WORMS APPRECIATE RAIN PROOFING AND WEED PROOFING OF THE VEG BEDS UNTIL SPRING – 2nd wk in November 2014

Putting the empty veg beds 'to bed' for the winter after manuring the soil and weighing down the black plastic edges with some builders' sand.

Putting the empty veg beds ‘to bed’ for the winter after manuring the soil and weighing down the black plastic edges with some builders’ sand.

Last winter was so wet here in Tacumshin that any digging of soil was impossible from December through to April. Meanwhile the mild temperatures encouraged plenty of scutch, docks and other nuisance weeds to thrive over the winter.

This autumn it is time to experiment with a new strategy. Once the veg harvests are in storage, the vacant veg beds are manured and then covered with black plastic. We use sand on the plastic along the edges of these long veg beds to keep the plastic secure in this windy location. The wetter the sand becomes in the rain, the better it will secure the black plastic sheeting.

Each sheet of black plastic covers about a 3 metre stretch of veg bed. In spring, we will uncover these sections of soil as and when we need them to plant up young veg plants. The soil should be teeming with life in this dark manure rich environment over winter. After planting up, attention to weeding will be critical during the growing season. The addition of organic matter in the soil will hopefully mean less of a need to irrigate. Mind you, the addition of small quantities of building sand which was used to weigh down the black plastic previously will speed up drainage to some extent.

THE VULNERABILITY OF BEES TO AGRICHEMICALS IS GOOD REASON TO FARM ORGANICALLY – 1st wk in November 2014

One of the many fringe events during the Wexford Opera Festival this year was a screening of the Irish made film ‘Colony’ about the dramatic decline of honey bee numbers. The film features beekeepers Lance and Victor Seppi from Pixley, California, but the crisis is a global one. About a third of the world’s food depends of animal pollination and honey bees are the main species in this regard.

I had spoken at the Irish premiere of  the film ‘Colony’ in Dublin as a former Minister of Food and Horticulture. Here in Wexford, I spoke before this latest screening as a member of the South Wexford Beekeepers’ Association.

The use of newly developed nicotine based agrichemicals features largely in this documentary as the chief suspect behind the cause of colonies of bees dying mysteriously. Another stress on managed hives in the USA especially is the gruelling journeys they travel sealed in brood boxes strapped on the backs of trucks. These bee colonies are then released to pollinate fruit trees when they are in flower. They’ll go from the orange groves in Florida, to cranberries in Massachusetts, to blueberries in Maine, to apples in Washington , to almonds in California. It is basically a giant loop.

The combined harm to pollination done by agrichemicals and large scale monoculture farming is now measurable and alarming, especially in the USA. However, the American trends tend to be followed in Europe and elsewhere, in the interest of global competitiveness.

A positive response to this crisis would be a massive conversion to organic farming methods. This would mean no agrichemicals and greater biodiversity. Beehives on every farm would be a bonus and save the gruelling road journeys to which many bee hives are subjected. Improved pollination on organic farms would mean higher quality and quantities of food produced.

It may seem like a bizarre question but here goes! If humanity keeps going as we are going and the bees die off, who is going to pay the armies of people required to pollinate many crop flowers with small brushes? Already in Sichuan province in China, the loss of bees means many farmers there now have to hand pollinate their crops.

A good crowd of beekeepers and others watching 'Colony', the documentary on bee colony collapse in the Spiegeltent in Wexford recently.

A good crowd of beekeepers and others watching ‘Colony’, the documentary on bee colony collapse screened in the Spiegeltent in Wexford recently.

 

A HANK OF ORGANIC ONIONS MAKES FOR AN INTERESTING GIFT – 4th wk in October 2014

Capturing a picture of some onions plaited into hanks. Easy to store, easy to check and very easy to give away as gifts!

Capturing a picture of some onions plaited into hanks. Easy to store, easy to check and very easy to give away as gifts!

It is satisfying to have an indoor gardening job to do when the weather turns wet and cold. Lately, we have been plaiting more of our onion crop and hanging the resulting onion hanks  from the rafters for winter storage.

Any time we go to snip an onion from the top of a hank for use in the kitchen, we inspect the other onions quickly to check if any are starting to show any signs of rot. Suspect onions are removed so the rot does not spread to the healthy crop.

Meanwhile, as our onion harvest was quite good, we have a few hanks to spare. A hank of organic onions has gone away with any visitors in the last while. Hopefully we will still have enough to last us into the spring.

BETTER TO STORE ONIONS IN DARK DRY COOL VENTILATED PLACE – 3rd wk in October 2014

Red and white varieties of onion plaited and hung to ensure maximum air circulation. Pity the room is not dark.

Red and white varieties of onion plaited and hung to ensure maximum air circulation. Pity the room is not dark.

In an earlier blog last summer, we mentioned harvesting a good crop of early and maincrop white onions and a Red Baron variety. This crop was dried outdoors under cover so that the skins hardened in the sun and wind. This is called curing the onions.

Now for storing those same cured onions over winter. The ideal storage conditions for onions are:

1: A cool temperature in the range  4 – 10 degrees Celsius.

2: A dry, dark and well ventilated storeroom.

3: A method to keep the onions from touching anything to maximise air circulation.

Unfortunately, we have to make do with an outdoor office which thankfully is cool and well ventilated over winter, but it is not dark. Only one way to find out if this is good enough!

HEN HOUSE TIED DOWN IN ADVANCE OF WINTER STORMS – 2nd wk in October 2014

The storms of last winter were a terrifying wake up call demonstrating the destructive power of the windiest weather on record in south Wexford. We needed to try designing a climate-change proof hen house, if such a thing is possible!

Hens are by nature tree roosters, so perches are needed, which means the hen-house has to have some height. This could be bad news on a windy site.

Three aspects of our new hen house are designed to ensure it is stable in a storm:

1. The legs are splayed, not unlike the Eiffel Tower in Paris, on a smaller scale of course!

2. The legs are screwed to wooden fence posts driven 1 metre down into the ground.

3. Each corner is held in position by a guy rope tightly tied to anchor posts and metal hooks in the wall of the old piggery, on the boundary of the hen run.

The hens are due to take up residence

The hens will roost in the 'attic' of this hen house. The nest box is just visible at the back facing the old piggery wall.

The hens will roost in the ‘attic’ of this hen house. The nest box is just visible at the back facing the old piggery wall.

in the new year. Having our own organic eggs will make all this work and weather proofing worthwhile, hopefully!

ROOTS OF SCUTCH AND DOCKS GO TO DITCH, NOT COMPOSTER -1st wk in October 2014

When I was cultivating a small urban garden, it was easy to prevent such persistent weeds as docks and scutch from taking hold. However, we now are endeavouring to grow organic food on a couple of acres here in Wexford now.  A very different story.

I have heard it said that drying out dock and scutch roots renders them harmless. I’m not so sure and anyway who has time to be drying out the roots of weeds? There are wild areas on our plot which we are happy not to cultivate. These areas provide a happy hunting ground for wildlife – and the scutch and dock roots can provide wildlife cover in this wild area!

There is plenty of easily decomposed greenery from stalks and leaves left after the fruit and veg harvest to make good compost which is free of persistent weed roots hopefully.

Scutch and dock roots which will NOT go into the composter.

Scutch and dock roots which will NOT go into the composter.

RAIN WATER BUTTS A FIRST STEP IN RAIN WATER HARVESTING – 4th week in September 2014

The torrential rain showers which are now a more frequent indicator of climate change in Ireland, quickly fill any regular water butt. What we really need are large enclosed rainwater harvesting tanks, preferably buried underground. However, such items are much more costly than the regular water butts which DIY stores are busy selling at the moment.

The water butts serve a useful purpose in the garden nonetheless. Watering cans are quickly filled by dipping them in rather than waiting for the tap fixture to fill a can up. The cats certainly prefer drinking the rain water from a dish rather than the mains water. It is likely than plants in the greenhouse prefer the rainwater too.

Surprisingly easy to install, these water butts come complete with stand. All that is required is a hack saw to cut the down pipe and a pliers to rig up the connection pipe.

Surprisingly easy to install, these water butts come complete with stand. All that is required is a hack saw to cut the down pipe and a pliers to rig up the connection pipe.

 

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