Organic Food Gardening – a First Taste with Klaus Laitenberger

Gardening is about so much more than gardening! All of you who are seasoned gardeners know that, and those of us newer to the area got a glimpse of this during Klaus Laitenberger’s Gardening Workshop recently.

Klaus who? Not many active gardeners in Ireland would ask this, as Klaus Laitenberger (according to GreenVegetableSeeds.com, his website) is the author of three vegetable gardening books. He was the Head Gardener at the Organic Centre in Co. Leitrim and restored the gardens of Lissadell House in Co. Sligo. He is a regular contributor to the Irish Garden magazine (and was recently featured in both the Irish Times and The Irish News, on the occasion of the publication of his latest book, The Self-Sufficient Garden).

Klaus also works as a gardening consultant and gives lectures and talks nationwide on growing food.  His books have attained excellent reviews from other horticulturists and top gardening newspaper & magazine writers and other gardeners alike.

This workshop was funded through the Department of Justice’s Communities Integration Grant and had been intended as a full-day course in April 2020. Guess what? It was not possible to run it.

Luckily for us, when Mary Marsden, who had organised this course, asked Klaus would he do it online, he agreed. So the one-day real-life course for a maximum of 20 people changed into two half-day courses (read on regarding the second one, which you will not want to miss!) which can cater for a lot more people. Great!

(Mary is, by the way, the chair of Skerries Allotments and centrally involved in the Community Garden which is to start up this year. She is also the previous chair of Sustainable Skerries.)

A wonderfully mixed group attended the course via Zoom – beginners, old hands with years of allotments and / or other gardening experience, and some who were just curious. Most are living in Skerries. Klaus had prepared a wide-ranging presentation – see for yourself…

He often added to what was on the screen – and luckily, was happy to answer questions as well. The time flew, and if you were there and would like more of the same, or missed it and would like to NOT miss the next one, make sure you’re subscribed to our Newsletter (you can sign up on our website)!

Here are just a few takeaways from the course – you’ll see why I said that gardening is about so much more than, well, gardening:

  • Get outside! Feel the ground! Did you know that there is research that says we all should be outside for at least 90 min daily? How much do we get? We need the great outdoors!
  • Food gardening and market gardening can make a major contribution to drawing down CO2 from the air. 
  • 50% of organic matter is carbon – climate change can be mitigated by increasing soil fertility!
  • The secret is in the soil and its quality… and its microcosm of helpful, interconnected microorganisms.
  • Organic matters! Especially for those foods known as the “dirty dozen” – pay the extra money for your health and your family’s health.
  • And while hummus is very tasty, it’s humus, the black gold, that matters most in organic matter for growing food.
  • We should all be willing to spend more on our food so that it can be grown to a better standard… the average Irish household spends some 8% of their disposable income on food, down from 50% just five decades ago! 
  • Organic farm produce follows demand. The more we ask for it, the more it will pop up in our shops.
  • Find out where you can get good food locally! McNally’s, Paddy Byrne’s Skerries Organic Farm, SuperValu’s organic and local Farmers’ Market… Speaking of which, help Sustainable Skerries put together a local sustainable shopping guide, please!
  • Ireland could grow vegetables for 25 million people (yes, organically) yet we only produce food for one million at the moment – Ireland is not food secure but could be!

That was all fascinating (and heady) stuff, and it was followed by a lot of hands-on gardening tips as well. Just a few that struck a chord with me:

  • Don’t sow and plant too early! 
    • St Patrick’s Day weekend is good for onion sets, jerusalem artichokes, early potatoes… no earlier!
    • Always be prepared for late frost in Ireland in May. Hold back on those pumpkins until early June!
  • Grow lots of nitrogen-fixing plants like beans, peas, clover to improve your soil.
  • Seaweed (collected above the high water mark only, e.g. after storms!) is super as mulch / fertilizer.
  • What the bees are to plants above ground, the earthworms are to them beneath… respect and value them!
  • Planning is super important. Learn from books or experienced gardeners. Rotate especially potatoes and the onion family. And carrots..
  • For a beginning gardener, grow:
    • perpetual spinach or rainbow chard (3 plants will keep your family supplied)
    • kale (3 plants) Start harvesting from the lower leaves, do not cut the top leaves! The plant will stop growing then.
    • One courgette (should yield 2 courgettes a week) – not before the 1st of June!
    • Cut and come again salad leaves
  • Growing your own apples makes super sense for taste as well as financially! (Plus it reduces your exposure to chemicals: Conventional apple orchards are sprayed every week…) 
  • Get young trees from reputable sources like English’s Fruit Nursery. Katie, James Grieve (not as sweet), Boskop are very good for Irish conditions.
  • Get the right root stock for your garden: M9 for smaller gardens, M26 for larger ones.
  • As for berries, you may have to share especially currants with the birds…

There was a lot more, but those are the bits that stuck in my mind most.

Thank you, Klaus, for a super morning, and we’re looking forward to the next one on Sunday 25 April 2021! (Booking will open on our Eventbrite page after Easter.)

Apologies for inaccuracies, I’m quoting all the above from memory and don’t have the exact sources handy. If in doubt, google it! 😀 Sabine

We’d like to thank the Communities Integration Fund for making this event possible. Out of the attendees who answered our question as to where they grew up, 30% grew up outside of Ireland, in six different countries. Of the other 70%, ten came from counties outside of Dublin – amazingly ten separate, individual, different counties! Quite a spread.

What to do next:

  • Go outside if you haven’t been in a while! 🌞
  • Get gardening, or keep growing it yourself if you’re already on the way.
  • Come to Klaus’ next online course, which will be part of our first Sustainable Skerries Food Festival – subscribe to our Newsletter so you don’t miss it. Booking will open after Easter. Until then, get his books, order some of the seeds he sells. (Very prompt service, I found. Great illustrations & detailed info in the Self Sufficient Garden! S.)
  • When out shopping for food, ask for seasonal, local, organic, waste-minimising food – let’s create the demand!
  • Join us – follow us on Facebook, join our Skerries Food Gardening Group on Facebook, subscribe to our Newsletter… send us an email if you’d like to get even more involved! SustSkerries@gmail.com 

Some links that were shared during the presentation on the chat (thanks to all attendees who were contributing!):

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