Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category


My hope of growing a Halloween  pumpkin in the same grow bag from which I harvested the early potatoes unfortunately did not work out. Some pumpkins did form but they never swelled to the size required. I now realise the extensive root system really needs the expanse of open soil to develop and support the kind of crop which a healthy plant is capable of producing. That is the lesson for next year although I may have to ask is the garden just too crowded for the pumpkin growing? Meanwhile the fine organically grown pumpkins at Balbriggan Fish and Farmers’ Market last Friday morning were fine specimens and I was glad to get there in time to buy one. The variety, going by the look of it, was ‘Ghostrider’. I must ask Paddy Byrne, who farms in Barnageeragh out the road next time I see him.

The scooping out the flesh and carving the ghoulish face all went fine. The picture below paints a thousand words, so to speak! Now what to do with the flesh? No time to make or eat  pie dishes so perhaps soup, most of which could be portioned into containers, labelled and frozen. Thanks to the biodynamic organic Farmer John Peterson and Angelic Organics of Illinois, USA, I had  bought Farmer John’s Cookbook when I met the man himself at a World Organic Congress in Modena, Italy in 2008. Page 315 has a good recipe for Pumpkin Sage Soup.

Not quite a pretty face, pumpkin has many uses

The garden failed to give me a large pumpkin but  the other main ingredient, sage, is dominating the herb patch this year. Apart from that, the ingredients include onion, garlic, parsley, thyme and vegetable stock which could all be provided from the garden.

The way John Peterson makes it his recipe  serves 5 or 6 persons.

2 medium pie pumpkins ( 4 to 5 pounds)

1/3 cup olive oil.

1/3 cup whole sage leaves.

1 large onion, minced.

2 cloves garlic minced.

5 pints veg stock or water.

1/4 cup fresh minced parsley.

1 teaspoon fresh thyme.

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon.

2 teaspoons salt and ground pepper.

If you’ve made soup before you’ll know the normal soup making procedure starting with sauté of onions, adding garlic when onions start to soften. John suggests baking the pumpkin bits first in an oven at 375 F so they are soft and hot when you add them to the onions and garlic along with the other ingredients. Pumpkin can be a little bland by itself so the addition of herbs does make the soup more flavoursome. Once it is simmered for a half hour or so, it looks better if liquidised. A very welcome addition to the darker damp weather at the start of November.



Only a garden with a greenhouse or at least south facing windows can make any decent headway in seed propogation right now. With strong daytime sunshine, the growing spaces under glass (or plastic) dry out surprisingly quickly. It seems strange to be out watering when the weather is so cold. My ‘telephone box’ sized greenhouse is doing a good job of producing cut and come again lettuce, while seedlings of spinach, lettuce and sweet pea are about 2cm high. The tomato seeds which were sown at the same time have failed to germinate. Tomatoes need Mediterranean spring temperatures of 12 – 16 degrees centigrade to get going. In Ireland this mean either (1) waiting until later in spring or (2) heating your seedtray or greenhouse or (3) a very quick blast of heat on the tomato seeds. This last option was explained by a professional grower to me. There was a practise of putting tomato seeds on a metal tray. The grill in the kitchen was turned on. The tray was quickly ‘shown’ the grill and withdrawn before any seeds were burned and thereby killed. The blast of heat however worked by cracking the seed husk and aiding germination. I take my hat off to professional growers and the ingenuity they bring to their craft. Meanwhile as a kitchen gardener, I will start my tomato seeds again now that daytime temperatures are barely on double figures. Second time lucky I hope.


After the rain, snow and ice, a dry weekend, not to mention a still and sunny Sunday was in relative terms, heaven on Earth. Although growing fruit and vegetables is my main activity in the kitchen garden, the cultivation of roses is very rewarding. For anyone concerned about ‘carbon footprints’, the sad reality about roses is that ALL roses sold in local shops are imported as far as I can see. So if you want an Irish rose for yourself or for some other special person, you will just have to grow it yourself!

Ingrid Bergman rose. Pic. courtesy

I confess I had a bed of five Alec’s Red rose bushes but they were neglected over the years. I had wanted red roses but strangely, that variety is more crimson than red. However they had a lovely perfume

and in their hey-day, they served me well. I had even harvested the petals one year and made the most delicious and aromatic rose petal jam. Mind you it took the petals from five bushes to get one pound of jam but what a treat!

To replace rose bushes, it is recommended to not plant new bushes in the same soil. Therfore, my first job was to remove the soil and replenish the bed with compost and humus rich soil, well mixed. The old soil is perfectly good for vegetables however, so nothing is going to waste except the old rose bushes which I have dug up and stacked with the firewood to dry.

I have no shortage of well rotted compost at present which is covered by old carpet so that rain does not leach thegoodness out of it. A couple of barrow loads of fresh soil and compost refilled the new rose bed easily enough. The five new hybrid tea rose bushes are called ‘Ingrid Bergman‘. I am assured this variety is truly a red rose and has a very strong perfume. With the rose bed freshly prepared with loose friable soil, the planting of the five bushes was almost effortless with the help of a trowel.

Having welcomed Richard Corrigan and Duncan Stewart to graze their way through my little garden, it was a pleasure to now welcome such a classy guest as Ingrid Bergman!


Not much time for gardening with late Dáil sittings. I just about manage a few minutes in the garden to bring vegetable, fruit and kitchen paper waste out to the compost tumbler every couple of days.

I notice the garlic cloves sown a couple of weeks ago are sprouting and the green shoots of new growth are evident. (A good omen for the ‘green shoots of economic recovery’, let us hope!). This is the last Thursday of Dail sittings for 2009 and the Party Leaders and An Ceann Comhairle have exchanged Christmas Greetings. It is time to turn attention to the Christmas Tree at home.

For eleven months of the year a miniature fir tree grows away slowly beside the raspberry canes under the apple tree in the back garden. Now is the time to take a spade, dig around the tree  doing as little damage as possible to the roots, and transplant the whole tree (rootball and all) into a clean black bucket.

The tree is now ready for a sojourn in the sitting room window, suitably decorated and lit up for the Christmas season. After Nollaig na mBan on January 6th it will be replanted in the garden. While most of us head home for Christmas, this fir tree heads indoors for a holiday. Each to their own.

Meanwhile, time to put on the kettle, stick a log on the fire and have a good look at a couple of seed catalogues. Nollaig shona duit.



Inaugural Swords GIY Meeting on Thursday 10th December in Scoil an Duinnínigh, Feltrim Road

The Grow It Yourself movement comes to Swords! GIY networks aim to take the ‘self’ out of ‘self-sufficiency’ by getting back-garden growers together on a regular basis to talk, learn from each other and exchange tips. The meetings are free and open to people interested in growing at all levels, i.e. from growing a few herbs on a balcony to complete self-sufficiency, from beginners to old hands. Hundreds of people are involved in existing GIY groups around Ireland. Last week, for example, 60 people attended a very successful launch of GIY Balbriggan.

The first such meeting in Swords will be on Thursday 10th December in Scoil an Duinnínigh, Feltrim Road. Food & Horticulture Minister Trevor Sargent will be in attendance as well as Michael Kelly founder of the ‘Grow it Yourself’ movement and local man Mick Kelly who will be facilitating the meeting.

All of those interested are welcome to come along to Scoil an Duinnínigh on the Feltrim Road, opposite The Kinsealy Inn, at 7pm.


The garden is almost on automatic in November. I am still harvesting lettuce from pots in the greenhouse along with basil. This goes well in sandwiches with tomatoes grown by Matt Foley in nearby Rush. Outside, parsley, sage, rosemary, kale, leaf beet and cabbage are going strong. Brussel sprouts are coming right while the chives and mint are dying back for the winter.

However, my job as Food Minister took me away for a couple of days recently to represent Ireland at the UN Food andAgriculture Organisation ‘World Summit on Food Security 2009’ in floodless, crisp and sunny Rome. I met with farmers from Africa, South America and Asia aswell as Europe, New Zealand, Australia and the USA, not to mention representatives from 65 governments.

Minister Sargent addresses the FAO Conference in Rome

I discussed farming and food with fellowministers from Cuba, Finland, Mozambique, Syria, France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, New Zealand, USA, Norway, Japan, Canada, UK, Switzerland and my EU Green Party colleague, the Deputy Agriculture Minister in the ‘Ceské Republiky’, Jirí Urban, (he says ‘just call me George’!).  Colonel Gadaffi, Robert Mugabe, Silvio Berlisconi and the Pope were about but our paths did not cross except in news reports!

There was not much to be proud of  for world leaders at this summit. In 1996 the world agreed to halve the number of hungry people to 400 million by 2015. Clearly the  strategy is not working. The number of people going to bed with hunger pains each night is now over one billion, one in every six people worldwide.

Many of the poorer farmers I spoke with are saying that their food security is getting worse because corporations and wealthier countries are buying up the land they have traditionally farmed. Essentially agricultural colonies are being acquired by the ‘Mother Country’ so the rich at home can be kept food secure at the expense of the poor abroad.  This land is often used to grow genetically modified soya or palm oil to make biofuel. Those smallholder farmers generally become wage slaves on these corporate farms paid low wages to buy whatever food is affordable and available on the open market.

What these farmers want is to have their right to food sovereignty upheld. Sovereignty is about having not just enough food, but having the means to provide for one’s food needs. For them food security is not an adequate objective. Looking for food sovereignty is too radical for most of the countries who pay for the upkeep of the United Nations. Radical or not, it is obvious that the current strategy is not radical enough. The progress to even halve the number of malnourished people is going backwards at present. Log on to the websites or for more information.

Meanwhile the dynamic approach I called for at the World Food Summit was to assist directly smallholder farmers, especially the many overlooked woman farmers,  so they can be viable food producers for their communities. Unless we can reverse the flight from the land to large urban centres and get more people growing and producing food, then all this talk will do very little other than make climate change worse!

I spoke at the workshops in Rome too. One about ‘Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation‘ heard the Indian Government spell out the effect of a 2 degree temperature rise. This would mean a loss of 12 million tonnes from the Indian wheat harvest. The polar ice-caps (what is left of them) are showing 3-5 degree rises in temperature there.

In other words we need the food, but we need to minimise our emissions of greenhouse gases to produce it. This is why helping smallholders is also important. Ecological and organic farming emits less greenhouse gases and is also more drought and flood tolerant. Local food systems which reduce food miles are badly needed too. Put simply, the world needs more people growing more food for themselves, their families and their communities.

Mikhail Gorbachev writing in The Examiner recently told us to forget the Berlin Wall. The ‘wall’ all of us must now tear down is CLIMATE CHANGE. He wrote ‘we need a circuit-breaker to escape from the busines-as-usual approach. We live in hope with the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen around the corner. Meanwhile, let us resolve to encourage EVERY  activity which brings our world closer to global food security and local food sovereignty. No farm, smallholding, window box is too small, no person is too busy, no weather is too bad to make a contribution to feeding the world – starting with yourself!


The growing of Duke of York in car tyres and Carlingford in large 2 foot diameter pots has yielded a reasonable harvest. Both varieties are second-early potatoes. However the tyre grown Duke of York produced larger tubers and a heavier crop overall. It seems the tyres retained moisture better than the pots. The tyres were sitting on the open soil too which helped with moisture coming from below.

Apart from the crop, the emptying of pots and tyres has given me a lovely supply of spare friable soil. I also cleared the mange-tout plants away as that crop was well eaten and enjoyed. This gives me a little clearing amongst the profuse vegetation.

This clearing and the supply of friable soil means it is easy now to pot up the strawberry runners I wrote about last week. I also want to propogate ivy plants as ground cover in my shady front garden. Having  retrieved enough empty plant pots, all I need now are ivy cuttings to plant up.

Ivy is growing well on my wild flower garden shed roof. In fact it needs to be cut back. I’m having friends and neighbours around on Saturday evening and need to cut back any overhanging obstacles. The ivy I cut back, instead of going into the compost bin,  this time gets a second chance as cuttings.

With Ryan Tubridy at the Tubridy Show

Minister Sargent presents Ryan Tubridy with some home-grown goodies. Ryan looks bemused at the Dutch Hoe he's holding!

There is satisfaction in getting timing right in a small garden. Gardeners generally appreciate this. I hope Ryan Tubridy appreciates the hamper of fresh veg and fruit I gave him at the end of our short chat on his last radio show before the summer break. I certainly appreciate the publicity the radio show gave to this website. The hits shot up dramatically following the broadcast. The power of radio, even more powerful than comfrey tea! HEALTH WARNING: Comfrey tea is a strong smelling plant feed, good for fruiting tomatoes but not for human consumption. The Irish Times please note!