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How to Grow Vegetables in Containers

June 8, 2015
How to grow vegetables in containers

A Container Grown Vegetable Garden

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.

How to grow vegetables in containersWe 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.

Almost all vegetables can be grown in containers – as few or as many as suits your lifestyle and if they’re recycled pots, all the better.

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.

  • How to grow vegetables in containerschoose 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.
  • Many of the vegetables suggested in the post “growing vegetables in small gardens” are also suitable for container vegetables gardens.
How to grow vegetables in containers

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.

How to grow vegetables in 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.

3. Drainage

Lack of drainage can cause as many problems as lack of water.

Baby bath container Serenity Community GardenWater 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.

container vegetable gardening4. 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.

How to grow vegetables in containers5. Watering

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.

How to grow vegetables in containers6. Feeding

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.

7. Location

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.

Anything else to watch out for?

8. Pests

We have a cat who LOVES to sleep in containers full of lovely, warm compost, not caring a hoot whether it has tiny little carrot seedlings growing in it! If you’ve noticed cats around your containers or beds, this post here is full of tips that might help to keep cats away.

How to Grow Vegetables in Containers

Strawberry Vine Weevil Pupae

Slugs and snails find containers attractive too. Here’s 15 ways of dealing with them organically. Another tip I heard is to smear your containers with Vaseline which apparently makes them too slippery to climb!

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.

If you’d like some more ideas on container gardening, check out the Greenside Up Pinterest board here. There’s also a board sharing some ideas for a recycled garden that you might like to look at.

Have you had any experience growing vegetables in containers? Any tips you’d like to share?

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Travel

Carlow Autumn Walking Festival

September 2, 2014

I’ve written a few posts about my home county recently and hope it’s peaked your curiosity to come and visit the hills and villages that surround us? We spent a lovely couple of weeks looking around gardens at the Garden Festival which was quickly followed by a staycation where Mr G and I explored the Carlow hills and rivers, opening our minds to its potential as an eco-destination. Then I helped to put a group of bloggers together for the recent Taste of Carlow festival where we met several local food producers and visited a commercial fruit farm. For now I’m continuing on with the outdoor lifestyle theme and sharing the news about the Carlow Autumn Walking Festival that will be taking place here soon.

Carlow Autumn Walking FestivalWe’ve always considered ourselves fairly fit yet like many our age, as lovers of good, wholesome food Mr G and I have an ongoing battle with the bulges (me more so than himself!). As the years have advanced, it seems to have become increasingly more difficult to lose the wobbly bits so I’ve tried different activities to keep the weight in check. From the local fitness classes and swimming pool to running and boot camps, I’ve tried several forms of exercise.

More recently I’ve doned the lycra and have been cycling around the hills with Mr G and my neighbouring friend Michele, whizzing down the hills, through the forestry then slowly panting our way back up again to our homes, red-faced and hot, and not in a ‘hot’ way that lycra sometimes suggests 😉 However, throughout it all, walking has remained the constant. It’s free, it can be done any time and in any place, and walking for pleasure is a wonderfully grounding way of keeping the mind sane in this slightly mad and busy world.

Carlow Autumn Walking Festival 3rd - 5th October 2014I’ve seen similar leaflets in previous years to the one above for the local Autumn Walking Festival but have never picked one up before now. If I had, I’d have seen that walking festivals include something for anyone like me with an interest in outdoor activities, and this year’s Carlow Autumn Walking Festival is no exception.

From beginners to the super fit, 23 walking activities have been planned over the weekend 3rd to 5th October 2014 as well as other complimentary activities. For anyone not living close by, accommodation deals have been negotiated by Carlow Tourism that include packed lunches for walkers. There will also be a traditional Irish music session in O’Sheas pub and hardware store in Borris.

Carlow Autumn Walking Festival

CARLOW WALKS

The walks have been categorised to help us choose the best ones for our abilities. They include:

Five category A Yellow walks (including an A++ one that’s for eight hours, 33km and a 734m climb) which are for very experienced walkers. There’s a limit of 15 people allowed on this walk.

Twelve category B Blue walks (including a B+ walk that’s for 5 hours, 15.5km with a 735m climb) for experienced hillwalkers and a maximum limit of 20 people.

Six walks for leisure/regular walkers where there are no limits on numbers.

The walks range from between €10 to €20 which covers the cost of experienced guides (up to four on each walk), maps of each route and sandwiches/refreshments at the end of each route as well as transport to start points in some cases.

I won’t list all the trails, some of which sound quite spectacular and something to strive towards and others that sound just plain exhausting lovely. There’s a link to the online brochure here and you can book online here once you’ve decided if or which walk appeals to you. There are however, a few themed walks that caught my eye that you might be interested in as well as other complementary outdoor activities:

Carlow. There's Gold In Those Hills & MountainsIntroduction to Hillwalking

First of all, Walk 16 has been included in the programme to introduce people to hill walking. This is a great opportunity to gain an insight into the skills required for hill walking and coping with difficult situations, something Scouting Ireland cover very well but for anyone not involved in scouting, a skill you may have missed out on and would like to learn more about.

The walk covers topics such as first aid, navigation, emergencies, gear requirements, the environment and Mountain Rescue and when to call it. It’s not a formal course and basic walking gear will be required. The cost is €16.00 and includes transport to the start of the walk.

Carlow Autumn Walking FestivalA Walk Through Time

If you’re interested in the historical aspects of Ireland and Carlow in particular, Walk 20, graded B for the more experienced walkers, is a four to five-hour mountain walk that will explore the history and archaeology of the Blackstairs Mountain area.

Artifcats that can be seen include standing stones, ancient rock art, dolmens, old settlements and aircraft crash site! Cost €15 and places limited.

Blackstairs Eco Trails

A Walk on the Wildside with Mary White, environmentalist and walking enthusiast, will include foraging for delicious edible greens and fungi, learning about the native trees and mammals around the area, identifying wild herbs and checking out the flora and fauna of Kilbrannish Woods. This is a two-hour C graded leisurely walk, costing €10.00 which includes a bus to the woods and back with a walking distance of 7.5km.

Carlow Autumn Walking FestivalWalking with Wildway Adventures

Green Walk 11, a two-hour leisurely walk with Una Halpin from Wildway Adventures. The 6km stroll will begin at Clashgranny Lock and take in the trees, plants and insect life along the Barrow Way and through the Borris House Estate, ancestral home of the ancient Kings of Leinster, the MacMurrough Kavanaghs. A bus will take walkers to the start point and the cost is €10.00.

ADDITIONAL ACTIVITIES

Carlow Autumn Walking FestivalSafari Trail on the River Barrow

Three special canoeing events with local business Go With The Flow River Adventures are being planned for all three days of the festival. Trails have been designed with complete beginners in mind and will be led by qualified instructors who have years of adventure experience. Cost is €35 for adults, under 16’s €25, family of four €99. For more information contact Charlie Horan 0872529700 or email info@gowiththeflow.ie.

Bike Rental and Bike Tours

Bike and Hire at Waterside Guest House in Graiguenamanagh offer bike rental and tours in the River Barrow Valley and cater for all ages and abilities including electric bikes, mountain bikes for men and women, tow along and children’s bikes. They can also provide helmets, hi viz jackets and other equipment too. Prices range from €10.00 to €25.00 per day.

If you’re interested in joining any of the walks or activities, it’s advised to book in advance. As mentioned, places are limited on the A and B categorised walks and the deals on the hotels will be snapped up too.

Not quite fit enough….

As much as I’d like to try one or two of the Blue walks, common sense is telling me to choose the Green, C listed walks this year aimed at the more leisurely walkers among us, but make an effort to get fitter and try a harder walk or two next year.

Walking festivals are a great way of meeting people and perhaps for Michele and me, who’ve been talking about taking up hill walking as we gaze over at the mountains every day, the Carlow Walking Festival an introduction to the local walking groups that regularly meet in the Blackstairs and surrounding hills.

Are you a hill walking fan? Are you tempted by any of the activities mentioned?

 

Please note that this post has been written for a Green and Vibrant project that connects bloggers with destinations. See disclosure policy above though would gladly have written it without being involved!

Vegetable Garden

Introducing Green & Vibrant, New (Ad) Ventures

July 17, 2014

Have you ever had an idea, or a suggestion made to you and before you have time to blink, everything falls into place, setting you on an exciting new path? Serendipity, coincidence, or just that some things are simply meant to be…

Green & Vibrant - new (ad) ventures

Green and Vibrant

Green and Vibrant

Green and Vibrant

Recently, a series of serendipitous events have presented themselves which I’m pleased to let you know has led to a partnership between Susan Fitzgerald of Vibrant Ireland and myself which we’re collaboratively calling Green and Vibrant.

We have a few ideas we’ll be developing over the coming months but one of the services we’ll be offering is to connect eco, arts & culture destinations and tourism providers with top bloggers. We’d like to help to create a real-time buzz around some of the fab things that are going on and boost their visibility. Eco, arts and culture are areas of tourism that not only have significant growth potential, but are something Susan and I share a passion for and would love to see grow and flourish.

Why the sudden shift into Ecotourism for Greenside Up?

Tourism isn’t just about bringing coach loads of people in to spend lots of money in our towns and villages, when it’s done well it’s about much more than that. It’s about COMMUNITY and Greenside Up isn’t just about gardening, it’s about wanting to improve communities for the good of all. I’ve been mulling the effects of Ecotourism for a while now, since the Waterford bloggers tour back in 2012 again on our overnight stay in close by Graiguenamanagh then more recently when it was demonstrated on our recent trip to Sligo.

Graiguenamanagh Tow Path

Graiguenamanagh, Co Kilkenny

As I found on these occasions, Eco or Responsible Tourism helps and supports one another. Ecotourism is about being aware of the environment and culture of a place, about being respectful of our surroundings whilst minimising the impact, it’s about providing financial benefits to the local community and business in a responsible way, encouraging everyone in a community to get involved and create employment. It’s also about providing experiences to both tourism providers and the people who visit that are positive and enjoyable for everyone involved.

Ecotourism is defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” (TIES, 1990).

When communities get together and enthusiastically support and help one another instead of moaning and groaning, good and great things can happen.

“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much”

Helen Keller

Duckett's Grove, Co Carlow

Duckett’s Grove Gardens, Crafts & Tea Rooms, Co Carlow

Despite all the turmoil Ireland has had to face and the gloomy headlines that appear on the news stands on a regular basis, we know there’s a huge amount of positivity here, people who want and are making differences in their communities. People love visiting Ireland with its emerald-green fields, its mythology and its culture, talking to the people, listening to the songs, having the craic and even when we already live here, we never tire of visiting other parts of the island – IT’S THAT GOOD! And those stories are replicated across Europe and beyond.

Bloggers Trip arranged by SoSligo Festival

Bloggers Trip arranged by SoSligo Festival

Susan and I feel that if we, as bloggers who live in a community of bloggers, can help to increase the visibility of these positive places and people by sharing their stories, letting you know about all the cool and wonderful things that you can do, that has to be a good thing.

How will Green & Vibrant work?

We’ll be working with tourist providers – from county councils to independents, illustrating to them the benefits of using blogging as a marketing tool. Bloggers are experts in their fields and we already have audiences who are interested in our chosen areas – something destinations may not have. We use social media extensively and not only are we able to share our news instantly, once posts are published they’re accessible online at any time, creating a long-lasting history of a place or event that’s accessible in a few seconds. Our aim is to link relevent bloggers with destinations so that they can experience, write and share their experiences with you.

#carlowgardenfestWhere will we start?

In the short time we’ve been working together, we already have a few things in the pipeline, beginning with Carlow Tourism Office as we work as social media ambassadors for the 2014 Carlow Garden Festival.

What does this mean for Greenside Up in the vegetable garden?

No changes are planned for the foreseeable future – I’ll still be working with private clients and community gardens as before, encouraging communities to create gardens where they can share their experiences and produce. Green and Vibrant will be an extra service I offer. It does mean you’ll be seeing more posts on this blog about places I visit and am keen to share with you and you’ll notice an extra tab on the top of the website that links to the activities of Green and Vibrant.

If you like the idea of what we’re doing and would like to find out more about how we can help your community promote the best of its Eco, Arts and Cultural activities, then get in touch with us right now. The sooner we can help you, the sooner people will find you.

If you’d like to read Susan’s post about the reasons behind her involvement in Green and Vibrant, her love of Ireland and mention of a few people who were instrumental in us taking up this new direction, take a look at her post on Vibrant Ireland here.

 

Community Gardens

How to involve the community in a community garden

June 20, 2014

How to involve the community in a community garden

There are no set rules about what makes a community garden work. Each one is unique and just like other areas in life, there are some that gel and some that don’t. However, some gardens we come across seem to encompass all the good things we’d expect and hope for in a shared space and the latest one I’ve found that’s ticking all the community boxes is in Baltinglass, Co Wicklow.

How to involve the community in a community gardenHow to involve the community in a community gardenRecently I met Mary Carmody, the enthusiastic nun who was instrumental in establishing this rural garden in 2005 and who generously spent a couple of hours out of her busy schedule showing me around, sharing the Tearmann Community Garden story.

This pretty little 2 acre garden that belongs to the local Parish and is situated just a short walk from the town High Street. It’s been reclaimed from its previously overgrown state and thoughtfully divided into several areas, catering for the needs of many in the community with it’s meeting space, greenhouses, many growing and contemplative areas and resident chickens 

How to involve the community in a community gardenAt the far end of the site below the overlooking hill, is a biodiversity area that bar some native tree planting, is undeveloped and has been allowed to grow as nature intended. Every year a biodiversity census takes place there, taking stock of the species that inhabit it.

From there, a meandering pathway lined with young trees leads visitors to a quiet, contemplative area – the perfect place to sit alone or in a meditative group and enjoy the tranquility the garden offers.

On either side of the walk , depending upon which way you wander around, is a very shallow wild, boggy area that attracts the newts and frogs and on the other side, a newly developed and very tidy fruit area, netted and wired, saving the fruit from the birds and allowing for easier picking.

How to involve the community in a community gardenFinally, at the garden entrance, is a fox proof hen enclosure, a cabin with a kitchenette and seating area, three small greenhouses and all the raised beds that the community share.

How to involve the community in a community gardenAlthough there is a communal garden where people come together and share the work and the produce, all other beds in the garden have been freely allocated to different groups following consultation with the ten member committee, and each one is clearly labelled to avoid disputes.

As a result many people from the community, including two primary schools, the secondary school transition year, two pre-schools, the local scout group, Men’s Sheds, the KAIRE centre for adults with intellectual and physical disabilities, the local Foroige group, the active retired as well as a few individual, are all sharing and working in the garden on a regular basis.

How to involve the community in a community gardenSome areas are more productive than others but the emphasis is on giving everyone in the community the opportunity to grow food and not on getting hung up about whether it’s being done text-book correctly. 

As well as gardening activities and courses similar to the ones I offer in Carlow and Kilkenny, various other informal training initiatives have taken place in the garden, including cloth dying, herbal remedies and foraging.

How to involve the community in a community gardenWhilst the gardeners share much of the produce, on days throughout the year vegetables are sold at the local country market. From June onwards they have plant sales and last year the transition year students set up a vegetable box scheme as part of their mini enterprise project. The fourth year students also made several of the unusual scarecrows that are dotted around the garden.

One of the enjoyable aspects of being involved with the community garden network is learning and finding ideas from other gardens in Ireland and Northern Ireland. I found this particular garden in Baltinglass quite inspirational in the way if opens its gates wide and welcomes groups of all size and ages.

How to involve the community in a community garden

 

 

What do you think? Is this something you could see working in your own community? Do you or have you already tried operating something similar and did it work for you? 

Community Gardens

Supporting Mental Health Needs with Horticulture

May 18, 2014

I’ve written a few posts sharing how mentally healing I’ve found spending time in gardens and soaking up everything nature has to offer. I was therefore pleased to discover that this weekend, Sonairte in Co Meath, Ireland’s National Centre of Ecology, would be hosting a training session for anyone interested in learning more about providing Social and Therapeutic Horticulture (STH) for people with mental health support needs.

Tranquil gardens at Sonaitre

Tranquil gardens at Sonaitre

For the past few years I’ve worked with adults with intellectual disabilities offering a form of horticultural therapy and last week I finished a course with a branch of the Irish Wheelchair Association helping adults to grow food in recycled containers. Amongst others, I’m working with long-term unemployed, older people living alone and rurally isolated adults in community gardens around Carlow and Kilkenny.

I know I’m not alone in Ireland providing a horticulture service to a diverse range of people who might suffer with mental health issues from mild anxiety to depression, to more profound forms of mental health problems, yet unlike our UK neighbours there’s very little support available to us in this recognised and measurable from of therapy.

I sincerely hope that will change as the excellent training the group of occupational therapists and horticulture practitioners received this weekend, opened our eyes to the tangible mental health benefits that simply being or working in a garden can bring. The knowledge we’ve gained will begin to help us offer and better understand the practical elements of putting together a programme centred around people and not purely the needs of the garden. Damien Newman of Thrive, a UK charity that “champions the benefits of gardening, carrying out research, training professionals and offering practical solutions so that anyone with a disability can enjoy gardening”, delivered an excellent course that’s given us a lot to think about.

Sonaitre gardenHorticulture therapy for mental health isn’t a new phenomena. *In ancient Egypt royal physicians prescribed “a spell in the palace gardens for those troubled of mind” and in 1856 Dorset County Asylum wrote that “male patients shall be employed in gardening and husbandry… to promote cheerfulness and happiness.”

Having completed the second stage of learning, our group now have a year to decide whether we individually wish to take on an eight week distance course via Thrive and Coventry University in an undergraduate module leading us to an Award in STH, a project I’m planning to begin during the quieter time of my gardening year.

Sonaitre gardenIf you’re interested in learning more about Social and Horticulture Therapy in Ireland, contact Veronica Macfarlane of Sonairte for more information on future courses or check out Thrive in the UK directly who run a range of course options as well as gardens to visit, a library full of information that can support social and horticultural therapy students and practitioners, as well as professionals on hand to offer advice and information in general.

Have you noticed how spending a couple of hours outdoors can improve your mood and feelings of general well-being?

 

*source Thrive UK

Food & Drink, Green

5 reasons why we should eat ‘in season’ (& eat rhubarb cake too)

April 17, 2014

Rhubarb PatchWe often hear the term ‘in season’ bandied about but I was asked recently why it was so important when food is readily available all year round – a good question in the age of convenience. The following post therefore gives five reasons why we should be thinking more carefully about the foods we buy and cook throughout the year. It’s followed by a few suggestions for rhubarb recipes as well as a very seasonal rhubarb crumble cake that I discovered this week after we found ourselves with a glut of duck eggs and ‘in season’ rhubarb stalks.

Rhubarb Crumble Cake CrumbsNumber 1. In season food that’s been freshly harvested has more nutrients and flavour than food that’s travelled hundreds of miles and/or has been stored before it reaches you.

After we pick fruit and vegetables they continue to breathe (known as respiration) which breaks down proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Warm air can speed this process up, as in the case of apples for instance. For the commercial market apples are generally stored at cold temperatures for long periods of time (for a year or more in some cases), with low levels of oxygen and high levels of carbon dioxide added to them. After a few months under these conditions, their nutrient levels begin to diminish.  Even without long-term storage, it might take a week or two between a fruit or vegetable being picked, to when it’s delivered to the shop we buy it from. It may then be another week before we eat it.

When we buy ‘in season’ and locally, the food is generally sold within 48 hours of being picked and we’re more likely to use it quickly, perhaps excited and mindful that it’s so fresh.

Number 2. Buying seasonal food usually means we’re supporting local producers, farmers, farmers markets, CSAs and co-ops which is great for local economies. I wrote a post recently about the various schemes and projects we can support here if you’d like to find out more about them.

Number 3. Buying seasonal food means it’s usually cheaper. Buying a punnet of strawberries in June should be much cheaper than buying a punnet at Christmas. If it’s not, we should ask ourselves (or the shopkeeper) why not. Are the farmers getting a good deal?

winter squashNumber 4. Some societies believe that ‘in season’ food provides nutrients and ingredients that our bodies crave or need at certain times of the year. Somehow juicy soft fruits such as red currents and raspberries seem much more appealing when the sun is warm on our skins than in the cold winter months. Likewise we enjoy eating warming vegetable stews and soups loaded with root vegetables, pulses and winter squashes in the autumn months when we’re tucked up in front of cozy fires.

Number 5. Eating in season is good for the environment. At a time when climate change and fossil fuels are uppermost in many of our minds thanks to the recent IPCC report, there are less air and road miles used when we shop for and eat ‘in season’ local produce.

Buying more local and ‘in season’ produce doesn’t mean that we have to give up buying imported produce altogether, but that we become more aware of what’s growing or on offer at any particular time and choose it as often as we can over imported fruit and vegetables.

rhubarb plantsRhubarb Recipes

As a result of a sudden rhubarb glut in the Greenside Up household, I learnt this week that if we don’t have time to cook it all, it freezes very well. Just wash, trim and cut the stalks into 25mm pieces then blanch them in boiling water for 1-2 mins. Drain them, dry them then pack them into containers on their own. They can then be used for stewed fruits, pies and cakes when you have more time.

However, it seemed a shame to be in possession of so much rhubarb and not make something with it! I therefore chose this particular rhubarb crumble cake recipe because it uses lots of eggs and now that our duck is laying, we have an abundance.

Not used to baking with duck eggs, I googled and found that we can just straight-swap duck eggs with hen eggs. So I did. The resulting cake was light, fluffy and went down a treat but it did take longer to bake than the original Good Food recipe suggested, probably as a result of the slightly larger duck eggs.

Ducky & Bob, best pals since the fox attack

Ducky & Bob, best pals since the fox attack

If you’re searching for other rhubarb recipes, I’ve one here that the lovely Mona Wise published in her newspaper column last year for rhubarb cheesecake and another from Sarah of Cake in the Country for rhubarb lemonade that’s very refreshing at this time of year. There are instructions on the latter post too for growing and caring for rhubarb if you have any questions about it.

duck eggsRecipe for Rhubarb Crumble Cake

250g butter
250g caster sugar plus 1 tbsp
2 tsp vanilla extract
5 large eggs (I used duck)
300g plain flour, plus 7 tbsp
2 tsp baking powder
300g rhubarb, washed, trimmed and sliced thinly
Preheat the over to 160°C/140°C fan/gas 3 and grease and line a 20cm deep cake tin.

Please note that since my old food mixer broke, I’ve been using a food processor for all my mixing and baking… 

Put the butter, 250g sugar and vanilla into a food processor and mix until the mixture is combined, light and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time (I always break them into a cup first to check they’re fresh), and mix together before tipping the mixture into a large bowl. You wont need to do this if you use a food mixer. Sieve in the flour and baking powder and fold into the mixture.

For the crumble topping, remove about 85g of the mixture with a spoon and put onto a plate then stir in the extra 7 tablespoons of flour mentioned in the ingredients list. Use a knife and fork to mix and chop this up until it resembles breadcrumbs.

Add the chopped rhubarb into the large bowl of flour and eggs and fold in until combined. Empty the mixture into the prepared cake tin and sprinkle the crumble topping over the top before finally sprinkling the remaining tablespoon of sugar over the top.

Place the tin onto the middle shelf of the oven for 1 hr 35 mins if using duck eggs (the Good Food recipe recommends 1 hr 15 mins for hen eggs). If the cake begins to brown or burn but is still runny in the middle when checked with a skewer, cover the top with a piece of tin foil.

When ready, remove from the oven and allow to cool for a while before turning out of the tin and cooling fully on a wire cooling rack.

rhubarb crumble cake

Rhubarb Crumble Cake

I’ve plans to make a rhubarb and honey compote this weekend with honey from a neighbours hives, making it a truly homegrown dessert. Do you have any favourite rhubarb recipes? What are your thoughts on ‘in season’ shopping? Do you think we’ve forgotten what ‘in season’ really means?

Community Gardens

How To Create A Successful Community / Workplace Garden

April 15, 2014

Focus On: Callan Community Garden, Co Kilkenny

pea supports

One of the benefits of working in a group environment such as a community garden is the amount of experience and knowledge we gain working alongside one other, as well as learning how to get the most from each other’s strengths by working in a team. This is relevant to both community and work place gardens.

I’ve written some guidelines that you can refer to if you’re wondering what a community garden is or how to set one up, but if you’re already involved with a community garden and wondering how to get the best from it, Callan’s story might be of help to you.

Autumn Prep at Callan Community GardenCallan community garden is situated at the back of the old Friary which is now the Droichead Family Resource Centre, a network of centres that were created with community and social inclusion as key elements of their ethos.

For the past 18 months I’ve been funded by Kilkenny Leader Partnership to work with the group of gardeners, helping them to grow their own fruit and vegetables as well as create an awareness of local food produce and it’s importance in the local economy. This project has also enabled us to create an opportunity for progressive development and sustainability by creating a mini enterprise.

Small Garden at Droichead Family Resource CentreMeeting for a couple of hours each week, we began in the autumn of 2012 with a short, basic theory led course where gardeners were introduced to vegetable families, crop rotation, soil requirements, the myriad of seed choices as well as the importance of incorporating wildlife into our gardens.

This gave the group a taster of the practical work that would follow in the more garden friendly months and in the spring of 2013, we started work outside on the very small space allocated to us.

At that time the garden and polytunnel were divided between several groups, including local transition year students and a FETAC accredited BTEI (Back to Education) course. As the summer holidays approached, the school and horticulture groups finished and the community gardeners began to mind the entire garden. This change inspired a blog post suggesting that schools might be the ideal and natural partners for hosting community gardens, ensuring that produce is cared for and minded throughout the year.

New gardeners learn about seeds guided by the more experienced

A new gardener with the group learns about seed sowing as the more experienced members encouragingly watch on

In the autumn we spent less time weeding and sowing and more time cooking and preserving, as well as learning about selling and marketing an artisan food product. During that time I was able to work alongside the group, preparing pickles and chutneys from produce we’d grown from seed. Once labelled, over a 100 jars were taken to the three-day Savour Kilkenny Food Festival where they were proudly showcased and sold by the Callan and Goresbridge gardeners who’d helped to create them..

Kilkenny Community Gardens Pickles & Preserves

Kilkenny Community Garden Network Pickles & Preserves

The mini enterprise was a success in many ways as the gardeners were able to take part and see, first hand, everything involved in setting up and operating a small, local business. The money raised will help to fund further development projects planned for the garden..

The activity also allowed the gardeners to come to the decision that they much preferred to grow the vegetables and give them to friends and not to sell them! It wasn’t a process they all enjoyed and the group have a new respect for those that do it to make a full-time living. They also have an understanding why small business’ have to charge realistic prices based on time and quality of ingredients. As a result and following discussions with Olive Maher, the forward thinking manager of the resource centre, over the coming months we’ll be trying a different approach with the garden.

Gardeners learn about recycling & gardening

Gardeners learn about recycling & gardening

Plans have been made to build more high raised beds that can accommodate people with movement difficulties and due to the extra growing space, will enable the centre to run very relevant and beneficial workshops for the community, using the garden as the hub.

Dee Sewell at Callan Community Garden

Dee : Photo Credit Catherine Drea

A basic budget cookery course is being planned that will use seasonal produce grown and harvested from the garden, as the core ingredients.

The feasibility of running a basic landscaping course, perhaps with some stonework, where participants will learn to make a seating area and outside barbecue/cooking area is also being considered.

The Family Resource Centre also plan to run a separate mini enterprise course for local people, again using produce grown in the garden.

These courses will be available to everyone in the local community at very reduced rates and the gardeners will have a choice on whether they wish to attend them or just continue working together in the garden and providing fresh produce for them. Lastly and perhaps most importantly in a community, the centre are planning a summer party for everyone who visits, volunteers or learns there and I will be working with the community gardeners to provide as much food as we can for that.

There are no hard and fast rules about community gardens – each one is unique. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out how to get the most from your garden and sometimes you have to adapt and change original plans, as in the case above.

Callan Community GardenCommunity gardens are however, excellent social levellers, creating excellent opportunities for people to integrate, interact, learn, work alongside one another and share; skills that are sometimes overlooked but are so necessary in functioning communities, workplaces, home and society in general.

If you’re interested in finding out more about community gardening and how it might help you, your community or workplace, contact me here for more information.

 

Green

Five Ways to Help Bees Now

March 30, 2014

5 ways to help bees now

We hear so much about the desperate plight of the bees but is the message getting through?

poppiesandbees.jpg

Scientists are still working to determine what exactly is causing their global demise, but as a result of the Varroa mite, *there are no wild honeybees left in Ireland.

As we begin to sow seeds, tidy our gardens and think about shrubs and summer blooms, it’s important to remember bees need our help if they are to survive.

I came across this alarming yet hopeful TED talk by Marla Spivak recently where she eloquently speaks about the plight of the disappearing bees which is worth listening to. At the end she highlights a couple of things that each and every one of us can do to help the bees and why it’s important that we do them now. I’ve added a few more…

Five things we can do right now to help the bees that will make a difference

1. Don’t contaminate the flowers that are growing. Stop spraying pesticides and herbicides on flowers that the bees feed on and ingest – that includes the “weeds” such as dandelion that are a veritable spring feast for bees as they emerge. Always err on the side of caution – if you’re still using chemicals and are not sure if they’re harmful to bees or not, DON’T USE THEMThe RHS carry a lot of information about bees on their website, including a list of withdrawn chemicals that can be referred to.

Cornflowers2. Plant more bee friendly flowers.

If you’ve a large area to plant, one of the wildflower mixes from Sandro Cafolla, Design by Nature might be for you. Not only will the birds, bees and butterflies love you for it, wildflowers are low maintenance (they generally only need one cut per year) and look stunning when in flower too.

A spring bee feeding on a Mahonia flowerOnce again, the RHS have a very detailed list of plants for pollinators on their website here, which will give you ideas for bee attracting climbers, trees, bulbs and corms, as well as annual, biennial or perennial flowers.

You could also plant herbs or vegetables that bees will enjoy feeding upon such as asparagus, broad beans, courgettes and other members of the squash family, hyssop, marjoram, mint, rosemary, runner beans, sage, thyme and allow some of them to flower too such as brassicas.

bee collecting pollen on a broad (fava) bean3. Take direct action.

Greenpeace are running a campaign asking people to support ecological farming, ban bee harming pesticides and adopt action plans that will help to monitor the situation. If you’d like to sign the petition and/or donate to the cause, click the link here.

4. Create Bee-Friendly Zones

Bees like nooks and crannies to nest, feed and hang out in. Learn how to garden without chemicals, plant bee friendly plants, make bee nest boxes or hotels and encourage your friends, neighbours, schools, creches, and clubs to do the same in Bee-Friendly Zones.

Encourage councils and tidy town groups to plant bee friendly flowers among hedgerows and verges and remind farmers to leave strips of wild flower areas on the edges of their fields and resist spraying them with herbicides and pesticides, which will provide the bees with unpolluted food help to ensure their survival.

If you’re looking for ideas on habitats, here’s a Pinterest board full of bird, bee and pollinator friendly homes and feeders.

honey bees5. Start a Campaign

Although there’s a breeding programme to protect the native Irish honeybee, as far as I can make out there’s no national campaign in Ireland to raise awareness about the plight of the bees and how important it is that we protect and help them, so consider starting one!

Encourage your communities to plant more bee friendly flowers, stop spraying unnecessarily and plant more wildflower verges and roundabouts instead of spraying and mowing.

Let’s get bees into the news and help to raise an awareness that will stop people spraying and more people planting. What do you think? Are you up for the challenge?

 

* source www.advancescience.com

Postscript:

There will be an All-Ireland Pollinator Symposium on the 17th February 2015 in Waterford led by the National BioDiversity Centre and the Pollination Ecology Research Group in TCD. Take a look at their webpage for more information and to book a place.