Welcome to Trevor’s Kitchen Garden.
This is where I will post information and ideas on growing your own food, based mostly on my own experience. I’ve been growing my own food for some years now and find it a great source of pleasure, nourishing for body, mind and spirit.
Now that the book ‘Trevor’s Kitchen Garden’ is published, I hope this will add a useful new resource to kitchen gardening with over 60 hand drawn illustrations and colourful photographs.
This website, meanwhile, is intended for beginners who want to grow their own food. I know that a great many people want to do this but just don’t know how to get started. I’ll keep things simple throughout; after all, growing food is a simple, natural activity. As well as creating a diary of what I’m doing in my own garden each week, I’ll include some video clips to show you just how easy it is.
So, thanks for visting Trevor’s Kitchen Garden. Come back soon so see how my garden grows. Better still, why not copy what I’m doing and we can compare results!
1 February 2009 (updated 24 March 2012)
Happy days, the Bloom Festival in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, is on again! The School Earth Education charity known as S.E.ED. is a collection of organic training centres and the Marino Institute of Education school garden guru Paddy Madden. As a patron of SEED and chair of Sonairte, the visitor eco-centre in Laytown, I attend the meetings of SEED steering committee. At the last meeting I suggested that the SEED organic school garden display
With Dave Breslin of Irish Seed Savers in Co. Clare checking the Trevor’s Kitchen Garden birdtable at the SEED organic school garden in Bloom – in front of the Birdwatch Ireland stand! Note the Lumper & Blue Danube potatoes growing in bags below which are also stablising the birdtable. See you at Bloom!
at Bloom sponsored by Bord Bia and the Dept. of Agriculture should have a bird table. Birds are after all an important part of maintaining a balance of nature in any garden.
Paddy understood this to mean I would make a birdtable - so I did! The many visitors to Bloom may ensure the organic school garden is a less than peaceful bird feeding station! However, the challenge to design and build a birdtable using mainly scrap wood found n the garden shed was very therapeutic. I hope it encourages anyone with a saw, hammer , screwdriver and some wood to have a go!
Comfrey is a plant which gets organic growers very excited. It grows back and flowers after the plant is cut back to the ground, maybe three or four times a year between February and about November. It has deep tap roots which return leached nutrients from inaccessible depths to the grower in the form of leaf material. These leaves contain high levels of many beneficial elements, especially potassium and nitrogen. Both elements are key nutrients, potassium helps plants to fruit (eg tomatoes) and nitrogen boosts leave growth (eg cabbage).
However comfrey is far more than a delivery system for kitchen garden fertility requirements. Its flowers are very popular with bees, especially bumble bees. In spite of the temptation to remove the leaves to encourage each comfrey plant to re-sprout from the ground, I held off when I saw the bee activity the other day as I was planting bedding plants in the front garden beside the comfrey bed. What the bees want, the bees get. The cutting of the comfrey can wait until the flowers are finished. The leaves will be then stuffed in a barrel. This will be topped up with water and left for a few weeks to soak and stew. A 1:10 ratio of this comfrey liquid diluted in water will then feed the fruit and vegetables as they are watered by watering cans.
One of the many bees which visit the comfrey bed. Note the proboscis mouthpiece of the bee probing the flower to reach the nectar.
Perennial ‘everlasting cabbage’ protected from the cabbage white butterfly by garden netting over a frame of canes, bottles and pegs alongside a pot of mixed lettuce.
Last year I thought I would save time netting my cabbages and just inspect the underside of my brassica plants for cabbage white butterfly eggs. They are easy enough to spot, I thought, being a bright yellow colour in clumps against the cabbage green leaves. Lack of inspection time and too many leaves to inspect meant enough eggs hatched out to render my cabbage a skeleton of stalks!
Over winter, however, my trusty everlasting cabbage plants and purple sprouting broccoli recovered and grew new leaves. Now they are big and bushy once more. To prevent the tragedy of caterpillars devouring the leaves again, I have taken protective action and the cabbage is now covered with netting to keep out the cabbage white butterfly. The broccoli has recently finished and has been removed to make way for beetroot and chard.
For less than 5 euro, I bought green garden netting. First I constructed a frame of bamboos with upturned plastic bottles on top of each cane. This prevents the netting from being ripped when it is draped over the structure all around the cabbage plants. Any leaves that were in contact with the edge of the netting, I harvested. If any leaf surface is accessible to the butterfly, she will lay. If even the slightest gap in the netting exists, she will get in to the cabbage plants also. The length of netting was first draped over the cabbage from north to south. When this was secured to the ground on each side, another length of netting was draped over the bush from east to west. Again, by threading the base of the netting through a bamboo cane on the ground, the base of the netting could be pegged at the bottom to prevent any gaps being created. Clothes pegs were then handy to close off any gaps at the corners. The pegs attached easily to the bamboo uprights. I hope the photograph makes all this reasonably clear.
The cabbage white butterfly lays eggs in May/June this year. In a normal year laying could start in April. During August / September, she lays again, so don’t be caught out in the autumn! More details in the book Trevor’s Kitchen Garden, pages 49, 110, 113, 212. I’ve seen the book in many good garden centres and bookshops recently including the Book Centre in Wexford. To check where the book is available, contact the publisher www.orpenpress.com.
The surviving colony of healthy well tempered bees housed last August as a swarm captured by John.
With some trepidation, myself and beekeeping mentor friend, John Holland, approached my two hives in our friend Carmel’s garden to see how the two hives had survived the winter. The temperature outside was about 16 degrees centigrade and the day was fine. It is generally not a good idea to open a hive for any length when the temperature is below 15c as the bees get dangerously chilled. However back in January, I had briefly lifted the lid to place flat bags of fondant on top of the frames so the bees would have some food to survive the very long winter. This was intended to supplement their own winter stores.
One hive was active, the other dead. When we opened the quiet one, the remains of a bee cluster were to be seen. The small size of the cluster suggests there were too few bees to maintain the 37 degree standard temperature of the hive, so essentially they died of the cold. They had hardly touched the fondant I have placed in the hive, so they were too weak even to feed it seems. There were many signs of chalk brood as well, so the brood box and frames will need to be sterilized so all parts are disease free before a new colony can be given a home there.
The other hive was a total contrast. It shows good signs of a young fertile queen as larvae were prolific. In fact the brood box seemed to be quite full of bees. Immediately, we put on a queen excluder and a super on top of the brood box and queen excluder. This super of frames will give the bees space to put the honey ‘up in the attic’ so to speak. This will leave more room in the brood box for the queen to lay eggs and breed more bees. Had I not put on a super, there is a risk that the lack of space might have caused swarming. There is no guarantee the bees are not thinking of swarming so each week from now on, I must make time to examine this healthy hive. If it is growing fast enough to split, then I will have an empty brood box now to house the new swarm. We live in hope!
It is still possible to sow many seeds given that spring has been so late in arriving this year. Mine are sown in a small greenhouse to bring them on until they are a couple of centimetres high. At this point in mid May, seedlings are sturdy enough in most cases to withstand slug predation and the weather will hopefully be largely free of frost.
A number of seeds which don’t like being transplanted such as radish, carrot, parsnip and potato, are sown in situ outside when the soil has warmed up to over 7 degrees centigrade atleast to ensure good germination. The majority of the seeds I have sown for this growing season begin in modules in seed trays (see pp 88 – 91 ‘Trevor’s Kitchen Garden’, www.orpenpress.com or most good bookshops).
Now the greenhouse shelves are packed with rows of seed trays labelled with date of sowing and variety of seed sown. These include 1. Tamar Mixed Lettuce – 2. Broad Bean (Vectra from Seedsavers) – 3. Runner Bean (Black Knight from Seedsavers) – 4. Mange Tout (Sugar Dwarf Pea) – 5. Purple Sprouting Broccoli – 6. Leek (Musselborough) – 7. Beetroot (Avon Early from Seedsavers) – 8. Rainbow Chard Leaf Beet – 9. Courgette (Nero di Milano from Seedsavers) – 10. Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia) – 11. Nicotiana – 12. Cosmos – 13. Viola (Tricolour) – 14. Tomato (Gardener’s Delight). I cheated with the tomato and bought an organically grown pot plant grown in Sonairte’s organic walled garden up the road in Laytown. I only need two plants so hardly worth the effort of buying a whole packet of tomato seed for the sake of growing two plants!
Some of the seeds listed are for flowers, essentially food for the bees, other pollinators,
Watering a tray sown with tiny seed using a large jar of water with a perforated lid which drizzles water so seeds are not dislodged.
hover flies etc, all of which benefit the food crops and make the whole business of kitchen gardening more attractive. Some of these flower and veg seeds are tiny. The rose head on the small watering can is clogged up at this stage. Necessity being the mother of invention, I set about creating an even and gentle watering system for these trays of tiny seeds. Multiple tiny holes in the lid of a large jar made for a very fine and even watering device. Naturally this only applies to small scale kitchen gardening, but it works for me! May the sun and rain help you garden in the weeks ahead.
Paddy Madden, author of ‘Go Wild at School’ and SESE lecturer in Marino Institute of Education, was the brilliant speaker at Lucan GIY monthly meeting on Mon 15 April last. Even though I thought I knew a good bit about school gardens and getting kids interested in the natural world, I was blown away by the practical array of trials, projects and experiments which Paddy demonstrated using old containers and other make-shift equipment which would be common in most households.
For instance, the audience got involved in making paper plant pots, eating tendrils of peas growing in a large plant pot and leaves of onions also growing in a pot. The peas were sown marrowfat peas from a regular supermarket food shelf and the onions were a densely planted handful of onion sets. The leaves can be eaten as well as the onions themselves. Using plastic bottles, cardboard and tinfoil etc, soil was analysed, earthworms were studied and seeds were sown.
If you are a teacher or are friendly with teachers, please urge them to sign up for
School garden guru, Paddy Madden, telling teachers at Lucan GIY about plant spacing.
Paddy Maddens course on ‘Living Classrooms – Using School Grounds’ from 1 – 5 July this summer at Marino Institute of Education, Griffith Avenue, Dublin 9. Teachers should email Moya at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 01 – 8057775 or Paddy 01 – 8057757. Only Marino seems to take the importance of food growing in schools seriously among the Colleges of Education which is great to see as far as it goes. However, why the blind spot in all the other larger Colleges of Education? I wish we had more Paddy Madden type lecturers. Ireland’s future would be a healthier place if that was the case!