SHIFTING MANURE WITHOUT INJURING THE BACK – 2nd wk in December 2014

When the manure delivery arrived, I enthusiastically began relaying this ‘brown gold’ by wheelbarrow to the vacant veg patches. This was across very uneven rough pasture. There had to be an easier way, my back was telling me.

Áine’s car has a tow hitch and we have a small trailer. Using the car as a kind of tractor (grazie mile, amore!), I can now, repeatedly, load up the trailer and tow it to the veg patch location.

The old back also now appreciates that the wheelbarrow loads are more easily transferred to the trailer with the help of a long sturdy wooden ramp. I never thought I’d hear myself saying it but shovelling manure is now, in fact, enjoyable. I

Loading up the trailer which takes about 7 wheelbarrows full. The ramp is wedged under the mudflap.

Loading trailer which takes about 7 wheelbarrows full. The ramp is wedged under the mudflap.

t certainly is a good way to stay warm on a cold December day.

COVERING MANURE HEAP TO KEEP RAIN OFF – 1ST wk in December 2014

Thanks to Willie Kelly from Killinick up the road for delivering 4 loads of beautiful horse manure from Dara Ward’s stables in the Sanctuary, Killinick. After a couple of weeks, the grass growth atop the manure heap was spectacular.

The grass growth prompted me to cover the heap fully with builders’ plastic sheeting quickly. Nicky Kyle and Kathy Marsh, two organic growing friends from Fingal, have reminded me from time to time to cover manure and manured ground, to avoid the rain leaching away the goodness.

In this virtual peninsula in the very South East of Ireland we get strong winds coming from the Caribbean  and heading for Wales, so tying down plastic sheeting is crucial. Old carpet and rope serve

Weighing down the plastic sheeting with old carpet before fixing ropes to secure the whole covered manure heap.

Weighing down the plastic sheeting with old carpet which has then been tied in place with ropes to rainproof the whole covered manure heap.

useful purposes to weigh down the plastic and prevent ropes from cutting in to the plastic itself.

So far so good. The compost is staying fairly dry and friable and is easy to dig out.

DIGGING NEW VEGETABLE BEDS AHEAD OF THE WET SEASON – 4th wk in November 2014

Last winter was so wet from December onwards that this year we are taking no chances when it comes to preparing new veg beds for the spring ahead of the winter weather. To speed up the digging and disturb the soil life as little as possible, we are just turning the sod on top of the adjacent sod, a little like preparing an Aran bed – known to some as a ‘lazy bed’.

Before the sods are turned over, compost or well-rotted manure is laid down the centre of where the bed is to be dug. This organic matter is then sandwiched between the sods to break down and feed the soil life over the coming months.

We then will cover over the dug over new veg beds with black plastic sheeting to prevent leaching of nutrients and weed germination, as well as encouraging worms and other soil life to thrive in the darker environment under the black plastic.

Turning sods to cover manure creates a raised bed in appearance which is less likely to become water logged in the event of downpours, especially with winter black plastic on top.

Turning sods to cover manure creates a raised bed in appearance which is less likely to become water logged in the event of downpours, especially with winter black plastic on top.

USING FIRST BATCH OF COMPOST ON NEWLY DUG BEDS – 3rd wk in November 2014

The 3 bay composting system was set up last spring assisted by the brother-in-law who provided 10 old pallets. (Thanks Francis!). I have just read Goff Lalor’s article ‘Dreaming About Perfect Compost’ in the winter issue of Crann, Ireland’s tree magazine. Goff fills the outside bays alternatively, tipping the contents of each in to the middle bay to finish the composting process in turn. This sounds like a good method which I’ll try out. Always happy to learn new horticultural tricks!

In my case, the tumbler composter sits beside the 3 bay system collecting and aerating kitchen waste. Meanwhile the first bay collects the old garden greenery, cabbage stalks, rhubarb leaves, hedge clippings etc. In the second bay, I layer the rejected garden material from the first bay with the softer kitchen waste from the tumbler. When the second bay is full, I fork it in to the third bay to continue composting. This leaves the second bay free to fill up as before once more.

The third bay has now yielded its first batch of reasonably well broken down compost. It’s not as attractive as Goff Lalor’s photo sample. However, it will do fine as a soil conditioner in the  newly dug beds and

Digging out the first batch of compost from the 3 bay composting system - supervised by Garfield the cat.

Digging out the first batch of compost from the 3 bay composting system – supervised by Garfield the cat – who dislikes getting his paws wet.

vacant veg beds I am covering for the winter. Even if it has viable weed seed in it, the black plastic sheeting will prevent weed seed germination until I can get to work hoeing the soil in the spring.

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.

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