Posts Tagged ‘June’

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.



Trevor Sargent cuts the ribbon at the opening of St. Teresa's N.S. vegetable garden while Principal Pat Furlong lends a hand.

I was delighted to be asked to open the very special vegetable garden in St Teresa’s National School, Balbriggan, last Friday. Principal. Mr Pat Furlong, caretaker Richard along  with Ms Ann Lee, her  pupils, and their parents pulled together to create a spectacular and very productive organic garden, complete with bug hotel and scarecrows. The full range of popular vegetables was looking good and very healthy. After the ribbon cutting and the very welcome cuppa and sandwiches, Ms Lee asked about my own patch. Before long we had a plan in place for her class to walk up the road on Monday morning to see   ”Trevor’s Kitchen Garden’.

Coincidentally, the importance of gardening for good childhood development has been in the news this week following publication of a three year study by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) in the UK. The study was commissioned by the Royal Horticultural Society, a great organization which helps  thousands of schools to establish gardens.

The NFER studied 10 schools in depth in Britain from London city to rural Yorkshire. As well as that, over 1,300 teachers were surveyed over 3 years. This research found that schools which actively use a garden in the curriculum develop ‘resiliant’, ‘ready to learn’ and ‘responsible’ children.

So to talk about gardening developing skills to ensure society has the means to feed itself in the future is but one worthwhile reason to get growing. Here and now, gardening in schools, homes and communities is key to our children becoming well-balanced, healthy, happy and all round well developed individuals. On top of this,  tilling the soil develops qualities of patience, co-operation and entrepreneurship amongst many young people, the reseach found.

Mind you, when the green-fingered pupils of St. Teresa’s National School in Balbriggan called around last Monday, it was enjoyment and adventure which was uppermost on their minds. After a glass of apple juice each, they were in fine voice to sing a few bars of ”The Garden Song’ to ‘robin watching hungrily from his perch in yonder tree’. The video clip below gives some sense of the occasion.


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!


Last Thursday, 10th June, 50 fellow kitchen gardeners dropped in at 7pm for a ‘tour’ of the garden and I managed to rustle up a cup of tea and cake  for them all.  It was Naul GIY group through Denise Dunne of The Herb Garden who first mooted the idea of a GIY garden visit and it turned out to be a very enjoyable and informative evening, (for me anyway!).

Naul was well represented as were GIYers from Skerries, Bog of the Ring, Lusk, Rush, Lucan, Donabate, Swords, Malahide, Garristown, Ballyboughal, Smithfield in Dublin City and of course Balbriggan GIY stalwarts were there too. I learned a fair few things myself from the banter during a balmy blue sky evening.

For example,  we were told garlic cloves are  best sown on the shortest day so they can be harvested on the longest day. So I look forward to celebrating the longest day by harvesting my modest garlic crop. It was suggested the Minister for Finance would appreciate a bulb or two. Supplying the Minister with garlic is the least I can do for my country!

The garden tour was also a win-win in that I had a very bushy cabbage patch which I needed to clear to make way for young beetroot and rainbow chard plants growing too big in modules. Lo and behold, the cabbage bush was stripped bare before the night was out. So over the weekend the remnants of last years brassica patch was finally transformed into a new season beetroot and rainbow chard patch. I hope my guests enjoyed cooking and tasting  this heritage variety of ‘everlasting cabbage’ which is generally not for sale in the shops.

Sadly this is but one example of fruit and vegetable varieties which used to be common but are now no longer widely available. I read that 100 years ago the USA had 100 times the varieties of edible plants available commercially compared to today. Humankind is becoming more and more dependent on fewer and fewer food species of flora or fauna. Worldwide three quarters of all food now derives from just 8 species. I read also that 98%  of all commercial seeds are controlled by just 6 companies, DuPont, Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow, Aventis and Mitsiu. At the same time, a third of all USA health spending is on diet related problem and Ireland has a history of copying US trends,

So as well as kitchen gardening being an instument of healthy community resilience, co-operation and self-reliance, there is also a important job to do in maintaining and enchancing the diversity of food species that have been developed over generations  to make communities not just wealthy but healthy too.

Photos courtesy of C.Finn:

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No more space for tomato plants in the phone box sized greenhouse. The 2 plants in there already are filling out and starting to flower. So with plants to spare, I needed another south facing growing space under glass. Time to experiment and try a windowsill. Not wanting to destroy the wooden window sill, I lined 3 window boxes with plastic and then filled each with a mix of soil and compost. 3 tomato plants to each window box and position them on an upstairs window sill to get maximum light.  This is not ideal as light from one side is not as good as light from different angles in a greenhouse. Nevertheless with nine plants I should get some tomatoes.

Once the plants grow tall and tomatoes form supports will be needed. So I tied twine from each window box close to where each plant was growing and fixed each length to a cane spanning the brackets holding the curtain rail. Just need to water and feed now to encourage healthy growth and fruiting.

The variety is Brandywine. I may have been a bit late in sowing in late April but time will tell. I’ll post up a couple of photographs when I get a chance.


With watering most mornings and calm warm weather, I have seen all young plants as well as hedge and lawn put on a spurt of growth. Unfortunately, injury to my right arm, (pulled ligament – 6 week recovery ahead – don’t ask, long story!), has curtailed me in the garden. So the lawn and hedges, front and back, are growing away to their hearts content, cheered on by a good crop of runaway weeds.

However, it is time to be ‘glic’ and engage more brain than brawn. The sunflowers and tomatoes are growing taller by the day. As long as winds are light – no problem! But just as the motorist and passengers have to wear safety belts, the gardener needs also to support plants which could be flattened if winds get up.

So, out come the stored bamboo canes from the shed for another year of use. Out come the twine and scissors, also. No heavy lifting needed (thank God!), just snipping and tying of twine after pushing stakes into soft soil (using left hand only)!

Just in the nick of time too. Last night heavy rain fell and the potato haulms were fairly bowed down as a result when I left to catch the train this morning. The potatoes are sturdy enough to recover. However, had I not staked and tied the sunflowers, I’ve no doubt I’d be counting losses today.

Meanwhile, the tomatoes are tied up under glass. I see small yellow flowers beginning to form. So when the tomatoes follow the flowers  and fill out, those trusses will be already supported enough to bear the weight of the mouth-watering aromatic fruits.


large white cabbage butterfly

Large White Cabbage Butterfly

This is the week when I bought an 8m x 6m garden net for €8.50 from Charlie Corr’s my local hardware shop. I need it to protect my cabbage patch from the alluring but potentially devastating cabbage white butterfly. Although this little creature is very soft on the eye, unfortunately it’s offspring are very hard on the cabbage.

I have posted a video on this site showing the cabbage patch and the whole back garden at the end of June with before and after shots showing 9 bamboo sticks, topped with 9 upside down empty plastic water bottles holding aloft the netting once it is tied at the centre supported by a central taller bamboo. This ‘net tent’ is held down by 8 old tent pegs around the edge.

Two species are worth remembering here. The Large White and the Small White. The Large lays its eggs in clusters on the underside of brassica leaves which are easy to detect and destroy if you spot them in time by rubbing them away with your thumb. The Small White differs by laying its minute eggs singly on the underside of brassica leaves. Trouble is, if you do not spot it in time, each resulting caterpillar begins its eating odyssey at the heart of a cabbage and only appears on the outer leaves when extensive damage has been done to the plant.

It is for these reasons that I bought and erected the net ( with a little help from my friends, thanks Lorcan and Ciaran). I still have to lift the edges to retrieve slugs and snails at night by torchlight before bedtime. However the net is still loose enough to not impede the watering can during the almost daily early morning watering routine.