Archive for the ‘Techniques’ Category


Every garden needs a gaffer - Arthur the cat supervises seed sowing from the comfort of his bed atop a bag of old leaves.

Last week I mentioned that with a small garden, sowing most seeds in small pots or seed trays with a view to transplanting the seedlings to open soil in a few weeks is my preference. However, some vegetable seedlings do not thrive if transplanted. Root vegetables especially prefer to be sown directly where they are to grow to maturity.

A terracotta large pot suits my garden as a place to grow carrots. I use my largest pot which is about 50cm across and 50 cm high. Placing it in the middle of the brassica patch, I put a few stones in the base to help water to drain out at the bottom. Then I fill it with the finest soil I have. This soil grew beetroot last year so there is no fresh compost in it and hardly any large stones. Once almost full, I scatter a couple of dozen seeds spaced about 3 -4 cm across the soil surface. I cover the seedbed with a skim of soil, pat it down with the palm of my hand and then water through the rose spout of a watering can.

The carrot variety I used this year was ‘Amsterdam Forcing 2’. March to August is the period to sow this variety. In August, I might try sowing some seeds in the greenhouse for a late harvest. With 800 in the average packet, I will not run out of carrot seed in my small garden for a while.


Meanwhile, the radish seedbeds are windowboxes each filled with soil from the patch growing cabbage and kale this year, as radish is also a brassica like them. Only growing the brassica family in the same soil once every 4 years hopefully will prevent me having to deal with the bane of the brassica vegetables, clubroot disease. Rotating each veg family around a 4 year rotation has spared me any serious plant diseases so far, buíochas le Dia.

Last year, I sowed a well known radish variety ‘French Breakfast’ from Madeleine Mc Keever, the West Cork  organic seed producer This year, I am trying a heritage radish variety which originated in the 1890’s ‘Scarlet Globe‘ which I bought from in Scarriff, Co. Clare.

Each week from now to October, I will make a sowing of a couple of dozen radish seeds in a vacant window box each week. In about 5 weeks, the seed I sowed today will have become mature radish. Once those radish are harvested that week and their windowbox seedbed is cleared, I can handfork the soil over and sow, with fresh radish seed’ that windowbox anew – and so on week by week. The peppery crunchiness of a freshly harvested radish is impossible to find in a shop bought radish which was probably Dutch grown. One more reason to G.I.Y.  ( Grow It Yourself) and get involved with



On 'Ireland AM' (TV3) with Aidan Cooney sowing pea seeds.

Since last spring, (thanks to my Fingal Green friends who contributed towards the cost of a new greenhouse for my 50th birthday!), I now have a great sowing and potting shed as well. The shelves on each side of the greenhouse are at just the right height to support a plank between them, which I use as a work top for sowing seed and potting up plants. I can work away there blissfully sheltered from the April showers.

I an sowing the bulk of the seed varieties around now, but in early June, I will be back to do a later sowing of runner bean, lettuce, oriental greens, basil, coriander, beetroot etc. The benefits of a greenhouse or polytunnel are many, but extending the season and growing more tender crops are benefits to which I look forward.

My friend Lorcan kindly called in with his camera the other day while I was sowing some seeds. The following video clip saves me saying much more on the subject for the moment.


The Beetroot patch

Last Sunday was calm, cool with a bright blue sky. After a busy spell, I at last found a couple of hours to dig up the beetroot crop, better late than never. Not a big patch (7 by 3 feet) but enough to keep me in beetroot for the year. My only worry was that it might be turning a bit woody the way radish goes if left in the ground too long but I need not have worried.

The crop when boiled for 45 minutes was then easy to top and tail and the skin was easily scraped off the warm red roots. While waiting for the roots to cook, the pickling mixture was prepared. Two pints of vinegar, black pepper, sprinkling of root ginger and allspice, two dessert spoons of brown sugar, 4 bay leaves and 4 crushed cloves of garlic and a few finely chopped shallots. Ideally, this would have been left to mature for a week but I needed to get the bottling done quickly so I boiled it up, simmering for a few minutes (an hour is recommended) and left to cool.

Now to chop up the skinned shiney beetroot and fill up the jars. I filled 15, three up on last years harvest. Kept back a couple of raw beetroot which tasted earthy and delicious grated with a salad. I bottled the bulk of the crop, however, as it is quick, nothing goes to waste and the bottled beetroot adds a great flavour to sandwiches in work during the year.

The pickling mixture was poured in to half fill each jar of beetroot. I used the reddened water from cooking the crop to top up each jar. Last year I made the mistake of filling each jar with the pickling mixture and the excessive vinegar was a bit overpowering, so more beetroot, less vinegar this year!

Garlic cloves and bulbs

Meanwhile, enough daylight left to separate the garlic cloves out from the bulbs ordered on line from based in Bantry, Co Cork. Very impressive overnight dispatch by post. The cloves were spaced 6 inches apart and sown 1 inch below the surface. Hopefully the crop from these cloves will be ready to add to next years batch of bottled beetroot.

A good book on beetroot I would recommend is ‘Beetroot, the Vitality Plant and its Medicinal Benefits’ by Margaret Briggs published in 2007 by Abbeydale Press.


About those lettuce seeds I mentioned sowing recently, they did germinate fine. It is a good thing I was not dissuaded from sowing by the message on the seed packet, ‘will not germinate when temperatures are above 18c’. I remind myself again that seeds WANT to grow, given a reasonable start and half a chance. However the better the conditions, the more vigorous the growth.

Thanks to the generosity of Green colleagues in Fingal, I recently celebrated a ‘significant birthday’ with a tantalizing voucher for a small 8′ by 6′ greenhouse which they ordered from The Botanic Greenhouse Company in Swords. (Thank you one and all in the Fingal Greens). It will be winter time when I get to clear a space for this new addition to the kitchen garden, but in the meantime I’m on a learning curve. Suppose you could say I’m studying the ‘greenhouse effect’ in miniature! In farming, the term for growing under glass or in a polytunnel is ‘protected cropping’.

I was delighted to visit Nicky Kyle in Ballyboughal, Fingal, to get her advice on getting the best from a polytunnel or greenhouse. Nicky has been growing organically  for a few decades and her diverse produce sells well at Balbriggan Fish and Farmers’ Market every Friday morning.

The diversity of plants in just one polytunnel we visited was impressive. Even more impressive was the range of varieties of each species.

Here are a few examples:

CHERRY TOMATO; Variety ‘ROSADA’, a very sweet and tasty mini-plum shape available from Simpson Seeds. A lovely smack cut in halves with some hummus.

CHERRY TOMATO: Variety ‘SUNGOLD”, round and bright yellow when ripe and explodes with flavour in the mouth.

BEEF TOMATO: Variety ‘BLACK CRIM’, this year with the good summer, almost size of decent pumpkin, but struggles normally at this latitude, much prefers Sardinia probably!

ALPINE STRAWBERRIES: Variety ‘REUGEN’ good continuous cropper over summer months. Quite soft so need eating soon after picking. (I can live with that!) Grown from seed and bought by mail order from Chiltern Seeds.

FRENCH BEAN: Variety ‘COBRA’ excellent flavour and large pod size when ripe. French beans can be encouraged to crop again following first harvest if leaves are stripped off after cropping which triggers more fruiting I am told.

COURGETTE: Variety ‘Atena’ yield healthy and tasty yellow courgettes and does well as tunnel crop.

GRAPE: Variety ‘LAKEMONT’ seedless white grape which I saw growing well in a bucket sized pot. Mobile enough to put out in warmest weater and lifted back in again to be wintered under cover.


The garden becomes a place to have breakfast this week as the weather is warm if a little overcast. The cabbages, kale and broccoli are under attack however. The cabbage white butterfly has become very active. The advantage of having a small garden is I can easily enough inspect the leaf undersides for eggs and caterpillars. A quick rub with the thumb puts a halt to their gallop. Last year I had netting over the brassicas at this stage so I’ll be comparing whether caterpillar damage will be controllable this year or not.

Apart from the caterpillars the plants need watering and mulching to conserve moisture. Strong plants withstand attacks from predators so watering in the morning is like preventative health care for the plants.


My 8 courgette plants are growing, but not as fast as I expected which leaves some areas of bare soil. Nature does not ‘do’ bare soil unless we’re talking earthquake aftermath or mudslides. I’ll have a go at sowing a few radish seeds to use this vacant space but the slug threat needs a response.

Recently I got a present of a role of copper tape which the packet claims will halt advancing slugs and snails. (Thanks Zoe.) Like Sellotape it needs a pot or something rigid to stick on to. Laying it in the soil would not be very effective I’d say. So what I need is the proverbial ring of steel. The next best thing I have in the shed is a riddle, but placed up-side-down on the soil it becomes a ‘ring of steel’ with a wire netting across its top.

I wrapped the copper tape around the edge of the riddle, sowed the seed and covered the round patch of seed-bed with the copper clad ring of steel. Little did I realise the first wrecker to arrive was not a slug but Arthur the cat as the picture  shows. Thankfully, he soon got bored with the novel high-security seed bed and moved on to let the sun warm the newly sown radish.

The variety I sowed are an heirloom variety which are for sale on the Irish Seed Saver website. Called German Beer or Beer Garden, they are a white radish, which I’m told can grow as big as a small turnip. Time will tell.


Great weather if you like watering and if you have access to water. Luckily I find early morning watering with my 8 watering cans quite therapeutic and a good time to think about what the day ahead has in store.

This being the longest day, I am set upon harvesting the patch growing onions, shallots and garlic. If garlic is best harvested on the longest day, then I am bang on! Each crop  is being lifted with the help of my garden fork. The waft of garlic aroma bodes well for flavoursome meals in the months to come. I lay out the garlic, onion and shallots on the warm dry pavements to dry off the soil so I can brush off any loose soil before hanging the produce to dry in a cool dry location.

In the middle of the empty patch after clearing young weeds I left only cosmos which will flower and keep the bees happy later in the summer. I plant 8 courgette plants in ring around the cosmos which have been well watered in. I will mulch the soil around these plants with newspaper and cover the paper with grass clippings.  The sooner the leaf cover grows the less chance weeds have to grow too. Covered soil will slow down evaporation further which means less watering needed as well. Mulching also results in less blemished and cleaner courgettes which won’t be lying on bare soil as they ripen.

The potatoes, both early (Colleen) and second early (Carlingford) have been growing away in  strong  bags. The earlies are ready so out they come.  I tip over the  grow bags to collect the lovely new potatoes. Once boxed for short term stortage,  (earlies are not as good as main crop for long term storage), I put back the compost and soil mix in each growing bag. These bags are now ready to have a pumpkin seedling planted into each bag. I must remember to keep the pumpkins well  watered as those bags can easily dry out if not watched each morning especially in this halcyon heat. You may notice me trying not to squint in the early morning sunshine during the Youtube video clip about all this posted below!