Winter changeover

Finally got  the overwintering planted in the polytunnel. Mizuna, stirfry greens, rocket, turnips, pea, perpetual spinach so there should be no shortage of greens in the coming months.Image

Pulling some paris carrot good for stoney soil as they grow near the surface .


One of 3 onion and garlic patches. Image,

More garlic and onions


Kale doing well


I moved the onions and beetroot harvest inside to dry the outside covered racks were getting wet.Image

A few tokyo turnips ready for the pot and below a false chanterelle  growing among the late potatoes




The keyhole bed with it’s volunteer courgettes and tomatoes is now producing. Next year I might try a few beds like this and see what comes up as I was a bit late for a good crop this year.The leeks are also doing well but will need a little topping up as the ducks run riot through the bed.


I,ve cut the tops off the potatoes and will chance leaving some in the ground as I have a light well draining soil. Others I will lift and store.


The ducks


I,m not overly concerned about leaf debrit and wildflowers. Have a nice bit of Chickweed which the ducks love and is nice in salads. IMG_8438

While out for a wander yesterday collected some yarrow , sweet chestnut and yew berries ( flesh only is edible not seed or any other part of tree)






Yew Berries ( take care!!)


Lastly I have been testing a product for aerating compost it’s especially good for cone style composters where turning is not easy.. Its like an auger and works well. You screw it in a then pull up to mix.They are avaialble through Dolmen designs 087 9263067 . Ecologic in Dundrum stock them also.



No such thing as waste in Nature


This picture shows just a single years worth of hedge cuttings, grass clippings and wildflowers etc all piled into the corner of a walled garden. It’s over 4 feet high in places and in need of sorting. This pile illustrates the need for a basic understanding of composting and proper management. In the past the solution has been to bring in the skips and remove from site. The decision has been made to design an effective longterm solution for the garden.

The approach here is to construct 3 large covered bays sized for material turning by a compact tractor. In sections the top layer of  the material will be removed and the compost harvested for re distribution around the gardens. This will be rich in seeds that will need to be monitored. What remains will be shredded and turned regularly. A maturing bay will be set aside.



This is the current composting area consisting 10 X1 cublic metre bays. Each bay is full to the top with either dry woody material that is breaking down at a very slow rate or grass which is dry and again just sitting there not breaking down quicly. When the bays were filled the overflow resulted in the heap above. We need a plan of action that allows for the large volumes that are incoming this time of year twiggs ,leaves, veg and flowers while at the same time starting to reduce the corner pile.

We made this cage to put leaves into. In tIme we will harvest leafmould. Leaves take a long time to break down so in any quantity are best composted separately. Any incoming leaves raked of of the lawns will find their way in here. If we run out of capasity we just make more bays.


We dug out the first compost bay to find the bottom 1/4 to be usable. This is now being returned to the garden as mulch around fruit trees , soft fruits, flowerbeds and topping up the raised beds. We re filled the bay using a browns and green layering technique with a 1/2 foot of brash at the base to encourage are circulation. This was done last monday and today 3 days later there is steam rising of the surface when forked lightly. In in the short time the pile appears to have slumped a little also. The plan for 5 of the bays is to empty and repeat this layering technique for each. The opposite bays will be emptyed and used for turning by forking from one to the other in a fluid movement, across and back. This will be a great activity for staying warm in the wintertime and the penalty if caught walking atop the raised beds. ha ha …


From now on woody materials will be cut up using a secetares, chipper etc and used as a sort of home made mulch on the paths between the raised beds.This has the effect of increasing the surface areas available for material breakdown to take place. Pine needles will be used directly as mulch around trees and mixed with some grass to help breakdown.


In general there is an imbalance of carbon based materials. We are considering growing a patch of nettles and Bocking 14 comfrey specifically as compost activators. Any wild flowers in the wrong place will be removed before setting seed or otherwise if seeded composted in the big pig tumbler to ensure they are heat treated. We are also setting up compost teas using excess wild flowers which can be added as liquid feeds to retain moisture. The soaking process should render some of the seed unviable but I must look into this in greater detail for the common species.

It will be interesting to see how long it takes to get the composting system working properly and have everyone involved knowing how to deal with the various ingredients. Like all things gardening its just a matter of time. 

Say no to skips as the easy option








IMG_8270Composting is tremendously rewarding and amazing to witness. I started the mulvey garden back in september 2011 and one of the first things I did was to setup a large composting area. Down the back of the garden was a corner used as a dumping ground for all sorts or organic and inorganic material. After sorting through the layers and removing some material into a skip I eventually got the area cleared. There was a large volume of compost available at the base of the heap which I used to build the garden.
The garden was quite overgrown and the sheer volume of woody material to be removed was too much to be composted within the space so I removed a huge volume of material by bagging it ,loading up the car each week for removal to the in laws place where space for a windrow was available.
I set up a simple 7 bay composting system using pallets and bits of board found in the garden. Each bay has 3 sides and open front. One bay was used for leaves only which are c/n neutral meaning they will break down on their own as they do in a natural system eg. the layers of a forest floor. The other 6 bays were divided in two with separated systems each with an active bay , tossing bay ( for aeration and re heating) and settling bay for maturing the compos. I started chopping up the materials and layering browns carbon rich ( card, paper etc) and greens ( veg , grass clippings) in thin layers 3-4 inches deep. The way to get branches with woody and non woody parts to compost is to strip them down into three piles, leaves, non woody (this years soft growth) and woody . The first too can be added to the compost heap chopped up small and layered the latter chopped up is useful as a mulch on paths. This process take time especially starting out but it pays off when you can harvest half a cubic metre of compost every 6 months.
Starting a fresh compost pile I harvest the mature compost and start by laying a foot deep of woody material ( brash) nothing with a dim of more than 20mm. I then top this off with a few torn up cardboard boxes. The next layer should be a strongly nitrogen rich material, an entire brown bin of grass clippings from the neighbours is perfect. This will put a lot of heat at the heart of the heap. Above this layer will be the best place to put annual wild flowers (weeds) that have gone to seed or if done properly perennial materials. If you were particularly concerned you could put these into a bag for cooking and checking when the pile is turned. Next in might be a layer of stripped leaves mixed with kitchen veg peelings. On this another layer of browns ( card minus the staples, non glossy paper) Repeat the layering untill the bay is over full ( this will quickly slump in a matter of 2 weeks ). It is very import to add moisture to all dry materials as they are layered. I use neat urine with a rose head watering can weekly and since I started doing this the difference in the spread of breakdown has doubled. I turn the pile into the next bay and back 2 or 3 times before harvesting. When harvesting depending on the application intended the compost may need to be sieved and any larger bits thrown back into an active bay.
It’s not possible to produce all the compost required for the garden with a no dig system without either having a completely closed loop system or actively bringing in extra organic materials to offset what one flushes. In an urban setting under rental conditions I have yet to go down the road of the complete close loop system and I,m doubtful that I will or should due to the time frame and environmental responsibilities this requires when I leave.
I,m lucky enough to be living near Eco Logic Organic shop in Dublin and have free access to a large amount of spoiled fruit and veg each week. There is no shortage of Carbon based materials available to mix this with and provide usable volumes of compost. However even with this addition source of materials it’s still not enough to top up all beds by 3 inches or sow each Autumn and spring. This constant feeding is essential for the soils organism as I do not intend digging out the beds and putting manure under soil/compost. Digging out will not allow a soil structure to develop and improve in the long term in my opinion. I like the idea of “Nitrogen draw down” where the enrichment is placed on the surface to break down .
In terms of adding compost below the surface, the standard 4 year rotational system presents an opportunity to do this every 4 years when harvesting potatoes. It’s quite difficult to remove all potatoes without removing the soil first. In some ways this might be seen as a reason to not grow potatoes and perhaps grow Oca instead as a perennial.
Now that the garden is established I have reduced the composting to 3 bays. This has to be one of the most rewarding aspect of gardening turning all that “waste” into usable compost with a wide variety of ingredients. It’s purely a matter of trial and error and being able to decide a course of action for a heap. As a rule of thumb a smelly heap needs some extra carbon rich materials and a dry heap that’s not doing very much needs moisture which is present in Nitrogen rich materials.
All organic materials have both carbon/ nitrogen and other elements .The ideal ration of C/N is 25/30:1 ish. Like the ph scale all materials lie on a spectrum from grass with 9:1 C/N (varies, considered an activator) and cardboard 350:1. In the end you can’t go wrong it all eventually composts, it just the rate that we can influence.At work were organising a visit to Enrich to get some inspiration on tackling the compost heaps. Were also setting up a large leaf mould composting bay using stakes and chicken wire and we were luck enough to have aquired an insulate compost tumbler called a big pig. In theory it should produce compost in 6 weeks but the volume would be about 60 – 80 litres a tiny amount of what is needed. We are also hoping to grow bocking 14 comfrey to harvest as a compost activator into the future.
At the moment I’m reading the Humanure handbook a taboo subject, but one any sensible person should take seriously when designing for the long term.
A great book on composting ” how to make and use compost the ultimate guide ” by Nicky Scott

Trip to Caherciveen

Over the weekend I was down in Caherciveen. While out walking I was struck by the abundance of  Crocosmia × crocosmiflora (Montbretia) and Fuchsia magellanica that predominates the hedge rows around the village. In general I got a sense that these naturalised garden escapes had taken over in large areas. I did come across small patches of Achillea millefolium (yarrow) , Filipendula ulmaria( meadowsweet) and rosa canina ( dog rose) and quite a lot of digitalis purpurea ( foxglove). In general lots of a few non natives with a lack of diversity compared with other hedges and few trees probably due to wind exposure.



Gardening 151012


This past week has been busy clearing some room for the over winter veg. My priority was to get the winterkeef in the ground as they were getting a bit leggy and can easily snap while transplanting.  It has been with some reluctance that I have removed the chillies , peppers and most tomatoes as they were still producing though at a slower rate. The courgettes outside stoped producing some weeks back and now the large courgette in the polytunnel is suffering badly from powdery mildey and has been removed. Image

In the fore ground the brussel sprouts are coming on well for xmas and the space cleared for winterkeef and other otherwintering such as perpetual spinach , pak choi, etc


Looking forward to re planting with all sort of goodies. I try to keep the debrit to a mimunum removing all decaying materials for composting.


I have retained the courgette as it’s still producing well for the moment.

Inside and out I had about 17 tomatoe plant this year ( a little excessive for 2 people) and they all did really well. There will be plenty of chutney to see us through the year and for xmas presents etc. The tomatoes were many hundreds and dare I say it i,ve gotten a bit tired of them.


The green house has been cleared ready for re planting soon. The beds here have been given a generous top dressing 2 to 3 inches approx of my homemade compost. I bring in 20 or 30 kilo of unsalable organic food waste from the local organic shop each week for free and have managed to not buy any vegetables since May this year.



Outside the carrots are ready for eating but I,m holding off on the parsnips untill the frosts which I,m told sweeten them.


The broadbeans are pushing through and will need staking in a few weeks. Image

Finally in the home garden this week one of the raised beds I have shut down for winter. Its location will soon be in shade as the suns angle shallows. I have covered with a large amount of seaweed which is rotting nicely.

Time and gardening

It seem there just are,nt the hours in the day. I never remember it being this way as a child. It always seems to take twice as long to do a job as we like to think or allow for,probably that we like to think we can be more efficient than is reasonable allowable. There are two ways to garden slap dash with poor results and a sence of “I must be doing something wrong”or methodically within reason . I prefer the latter and this is always a challenge. Its something one can get better at with practice especially when there never seems to be enough time to do things “properly”

This mornings activities involved getting straw to clean out the duck enclosure and doing the weekly composting collection run from the near by organic vegetable shop ” ecologic”. I had also hoped to clear away part of the polytunnel tomatoes and chillies to plant the overwinter pea which really need to escape the confines of their cells. Its just that this fine weather has prolongued the life of plants which I had expected would be cleared away by now. I have resolved to get this job done tomorrow at first light as it just won’t keep.

Flame flowering


A couple of weeks ago I sowed some overwintering veg and got the raised beds prepared in the tunnel. Now some of the  seedling are ready for planting before they become too big for their modules. In the mean time some wild flowers have returned to the raised beds Chickweed ( stellaria media ) and dandeline (taraxacum offinale) mainly. The approach was to remove by hand the perennial flowers first including the roots  and flame of small annual weeds which had not yet produced seed. Here I am using a Buthane gas flamer to remove the unwanted flowers. Doing this gives the seedlings the very best start possible allowing them to get ahead of the weeds by a couple of weeks. Once  the beds have been planted it wont be possible to flame again and the hoe will be used.

The flamer was used to demonstrate one of the many ways of controling the growth of flowers in the wrong place. Note the use of the board to protect the Polytunnels plastic. The doors were kept open for ventilation.

I have stopped myself using the term weed as this gives a negative impression of a wild flower which is as valid as any plant that may grow in a space and indeed could be seen as more interesting for the fact that one does,nt need to go to all this trouble to put it there. Richard Maybes book the story of weeds is worth a read as it’s impossible to think of them in the same way again.


The 2×4 inch posts need to be driven in 2 foot , great for staying warm. Used a crowbar to break up the soil a bit.


The winterkeef pea (Pisum sativum) are now in with strong supports.The plants are space 2 inches apart.


Some brassica oleracea going in after the flaming. I, m told the heat releases Potasium from woody particles in the compost /soil  which will be available to the young plants.I would,nt be a fan of flame weeding generally purely from an environmental point of view but doing this got me thinking about Gorse and why we burn it. The seeds of gorse  (ulex europaeus) are adapted (Serotiny), specifically to fire meaning that they need to be burned to release their seed. An unburned patch of gorse would quickly give way to pioneer tree species and sucession would take place. The burning keeps areas of gorse as gorse and prevents them from becoming a forest. It’s amazing to think what might happen if we stopped burning in Wicklow . I,ve come to realise that much of what we consider natural and beautiful in terms of Irish landscape is actually not natural. We have created and maintain what could be described as wet deserts. It’s worth pondering while hiking.