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vegetable gardening

Vegetable Garden

3 Essentials To Help You Grow Your Own Vegetables

March 26, 2021

3 Essentials to Help you Start in the Vegetable Garden

3 Essentials to Help You Get Started in the Vegetable Garden

Have you been planning to grow your own vegetables but haven’t started yet? Perhaps you’ve begun growing your own but aren’t sure if you’re doing the right thing? With all the good intentions in the world, sometimes it’s difficult to take the first steps or spend the time to learn more. Perhaps you’ve just been too busy to start a new project, or you simply don’t know where to begin. If that sounds familiar, here are the three most useful things I learnt when we began working in the vegetable garden that may help you to grow your own successfully.

1. Start Small

Greenside Up: What We Do

Our original vegetable garden eventually became too high maintenance

Even if you’d like to grow lots of veggies, don’t attempt to be fully self-sufficient in the first year. Plan big but start small, only clearing enough space or building enough beds to get you started.

If you clear too much land at once you may find it daunting to keep up as the weeds begin to grow. One of the busiest times of the year isn’t springtime as you might expect with all the sowing and planting, but later during the summer and autumn as you start to harvest and then have to find time to pick, preserve, pickle or freeze your produce. Starting small will allow you to see how much time you have to grow your own food and whether it’s something you’d like to do more.

We began with two beds, increasing ever year until we had 17, but that eventually got too much for us and we’ve had to resort to a smaller growing space again with raised beds for easy maintenance. Don’t be afraid to admit defeat if you’ve overstretched yourself. Learn from it.

2. It’s all about the soil


What we add to the soil now will repay us in produce later. As you can see in the short video clip above, fertile soil is vital to our existence. Did you know it takes 2,000 years to create just 10 cm of topsoil? We ignore it at our peril. Adding well-rotted organic matter to the soil in the form of garden compost or old farmyard manure will help to feed it with vital nutrients as well as  help with soil texture and drainage.

You can find a post here that provides a beginners guide to organic matter in more detail.

3 essentials you need to know to help you grow your own

Photo credit:

Autumn/Fall is a good time to prepare for the following year as it will allow the microbes, organisms and worms to do their job over winter, incorporating all the goodness you’ve added, back into the soil.

Don’t worry too much if you miss the opportunity to get some winter preparation done, it’s not too late to do it in the springtime. Just leave three or four weeks between preparing the soil and sowing time, which will allow weed seedlings to grow and you to remove them, a technique that’s known as a ‘stale seed bed’. Remember, don’t work the soil when it’s too wet or frozen or you can do more damage than good.

A general guide for adding organic matter is to add about one, big bucketful of well-rotted organic matter per square metre to the top of the soil. If you’re doing this in the autumn, cover with cardboard, weed membrane or black plastic and leave it be until the springtime. Once you’ve removed the cover, if you’re not following the ‘No Dig’ method of gardening, lightly fork any remaining organic matter in, before raking the surface of the soil flat.

One essential soil tip before we move onto the third point, and especially vital to remember if you’re visiting a garden or you could attract a fierce look of displeasure from the gardener: avoid walking on garden soil at all costs as over time it will damage the soil structure and compact. Soil and plants need air for healthy growth. If you have to walk on your soil, place a wooden board down first which will help to distribute your weight more evenly. You can find more soil tips here.

3. Vegetables live in families

3 essentials to help you grow your own

Garlic – a member of the Allium family

It’s generally easier for gardeners if we don’t split up and scatter our vegetables all around the beds. Where possible, plant them in their families. You may have heard of Alliums (onions, garlic, leeks) and Brassica (cabbage, kale, broccoli) but there are several other families too. Here’s a PDF of the most popular that you can print off and keep handy. If you plant vegetables in their families, they will be easier to feed, care for and protect from pests and disease. Planting vegetables in families will also help you to plan and remember where they have grown before as you move them around from year to year in what’s known as crop rotation.

There’s lots more you can learn that will help you to grow your own vegetables successfully such as figuring out what are the easiest or best vegetables to grow, the importance of keeping seeds dry, as well as pests and diseases to look out for. I’ve written several blog posts to help you in your quest to grow your own vegetables, just take a look under the Vegetable Garden Tab here.

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Vegetable Garden

Reflecting – Top 14 Gardening Articles For 2014

December 30, 2014

Reflecting - 14 Gardening Articles for 2014

Sometimes we have to look back to help us move forward. As the year draws to a close it seems like a good time to share with you the gardening articles from the blog that most caught your (or search engines) attention. I’d also like to ask you a question or two.

Re-Designed Website

cheeky hen2014 saw a slight shift in the information I’ve posted. A major website overhaul took place during the late summer which resulted in the scaling down of the thirty or so categories I’d managed to drift into, to just six.

This has given the blog more of a magazine feel to it and allows me to alternate my writing between Food & Drink, Green, Travel, Lifestyle, Community Gardens and Vegetable Gardening. This couldn’t have happened without the expertise of Ken McGuire of Event Media, who spent a lot of out of hours time working with me on the website so that the switch over could take place as pain-free and swiftly as possible.

During the year, 82 new posts were published, bringing the total archive to 429. I’m still plodding away, adjusting styles and fonts that didn’t make the transition, so please bear with me if you open an article that shouts words at you.

Beach - Clear Lakes and Guiness Cake by

A major website overhaul meant a lot of time spent indoors in front of a screen and not outside in our own garden, as did setting up the Green and Vibrant venture with my friend Susan and working with the various community garden and voluntary projects that have kept me busy during the last 12 months. This resulted in our own garden looking quite neglected, something we plan to put right over the coming months.

That brings me swiftly to the special word that “chose me” for 2015… BALANCE, something that I’ve struggled with but am hoping to remedy and focus more on over the coming months. Balancing family and home life with work, blogging and voluntary time is essential, particularly when I look at our children and see how quickly they’re growing up.

Feedback Please

At the beginning I mentioned asking you a couple of questions. Although an ‘experienced’ blogger, I still wonder at times if I’m regularly sharing the kind of information you enjoy reading. I’d be grateful therefore, if you would leave a comment at the end mentioning which style of article you like the most. In other words, am I doing it right?

Are you here for the ‘How to’ gardening tips or do you find the recipes helpful? Do you enjoy reading about our family life or the work I’m doing with community gardens, or perhaps the articles that cut straight to the facts, or the new travel section that I’ve explored over the past few months? Are you enjoying the new format where I try to alternate a bit of everything? All constructive criticism welcome, your opinion will help me write content over the coming months 🙂

That’s enough of my rambling for the time being. Here’s the promised list of the most popular gardening articles since the blog began back in 2009 – the 14 most popular posts for 2014, beginning with number 14.

No. 14 – How to Make Mini Scarecrows

A post I wrote back in 2012 but still a popular one. This is fun activity for all age groups and a handy one for wet weather.

How to make mini scarecrows - lady scarecrow

No. 13 – Harvesting Broad Fava Beans

Love them or hate them, there are several ways we can eat broad fava beans that might even make the nay sayers try them out.

Broad (Fava) beans growing

No. 12 – How to Make Comfrey & Nettle Fertiliser

Comfrey is a wonderful plant to have in your garden – bees love it, our skin enjoys it in baths, and our soil and compost heaps will thank you for it too as it nourishes the earth as a natural fertiliser. It can be a bit invasive but I’m delighted to see that so many of you are looking at ways of fertilising your soil without the use of artificial chemicals. This post will show you how.


No. 11 – How to Dry Herbs

Freeze, bake or air dry, here’s some tips on drying your own herbs. Herbs were the first plants I grew in containers and are ideal for newbies to get started with. There’s a post on the blog written this year that gives tips on how to grow your own herbs if you’re not already doing so.

How to dry herbs ~ air, oven & freeze

No. 10 – Gardening Under Cover – Where to Begin

This post was written for a twitter friend who asked for some advice. If you have a gardening question that you can’t find the answer to, let me know and I’ll do my best to help.

Nasturtium cookie recipe

No. 9 – Polytunnels & Organic Growing During the Winter Months

Number nine on the most read posts is a Guest Post that addresses many questions we all have about winter growing in polytunnels. The why, what, how of polytunnel growing during the colder months.

Growing vegetables in a polytunnel during the winter

No. 8 – How to Plant Garlic in the Autumn

Autumn planted garlic seems to grow so much better than spring planted, probably because the bulb is more likely to swell after a good frost. This post was picked up by a popular American blog this year and although written in 2010, after a re-vamp shot up the popularity charts, making it the eighth most read post on the website.

How to Grow Your Own Garlic - Step by Step Guide

No. 7 – Strawberry Cordial or Alien Aspartame

When trying to cut down on the additives in our children’s cordials by making our own juices, we discovered how much sugar is added to them. We also found that only one popular variety of cordial is available here in Ireland that doesn’t contain aspartame, added by soft drink companies as an alternative to sugar. Here’s a recipe for strawberry cordial as well as some information on aspartame and why we’re trying to avoid it.

strawberry cordial

No. 6 – Five Ways to Help Bees

Thankfully the plight of the bees is beginning to sink in as more and more of us become aware at how endangered they’ve become and how much we rely on them for our day-to-day food. This post gives five tips on helping the bees, as well as an inspirational video clip sharing how even the smallest steps we take, can make a difference to their survival.

Blooming Flowers at Mount Congreve during Late September

No. 5 – How to Make Blackcurrant Juice

It’s great to see that so many of you are experimenting with making your own juices and cordials from fruit you’ve grown or bought. This post gives a very simple and tasty recipe for blackcurrant juice. Well worth a go if you want to try the real thing.

Refreshing Blackcurrent Cordial

 No. 4 – Green Tomato & Chilli Chutney Recipe

I’ve received some great feedback on this recipe as many of you have a go at making your own chutney and not throwing fruit and vegetables away that are under or over ripe. It was also used by community gardeners for the last two years to make a chutney that we sold at Savour Kilkenny Food Festival.

5 Ideas for Green Tomatoes

No. 3 – Courgette Cake with Lemon & Lime Curd and Pistachio – Recipe

This recipe inspired by Nigella Lawson was written in the summer of 2010 and revamped this year. It’s been in the top 3 posts on the blog since then and I’m pleased to hear so many of you have tried courgette cake as a result.

Courgette Cake with Lemon & Lime Curd & Pistachio

No. 2 – Slugs. 15 Ways to Deal With Them Organically

This article started out as ten, then quickly grow to 11 and now 15 ways of getting rid of this annoying pest without resorting to the slug pellets. Beer traps still remain the most effective way in our garden. This post is full of more solutions that might help you.

14 posts for 2014

No. 1 – 14 Vegetables to Grow in a Small Garden

I was thrilled to find that the most popular gardening article is one that might help more of you to grow your own vegetables. The suggestions made in the post are based on tried and tested vegetables that we’ve grown in many of the community gardens I’ve been involved with, most of the plots with limited space. It’s also appropriate that the article has 14 vegetables for the 14 top posts of 2014!

Grow Your Own Kale

Grow Your Own Kale – one of 14 vegetables suggested for small gardens


That’s all from me for this year. Thanks so much for reading, supporting and interacting, either here in the comments, online through the various Greenside Up social media channels or by email or text. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you.

Wishing you a very Happy New Year and here’s to a long and productive growing season in 2015.

Bhliain Nua Sásta



Community Gardens

Community education – how measurable is it?

September 20, 2014
Community education – how measurable is it?

This is what happens when you take a couple of weeks off in the summer

We spent a quiet couple of months in the Callan and Freshford community gardens during the summer months with the long, lazy days ensuring we all managed to spend some down time. Now the children are back in school we’re firmly back in action in the gardens and have some exciting plans ahead. Having announced at the end of the 2013 Savour Kilkenny Food Festival that they never wanted to make, preserve and sell home-grown produce ever again, like the memories of childbirth, Callan gardeners seem to have forgotten all the painful bits and have not only announced they want to give Savour another go, they’ve invited the new Freshford gardeners over to the kitchen to help them make this year’s batch of preserves and get involved with the selling of them.

I’ve mentioned before how unique community gardens are with no two alike and the gardens in these two rural Kilkenny villages are no exception. Continue Reading…

Vegetable Garden

20 Tips to Help you in the Vegetable Garden

January 24, 2014
Grow Your Own Kale

Grow Your Own Kale

Very soon I’ll be returning to the community gardens projects I’m involved with and as the time gets closer, I’m feeling that familiar bubble of excitement.  The days are lengthening and the birds are beginning to chirp away in the hedgerows when the sun shines, reminding us that we will soon be enjoying another ‘grow your own’ year with friends and neighbours.

But wait. It’s still mid Winter. There’s not very much we can sow right now so what will we be doing? Over the coming weeks I’ll be guiding the groups through all the areas involved with growing vegetables. We’ll be looking at crop rotation, companion planting, moving compost heaps as well as washing down the polytunnels and cleaning the pots. We’ll be discussing what we would like to grow and eat, how we can continue to make the gardens more sustainable and how we can reach out to more people in the community and teach them the skills and many benefits of being involved with a community garden.

If your mind is beginning to wander to the growing year ahead, the following list may help you. I’ve collated some of the posts I’ve written over the past couple of years that might help you to practice patience, seed choice and care as well as tips on when and how to start sowing.

grow your own squash

grow your own squash

1. First things first, here’s a handy annual vegetable planner that will give you some idea of what needs to be sown when. Remember, if you live in a cool area, sow your seeds later than if you live in a warmer, sheltered one.

purple peas2. In the Monthly Jobs section there is a monthly guide on what you can be doing or planting now so take a look if you’re itching to get out on a sunny, warm day.

3. January/February are great months for sorting through your seed tins, checking what seeds you have and what to buy. Here’s a post that will help you figure out what seeds are viable – and how long you can expect them to last.

4. One of your goals this year might be to put up a greenhouse or polytunnel. This post will help you decide where to begin and this one asks the question about whether cheaper is better.

Runner Bean Seeds5. If you want to start sowing your seeds early and there are late frosts or snow forecast, this post describes planting under a cloche – it’s something we used to do a lot of before we put up the polytunnel in our own garden.

6. For the very impatient among us who are wondering exactly when it’s safe to sow our seeds for best results, you might find this post useful.

7. It’s vital that we look after our seeds to get the most from them. This post here will help you keep your seeds in tip-top condition.

8. When the sun comes out and the soil dries out a bit, I’ll be heading out to do some weeding. This article explains how to weed pernicious weeds without chemicals and this one gives 16 natural alternatives to weedkillers.

grow your own swiss chard

grow your own swiss chard

9. If this is the year you want to grow your own vegetables organically, here we look at exactly what it means to be organic.

10. When it comes to choosing the correct seeds for your plot, it helps to know what soil type you have. Here’s a fun experiment you can do at home.

11. Lots of seed packets will tell you it’s okay to sow parsnip seeds from February onwards. My experience was quite different.

12. Choosing what to grow and keeping tabs on it can be quite an art. I’ve found Pinterest to be very helpful.

grow your own potatoes13. If you like to grow potatoes, there’s a few posts to help you on the blog and in particular one written last year about choosing blight resistant potatoes and eradicating the need to spray against blight.

14. As the time comes, you may have a few questions on how to sow seeds. This post shares tips for sowing seeds in recycled containers as well as a YouTube clip with seed sowing instructions.

seedlings15. Once your seeds are sprouting, do you know how to identify them if your labels have fallen out of the tray? This post might help you.

16. If you’re new to growing vegetables you might find it quite expensive to begin with. Here’s ten steps to creating a budget garden.

17. Would you like more vegetables or herbs growing closer to your kitchen? Here’s some tips for container planting.

grow your own flowers and veg18. If you have a small space, there are certain considerations to get the best from your plot. This post helps you figure out what vegetables to grow in a small space.

19. If you don’t have a greenhouse or anywhere to start your seedlings off, a seed bed might be the answer for you.

20. Lastly and just for fun, here’s ten facts about our best friends – the earthworm.

There are many more posts on this blog to help you with your vegetable growing experience, as well as gardens to visit and our own growing experiences here in the Carlow hills. If you can’t find the answer to a vegetable growing question, leave a comment and perhaps I can address it in a post over the coming year.

So best of luck and here’s to a successful vegetable gardening year ahead!

Community Gardens

Community Gardening….. a sight to behold

August 11, 2010

I haven’t blogged about the Community garden I’ve been working with as I’ve been posting pictures onto my facebook page ( and have loaded a .pdf file onto the Greenside Up web page ( for anybody interested in how we started the community garden in Goresbridge, Co Kilkenny.  James, one of the earlier gardeners also uploaded photos into Flikr of the garden in progress (also accessible from the web page).

However…….. I was there again this morning and am astounded by the lush growth of all of the fruit and veg.  I’m aware that the first year of growth can be very productive but the garden really is a sight to behold.

It’s in a sheltered spot in the middle of the village which helps, but the size and quantity of produce must be down to the quality of the ‘Hoolihan Muck’ (apologies if I’ve mis-spelt it) donated and added to the majority of the beds at the beginning of the growing season.

Our tomatoes went from this…………….

……to this in just a couple of months.  Finnusa, Valerie & Liam spent some time today thinning out and defoliating as the trusses were so heavy they were starting to snap the stems, and the fruit were in danger of not ripening.
The runner bean and nasturtium bed is lush with growth too. 
To achieve this we dug a trench about a spade deep and wide and filled it in with the ‘Hoolihan Muck’.
Runner beans are a greedy plant so planting them in a trench really helps with growth.   We’d planted the seeds into modules in the polytunnel and a week or so before they were due to go outside, prepared the trench.
Valerie harvesting runner beans 11 August
 This was the result today.  This was also the first time Colette and her family had ever eaten runner beans (as you don’t tend to see them for sale in supermarkets), and they went down a treat!
We have had more success in the polytunnel too………….. the cucumbers, courgettes and peppers are producing like mad!
And the newly built herb bed was impressive too:

Picking off the leaves on the beetroot that had been infested with the Beet Leaf Miner (see previous blog) seems to have done the trick and the bed of thyme is flourishing.  We even have a bud starting to appear on the globe artichoke (which looked touch and go when it was planted).

Everything grown in this small garden has been sown from seed this year by the gardeners since March.  It went from a gardening group to a FETAC accredited course and from a group of strangers to a group of friends that have been a joy to work with.

The Rural Development Office in Goresbridge is open every morning from Monday to Friday and anyone interested can drop in to have a look during this time.