Posts Tagged ‘crop rotation’


Covering a beetroot layer with sand in the partially buried plastic box. The leaves have be twisted off and are ready for the compost. The patch is beside the leeks, from where the garlic crop was harvested in September last.

The beetroot patch needs to be cleared, before it can be dressed with mature compost and wood ash. This is where the garlic cloves will be planted shortly – and so the ‘roots’ patch gives way to the ‘allium’ patch in the 4 year organic vegetable rotation system.

Digging up the mature ‘Jannis’ beetroots , sown on 3rd May last, is very easy with a fork. The main priority is not to damage them. Last year I bottled most of the beetroot harvest. I still have a jar of pickled beetroot or two left from that time! So this time, I will store them in a way suggested by TV celeb gardener and writer, Alys Fowler,  at the GIY Gathering in Waterford in September last.

First, a suitable plastic container is retrieved from the attic with a lid to ensure rain cannot enter. Then a bag of horticultural sand is found in the shed. Builders’ sand will do also. A hole to fit the shape is dug in a vacant piece of soil to sink the box about three quarters down. Some sand is poured in to cover just the base of the box. Then the leaves are twisted off the beetroots and the beets are laid like chocolates in a box, not touching each other! Another layer of sand covers these and another layer of beetroots is arranged carefully and so on until the box is capped off with a final layer of sand. The rain proof lid is all that is seen in the end above ground, with a rock on top to prevent the wind uncovering the beetroot bounty.

When retrieving beetroots for a meal, from month to month ahead, a cursory inspection ensures no rotting is going on. Any rotting beets need to be whipped out and assigned to the compost bin. One way to prevent rotting is to harvest the beetroots on a dry day so the soil can be more easily rubbed off the beets before they are put in storage.



On Tuesday last, Dr Kim Reilly, Horticultural Research Officer with Teagasc in Kinsealy presented a comprehensive body of research to farmers and horticulturalists in advance of a farm walk around the organic and conventional trial plots in the North County Dublin research centre. This research was part of Dr. Michael Gaffney’s research group examining agronomic factors affecting the phytochemical accumulations in Irish grown vegetables. Interesting to note this research began when yours truly was Minister for Food and Horticulture in the Green/FF coalition in 2008.

Phytochemicals like anti-oxidants and flavonoids are also called plant bio-actives. Previous research on organic and conventional fruit and veg overlooked differences of plant varieties and farm locations. Dr. Reilly found these factors to be significant in measuring results. Accordingly, three control crops were sown in a multitude of  growing methodology variations. The patch work of trial plots demonstrated conventional and organic varieties of onion, carrot and broccoli. The pest control methods ranged from chemical biocides to beetle banks to garlic sprays, depending on whether a crop was organically grown or otherwise. Likewise the four year crop rotation and a winter ground cover crop featured in the organic plots.

The results were very detailed. For example, the conventionally grown onion bulbs were heavier, but the flavonoid and phenolic levels were greater  in the organic onions harvested. Likewise the organic broccoli showed higher levels of phytochemicals which have anti-cancer benefits. In the case of carrots, the organic carrots had higher flavonoid levels but the conventional carrots had higher phenolic levels, so the results had a couple of interesting twists too.

An overall analysis found that results can vary not just with the growing methodology, plant varieties, soil, climate etc., but year by year, the results varied too. Once again Nature has a way of keeping us curious about how she works and where she is going. The research is invaluable in moving on our understanding of the merits of working with Nature, not least because chemical sprays, being fossil-fuel based, are becoming unaffordable as the price of oil rises. Anyway, what farmer thinks it is a good idea to be handling poisins in one’s day to day work ? There are also clear market opportunities if labels can indicate health benefits in the fruit and vegetables grown in Ireland. Other research clearly shows biodiversity is richer in organic farming which goes down well with more environmentally aware consumers. Not surprising then,  that the demand for organic produce in Ireland and worldwide continues to outstrip supply.

When all is said and done, any encouragement for people to eat a greater percentage of fresh fruit and vegetables in their diet is to be welcomed. Supporting local farmers and growing more of our own diverse fresh produce is a key to living healthily without over-spending. Dr Kim Reilly, Dr Micheal Gaffney and their colleagues at Teagasc, Kinsealy, have done us all a great service in separating the facts from the fiction. Given a choice, I will always choose locally grown organic fresh produce if available – which all to often means GIY – Grow it yourself, unless you can call by the Sonairte organic stall at Balbriggan Fish and Farmers’ Market on a Friday 10 – 2pm or call to Sonairte, Laytown www.sonairte.ieor the Dublin Food Co-Op.

Dr. Kim Reilly of Teagasc showing local growers from as far away as Westmeath, the organic and conventional vegetable trial plots at Kinsealy, Co. Dublin.

School Gardening Q&A at Bloom draws a crowd – First Week in June 2012

Michael Kelly (GIY), Paddy Madden (SEED) and Cathy Eastman (SEED) in front of a large crowd at Bloom, listen to Hans Wieland (SEED) stress the importance of the School Caretaker for School Gardens.

The proven educational benefits of school gardening being a part of the curriculum were highlighted in BLOOM, the Bord Bia gardening festival on its first day. Michael Kelly, for GIY Ireland, hosted a lively question and answer session in the big marquee at the famous Phoenix Park annual extravaganza. The panel from SEED, the Earth Education network, comprised of Paddy Madden, school gardening lecturer and earth education author from the Marino College of Education, Dublin; Cathy Eastman from the award winning Gortbrack Earth Education Farm, near Tralee; Hans Wieland, from the Organic Centre, Rossinver, Co. Leitrim and Trevor Sargent, a former school principal and Minister for Food and Horticulture was there for Sonairte, the Ecology Centre at Laytown, Co. Meath, as well as being the author of Trevor’s Kitchen Garden, a fundraiser for school gardening projects.

The rudiments of establishing a school garden were teased out by the panel. The success of a school garden project generally requires the support of the Principal, the engagement of the Caretaker and the drive of a designated teacher, perhaps the Green School Co-ordinator. The first step is to plan on paper how the garden is ideally to be laid out. The locations of hedging, fruit bushes and trees, raised beds, etc. Then set about an introductory three year plan.

–         Year 1: In ALL the vegetable patches, sow potatoes as an easy first crop, which leaves the soil friable after the crop is harvested.

–         Year 2: In the same clear patches, sow peas. This improves soil health by adding nitrogen, and peas are a favourite for many children.

–         Year 3: Begin a planned rotation with at least four plots growing different veg family groups (a) potato/onions (b) peas/beans (c) cabbage/kale (d) carrots/beetroot.

Given that school summer holiday coincide with the main harvest for most GIY-ers, the school garden suits crops which can be harvested in June before schools close for July and August.

–         Early potatoes sown in strong potato bags started in early February indoors, can be put outside after the risk of frost has passed (generally after Easter) for a June harvest. Strawberries likewise make for a popular June harvest.

–         Short term crops like lettuce, radish or scallion are likewise sown in the spring for a May and June harvest.

–         Perennial fruit bushes, trees, herbs and rhubarb etc help support a wide biodiversity in the school grounds as well as yielding healthy food for the school community year after year.

–         Produce which ripens over the holiday period is often harvested and frozen, to be savoured when pupils return in the autumn. A rota of parents and/or the caretaker are required to water over the summer but manicuring the garden is not necessary. Pupils learn important lessons about biodiversity from seeing weeds on their return in the autumn.

An easy way to construct raised beds on a existing lawn area was outlined. No digging up of grass sods is required. Place a raised bed wooden frame, one metre wide and as long as you like, on top of the grass. Inside the frame of four planks (ideally 1 foot /30cm high), place a couple of layers of cardboard on top of the grass. Cover this biodegradable floor with soil. The children can be asked to each bring a bag or carton of soil to school for the raised bed. Plant strawberries or potatoes. Over time, the cardboard with decompose as will the grass underneath it. However the bed will need weeding from time to time.

Appeals were heard for the Department of Education to plan schools with school gardens in mind. The present sterile school landscaping policy is at variance with the curriculum which encourages outdoor education. Also school canteens are needed so school grown produce can be cooked and enjoyed as part of a healthy eating habit.

GIY and SEED, the 6 organic centres around Ireland providing School Earth Education, will continue to co-operate so more schools can benefit from good quality earth education and school gardening.

Trevor Sargent, Patron of SEED.


At last the sun is shining and the heat is like a long lost friend. Soil temperatures are still low and a touch of frost at night stops me from leaving greenhouse seedlings out at night. However, I put the  greenhouse seedtrays out during the day once seedlings are close to being of a size when they should be ready for planting in the soil. It helps to harden them off this way so they are not so shocked by being transplanted into the open soil.

The open soil in the kitchen garden is largely divided into four plots for separate vegetable families that I like to eat. (1) beet family eg beetroot and leaf beet. (2)brassicas eg kale, Brussels sprouts, purple sprouting broccoli and cabbage. (3) legumes eg peas and beans, I put sweet pea in here too for a bit of colour. (4) alliums eg onions, leeks, garlic and shallots. I’m told that repeatedly growing the same crop in the one place year after year risks attracting a disease or pest which likes that crop. For example, brassicas can get clubroot. However that means no brassicas can be grown for maybe 25 years in that place. As with all things in life, prevention is better than cure. The video below may be of interest meanwhile.


The growing interest in amenity fruit and vegetable growing has given rise to the mushrooming of initiatives such as In Balbriggan the local Horticultural Society has launched a course of workshops on vegetable growing co-ordinated by committee member, great local gardener [and indeed chef] Judith Chavasse. Her neighbour and veg growing expert Dave gave the first lecture. He emphasised the importance of laying out the growing area, ideally in six patches. One of the patches is for permanent crops like rhubarb (which can be planted now) or asparagus or blackcurrants, raspberries etc.

Five different families of vegetables are rotated annually around the  other five patches. There is now an easy way to remember which crop goes in the first patch, which in the second, third and so on. The aide memoire is ‘People Love Bunches Of Roses‘ which gives P-L-B-O-R. So plant potato family crops in the first patch, legumes in the second, brassicas in third, onion family and leeks etc in fourth and root crop in the fifth. When root crops are harvested, that patch gets enriched with compost and/or manure again to take the seed potatoes the next Spring. The same order is observed with each crop family moving up one patch in the rotation.

Thank you to Dave and the Balbriggan and District Horticultural Society for taking the guesswork out of which comes first in a rotation, legumes or brassicas!