Posts Tagged ‘Jim Cronin’


If truth be known, our plan was to have  a 7m by 24 m polytunnel,  from Highbank Ltd. ( in Kilkenny, constructed in early May. However, the requirement to have drainage work on the field in question carried out led to postponement of the polytunnel plan.

As luck would have it, the delay made for a better polytunnel job in the end. Liam and his father Tom were the experts from Highbank who undertook the construction work. A third helper on site was the CALM WARM WEATHER. Understandably, the less wind, the better when handling the second biggest sheet of plastic I have ever seen. The biggest was in Co. Clare where I helped organic farmer Jim Cronin and his friend to construct  a slightly longer polytunnel (pictured).

However, because plastic expands and becomes more pliable when warm, a sunny day is the best day to cover and tighten the polytunnel plastic. The result is that now we have a sturdy tunnel which soundsDSC06996 a bit like a bodhrán when you tap the tightly stretched plastic.

Now it is over to us to wheelbarrow in a few tonnes of well rotted horse manure and to get the tunnel producing. It will take a while to make a return on the investment, but here goes!




When I was working with Co. Clare organic grower and teacher, Jim Cronin, I got to see the amazing ability of a few ducks to ‘hoover’ up slugs. However, ducks understandably get bored with slugs after a while and look for some variety in their diet. This is where supervision is important, especially in a polytunnel where tender salad plants may be vulnerable to nibbling ducks. Jim allows the ducks come in to the polytunnel for slugs, but then shoos them out before they turn DSC07138to the salad plants.

Enthused by all that, work is now underway here in Ballytory Upper to build a pen, duck housing and a pond so we can keep a few ducks ourselves.

The picture shows Adam, Brian and Conor, Áine’s nephews lending their combined strength and humour to the task of digging out a hole which in due course will become a duck pond. The challenge will be to install no ordinary garden pond. A duck pond gets very mucky. The water will need to be changed atleast weekly, I am told by duck keeping friends. We thought of sinking an old bath and releasing water via the plughole. However, the aperture is too narrow, I’m told. A plughole the diameter of a 6 inch Wavin pipe is required to do the job, so more of all this anon.


It may still be too cold outdoors for hoeing. Growth is not yet vigorous and the soil may still be too damp. However, in a polytunnel conditions are drier and warmer. So, while doing my organic work experience in Co. Clare with Jim Cronin, hoeing in the tunnels was all in a day’s work.

Jim asked us to hoe the paths as well as the raised beds. He explained that the loose soil on the paths can afterwards be pushed up on to the beds. This all helps to add more friable fertile soil to the beds, where it can be used by the plants being grown.

Hoeing is not only about weed control then, it also gets air in to the soil surface to spur on soil activity and plant growth.  However, the commonly seen wooden sides used to edge raised beds would stimey this path hoeing idea. I had thought about putting in wooden edges on our own raised beds in Tacumshin, when we get a polytunnel

Hoeing paths and raised beds keeps both weed free, but also shifts fertile loose soil to when veg are growing.

Hoeing paths & raised beds keeps all weed free, but also shifts fertile loose soil to when veg are growing.

. Now I have a positive reason not to go to all that trouble – thanks Jim!

SOWING FRENCH BEANS, 4 TO A POT – 1st wk in March 2015

When growing in a small garden, I rarely sowed seed directly in the soil. Instead, seeds were grown in seed

French bean placed on wet seed compost. Dry compost will cover them and each pot will be watered from next day on.

French bean seeds placed, 4 to a pot in wet seed compost. Dry compost will cover them and each pot will then be watered as needed  from next day on.

trays, modules or small pots. This was a more space efficient way of producing seedlings, than waiting for seeds to germinate in open soil. A few seeds, however, like radish and carrot, were better sown direct as their tap roots do not like to be disturbed once the seed has germinated.

Having worked on Jim Cronin’s commercial organic farm, I now see that even on a larger scale, it is worth sowing seed in modules. This also facilitates earlier crops and the seedlings can be nurtured in a greenhouse, before planting out in the open soil.

In the case of French beans, Jim likes to put 4 seeds in each square pot. The resulting four seedlings ( if they all grow), can then be planted out as a clump of four plants and they seem happy to find their own way in the open soil and give a good harvest later in the summer.


I recall writing in some detail about suitable times to grow various ‘green manure’ crops in the book ‘Trevor’s Kitchen Garden’ ( pp. 195 – 9). Now I realise, after working with organic guru, Jim Cronin in Co. Clare, that sowing these soil improving crops can be an almost weekly occurrence. This applies

Bowl of 'green manure' rye seeds ready for broadcast sowing by hand along vacant veg bed in polytunnel

Bowl of ‘green manure’ rye seeds ready for broadcast sowing by hand  along vacant veg beds in polytunnel

especially when growing in polytunnels where soil temperatures are generally higher than outside.

Whenever Jim has cleared a patch of soil, a green manure is sown, even if the patch will be required to plant vegetable seedlings in a fortnight’s time. If one sees bare soil – scatter a few seeds of rye or phacelia or red clover. This is a good rule of thumb which lies at the heart of maintaining good microbial life in well managed soil.


Little did I realise when I headed to Co. Clare for a week of work experience with highly respected organic grower Jim Cronin, that I’d be helping to clad a new polytunnel frame with plastic. The task of fitting the plastic tightly had been a bit of a mystery before that, but not anymore!

Jim’s friend and fellow organic grower, Fran, had bought a 100 foot by 24 foot tunnel in kit form on the internet. When we arrived the frame was assembled, cemented in position and a trench 2′ by 2′ all the way around the frame had been dug in preparation.

Jim, Fran and friends were a ‘meitheal’ of 6, some very experienced, others on a very sharp learning curve (like me)! An invisible friend was the absence of wind. A breezy day can nullify the efforts of even a very good team of cladders.

The first job was to drape the plastic over the frame evenly side to side and end to end. Then the middle sections of plastic  on each side were buried in the trench. The technique is best understood from the photo hopefully. It involves a person standing on a stick wrapping an edge of the plastic sheet while another person shovels earth on top of the plastic, while a third person stands on this soil to weigh down the plastic which then becomes stretched and buried in the boundary trench.

Once the side edges are 80% buried, the final edge lengths approaching each corner are gathered so that the gable ends can be stretched while being wrapped tight around and nailed to the wooden door frames. The gable edges of plastic are also buried in the trenches

Jim stands on soil to weigh down and tighten the plastic cladding while Caoimghín is ready to shovel in more soil and Ali slowly releases the edge of the sheet underfoot to keep the plastic tight.

Jim stands on soil to weigh down and tighten the plastic cladding while Caoimghín is ready to shovel in more soil and Ali slowly releases the edge of the sheet underfoot to keep the plastic tight.

at each end. I guess, as with most things, practise makes perfect. The winter storms will let us know how we did in due course!


DUCKS FOR SLUG CONTROL IN POLYTUNNEL – 3rd week in February 2015

During a week of work experience on Jim Cronin’s organic farm near Killaloe in County Clare, it was interesting to learn more about the role ducks can play in keeping slug numbers down.

Ducks cannot be let in to polytunnels unsupervised. Before long, they would get a taste for lettuce or any tasty leafy vegetable if left to their own devises. However, when the veg beds are being prepared, especially in the early spring, a few ducks can diligently search out hundreds of slugs and slug eggs. The ducks tend to focus on where the plastic sides meet

Domestic ducks on slug  and slug egg patrol in the polytunnel on vacant veg beds.

Domestic ducks on slug and slug egg patrol in the polytunnel on vacant veg beds.

the soil. This is the type of damp area where over-wintering slug eggs tend to be most plentiful.

Once the ducks have found all the slug eggs they can, it is time to drive them out of the polytunnel before they turn their attention to any precious crops which may be growing nearby in the tunnel.

Having ducks brings many benefits to organic horticulture. However, at times it is necessary to prevent the ducks from getting access to where the veg is growing. Like humans, they are omnivores and they find organic veg tasty too – and who can blame them?