Sunday, February 21, 2010

Final February sowings

A bit of a lack of windowsill space, compounded by the complete lack of any greenhouse or even porch prompted us to invest in an Aldi 4-tier greenhouse (for the princely sum of €17.99). Putting the thing together was no problem at all, and we're pleasantly surprised by how sturdy the finished article was. Our main concern was that it may topple over in any wind so, despite the rather short tent-peg affair at the base, we also chucked in a couple of breeze blocks to lower the things centre of gravity as well. Inspired by the completed "greenhouse", a slightly larger walk model caught our eye in Woodies. At €40 its still not going to break the bank, and there appears to be enough room in it for at least a couple of gro-bags for some late-summer tomatoes. We'll give it a couple of weeks to see how the 4-tier one gets on before we take the plunge.

Of course, the new greenhouse needed to be filled, encouraging us to pretty much finish off out early-season sowings. Sowing this week included Summer Cabbage "Derby Day" and two tomatoes: an Italian plum tomato (Roma VF) and a tumbling cherry variety (Gartenperle). For the Pea "Meteor" we decided to compare the bog-roll pots (see previous entry) against some peat pots we found lying around. Firstly, the peat pots appeared to be far more fragile, with three not making it out the potting shed (no such fatalities for the cardboard tubes). Also, they took up a bit more room (only 16 fitted onto the tray compared to 18 for the bog-roll). We'll have to see how the rest of the season goes. We would have liked to try out newspaper pots as well (we got a newspaper-pot maker for Christmas), and probably will, but the pot maker hasn't been moved to the new house yet (and is probably still sitting in its box somewhere...).

Typically, after the previous posting, we managed to find a host of new and interesting websites to help budding gardeners. has a load of blogs covering various aspects of gardening and growing-your own, with lots of useful hints and tips so well worth a perusal. contains lots of threads of advice, and offers of help if the info you're after isn't there. Finally, blotanical ( hosts a load of garden blogs (including this one if I managed to register it correctly) - another great resource for those long evenings.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A slow start

Due to some more pressing needs associated with moving house, such as painting, decorating, etc., we've not been out in the garden very much at all this week. That is, however, not to say we've not been busy. With this fresh start, we're trying to do it properly, which means planning, seeking out help and advice and, something quite alien to us, not rushing headlong into disaster. In this day and age, the internet is loaded with lots of help and advice. Although specific Irish sites are perhaps fewer than those in the UK, what they lack in quantity certainly seems adequately compensated for in quality.

First up is the Irish Gardener's Forum ( - a fantastic resource for Irish gardeners with lots of advice and helpful folks to answer queries and problems. We hope to be able to help and contribute to the forum, although its probably more likely that we'll be looking for help.

Another interesting looking site is the GIY (Grow It Yourself) Ireland ( The aim of GIY Ireland is to bring gardeners together to help each other. No group in Offaly yet, but watch this (or perhaps that) space.

If we're talking about advice, the organic centre ( is always worth a look, particularly for their mouth-watering selection of courses and, of course, their excellent seed catalogue. Another good source of organic seed is the Irish Seed Savers (, a charity dedicated to preserving local strains and varieties of vegetables (an often forgotten part of our biodiversity). Membership is well worth considering at €50 (the price of an Indian take-away and bottle of wine for two!) for which you get five free packets of vegetable seed and three varieties of seed potato. ISSA also have an excellent selection of fruit trees for purchase.

For wild flower meadows (which we may have a go at establishing this year), two possible sources look promising: Fruit Hill Farm (, who also sell other gardening equipment, including organic slug pellets, and Design by Nature (, who have some good-looking advice on what and how to create a wildflower meadow. All very tempting, but perhaps the wildflower meadow must take its place in the queue (as must the hens, which we haven't even mentioned yet...)

Finally, and not necessarily of immediate interest, but certainly one for the diary, is the self sufficiency weekend at Belvedere House near Mullingar ( on 17th and 18th April.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Ready, Steady, SOW!

We know, we should have started sowing in the Autumn or, at the very least, over the Christmas holidays, but we didn't. We started this weekend. We also started with our favourite (possibly becasue its also usually our most successful) crop. Broad Beans. We put in two varieties this year - twenty Superaquadulce and thirty Supersimonia (because that's what we had left over from last year).

We have always sown our Broad Beans indoors - we had to this year since we haven't dug any of the garden yet - but in previous years its usually been too wet to think of sowing outside at this time of year. Last year (or, to be exact, November 2008), we did an autumn sowing. This is very handy to get an early crop, but should still be followed up with at least one spring sowing to extend the season.

Broad Bean seedlings develop fairly long roots, so if sowing indoors, a deep pot is required. Being mean (or thrifty? Financially cautious perhaps?) we don't bother with proper long pots but use old cardboard tubes instead (can't remember where we got this idea, but its a cracker). Toilet-roll tubes are favourite (everyone has these don't they?), but cutting a kitchen-roll tube in half works just as well (still don't see why you can't just use bog-roll though). Pack the bottom half of the tube firmly with compost, on a hard, flat surface; fill the rest of tube up; poke the broad bean in about an inch; top with some more soil and place in a tray. Keep the trays well watered (the water will soak up the tube and compost from below). Its probably not too good an idea to fiddle with the pots too much, lest the cardboard decides to fall to bits. When it comes to planting out (which we'll probably blog at the time), the whole thing (plant, compost and pot) goes into the bed, meaning the roots don't get disturbed while the pot decomposes to nothing in the soil.

Sorry to say that the compost used for the Broad Beans this year came from a bag via a garden centre, organic and peat free of course but not our own, home-made compost. Also we can never remember which way up the beans go when being sown. As a result, we tend to just push them in to the pots however they come to hand, so many may be upside-down or sideways. Can someone out there can advise on the orientation of sowing these seeds (please?). In our ignorance, and because we generally get good germination rates, we are of the opinion that it doesn't matter that much! Better news is that the beans themselves came from the The Organic Centre in Co. Leitrim, from whom we still need to order the rest of the vegetable seeds for the year...

Take a deep breath...

...and off we go... blog some of the stories about our new garden in Co. Offaly, Ireland.

"The Orchard"
At the very least we will try to grow our own, organic, vegetables and fruit, and try to make the most out of them (jams, chutneys, preserves and perhaps even some booze). We may invest in a few new faces as well - we hope some hens will join us, and bees and pigs have been talked about. We're not expecting to become fully self-sufficient (nor are we going to try), but we hope to produce some of our own food in as environmentally responsible a way as possible. Whatever else, we hope it will make us healthier and happier.

"The Meadow"
We're not totally new to this: we've been growing our own organic veg and fruit for a few years now, albeit on a small scale. We have backgrounds in the environmental and food sectors, and we both grew up on farms. However, that's pretty much it. We'll make mistakes, face disappointments, argue, curse and possibly even swear. We may throw things and perhaps shout abuse at inanimate objects. For us, we hope this blog will force us to reflect on what we're doing, learn from our mistakes, and look back and laugh. Any suggestions or comments on what we’re doing would, or course, be welcome.

"Out Front"

Our new plot is just over one acre. “Out front” is a series of hard landscaped beds filled with ornamental shrubs – not necessarily our cup of tea, but we haven’t figured out what to do with them yet. Most of the rest of the garden is rough, rank and, what appears to be rather damp, grassland. This is (kind of) split into three areas: the orchard (which has the septic tank in the middle and where we may plant some fruit trees), the meadow (which faces south and where we will put in our raised veg beds, possibly a poly-tunnel and keep a bit of a lawn, and where the well for the house is situated) and the piggery (which is parallel to the meadow, surrounded by trees and also where we haven’t decided what to do yet; a piggery has been suggested, hence this working title). The house itself is surrounded by some raised beds full of herbs, which we’ll keep, and decking, where we’ll have lots of pots of stuff for the time being.

"The Piggery"
Our plan for 2010 is to put in two raised veg beds (which we’ll double dig); one for beans and peas, the other for brassicas. We’re going to try to get the lawn under some sort of control (not something we’ve had any success with in the past, so wish us luck) and possibly plant some apple trees. Hens are a definite possibility depending upon how things go in the spring. We'll start small – an ark with perhaps four birds – but this will be a fairly big adventure for us both: only one of us has ever kept hens before, and that was when they were six years old! A poly-tunnel may appear towards the end of the year depending upon time and finances. Most of the gardening year, however, is probably going to be taken up with tidying up, clearing stuff away and making the garden our garden.