Sunshine and rain


What a run of exam season weather we have been having recently  and now thankfully we are getting a good soaking! Having been away on Bere Island for the Bio – blitz (while the rain poured down) I was delighted by the explosion in growth over the last few days.

It’s taken quite a bit of adjustment to get to know the new tunnel-how much to water, controlling ventilation and finding a balance that suits the majority of the plants. Earlier in the month it had been getting much too hot with temperatures above 37 degrees with the doors closed. So the doors are now partially opened for most of the day and the watering is always done in the morning so the tunnel is dry at night when slugs are most active. I think it’s a good idea to keep the watering consistent and observe how the plants are doing, adjusting this for different beds. I stick the hose into a 10 litre watering can with a rose head and water using this. As the can emptys I have time to remove the rose head for watering into pots and around plants that need a good soak. A typical watering is about 10 litres per 1m2 approx about 4- 5 times a week for this good weather. That’s about 40 litres per m2. This of course will vary depending on the day. Today for example is overcast so after checking the moisture in the beds it didn’t need anything. A good heavy soaking once a week or if I’m away a night also helps, for this I double the quantities. As the plants are filling out into the beds evaporative losses are not so bad as they were last month. The whole watering/ ventilation thing is definately about practicing and adjusting. A light dressing of grass clippings can help to reduce watering as can keeping the soil mulched if it’s bare soil your looking at. One thing for sure in the tunnel if something isn’t working you need to change the watering/ ventilation really fast.


The tunnel 13/6/2016

This pic was taken before the weekend in the tunnel, it’s the second cucumber of the year and the plant is doing really well. The sideshoots are removed once large enought to handle. A little tip is to remove the tiny cucumbers that grow near the bottom of the plant as they won’t have much room to grow and may rot when they touch the soil. Wrapping the plant around the string gives easy support. When the plant reaches the top it can be trained towards the door . IMG_9085

The first of the courgettes have coming along in the tunnel over the last week or so. They are really tasty when picked small. To encourage larger courgettes leave a small paintbrush in the soil nearby to dab the pollen from the male flower onto the female flower. The best time to do this is in the morning when the flowers will be open. You can recognise a male flower by the absence of a cougette behind the flower and a female one will have a courgette. Leaving the doors a little open during the day will encourage the pollinators such as hoverflys to do this also. If you have hogweed growing nearby outside this will attract them.


To get water down to the roots of a tomato plant a sunken pot does the trick.


The chilli peppers like it hot and dry. This one is a Yolo Wonder. This and the red basil will tolerate a dryer hotter area near the polythene on the south side of the tunnel.


Some more unusual plants- Oca , machua and tree spinach a friend gave me, soon to go out into the garden.


Some hoops and a little scafold netting to provide shade for seedlings and germination in the tunnel. With the tunnel door open during the day germination is fairly quick. I have introduced a blended sowing compost with finer and coarser particles. Seeds are quick to germinate this time of year. The little 6 and 9 packs from summer bedding are good for a continuous small supply of single and multi sown seed.


Overall I’m happy enough with the tunnel, perhaps a drip feed irrigation would be helpful as well as as some fixed ventilation and insect access in the top half of the doors.


There were a number of 5 foot deep trial pits covered in the garden. These will be good for a bit of Hugel culture on our light sandy soil. Placing soft and rotting wood from the pile in the field into the pits helps to lock up carbon and provides a slow release source of plant nutrients for many years. The soft woody material absorbes and stores moisture meaning watering should be unnecessary.



Adding layers of plant material to fill the gaps and harvesting a very rough compost to use in the upper layers.



To finish of a few inches of well rotten manure and in go some Pumpkins etc. These can ramble over the dry mounds.


The green kuri pumpkin is absolutely flying and the runnerbeans transplanted on friday have taken off with all the rain over the weekend. There are 3 of these in the garden . A little bit of old flooring helps to prevent the grasses and creepers growing into the bed. Knowing what’s down there is rather exciting for the potential of this plant.

In this little west facing bed, I planted some raspberries. Using an edging tool I cut a mini cliff to define the edge where the grass grows. This old technique of air pruning will prevent the grass and buttercups etc from growing horizontally into the bed as long as a 3 to 4 inch drop is maintained at the edge. To finish off the bed I will apply thick layers of newsprint and a mulch of woodchips the same as used on the paths. I tend to use wood materials as mulch on woody plants and composts on herbacous plants.


Potatoes growing in rotten manure are doing really well.


Outside the back door is a little herb bed. More recently while space is available I stuck some bunching onions in the gaps.


The beds are starting to look a little less bare now. Some plants in this area include Caucasian spinach, Lovage, Camomile, apple mint, fennel, lupin, sweet pea, courgette, kale, cat mint, strawberry  and bay. Some sources of compost/ manure have had grass seed which is coming through. This can be re-mulched as the beds build up. In some ways these grasses are helping to hold the edges of beds together while plants are establishing.


Down in the raised beds the peas are in flower and it won’t be long now before some are ready to eat. Fried, sliced radish is quite nice also.


The beds have been regularly topped up with mulch of various sorts and hand weeded. Liquid nettle teas and seaweed dust has also been used over the last few weeks. Nettle tea is fantastic stuff and easy to make by submerging nettles in a net or compost bag in a large bucket of water for up to 2 weeks. Dilute 10 to 1 before use.


To keep the chickens out while the plants are establishing a low fence of chicken wire and bamboo does the trick. No bunnies so far in the garden. The ducks enjoy patroling between the beds in the grasses.

On the question of grass

Grass is amazing for its ability to tiller and out-compete other plants. The”lawn” to the back of the house is “improving” as such with regular mowing with a push mower. Who needs a gym? Personally I quite enjoy some space in a garden put down to lawn that is a space to throw the ball for the dog or eat or sit out on . Areas of lawn beyond this use are hard work to keep as grass and a meadow is the way to go if you don’t want to plant it up with trees and shrubs etc.







May- no dig


The no – dig beds are doing ok with most of the plants slowly taking. To cut down on grass mowing I,m putting down woodchips in some areas which most landscapers are happy to give away.  Wet newspapers beneath the mulch will keep most of the grass from coming through.


Having a bit of fun with this using what’s to hand at the time.


Lots of frogs in the garden


Garden in the mountains with broadbeans in flower.


Planted out some runner beans and courgette


Wigwam using bamboo and tied with the leaves of Newzeland Flax


Continuing to add mulch and a little handweeding to the veg beds. Only in one did some dock get through the cardboard but this is because I ran out of large sheets. I don’t make any holes in the cardboard when transplanting.  Recently sowed salad carrots as the depth isn’t there this year for larger main crop.


The direct sown radish between the peas are up and thinned to 1 inch. They are very reliable to germinate.


Finished off the chicken tractor to give some protection to our new addition to the family.


3 bantam silky chicken. They are quite tame and used to handling.


The wilder garden


Sheet mulching was used on the grass after planting the comfrey.


Introduced bugle and Cowslips also. Loving the vetch


April into May


April and into May has been a very busy time in the garden. The bones of the annual vegetable garden have now been layed out with some wind protection. This part of the garden gets plenty of sunlight but equally plenty of wind which has a drying effect on the soil. Mulches and plant cover will help to retain moisture throught the summer months. The weather has been very mixed with sunshine and hale


The onion bed is doing well. I don’t like using grow through membranes. Instead I do a little handweeding and will aad mulch such as compost or straw. At the end of the bed I have planted some Jerusalem Artichoke to act as a wind break. IMG_8874

The Legume bed includes broadbeans, runner beans (black magic), and a variety of peas including snow pea usui grown for their tendrils, carouby de maussane, hurst green shaft and irish garden pea. As a catch crop beet and other quick growing veg have been directly sown between the rows. IMG_8876

The early potatos are coming up and have escaped the recent grass frosts thankfully.


I pegged out a layout for a perennial and herb/flower garden closer to the house a few weeks ago to get used to the layout and have now started the sheet mulching for this. Even better than bike boxes are the boxes used for tractor engines at 1.5 metres wide with a tripple ply.


Well rotten manure is easily got in the countryside


This space is about 40 feet square so a design base on a centre point is starting to take shape.




This little fruit garden behind the shed is the most sheltered place in the garden. I chopped and dropped the brambles and took out a few self seeded ash trees” weeds” . I’m very interested to see what pops up in here.


The fruit trees have been mulched with what was to hand at the time. By the south facing wall I planted up a Brown Turkey fig in a 15 inch pot. The roots of fig need to be restricted to encourage fruiting. I used a soil based compost mix with gravel and seaweed dust with a layer of stones in the bottom. A little bone meal is recommended if you have it.


We made secure one of the dog kennels and yard area adding a new door and a chicken wire roof. The ducks are laying and have been trained to use a treddle feeder. Our watering system takes 30 litres which lasts up to a week before it needs re filling.


We got 3 female Indian runner ducks to do the sluging, lay eggs and provide compost material. I love this pic with the sheep looking over the hedge. The other night I forgot to close the gate and they got in to munch the grass.


A bit of old lino in the shed made a tempory puddle for the duck to play in. So far they don’t seem to be that interested.


The base of an old rabbit hutch under the overflow from the waterbut is also as yet un used.


Laura has her heart set on getting a few chickens probably silkys so to keep them in check with the plants and especially the seedlings we have started making a chicken tractor that is light enough to be dragged about the garden. They  will help with keeping the grass down.


I’ve been laying out the grass clippings to make a bed. In a few weeks I will transplant  directly into this.


The top, bush and cane fruit down by the tunnel are flying. All I have done in here so far is  go around with a long iron bar wacking down the thistles and dock. The rhubarb is fighting it’s battle for ground with the willow herb but the existing strawberrys have been swamped by the grasses.


We have a steady supply of salad now from the tunnel and the big push to get plants pricked out potted on and hardened off is on. A little woodchips on the paths in the tunnel helps keep the dust down from dry soil. We have frogs in here which is great for slug control.


Some blackmagic runner beans ready for hardening off. These I planted at a little garden I have in Dublin at 350 metres with a courgette underneat


A Market more cucumber which will be trained up a nylon string to an overhead support bar


Some tomatos and backups. Many of these are outdoor bush varieties.


The propagation area is overflowing. Shown are dino kale nero di toscana some sweetpea and nasturtiams.




The Gate Lodge


It’s been 18 months since we said goodbye to Mulvey Park and now we have finally found a rental to setup again in Wicklow. The site is about 0.6 of an acre with a small cottage, large shed and gardens. Another 1/4 acre of untended young fruit orchard and a 20 x10 foot polytunnel are also part of the equation located across a field from the house.


The best soil is in the garden while the orchard and tunnel has quite a few rushes, thistle, dock and scutch grass. I’m slowly feeling my way into an approach so I decided to do the obvious moves first and let each step reveal itself as I get to know the place better and how we use the space. So I began by knocking up a bird feeding table from some wood on site. It’s positioned to be viewed while eating breakfast.  So far blue tits, great tits, greenfinch, robin, house sparrow and chaffinch are feeding. Buzzards are seen and heard almost daily hunting over the surrounding fields. Their cry  upsets the rooks and jackdaws in the trees near the house. The view through this window looks south into an almost enclosed space with a slight north slope. Measuring 40×40 feet it’s a sheltered part of the site bounded by a masonary wall to the north, a shed to the east, the house to the south and a laurel hedge to the west. A large portion of the site boundary has been planted up with Laurel ? I’m not keen on invasive Laurel but it is serving an important role in wind protection. This space is entered from the kitchen so it will be the location for some herbs and flowers as well as some perennial planting. There are plans to extend and develope the house in a few years time and having seen these I am trying to tie into this with what I do also.


The small patio off the kitchen is a sun trap sheltered from the prevailing south westerly winds by the corner of the house. We put a small bench here.


A track on the grass leads up to the rear of the shed where a small orchard of apple and pear is enclosed within 6 foot high masonary wall. It’s a well sheltered space with butterfly bush, blackthorn brambles and ash. Perennial Nettle and chickweed as well as lesser celadine grow in various spots. The back wall of the shed some 8 metres long is south facing and has potential for growing fruit and or be the location for a small homemade greenhouse. This area could also easily be used to keep chickens beneath the fruit trees and would require minimal fencing across the entrance of just 12 feet to do this.


I dug these beds just to remind myself how much work digging involves especially with all the scutch and why I like to mulch.


I mowed the long grass to show the routes I use around the garden and have a think about the location of various elements such as water catchment, composting and keeping animals. Behind the shed are a number of dog kennels. The shed with its missing down pipe is the obvious rainwater catchment point and a tap is located on the sheds eastern wall which can be used to top up as needed.


A mate of mine inherited a mountain of pallets so a few of these were useful to knock together a simple 3 bay compost system. I’m planning on having multiples of this to build in a large capacity for taking in “waste” to compost. Compost and soil is everything to gardening. I,m filling in a number of trial holes with woodly material and these will be used as hugelculture mounds.


The composter is located to the south of the site and orientated so the wind will blow materials into the bays.


To Build fertility I am bringing in “weeds” and bulky organic material in large quantities from work and other sources. The lads have been bagging them up as we do a spring cleaning in the tunnel.


Some nice clean beds ready to start planting up in the coming weeks.


Into the compost in layers of browns and greens.

IMG_8724 I have access to a large amount of wood and other materials on the land so I put some old 16 foot timbers to good used by making 4 large raised beds. The local petrol station had a few bales of cardboard ready to go. I knocked up the frame into position and slid the cardboard underneat overlapping it by up to 200mm. If using newsprint 15 layers are recommended. I spent quite a bit of time getting the layering in place.  Soak the card and paper before filling.


Here I’m putting in the 1st of 8 bags of well rotted manure into each bed


I tread it in a bit to get it to settle


The two back beds are 6 inches while the 2 front are 4 inches so for the first planting the front beds will have onions and brassica salads while the back will have potato and legumes. Below the beds are all at various stages. I had a delivery of  soil compost mix from Landscape depot, it’s a 70:30 mix (soil: compost) and a good way to kick start things. I will add another 2 beds in the coming weeks one without manure for carrots and parsnips. Wind exposure will be an issue in this location so it is likely that I will have to erect a wind break on the south side. For every 1 metre height this will give 10 metres of protection. I have planted Jerusalem artichokes to provide some wind protection from the west. The bed ends will have perennials to give some protection with the annuals between these.


If proof were required that excluding light is a good way to clean soil before planting this is it. The ground beneath this membrane was virtually clean. I will use this technique below to clear other parts of the garden ready for planting up on a phased basis as the project evolves.


The tunnel is orientated east- west . The land to the south is quite wet.


This is how I found the tunnel totally dry and dusty. Previously the tunnel was used to grow ocra, tomato and some salads. It will become an invaluable place to grow seedlings for my school visits also.


My bro the gardener.


I pulled in some timbers to play around with making up beds. As this is a low tunnel taller crops like tomato and cucumber are going to be difficult along the outside. I went with 3 central beds on a 3 year rotation separate to a 4 year rotation on the outside beds.



This is the layout I settled on . Inside the door an area for sowing, sitting etc. Opposite this a propagation area. The outside beds are 2 foot wide, the paths are 18 inches and the central bed is about 820mm.


Outside there was some very straw rich 2 month old manure and while not suitable for use on the beds it is good to give some gentle heat to young seedlings and seeds. I stacked some flatpacks and filled these with the manure and there is a gentle heat rising up off the pile. An old door frame from the dog kennel slots over the top nicely. I’m germinating heat lovers such as aubergine, chilli , tomato in the vitapod up at the house. In time I would hope to move the propagation area up to the garden by installing a small glasshouse within the herb/flower garden specifically for this.


A little liquid gold is helping to raise the temperature in the heap to 20 degrees plus. A compost thermometer is helpful to check the heat.


The propagator in work consists of some heated coils buried in sand on a table. A bit of wavin over the top and some white plastic to keep the moisture levels up. Once germinated they are moved to a second heated table without a cover. It’s incredibly quick.


Next up is some fruit pruning and maintenance in the young orchard. I just got the planting map today and there are some unsuitable variety for Ireland in there such as Cox’s Orange. The summer fruiting rasberries were not cut out after fruiting last year and the scutch is smothering everything. I dont know how long we will be here but I’m going to enjoy living here and treat it as if were are staying long term. Moving out into the country has been a great decision.

The Insect Hotel


In recent days I’ve been working with the pupils of Scoil Mhuire Ballyboden re designing their school courtyard and having a great time making a mess. Like many schools the grounds of the school can become a target for vandalism so we decided after a walk around the site to use the protected courtyard to make a large insect hotel and 6 new raised beds. As part of the design there is a bed for herbs, one for strawberries and 4 to grow the major vegetable families namely potato, pea, onion and cabbage. Each of the vegetable beds will be assigned to a class (group) to look after and so in time each pupil will have the opportunity to learn how to grow a variety of vegetables.

A large assembly hall opens into the courtyard which would become the base of operations for all the sawing, cutting and assembly out of the rain.


I don’t think anyone realised quite how much stuff we would need to collect. In the small example below the bamboo square which provides a place for some species of solitary bees to lay eggs feed and pupate took 24 feet of cut bamboo to fill. We put the call out by visiting each classroom and showing the children a variety of materials and what insects they are likely to provide shelter for. Each morning the children dropped off bags of materials and each day the principal repeated the appeal over the intercom.


Some past pupils were on hand to help with some of the heavy jobs like cutting and drilling the logs to attract solitary bees.


Under supervision the pupils got stuck into the work at a number of workstations in the hall.


Here the pupils are cutting the tops off bottles and rolling cardboard into spirals to create a habitat for lacewings. Lacewings will help to keep aphid  sap suckers in balance on our vegetables and flowers.


The pupils made a range of habitats to attract as diverse a variety of creatures as possible to the courtyard.  Will there be spiders I was asked and when will the creatures move in. Yes and soon..


Flower pots and vegetable trays make a good container for a damp woodlouse habitat. Add drainage holes and leaves to the bottom and weight down with pebbles and stones. A broken clay pot makes a little shelter. This is a creative opportunity for the children to consider the conditions various insects need.


In the upper levels of the hotel  we attached 10mm mesh to hold cones , straw,twigs and other lighter materials in place and stop them getting blown out by the wind.  It’s a good idea to be able to remove some materials for investigation from time to time. A rolled door matt is a good addition and can be taken out to look at what shelters inside.


The courtyard is covered in paving slabs 600mm square so we set about lifting some of these to site the Insect Hotel. Removing 4 slabs for the hotel and 4 for each of the 6 raised beds. We cut a few larger holes in the bottom two pallets turning the bottom one upside down. In these levels we placed heavy materials such as stone, brick, logs etc all the way through allowing for nooks and crannies throughout. The outside face provides a wonderful chance to play with pattern texture and materials.


The slabs and sand bedding have been removed and will be re used in another vegetable patch on the outside of the school. This will provide better access particularly in the wetter months.  The lone holly is not thriving in this spot so is being relocated.


We had pre ordered some 16 foot lengths of 6 inch decking and each length made up one raised bed. Pupils from the 6th class measured, cut and assembled some of these.


One of the 2 tonnes of compost soil mix needed to fill the six raised beds. A few small buckets, hand trowels and willing volunteers are all that is needed to empty them surprisingly quickly.


In time the depth of soil can be increased by adding a second level to the raised bed using some corner battens.


Work continues on the Insect hotel adding the upper levels and a touch of creativity. Stong pallets can be hard to come by but its worth the effort. The overall footprint is 1 x 1.2 metres. Some herbs including chives, mint, thyme are planted into the nearest raised bed . The mint is planted into a well drained pot to restrict its spread.


Some heather and primrose are added to an existing bed with a yew.


The drill master and some of the team that added the roof. Flowers and herbs in pots can be placed on top to attract Bees and Butterflys. A roof garden to top it all off with some trailing plants.


Still a ways to go with this one but a good start. The Insect Hotel is now a focal point in the school visible from two halls and circulation areas. Hopefully its presence will draw interest and investigation from around the school.


School Visits


In recent months I been having a great time visiting primary schools and running workshops in all things nature. I think it’s nice to know a little bit about the “real world” we live in and some of it’s magic.  Below we explored a hedge row on a bit of waste ground near some allotments. We talked about the importance of hedges and at how untended plants grow without any help. What tips and tricks could observing a hedge offer us in our allotment garden?  What effect does a hedge have on the wind, the sun, the creatures we might likely find? If we don’t have a “garden” at home  could this hedge be our garden  as we pass by on the way to school, a place where we come to observe , nibble and relax in this busy world of ours. Just because you don’t have a garden does’nt mean you cannot garden. What exactly is gardening anyway?


The approach I’m trying to take is what could be called Keeping it real, sometimes a challenge  for a teacher but a natural state of happiness to most children. Basically this means getting your clothes dirty, getting wet and doing something real, we are living in Ireland lets not forget.


Each visit is completely different and very much influenced by those one or two key teachers a school might be luck enough to have who see the importance in the natural world, food, health and the development of a love of nature. Again and again teachers from different schools have told me about how they grew up in a rural setting and spent their days out playing. This contrasts to how many children now grow up in urban environments in a very different culture.

I was surprised to find that in most classes there are a usually a few children who have never handled compost or soil. Thats dirty they might say , yes ” Good Dirt” .  By far the best and most interesting discoveries are made poking about in the soil with a trowel. A simple worm is so exciting that it’s important to do a worm count before any activities where they might be uncovered.

Simple stringlines using bamboo and twine are an excellent way to practice measurements in cm and Inches. A hand trowel is all that is required for most jobs with so much energy.




In go the broadbeans, garlic onions and green manures. In this pic the 4 foot wide beds make it difficult to reach the middle and the narrow paths make it a challenge for access with a group. This style of bed would be better with 4 foot paths for access and 3 foot beds for reaching into. Designing a garden for a class of 24 to 34 children to have space to work in at a number of stations is important to carefully consider from the start.


I was very luck to spend a week working  with the Ballyroan boys gardening club. Over the week we mulched the paths with cardboard and woodchips kindly droped by Setanta tree care, built a composting system from free pallets and filled the raised beds with soil for planting.

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The boys from the gardening club are great workers often giving up their lunch break in yard to do gardening. Here they are clearing an area to make a pallet composter.

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The boys in the gardening club get out regularly into the garden to do work. Here we are fixing some mesh to steps to improve the grip in the winter.



Its amazing once everyone gets stuck into the jobs how quiet everyone gets, working away on their project.


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Lining out the braodbeans

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The project is ongoing and we look forward to catching up again in the spring. That was a great week despite the rain.

Preparing for the winter


The gardening year is a cycle and as such there is always lots to be getting on with in every month. After a wet and dull summer the warm dry spell recently has been most welcome but it wont last, sooner or later its going to get cold. In the garden now is a very good time to tackle the compost heaps. All summer they have been overfilling with materials and so we have been harvesting the good stuff from the bottom layers and passing this through a sieve into a wheel barrow for re distribution around the garden and tunnel. In doing so we make space for new material coming in and keep the cycle going. To get the heaps going they have been turned and watered and this should be done every few weeks. This good stuff is better than anything you can possibly buy as its full of life.


I was recently asked how to setup a compost system for a home garden. For someone serious about capturing energy and re-using this in their garden a 3 bay pallet system is easy to setup and should cost you nothing. To do this you will need 7 similarly sized pallets. I think the composting system if possible should be placed near the centre of a  garden perhaps even to have pride of place beside the insectory. This will ensure it is kept tidy and close to as many other elements as possible. Level the ground and screw the pallets together leaving the front open for easy access. You start with 3 empty bays . Line the bottom of bay number 1 with twigs and woody bits to allow airflow under the pile. Then fill the bay with sucessive layers of browns and greens in 10 to 15cm deep layers. Ideally do this all at once by storing browns in bags and finding a source of greens locally. The heap should heat up to about 80 degrees in a few days. For exercise instead of the gym once a week using a pitch fork or similar turn the pile into bay number 2 adding more and more material for a period of weeks untill you reach the point where the material is fairly broken down and half the height of the pallets, it will be almost ready for use. Now transfer this into bay 3 to mature and use as needed. Begin the process again and by the time the next batch needs to move into bay 3 hopefully it will have been distributed about the garden. My local organic veg shop is prepared to drop their ” waste” to the house and perhaps others would be also.


Now is apple season and harvest time before winter sets in. To showcase some of this years produce we are organising a harvest day event. To produce a poster for the event a little art is necessary.




Out in the garden there is a big rush to take advantage of the fine dry weather and get the beds prepared and planted for the overwintering crops or protected from the rains by covering.


To close up a bed for the winter top it up with a generous amount of well rotten manure or compost ,whatever you have or can get and cover with mypex or old wollen carpets or weighted down cardboard. This way when spring comes the beds will be rested and the material will have been taken down by the worms and soil life. By the path we sowed a bed of winter wheat which will be lovely to watch growing and hopefully make some bread next autumn when it’s harvested. The paths between the beds have also been topped up with fresh woodchips. Woodchips are available for free from landscape companies if you ring them up as it often saves them the price of diesel in transporting it to a recycling facility.

I visited the organic centre recently and I particularly liked the little laminated information signs  Hans and Andy use. To do this write up and laminate the infomation on stiff card or similar then laminate it to protect against the rain. Using a chisel split the top of a bamboo cane and slot the card in. It’s more informative and eyecatching than those white labels that you have to bend down to read.


I’m into no dig methods and so below we are sheet mulching a bed with moist cardboard taken from the bins covering this with compost and planting some herbs through this. This method is particularly good at weed supression and as there is no digging involved, dormant weed seeds are not brought to the surface. It really does work. Alternatively moist newpaper works also and is easier for younger people to dig through.


Now is the time to de-foliate the tomato plants completely cutting out any side shoots and the tops. This will direct the plants remaining energy to ripen the green tomatos as much as possible before the plants are removed. We have completely stopped watering to reduce splitting and rotting in what remains. Some people lay the tomatos plants on the ground at this point on a bit of clean cardboard as it’s warmer nearer the soil surface.


Outside we are planting overwintering onion sets, garlic, green manures and broadbeans. Indoors there is still time to propagate some salads for the tunnel over the winter.


Up in the hills the leafy green transplants are growing well and so far neither bird nor slug nor bunny has got them.


Spotted this pedestal puffball in the garden.I’m not the only one eyeing it up for eating.


It’s been a busy but enjoyable few weeks holding the fort in work and visiting primary schools to do gardening workshops but I,m delighted that all the leg work is starting to have been worth the effort as the bookings are finally starting to come through. Below is a Paddy Madden idea for viewing a caterpillar.Over the last number of days a green veined white caterpillar found in the tunnel has been munching his way through the leaves inside this bottle and I’m hoping it might make a chrysalis. I will transfer it to a larger container with fresh leaves and perhaps find it a friend or two.  The kids and teachers loved it.


Here is my brochure for the primary schools if anyone would like to get a pdf version I can send one on if you email me at



Some overwintering vegetables to plant and sow in late September / October


Now is a great time of year to build a raised bed for overwintering vegetables such as broadbeans, garlic, onions, green manures and perhaps even some winter wheat. With all the sunshine in recent days I managed to make some headway getting the second lift of logs into place and securing these with wooden stakes cut with the axe.   IMG_8234

The cardboard has been down for a while now covering layers of the leaves , nettles and soil/compost from the ditch.


That’s a ton of soil mix, soil content (45%) ,compost (45%) and grit (10%) barrowed on top. The bed is 6 metres long so I divided it into 4 parts each 1.5 metres long. The basic rotation plan is Cabbage family, Onion family, Pea family and Potato family.


In the cabbage ( brassica ) section I’m putting in a few russian kale and perpetual spinach. The kale is spaced 600mm each way.

In the onion section (Alliums) 3 rows of radar onions and 3 rows of vallelado garlic The rows are 25cm apart with the onions 100mm apart and the garlic 200mm apart.

In the pea section ( Legumes) 4 rows at 450mm spacings with staggered aquadulce broadbean seeds at150mm apart. It’s possible to have a catch crop of lettuce between the rows if you have transplants or alternatively broadbeans do even better undersown with a green manure such as a Landsberger mix of rye grass, vetch and clover.


I like to line out the sets and seeds before planting to check the spacings. When planting garlic and onions I just push them into the soil with the roots pointing down, the roots may still retain a fe tiny root hairs to help figure this out. The basic sowing rule is a max depth of twice the size of the seed, about 2 inches for the garlic. The onions can be planted just below the soil surface to reduce the chances of birds disturbing them. Netting these for a while untill rooted is advisable as the bird do tend to like to investigate.


The seeds and sets were sourced through Fruithill farm and the topsoil mix through landscape depot.

Tour of Airfield Kitchen Garden


During the week I joined the organic college on a tour of the 2 year old kitchen garden at Airfield Dundrum led by garden manager Kitty Scully. The location for the kitchen garden is on what was formerly an overflow car with some of the topsoil having been scraped off and piled into one of the fields elsewhere on the 38 acre site. This and the former building site nature of airfield in recent years have led to soil compaction and large amounts of construction materials being uncovered as this new garden is being establised.

The site is very exposed to wind and from the fairy mound one looks out across an open field with livestock and views up toward the Dublin mountains. You could almost imagine there are no roads or apartment blocks to stop you going for a hike up into the Dublin hills but for the hum of the traffic. As a consequence of this exposure the soil tends to be quite drying. A native hedge is being established at some distance from the kitchen garden but its function is more one of field boundary than wind protection for the garden.

One of the design Ideas was to visually connect the kitchen garden with the field giving the sense of a country garden in a rural setting. Below in the image are some hazel wigwams made locally with beans.These have been undersown with nasturtiams which tend to grow a bit wild. Beyond this a walkway with young damson trees and In the middle distance a field and the hills beyond up to the Dublin Hills. This gives some idea for the level of exposure currently. Hopefully as the damsons mature this will help a little.


Site exposure

The design for the new airfield was done by Arabella Lennox-Boyd an english designer at a cost of over 1 Million euro.Two of the more ambitious features of the kitchen garden include a small vinyard on a south facing slope and an apple maze. Unfortunately I didn’t find out the varieties of vines being trialled but it will be interesting to find out and follow their progress in this location. I,m told only down the road at the allotments in Goatstown is an establised small vineyard so I will have to look into this also. The vines should benefit from the dryness of the soil but the exposure wont help the grapes.


Vines on south facing slope

The apple maze was planted up with 1 year old maiden whips supplied by seedsavers. Unfortunately with the public having access to the area the buds are getting knocked off. This is making it very difficult to train the young plants. A similar apple maze in France used 6 year old trees from the start. The difficulty here is in allowing access while doing what is best for the plants. It’s a question of priority I suppose but the current solutions proposed are to prevent access for a few years or start over with older trees. Paula suggested making a maze from a cereal crop somewhere else on site in the meantime.


Struggling Maiden whip apple maze

Kitty has a great knoledge of vegetables and in this garden they are combined with ornamentals. Old cds dangling above brassicas are used to deter birds.


Mixed planting

A motif of alliums is used throughout. In this garden how a plant looks when it dies is very important and potato die really bad. There is a constant supply of new plants being propagate ready for replanting and in some areas rotations are not strictly used.


Alliums for dramatic effect

Allium heads are dried on racks in the tunnel for seed saving. Allium schubertii was particularly recommeded


The drying rack

Kitty recommends growing musselbourg leeks from brown envelope seeds which can take a wet autumn. .Nearby the leeks a drill of flax which drops its flowers every night and linseed was growing. Callendula “Indian Prince” came highly recommended  especially along borders where it should attract aphid eating hoverflys. This seed can be bought from Sarah Raven seed company.

The red lettuce “ear of the devil ”  brought up an interesting conversation about how it seemed to be looking untouched by herbivores while neighbouring plants were nibbled. I looked into it after Paula mentioned something about the pigment and it’s probably because of the anthocyanin molecules which cause the redness in plants. Found in red berries it helps with seed dispersal attracting animals, while in leaves it protects against uv radiation by reflecting the red part of the spectrum. Anthocyanin found in red leaves is believed to act as a visual mask to edibility when compared with the green of other plants which act as a visual cue for edibility. Very interesting stuff indeed with more on this in the link below.


Ear of the devil red lettuce

Kitty tends to plant small amounts of any one plant together. One of the benefits of this is the idea of “false landing” .The theory goes that because butterflys taste a host plant for laying eggs with their feet they decide on a good location by tasting or landing on a variety of plants in the area. The theory is that they get a bit confused with all the variety of tastes and move off. The name Martin Finch was mentioned in connection to this theory.

The large rhubarb forcer below costs 250 euro as compared with a black bin for a few euro. They are nice though. The variety of rhubarb here is Livingstone and the winter dormancy has been bred out.


Livingstone Rhubarb

One of the things Kittys wants more of are border plants such as herbs or perhaps even garlic and onions to define  the boundary with the paths more clearly. The beds are wide requiring one to step onto the soil for access. In some areas timber boards have been layed down to define paths and reduce compaction and this will develop into steping stones through the larger beds in time.

The wildflower mix for the meadow came from and leads down to the “Permaculture garden” where herbs grow in close proximity to the kitchen. As you move towards this you past a crop of oats, barley and wheat great for explaining where porridge,beer and bread come from. More linear planting is used down here in raised beds with brassica crops such as Brocolli variety Atlantis.

The kitchen gardens are not certified organic but no harsh chemicals are used.  . Considering it’s only 2 years old there is a lot of work gone into this.

The natural hazel fencing around the meadow and cereals looks fantastic and is a very clever way to limit access.


Crop protection

More unusual edible plants such as oca, red orache, strawberry sticks, and tree spinach are grown here too.


More unusual edibles

Other interesting plants grown around the garden are elephant garlic , sea kale and hibiscus and a variety of pumpkins  called ” Crown Prince”. A very duck like duck courgette was growing also which I didn’t get a pic of but it looks exactly like a duck. Last year they grew enormous Conneticut field pumpkins but this year the pumpkin crop is not so great.

We got to taste radish seed called “munching beer” which were very nice. Other planting combinations used are carrot and crocosmia and kale with rudbeckia. The tastiest tomatos in the tunnel were sungold and while golden sunrise crop well they taste a little bland.

The tunnel cucumber varieties included marketmore, crystal lemon, casino and a cucumber melon cross. The melon variety sweetheart was also being grown. Below is a vietnamese corriander plant


vietnamese corriander

The kitchen garden is well worth a visit and there are plans to develop a cookery course. The most impressive thing I saw was the series of composting bays by the tunnels. These are unfortunately down on a concrete base instead of soil which would be better but they do allow access by skid steer to turn it. To some composting may not be the most glamorous of gardening activities but for me I always want to know what is happening in this regard. Green material generated on site is being taken seriously and recycled back into the land.

I was thinking it would also make a lot of sense to develop a horticultural course or perhaps even a permaculture design course here. The true potential of this site, its location and what it could showcase is very exciting into the future and it’s easy to see the direction Kitty is heading with her enthusiasm.  As a space for education it’s great to get a tour which includes things that didn’t work, this is so much a part of the learning and shouldn’t have to be hidden.

Dublin Mountain garden: Analysis, Design and Implementation



After doing the survey I realised there will be a number of challenges in building this little raised bed garden system.

  1. I would like to use the materials and resourses that are to hand. These include roundwood logs (Larch and Pine), fertile soil/compost from a ditch, nettles, leaves and mycelia, cardboard and newsprint, manure and sterile compost.
  2. The soil is lacking in depth and Organic matter
  3. It must look reasonably well
  4. It must be cheap to make
  5. It should be in place and covered before the winter to allow it to settle for next year
  6. It must reduce the amount spent on shoping each week

Design idea.

While we were traveling I had seen how fallen or felled logs were placed against tree stumps on hilly ground to reduce erosion and stabilise the slope. Soil and organic matter collects behind these creating a terrace and these become places where fertility is captured. I had also noticed how ditches below sloping ground also collected soil and organic matter and this material could be collected and used to fill a raised bed. Looking nearby I quickly found suitable materials and began implementing the design.


I began by gathering logs using a rope to drag them into position and laying these out to get an idea for the shape and size of the bed. I then drove stakes into the ground to hold the logs in position on the slope

laying out logs

I leveled the timbers using some flat stones

leveling timbers

Next I leveled the base of the bed so the fill materials will be consistent across the slope. This involved draging some material from the back to the front of the slope, removing larger stones and woody roots of the Bergenias. Once setup the system will be no dig but some digging was unavoidable in creating the terrace. I also widened the bed to 1400 mm.

A drainage ditch needed clearing out so this yielded about 20 barrows of rich compost/soil. There is some scutch grass in this which I have not removed.The benefits of the material trump my reluctance to use it. This will only form one of the base layers in the buildup of materials and will be sheet mulched repeatly before the bed is fully filled.


The difference in colour between this and the soil below is amazing its rich brown and full of worms and soil life.

compost added

To the top of this I cut and added a  generous layer of nettles. These needed clearing to give access to the hedge for cutting.


Over the nettles I am spreading leaves containing mycelium. This will provide good habitat for worms. The rains today will help to moisten everything up before the cardboard goes down and the building process continues. to be continued ..