycle more? What initiatives are you already doing? I’d love to hear about them.
* Verified by Simon Lockrey from the Centre for Design at RMIT who completed a Symapro Life Cycle Analysis and has independently verified KeepCups sustainability claims.
Not all of us are blessed (depending upon your point of view) with lots of land to grow vegetables at home and there may not be an allotment or community garden close to you. The UK has a great scheme called Landshare created in 2009 by River Cottage where people with land share it with those who don’t, now with over 74,900 members, but it’s not something that’s really taken off here in Ireland.
You might have the space to grow your own food but not enough hours to spare, or you may feel it’s a bit of a waste of time when veg can be picked up so cheaply in supermarkets.
We all have reasons for not growing our own food but if it’s something you’ve considered having a go at but haven’t yet begun, container gardening is a good way of starting. Aside from herbs, the very first vegetables I grew were in containers in the form of runner beans, garlic and carrots.
In fact if you’re new to growing veg, having planters around your door, window or balcony might be all that’s needed to get the veg growing bug. Once you’ve experienced the pleasures of harvesting your own food and eating it, who knows what’ll happen next!
How to grow vegetables in containers
1. Choose your seeds well
Start with reliable, quick-growing veg that you like to eat. Many varieties of seeds are bred to grow especially well in pots and containers, so keep an eye out for them as you’re more likely to receive good results from them.
choose what you like to eat: rocket, radish or mixed lettuce, cherry tomatoes or baby carrots, peas or salad potatoes can easily be grown outside a sunny door.
Bamboo or hazel canes can be decoratively tied in your container for growing mangetout, peas or runner beans.
If you’re pushed for time, buy some ready grown plants from a garden centre and plant them straight into your containers for instant gratification!
Look out for the label CCU (Cut and Come Again), more common with varieties of lettuce. This means you can take a few leaves off each plant when you need them and not harvesting the plant.
Greenside Up Pinterest Board – Container Gardening
2. Choose your containers
Most recycled containers are ideal for growing in as long as they’ve been thoroughly washed and cleaned out. Line them before adding compost (old pure wool jumpers or socks make perfect plant pot liners) and bare the following in mind:
“Plastic that is safe to grow food in/with should have recycling numbers 1, 2, 4 and 5 on the bottom. Plastic with a 3 have PVC in them. In time chemicals leach out contaminating soil, which in turn contaminates the food. Styrofoam is made of plastic number 6 and have cancerous effects, Number 7 has bisphenol A which is harmful to the behavioural growth of children.”
A quick tip: the smaller the container, the quicker the compost will dry out, so as much fun as some of the quirky containers are that we see on Pinterest, unless you can make sure your plants will get a good water every day, try to stick to large containers.
These colourful containers really make me smile, but be prepared to water them frequently
Old tyres, baths, toilets and sinks have all been used to grow plants in. Thick plastic ‘laundry bags’ are great for growing potatoes, or brush up on your woodwork skills and you could also have a go at making your own window boxes and planters too – pallets are ideal for this purpose.
Lack of drainage can cause as many problems as lack of water.
Water must be able to escape in whatever you’re using so it’s important to make sure there are holes in the container that you’ve chosen to plant vegetables in. Most shop bought containers already have holes in them, or marks where you can punch the holes out. If you’re making do, you may need to make holes in your bag or container near the base (a masonry drill set at slow speed will work on earthenware, place tape on the surface before drilling).
Once you have holes in your container you can add ‘crocks’ to the base. We save all our broken cups, mugs and plates for this purpose, and are often reminded of old favourites when we clean them out again.
If you haven’t got anything broken to hand, a layer of washed gravel or chippings works well. Placing crocks over the holes will stop the compost from blocking the hole, and if you’re lucky enough to have some zinc mesh that you can cut to size, this can be placed over the holes and then the crocks added, which will help to prevent pests burrowing back into your pots.
4. Potting mix
In the past I’ve successfully grown vegetables in multipurpose compost and grow bags but being ‘soiless’ and peat based they dry out quickly and as highlighted by Gardeners World, contribute significantly to global warming. Peat free organic alternatives are now a readily available alternative which work well in containers.
Many gardeners swear by potting mixes that are John Innes based. These have been devised at the The John Innes Centre and each have different component mixes. They’re loam (soil) based with different quantities of loam, limestone and peat, depending upon their usage. So, for example, John Innes Seed Compost is for growing seedlings, and John Innes No 1 more suitable for slow-growing plants or tiny spring seedlings. No 2 is the general multi-purpose compost but No 3, a stronger mix, would be ideal for strong growers such as tomatoes, or sweet peas.
Whichever potting mix you choose or is available to you, it’s important that its fresh and disease free. Buy your compost from a supplier that has a fast turnover and when you get it home, once opened it’s recommended to store it in a plastic bag in a frost-free place. Always use fresh compost for seedlings, or they can suffer a disease called damping off (where they just flop over and die).
Why use compost and not garden soil?
Garden soil will vary in its pH (acidity/alkalinity), is likely to contain weed seeds, may container disease spores and will vary in its nutrient levels.
Container plants will need regular watering, and if it’s a particularly hot summer that could mean up to twice a day.
There are a few things you can do to ease this burden.
Set up an irrigation system. Simple drip feed irrigation kits are now readily available, and getting cheaper every year.
Look out for window boxes that contain built-in reservoirs.
Stand plants on trays lined with capillary mats or wet sand.
Generally, potting mixture has enough nutrients to last a few months. However if you notice a check in growth, or you’ve planted particularly ‘hungry’ feeders in your containers, liquid seaweed is full of nutrients and trace elements and can be watered into the soil in the containers as can home-made nettle or comfrey feeds.
Most vegetables like to grow in a sunny spot. The garden highlighted in these photos in the centre of Carlow town is a little sun trap and everything grows really well here. The great thing about container gardening is that you can move the pots to the sunniest place and leave them there – you’re not constricted in the same way you might be with a garden.
Just like garden soil grown vegetables, container veg can be attractive to various pests such as strawberry or vine weevils, chafer grubs and leather jackets. Supernemos are an Irish business that have developed a biological control that are able to deal effectively with them. They might seem a little pricey but believe me, if you’ve ever lost your entire strawberry crop to this little weevil, you’ll find Supernemos worth every cent.
I caught a tweet last week that flashed a congratulatory message to Clonegal, home of the fascinating and historic Huntingdon Castle, alerting us that the village had just won a European Gold Medal for the Entente Florale Europe competition. The link explains the judging requirements in more detail but in essence, the competition is about improving the quality of life in rural and urban settings by developing an environmental awareness and greening the area with flowers and shrubs. Clonegal were chosen to represent Ireland in this prestigious competition and what an excellent decision that turned out to be.
I wasn’t disappointed when I parked and walked up to the gate. Clonegal village is enchanting and its new Community Garden a pretty addition to the village and a credit to everyone who worked to create it. Earlier in the year the garden, located in the centre of the village, was a weedy eyesore. Just look what can be done with a few volunteers and some vision.
Almost everything used to create the garden was donated – from soil and beds to compost and netting and the Clonegal gardeners reused and recycled wherever they could.
Shutters were made from upcycled pallets to cover the bare windows in the adjacent barns, old ploughs and milk churns have been filled with flowers and almost everything wooden was painted a vibrant red to give the garden a lift and continuity throughout.
The insects are being looked after too. You can’t get a more natural bug hotel than an old tree stump. This particular one was the remains of a tree that had been growing in the village for many years and had to be removed due to a tragic accident. It now acts as a local memorial in the quiet garden.
All the tree sculptures once grew as majestic trees in nearby Altamont Gardens. They had to be pruned and are now giving the bee and butterfly attracting borders some height and interest. The compost area as well as some of the seating and fencing have been made from upcycled pallets too.
I especially like the tree stump tables and chairs dotted around for the children and that seating in general was a feature throughout this garden – it’s as important to take a few minutes out and enjoy your hard labour as it is to do it!
Our first morning covered several topics but included a discussion about what exactly organic means, why organic gardeners don’t like genetically modified organisms and the recent outcome of the EU Legislation about seed security. Although many of the gardeners had heard about GM foods given that a crop of genetically modified potatoes has been growing in the centre of Carlow, none had heard that an attempt was made earlier this year in the European Parliament to make it illegal to save our own seeds and were astounded to hear it.
Our conversations weren’t just about the more controversial aspects of growing food. We also began to explore the ideal growing conditions for vegetables, weeding without chemicals, companion planting, edible flowers and crop protection.
This carrot is a perfect example of a root vegetable that wasn’t enjoying the deliciously rich soil that had been provided for it or that it had been transplanted as a seedling from a pot into the soil. Root veg will often grow into all sorts of shapes and directions given those conditions. They much prefer to grow directly from seed where they’re to grow in soil that hasn’t had fertiliser added to it.
The oddly shaped carrot did however, bring smiles to our faces and will be cooked and eaten, unlike misshapen commercial carrots that will be ploughed back into the land or composted.
Runner Beans, & Cosmos
Weeds for Sale in A Local Community Garden
Fifteen gardeners from beginners to very experienced joined us this beautiful autumn morning for the first grow your own session in the community garden when it became a living classroom for adults. If you’re close by and you’d like to come along to the remaining five workshops in Clonegal (which thanks to Carlow VEC funding are running free of charge) contact me here for details.
Last week we arrived at the garden and the transformation had taken place, Brian and James had been busy turning two of the window frames into a made to measure cold frame that will fit perfectly against a sunny wall in the corner of the garden.
Cost of Finished Cold Frame – €50.00 Photo credit: James Burke
Are you a fan of cold frames? We’ve been planning one for our own garden for a long time but the ongoing house renovations are taking priority. Luckily we have the polytunnel which offers protection for plants but if you don’t have a greenhouse or tunnel, a cold frame might be for you.
Usually made of wood or bricks with a glass top, cold frames are a great way of extending seasons, allowing you to garden for 365 days of the year. They create micro climates, protecting plants from adverse weather and are useful for hardening plants off, allowing seedlings that have been grown indoors or in greenhouses to acclimatise before being planted outside in the garden.
Cold frames come in all shapes and sizes but the common theme is that they’re low to the ground and the lids can be opened and closed to allow airflow, acclimatisation and watering.
The mini cold frame designed by Sandra for the Community Garden Network garden at Bloom was a particular highlight as it showed yet another example of reusing plastic in a useful and practical way.
In Goresbridge the community garden polytunnel is full to capacity with tomatoes, peppers, herbs and squash with barely any room for anything else. We’ll be putting the cold frame to immediate use by growing some lambs lettuce, oriental leaves and chard in it that has just been sown into modules, along with lavender and rosemary cuttings taken this week.
If you’d like to have a go at making your own cold frame take a look at this video from Gardenfork.ie giving clear instructions how. You may find it useful.
I admit, I’m not an allotment expert. All of my work and teaching has been in private gardens, village halls and community gardens so I was really looking forward to helping a group of teachers, parents and school children in the Kilkenny Allotments and Community Gardens.
One of the immediate benefits I observed of allotment growing was being able to pick up tips and ideas from fellow allotmenteers. I absolutely love this structure built by Gerry on our neighbouring plot! The mini polytunnel/cloche was made from recycled bits and pieces, is hinged and once opened kept in place by rope.
Inside Gerry has tomatoes, peppers and an aubergine growing, none of which would grow well (if at all) in the Irish climate outside.
When we’ve seen them, the other allotment holders have been friendly and more than happy to share bits and pieces. I can now see why people enjoy spending time on their plots so much, working away on their own but able to have a chat over the fence.
Are you an allotment grower? Why do you enjoy it so much?
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