Posts Tagged ‘Sonairte’

CLOCHE MAKING WORKSHOP FOR MY LOCAL G.I.Y. GROUP – 3rd wk in March 2015

In our windy location in Tacumshin, Co. Wexford, near the south east coast, we will always be grateful to organic horticulture lecturer, Klaus Laitenberger, for running a course in Sonairte, Co. Meath, where I learned how to make strong, simple, low cost cloches. The main cost is the Enviromesh, a strong fine netting which allows in light and rain, but excludes small predators like carrot fly and cabbage white butterflies. (Available from http://www.fruithillfarm.com.)

The principal ingredients are 2 by 1 rough timber lengths, one inch hydrodare, flexible piping which plumbers use to carry pressurised water to taps, plus nails to hold it all together and some screws to improve the strength of the cloche. A drill bit for the 1 inch holes plus an electric drill are needed to secure  the hydrodare loops.  A staple-gun with long staples is needed to secure the enviromesh over the hydrodare loops.

This cloche design is not only effective, but it is ergonomic and stream-lined enough to deflect and filter the strong winds we get in these parts. There was a good turn-out of about 40 keen

Once the cloche was made, it was displayed on the table, while the meeting broke into smaller 'pods' to discuss the seasonal highs and lows of each other's gardens.

Once cloche was made, it was displayed on table, while meeting broke into smaller ‘pods’ to discuss the seasonal highs and lows of each other’s gardens.

GIY-ers recently at our local Wexford meeting in the Riverbank Hotel to go through the practical steps of making a sample cloche. If you are reading this and live anywhere near Wexford town, you’ll be made very welcome at our GIY monthly meetings on the 3rd Monday of every month at 7.30pm in the Riverbank Hotel. Worth checking out the GIY website also for seasonal tips and news of other GIY demos and meetings elsewhere. (www.giyinternational.org)

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THANKS TO KLAUS LAITENBERGER FOR THE CLOCHE DESIGN TO PROTECT STRAWBERRIES – 3rd wk in June 2014

A frustrated blackbird perched on a net cloche which protects the strawberry crop from bird predation.

A frustrated blackbird perched on a net cloche which protects the strawberry crop from bird predation.

A recent course held in Sonairte, the Eco-Visitor Centre and Gardens, in Co. Meath, was a good place to learn about cloche building. Organic horticulturalist and lecturer, Klaus Laitenberger taught a dozen of us how to build a simple effective cloche using wood, hydrodare rubber piping and Bionet or garden netting. Unfortunately, Bionet is far more expensive than netting, but it does last for 7 years the makers claim. It keeps out carrot root fly and cabbage white butterflies too, so it is a good product.

Hopefully the attached picture gives an idea of the cloche design and construction. Here in Tacumshin, we are getting a good crop of strawberries thanks the net cloches we have built to protect the crop from birds. The varieties planted are ‘Cambridge Favourite’, ‘Symphony‘ and ‘Eros‘. The favourite among friends so far is the ‘Symphony’ strawberry, it seems, by the way.

HOMEMADE DRILL MAKER FOR LARGER KITCHEN GARDENS – 1st wk in April 2014

At a recent course run in Sonairte, the Eco-Visitor Centre, Laytown, Co. Meath, professional market gardener, Dermot Carey, introduced his students to hand-held machinery and other pieces of appropriate technology which reduce costs and maximise efficiency for the professional organic market gardener.

The picture shows a wooden drill maker which is simply dragged the length of the seedbed once the tilth is right before seed sowing. Dermot made this device when working as a grower on Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands some years ago.

Dermot Carey explaining to  Horticultural students in Sonairte how to make a wooden drill maker.

Dermot Carey explaining to Horticultural students in Sonairte how to make a wooden drill maker.

KEY TO LENGTHY RUNNER BEAN HARVEST IS PICK EVERY TWO DAYS – 4th wk in August 2013

Runner bean plants in flower out growing the sunflower. The most generous of plants which suits the smallest of growing spaces.

Runner bean plants in flower out growing the sunflower. The most generous of plants which suits the smallest of growing spaces.

The low slug population after that really cold and long winter, which destroyed millions of slug eggs in the soil, was a great boost to vegetable growing this summer. However, the runner bean plants did not entirely escape slug predation, but in the end there was a bumper crop. The runner bean seedlings planted nearer the pond in the shadow of hedging succumbed to night-time slug attacks. On the other hand, the plants in full sun grew quickly and the stems soon became too tough for any slug teeth.

The beautiful runner bean flowers are day by day transformed into pendulous tender bean pods. Regular picking before the pods get too big and tough ensures the flavours are delicious and the pod does not become fibrous. It is amazing that this delicious vegetable is not grown commercially in any shops near where I live. I know Sonairte in Laytown sells organically grown runner beans at the Dublin Food Co-Op each Saturday in Newmarket Square, Dublin 8. That being said, as a GIY-er, runner beans are among the most decorative and delicious vegetables to grow. Another attraction is that, once supported by twigs, canes or string, they grow tall with a very small footprint. In other words, runner beans fit into even the most bijou garden and I’ve seen them grow well, with regular watering,  in a pot on a sunny balcony too.

CUT FLOWERS GROWN LOCALLY, GOOD FOR BUSINESS, GOOD FOR BEES – 1st wk in July 2013

The summer weather is a great harbinger of bright floral colour in the garden. All too often the kitchen gardener feels the need to explain that flowers have a ‘use’ in pest control or pollination to boost fruit and veg production. All this is true, but is not the beauty of a cosmos, the scent of a nicotiana, or the statuesque demeanour of a sunflower, sufficient qualities of themselves to warrant a welcome in any kitchen garden?

Beyond the garden wall or balcony railing, growing and selling cut flowers is big business, estimated at the last count, to be worth €30 billion annually worldwide. Floriculture, as the business is called, costs Ireland about €34 in cut flower imports annually. Could Ireland grow more of its own cut flowers? There are some businesses bucking the trend and  selling Irish grown cut flowers and foliage. However they make up about 1% of the horticulture sector, which in itself is a tiny section, about 2%, of farming overall in Ireland.

One such flower growing company was started by friends Kealin Ireland, a business consultant, and her horticulturalist husband, Ciaran Beattie. Their business is www.leitrimflowers.ie. They organically grow flowers which suit growing conditions in Ireland, but which also have scent, colour, shape and all a florist would need to wow a customer. Kealin and Ciaran are working flat out to meet orders for weddings, farmers’ markets like Carrick on Shannon and Sligo and individual customer needs.

The floriculture sector is so small in Ireland that Leitrim Flowers have nothing to fear from others taking up cut flower growing as a business. In fact Leitrim Flowers run courses to train anybody interested in how to choose plants and tend them to produce the best of cut fresh flowers for home use or to grow a business step by step, as they have done. Sonairte, where I am Chairperson, has dipped its toe in the floriculture business, as we sell bunches of common wild and cultivated cut flowers from the walled garden from the Ecoshop in Sonairte and each Saturday in the Dublin Food Co-Op, Newmarket Square, Dublin 8. Drop in to Sonairte, Laytown, or the Dublin Food Co-Op if you wish to check out Irish organically grown cut flowers or take a trip to lovely Leitrim to learn about floriculture from Kealin and Ciaran at Anamadu Fields, Kilnagross, Co. Leitrim. Telephone 071 965 9970 or email info@leitrimflowers.ie.

Garden volunteer Rita O'Sullivan creating floral works of art in Sonairte with botanist Dr Declan Doogue and his Dad, Éamon.

Garden volunteer Rita O’Sullivan creating floral works of art in Sonairte with botanist Dr Declan Doogue agus a athair, Éamon.

WORK EXPERIENCE HONES HORTICULTURAL SKILLS IN SONAIRTE’S WALLED GARDEN – 4th wk in June 2013

Sonairte, Ireland’s first Visitor Eco-Centre and Gardens, Laytown, 25 miles north of Dublin City, is looking beautiful this summer. Admission is FREE so many passers by are dropping in for a walk around and a cup of coffee and even a light lunch.  The 18th century walled organic garden is also a good place to learn about sowing, planting hoeing, weeding, mulching, composting, watering, pruning, digging, grafting and all the other skills which come in handy in growing food or in horticulture more generally.  The word sonairte means ‘good energy’. This centre also depends on the energy of good volunteers as it is a registered charity. Any money made from selling produce grown in the garden etc. is needed to maintain the old buildings and pay minimal expenses so that volunteers on the bread-line are not out of pocket.

From time to time, Sonairte volunteers are delighted when visitors express interest in volunteering  a few days, weeks or longer as work experience. In recent times, the garden, marketing department, nature trail, ecoshop and Sunflower Café have all appreciated volunteer help. If you are interested or know of a

Áine on work experience in Sonairte as part of a horticultural qualification, harvesting edible organic flowers for the Dublin Food Co-Op.

Áine on work experience in Sonairte as part of a horticultural qualification, harvesting edible organic flowers for the Dublin Food Co-Op.

nybody else who might be interested, please contact Geraldine in Sonairte at 00 353 41 982 75 72 or email info@sonairte.ie. The website is www.sonairte.ie.

SOWING & WATERING TINY SEEDS WITHOUT WASHING THEM AWAY! – 4th wk in April 2013

It is still possible to sow many seeds given that spring has been so late in arriving this year. Mine are sown in a small greenhouse to bring them on  until they are a couple of centimetres high. At this point in mid May, seedlings are sturdy enough in most cases to withstand slug predation and the weather will hopefully be largely free of frost.

A number of seeds which don’t like being transplanted such as radish, carrot, parsnip and potato, are sown in situ outside when the soil has warmed up to over 7 degrees centigrade atleast to ensure good germination. The majority of the seeds I have sown for this growing season begin in modules in seed trays (see pp 88 – 91 ‘Trevor’s Kitchen Garden’, www.orpenpress.com or most good bookshops).

Now the greenhouse shelves are packed with rows of seed trays labelled with date of sowing and variety of seed sown. These include 1. Tamar Mixed Lettuce – 2. Broad Bean (Vectra from Seedsavers) – 3. Runner Bean (Black Knight from Seedsavers) – 4. Mange Tout (Sugar Dwarf Pea) – 5. Purple Sprouting Broccoli – 6. Leek (Musselborough) – 7. Beetroot (Avon Early from Seedsavers) – 8. Rainbow Chard Leaf Beet – 9. Courgette (Nero di Milano from Seedsavers) – 10. Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia) – 11. Nicotiana – 12. Cosmos – 13. Viola (Tricolour) – 14. Tomato (Gardener’s Delight). I cheated with the tomato and bought an organically grown pot plant grown in Sonairte’s organic walled garden up the road in Laytown. I only need two plants so hardly worth the effort of buying a whole packet of tomato seed for the sake of growing two plants!

Some of the seeds listed are for flowers, essentially food for the bees, other pollinators,

Watering a tray sown with tiny seed using a large jar of water with a perforated lid which drizzles water so seeds are not dislodged.

Watering a tray sown with tiny seed using a large jar of water with a perforated lid which drizzles water so seeds are not dislodged.

hover flies etc, all of which benefit the food crops and make the whole business of kitchen gardening more attractive. Some of these flower and veg seeds are tiny. The rose head on the small watering can is clogged up at this stage. Necessity being the mother of invention, I set about creating an even and gentle watering system for these trays of tiny seeds. Multiple tiny holes in the lid of a large jar made for a very fine and even watering device. Naturally this only applies to small scale kitchen gardening, but it works for me! May the sun and rain help you garden in the weeks ahead.