Charlie Heasman; 24th Sept 2020

Bee
Skerries allotments, May 2019

I first wrote about this problem in June last year: Feel free to click on the link to either remind yourself or read it for the first time: https://sustainableskerries.com/2019/06/07/aminopyralid-killer-cow-muck-killer-compost/

While the post didn’t exactly break the internet it did reach a lot further than anything else I’ve ever written. This was gratifying because I really wanted to get the word out about this nasty, insidious chemical.

In fact the post still regularly gets hits from all over the place, mostly Ireland and the UK, and occasionally someone takes the trouble to answer. This is one such reply; I’ll leave it to speak for itself.

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BeeAug 6, 2020User InfoAminopyralid – Killer cow muck; Killer compost.

I cant believe this! Im using my own well rotted horse manure from piles that range from 4yrs old to 18months old and am having these issues with my crops.
I try to avoid sprayed forage for the horses, but farmers lie and tell you what they think you want to hear.
AP is obviously used by large and small forage producers alike as ive imported great quality haylage from the uk into ireland and also used irish forage. I thought these past years i’m a crap gardener as my crops dont seem to be doing well! Truly, i thought it was me! The only good cropping ive had are initial years before getting horses and using horse manure!

Potatoes always fail, so i gave up growing them – in fact i grow because i enjoy it knowing the yield will be minimal!…all this time due to AP.
Twisting leaves grace my beds year in year out – even yellowing of cucumbers that were doing well in compost, then planted into a soil and manure bed, start to twist, go yellow….i have the most odd shaped cucumbers growing, especially this year.

Im so disheartened tbh. For yrs of failure of crops and now i know why. Id rather it be my ineptitude than an insiduous poison in my soil and my manure as i spend thousands per yr in forage for 2 horses to get the best quality feed….and hours mucking out etc to produce the best rotted manure for my farm!! im so deflated as i *thought* my organic practices were organic!! Damn….makes me wanna give up farming altogether tbh, especially if those in industry know AP is highly toxic as compost and withdrew it, only to allow it to be used again.

Wow….i just realised a manure pile i have been using for a specific crop has been rotting for 7 years and that crops new leaf emergence produced twisted leaves, some folded up in half shut together.
So there’s proof that AP remains inert for years and is not affected by hot composting processes.

Try finding true organic feed for animals – the hay is loaded with dock and ragwort, catsear and numerous other Seriously toxic weeds for horses. Even buttercup is toxic to horses in haylage, but not in hay. So farmers feel forced to spray due to these very harmful weeds to livestock.
The old fashioned way was to go out in the fields and dig them up by hand. Try doing that with 100 acres! I dont blame the farmers, theyre not to know the consequences of these chemicals, until the have to rely on crops themselves and fail like i have for yrs!

Ive had ragwort and Catsear infect my land from hay with it in, the seeds germinating on my farm despite me trying to rot it down out the way. I spend a lot of time cutting and digging up noxious weeds ever since due to this, and i only have just under 10 acres.

Buttercup and ragwort toxin cant even be baled as the toxin leaches and infects the whole bale of forage. I almost lost one horse to wet buttercup toxicity in haylage.
Ive run out of answers/option….what are the solutions? Are there any ‘safe’ broadleaf compostable sprays that dont damage crops when manure is used?

Sorry to rant but after yrs of crop failures…and finding out about AP, how unpreventable it is to me to source forage free of it as a horse and crop owner….wits end has been reached!! Daaaammmnn!!

Collecting Wildflower Seeds

Charlie Heasman; 24th Sept 2020

Nr Termoncarragh

 

Back in March we decided to buy some wildflower seeds.  Coronavirus was just beginning to establish a grip on all our lives and the news abounded with stories of shoppers clearing out supermarket shelves of bread and loo roll.  I joked that I’d better get online quick and do some panic buying of my own…

…I was too late!  In March!

We wanted Irish grown native seed and there wasn’t a packet to be had anywhere.

While it was great to see that a whole lot of other people were now taking an interest in the natural world around them, a welcome trend that has continued and intensified, it left us a bit stuck.  In the end we bought a few boxes of supermarket wildflower mix.

So what’s wrong with that?

Well, it’s better than nothing but there are in fact a few problems.  The first is that there is a risk, albeit a very slim one, of importing disease.  It may seem finicky but in fact this sort of thing happens all too frequently.  To cite an example, ash dieback threatens every ash tree in the country and came in on infected plants imported from the continent a few years ago.  It is likely that in the not too distant future the ash will have disappeared from the Irish landscape.  Remember Dutch elm disease?

Secondly, wildflower mixes often contain species that are not particularly useful to pollinators.  Fine if all you want is colour; not so if you’re trying to promote bee habitat.

The third reason is perhaps the most important: genetic purity.

Plants and animals are continually evolving.  Different populations might diverge over time as they respond to localised conditions.  This can happen on a continental, national or regional scale and Ireland is no exception; in fact given that Ireland is an island, probably even more so.  Local species adapt to best thrive in the particular environment they find themselves in and introducing non-native genes can weaken their advantage.  Ecologists worry about this a lot.

But the blindingly obvious reason for collecting your own seeds that I’ve only just remembered to include is that they’re free.  One could also say that they incur no road miles or fuel to deliver, involve no packaging waste, and obviate the need to wait in all day for a delivery driver to eventually turn up at just as it’s getting dark.

 

So we decided to collect our own seeds this year.

Not true: Marion decided to collect our own seeds this year.

So what are we going to do with them exactly?

As members of Sustainable Skerries we hope to play our part in establishing two wildflower meadows in the town this Autumn.  Establishing such meadows tends to be a longer term project than one might think; ten years to maturity is a figure often quoted, and we simply don’t have the patience.  Nature must be hurried along.

The generally accepted method is to select an area of grassland and leave it unmown all year.  Then in late Summer mow it tight, leave for a few days for the seeds to drop, then remove the cuttings.  Wild flowers find it very difficult to compete with the much more vigorous grass, but by doing this year on year the fertility of the soil is gradually reduced, which checks grass growth and allows the flowers to push through.

Where do the flowers come from?  The soil contains a natural seedbank which multiplies and strengthens every year.

All very well if you have ten years to spare; we would prefer to do it, at least partially, in one.  But how?

The mowing and removing goes ahead as standard; we simply accelerate the process by bolstering the seedbank right at the start with the seeds we’ve collected.  We want to have something for the people of Skerries to look at next Summer.  Oh, and we have a secret biological weapon; more about that later.

We’ve spent this Spring and Summer observing what the bees are feeding on and when; different flowers come into season at different times and different bees have different preferences.  This has advised our selection of seeds, we also want not only pollen and nectar for the bees but colour for the public.  Fortunately this can be done.

With that in mind, Marion has collected Red Poppies, three different types of Vetch, Yellow Rattle, Knapweed, Musk Mallow, Love in the Mist, Campion and Marigolds.  This should give a good splash of colour and provide both pollen and nectar through the summer.

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Some are easier to collect than others, catch Yellow Rattle at the right time and the seeds just fall from the pods.  Vetches are trickier, their seeds are like tiny little peas in tiny little pea pods, which is hardly surprising as they are all the same family.  Anyone who has ever complained about the tedium of shelling peas really ought to try Vetch.

Vetch pods

The secret is to use a bag, a plastic bag.  And not just any plastic bag but the sort that freshly baked supermarket bread comes in.  It has tiny little perforations to prevent the bread from sweating and those same perforations allow the pods to breath as they dry out.  In nature as the pods dry they tighten and explode, scattering the seeds far and wide; in the bag the pods explode and the seeds fall to the bottom.  Simple.

So what’s this ‘secret weapon’ previously alluded to?

It’s certainly not the plastic bags, useful though they are; it is in fact Yellow Rattle, a rather unprepossessing little plant that most people probably won’t be aware of.

And why should they be?  It looks a little like a nettle, only grows to about 12 inches tall and there’s nothing in the least bit astounding about its small yellow flowers; but it has one significant habit: it parasitises grasses.  That is to say that its roots tap into grass roots and draw out both moisture and nutrients, which of course, suppresses them.  With the grass weakened the wildflowers can push through.  It is reckoned that Rattle can reduce grass coverage by up to 60%.

Our Rattle seed came from the Ballast Pit btw; you can’t get much more ‘local provenance’ than that.

From further afield and a only a couple of weeks ago comes Devil’s Bit Scabious, a rather ugly name that the flower really does not deserve

This is an old medicinal plant which was used to treat skin rashes and the like, Scabere is Latin for scratch.  The Devil’s Bit part is on account of the root.  Pull one up and the tap root is truncated, bitten off by the Devil in a fit of rage against its healing properties according to folklore.

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We found it in the Botanical Gardens at Kilmacurrach in South Wicklow.

This was in a wildflower meadow, the field was covered in it, and it in turn was alive with bees. This was all the more surprising as we were in the first week of September, a time when most flowers had finished flowering and the bees died off. Clearly this would make a useful late season addition to our mix.

So Marion filched some.

She shouldn’t have done really as it was against the rules. Obviously the Gardens can’t have the public roaming around all over the place pinching plants and seeds so an edict is in place. But we had just been told by the staff that the meadow was to be mowed next week and the cuttings taken away, so she had no compunctions about doing so. A sample of seeds made its way back to Skerries.

Now we have our seeds all we need to do is sow them. Work is about to start on our first meadow here; watch this space.

McNally Family Farm Organic Trust Certificate

Shop Local & Get to Know Your Producers Series Part 1 

Where better to start than at the farm shop of a local organic farm for this new blogpost series! There, I can see what’s in season (not always easy in a supermarket), and I know it’s organic and low- to no-waste. Happy days!

Last Saturday, I drove over to McNally’s Family Farm. The farm is in our very own County of Fingal, Balrickard, Ring Commons – just over 9 km or 15 min door to door. It was my fourth trip there.

McNally Family Farm
Photo of the farm from the McNally Family Farm website.

The first one hadn’t been for veg at all: Having run out of rye flour in “early Covid” I had spotted that Dunany Flour, based in Drogheda, sell their organic, cold-milled flours in McNally’s farm shop. At the time, you had to preorder everything from the McNally website, so I only added one or two other items to the flours and coffee beans (the Ashbourne-based Ariosa Coffee Roasting Company sells their coffee there as well). By the way, you still can preorder and prepay and then simply collect – or get someone else who is going anyway to collect for you, saving time and petrol.

Now that I know the place, and that it’s reverted back to a farm shop that you can (safely, keeping your distance) walk around in, I try to go over maybe twice a month to get fresh veg (and stock up on flour and coffee).

This time, I treated myself to lunch there, too. The McNally family (five adult children have joined their parents in the business) are not only, as far as I know, the longest-established and largest organic farm in Fingal, they have also set up a Café with a few cakes, sandwich specialities, and wonderful coffee. I sat in their Covid-era compliant seating area which is covered, but practically outside. And while the lovely solid stone tables and garden-type seats are well spaced, I even managed to have a chat with the ladies on the next table – one of them, Freda, a producer of Irish herb teas, by the way, and the other, Denise, The Herb Garden personified! (I had bought seeds from Denise’s Herb Garden in Sonairte a while ago, not knowing her, of course.)

The food was delicious, the coffee likewise, and while it’s a pity that it was served in single-use plastic cups, I’m quite sure they were compostable ones. I’ll ask next time if I can bring my keep cup, under Covid Era rules, that might not be that easy. I’ll keep you posted.

Anyway, sufficiently fortified, I went to the farm shop in the large barn next door. You’ll see from the photographs just how much was on offer. 

I’m learning to go more with the seasons and to plan my meals around what is fresh and good and plentiful locally, rather than starting from a cookbook and then assembling the ingredients. I’ll still use some ingredients that are not from Ireland, and some products, but am happy to change my emphasis and purchase somewhat.

A couple of months ago, I was lucky to get some of the last Jerusalem Artichokes. Others had praised them as a super vegetable both to grow in your garden, and to eat. So I stuck two into the ground, and I think the plant that is now growing close to the spot has leaves that are very similar to what I found in a web search. No flowers yet, but I live in hope!

Back to Saturday. You may just about see from the pictures how large a space it is, and how high the ceilings are. While there was a constant stream of cars coming and going, it never felt too busy, or as I have started to call it, “peoply.” Keeping your distance was easy. There is a fridge, then a large table and a number of baskets filled with what’s on offer.

They were out of tomatoes and potatoes. Some people seem to come early to make sure they get what they want! Otherwise, the choice was plentiful.

 You walk around anti-clockwise with one of their nice large wicker baskets, pick what you want (don’t touch unless you buy it!), then check out (perspex glass in place). You can pay contact less, my preferred way to pay since even before Covid.

I went home with kale (so tasty – why did I only try it first this year?), chard (new to me), spinach, kohlrabi (which I love nibbling raw, cut into thick slices), zucchini and cauliflower. 

And of course one of Freda’s teas, complemented by some of Dunany’s finest flours, rye, fine wholewheat and coarse wholewheat. I’ll be back!

This series will continue as my time allows. Next on my list are Paddy Byrne’s Organic Farm, Skerries Farmers’ Market, Gerry’s, Granny Rosie’s Farm – and I’m open to suggestions for more!

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Where the flail can’t reach: wild orchids, Ballast Pit, 21/07/20

 

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Where the flail can reach: Barnageerah Road, 21/07/20

 

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Where the flail can’t reach: Ballast Pit, 21/07/20

 

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Where the flail can reach: Barnageerah Road, 21/07/20

 

‘Nuff said.

Just over a year ago I wrote a post here entitled “Time to Rethink Our Approach to Grass Verges”.    You may care to read it either for the first time or to refresh your memory if you read it last year.

In case you feel you have no time to do so: I bemoaned the fact that we are so obsessed with neatness and grass mown-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life and wondered if we could not take a more enlightened approach that allowed nature a chance.  Cut higher; cut less often; allow flowers to grow and please, please stop spraying weedkiller everywhere.

The post included this photograph, with the observation that the poppies were probably doomed because Fingal CC would soon come along and spray them.

I was wrong; they didn’t.

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Not last year anyway.

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Recently, Darina Allen was in town! Well, she was here virtually on Wed 24 June 2020 and talked to over fifty Skerries residents in a web event organised by us here at Sustainable Skerries. She gave an inspiring and energising talk about our food, our environment, and our health and was joined by our own Karen Power, local Green councillor, self-confessed foodie and member of the Barnageeragh Residents’ Association – you might know her from the No Drive Through campaign and her regular parenting column in Skerries News.

Both Darina and Karen said we need to respect our food, for our own health’s sake, for the environment’s sake, and for our community’s sake.

Darina Allen with some Kale in a greenhouse

Darina, a trained and renowned chef who founded the Ballymaloe Cookery School in 1982, became a household name through her “Simply Delicious” TV series and her many cookery books. The latest, One Pot Feeds All, not only won her yet another World Gourmand Cookbook Award this year – it also became the go-to book for many of us who were searching for recipes for nourishing food for our families during lockdown.

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It would be fair to say that most of us these days acknowledge that bees are in trouble; most of us also realise that if bees are in trouble we will soon be in trouble ourselves.  Serious trouble.

Our response varies: some of us actively try and help out, others hope and trust that someone else will do so, others again believe that they can’t make a difference, and there are those that neither know or care.

I would like to see far more people in the former category and less in the last, which is why I write this stuff.

But why are bees in decline?  For that matter why are all pollinators and associated insects in decline?  Some say that the causes are complicated and hard to understand; I say that is complete nonsense; we only have to open our eyes and ears and see the obvious.

Try these explanations for size:

Insecticides

Herbicides

Habitat loss

Starvation

 

Let’s take them one at a time, starting with insecticides.

We can’t really drive around the countryside and see what is going on in this regard but we do know that far too many are being used far too indiscriminately with disastrous consequences.  Spraying against a fruit moth to produce perfect unblemished peaches is a great short term solution for French fruit farmers and the fussily demanding buying public because it kills fruit moths.  Surprise, surprise, it also kills everything else.  The EU tries to get the worst of the sprays banned; the big chemical companies such as Bayer fight back to protect their very considerable short term profits.  And they have the money to do so.

Meanwhile French farmers, eager to keep producing an expensive high end product, nip across the border to Spain where restrictions are more lax and import the same banned chemicals on their own behalf.

Irish farmers don’t grow peaches, so no problem there, but you’d probably rather not know what or how many sprays go onto our tomatoes and strawberries.

So that’s insecticides out of the way, surely herbicides aren’t a problem here?

Unfortunately they are.  Weedkiller might be intended to kill weeds but at the end of the day it’s very toxic stuff.  If grassland is sprayed and bees happen to be foraging on flowers there at the time they will ingest it and die.  Beekeepers have been known to lose whole hives this way.  Even where good neighbour arrangements exist and a beekeeper is warned to either move his hives or keep them shut up for the day this is of no use to wild populations of bees which are going to die either way.

Habitat loss and starvation are pretty much the same thing.  Here’s a photo taken at the back of Skerries a couple of weeks ago.

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It shows acres and acres of monoculture with not a flower in sight.  Worse, the entrance to the field has been spayed to kill all wildlife.

Why?!!

It’s as if someone has said “there’s 50 acres of countryside that nature’s not getting, and she’s not getting this bit either”.

Ironically, not quite visible in the photo is a notice proclaiming this to be a game sanctuary!!

Whoever did this is not alone, here’s another example a few miles away:

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I cannot for the life of me understand the mindset of someone who does this.  What’s the point?  Fortunately not all farmers do this of course, but there are far too many who do.

 

With all this going on in the countryside it is not so much surprising that bees are in decline; it is almost surprising that there are any left at all.

It is now being realised that much of modern agricultural practice is not sustainable in the long term.  It seems to have served us well enough up to now by putting cheap food on the table (too cheap in a way, worldwide we throw 40% of it away) but things have to change.  Someone (can’t remember who) speaking on the subject recently said “agriculture is a big ship, and big ships take a long time to turn”.

Until that ship is turned bees have one last refuge in which to survive: your front or back garden.

Compare and contrast the pictures above with these, both from Skerries:

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Both are alive with bees.

I have no idea who tends the garden in the top pic, but do know that the owner responsible for the garden below selected pollinator friendly plants and wouldn’t dream of using sprays.

I don’t see the necessity of using herbicides at all in our gardens. hoeing, mulching or digging is all that’s needed in the beds, and if you have problems with weeds growing between paving stones a quick application of malt vinegar does the job.

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Bees, in my experience, are very largely misunderstood.  Which is a pity.

Bees can sting, so everyone assumes they will.  Unless threatened they will not.  A dog can bite, a cat scratch, and a Dublin bus flatten you to a pulp but no-one runs around in a panic shouting and waving their arms about whenever they see one.  Bumblebees are by far the most docile of the four.

Are bumblebee stings more painful than honeybee’s?  I don’t know.  Despite all the messing about observing, peering at and brushing past bees that we do, my wife and I have yet to be stung.  (Our friend Eugene was recently stung twice by Bombus muscorum when he accidentally disturbed their nest.  He said it was no worse than being stung by a stinging nettle.  I’ll take his word for it).

We have 21 different species of bumblebee in Ireland.  It was 20 until a couple of years ago when the European Tree Bee, having some time previously crossed the English Channel, managed to traverse the Irish Sea and arrive on our East Coast.  The first sighting was in Dublin, the second in Belfast.  Makes you wonder if they took the ferry.

Some species are doing considerably better than others; some are in serious trouble.  So couldn’t we afford to lose a few?

The answer is no.  Different species have evolved to fit different environmental niches.  Eugene’s B. muscorum, or Large Carder Bee feeds predominately on vetches, Kidney Vetch in particular.  The bee needs the vetch and the vetch needs the bee.  It is also worth noting that of the seven bumblebee species we have so far identified in Skerries this is the rarest, being currently classified as near threatened conservation status.  In fact Skerries appears to be something of a stronghold for them.  Well worth protecting.

For those who haven’t seen it before, here’s a pic.  South Strand this time last year.

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The Garden Bumblebee, Bombus hortorum, is also found here although it is not as common as might be expected.

This bee is a specialist feeder that has developed an enormously long tongue which can reach deep into flowers other bees cannot reach.  In fact it can be nearly half as long as her head and body combined.  When not in use she rolls it up and stores it in her purpose-built elongated head.

Selskar Road, earlier this year.

Bombus Hortorum Queen

 

This, believe it or not, is a bumblebee related picture, but what’s going on here?  Both strawberries from the same plant by the way.

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The answer is that bumblebees are the best ever pollinators of strawberries, far better than honeybees or anything else.

The strawberry is actually a compound fruit: all those pips represent individual fruitlets. If they are not all pollinated fairly evenly the result is the specimen on the left; if the job’s done properly we get the one on the right.

Bumblebees have developed a technique called ‘buzz pollination’: they hover over the flower vibrating their wings at exactly the right frequency to blow up a cloud of pollen.  Some of it coats the bee’s fur from where she can comb it out and store it in her pollen baskets, which suits the bee; the rest evenly pollinates the flower, which suits the strawberry plant.  It also suits us.

So if you want perfect strawberries get yourself a bumblebee.

 

I hope in this post that I have not given the impression that all farmers are irresponsible destroyers of the environment; that was not my intention.  There are good and bad in all walks of life and there are a lot of conscientious and responsible farmers out there.

The problem is that  in many cases they have been and still are encouraged to, indeed driven to, work the land in an ultimately unsustainable fashion.  This as a result of both consumer demand (us) and Governmental policy (EU farm subsidy system), not to mention pressure from agrichemical companies intent on profit maximisation.

I do not retract or mitigate my contempt for those who wantonly spray round gateways or anywhere else that is not crops.

 

I DO hope that I might have convinced a few people that bumblebees are not nasty little stinging insects to be avoided and feared,  Get to know them folks, you’ll be surprised.

An online evening with Darina Allen and Karen Power: 24 June 2020, 7 p.m. via Zoom.

There is so much talk about food, nutrition, agriculture, the environment, our climate, our health… we are all aware that we ought to do something. As individuals, as those buying food, as those preparing it for others, as those growing it. As parts of our community and as citizens.

But what actually can make a real difference? What are the things we ourselves can do?

Our two speakers will address these questions from different angles, and then all will have the opportunity to add and react to their inputs.

We are delighted to have Darina Allen, well-known chef, author, and presenter of television programs, for the overall perspective, and Karen Power, Skerries resident and Green Party Councillor, for a focus on what we in Skerries can do. See below for more about our two speakers!

And go to SkerriesFoodEvent.Eventbrite.ie to reserve your space.

Through this event, we of Sustainable Skerries hope to ignite the debate around our local food web, the environment, and our health.

We have to limit the number of participants to 90, so reserve your (free) space as soon as possible!

This event is free. If you like, you can make a donation to Sustainable Skerries, which we will then pass on to Darina Allen for her chosen charity, the East Cork Slow Food Educational Project which raises money to educate children from nine local primary schools on sowing seeds, keeping chickens and teaches them how to cook using fresh seasonal produce.

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Anyone walking down the Selskar Road might notice a front garden that’s both vibrant with colour and buzzing with bees.  The garden belongs to Cathal Copeland and Sustainable Skerries talked to him to find out why and how he made it.

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Cathal in his garden.  Birdbox top left

Sustainable Skerries:  First of all, tell us a bit about yourself.

Cathal:  I was a teacher in Blackrock College and was their Green Schools Coordinator.  I’m semi retired now and do three days a week.  I think it’s really important to teach kids about biodiversity and in fact they love it when you do.  Once you get them interested in that all the other Green tenets follow on.  For my part I’ve always been into ecology, particularly birds, but of course all things, birds, insects, plants are inextricably interlinked anyway.  If you help one you help the other.

SS:  And the house?  I believe you had it built yourself.  Tell us about that.

C:  That’s right; we had it built a couple of years ago.  The problem was that it necessitated taking down some trees.  We tried to avoid it but it couldn’t be done.  I felt bad about that and decided to put something back, so to speak.  Thus the garden.  It doesn’t just attract bees; we get birds as well, so I feel better about that.

(As we talked a pair of nesting blue tits were flitting in and out of the birdbox on the garden fence).

SS:  When you built your beds did you add to or amend the soil in any way?

C:  No.  Most of the fill came from the site, plus I had to buy some bags of topsoil.  But no compost or other enrichment.

SS:  You describe yourself as an amateur gardener, did you feel the need to consult a professional in any way?

C:  No, not really, despite this being the first time I’d built a garden from scratch.  Anything I’d done before was what you might call heritage gardening: where I’d simply carried on an existing garden that someone else had started.  I did have a friend help me with shrub selection for the back, but I pretty much knew what I wanted for the rockery out front.

SS:  So how did you know which were the best pollinator plants?

C:  To be honest I simply went to the garden centre, looked at the labels and bought the ones that said “pollinator friendly” on them.

SS:  And wildflower seeds? Did you try any?

C:  I certainly did, and I was gobsmacked by how they grew.  About this high and smothered in flowers.  [He holds out a hand and indicates a metre].  My problem this year will be finding space for a repeat sowing.  The perennials have filled out and there’s not much room.  I prefer to garden as naturally as possible and let nature take its course but I’m afraid that in this case I’ll have to interfere.

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Garden today

SS:  So how old is the garden exactly?

C:  We finished laying it out in February last year and planted it soon after, so I guess you could say 12 months.

SS:  We walk by here fairly often and have noticed it has retained colour all through the winter.  Was this deliberate?

C:  Yes.  I tried to go for a spread of plants that would extend as early into the Spring and as late into Winter as possible.  This not only pleases me, it benefits the insects and thus the birds.

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October last year

SS:  Thank you.

beetroot seedlings

Whether you’re a child or an adult, have lots of experience or none at all, are living in a house with a huge back garden or just have a balcony and some window sills – right now is a super time to start growing something.

Obviously, you need some soil and some seeds or seedlings and possibly also some pots and maybe gardening tools.

You’ll find that many people have had exactly that idea in these lock-down times. It might take a bit of work to source seeds – but it’s not impossible, and there is, of course, always the possibility to benefit from a friendly fellow gardener. See also our recent blog post on plant sharing! Or join our Facebook group for Skerries Food Gardening.

Here are a few websites that today (10 April 2020) do have at least some seeds available for order:

  • The Organic Centre – while many seeds are sold out, others are available! (Today, out of 187 vegetable seeds, 22 were available. Some really nice ones! I’m ordering the radishes…)
  • The Irish Seed Savers Store is hoping to reopen their online ordering system on 14 April.
  • The people of the non-profit organisation Grow It Yourself are doing their best to catch up with order volumes. Practically all of their super Growboxes (great for complete beginners) are currently sold out, but they do still have Grow Your Own Herbs. They do have a good selection of books (Grow Cook Eat is one useful book; it goes with the TV series. For everyone, including children AND adults, GIY’s Know-itAllmanac is a great and fun intro to food gardening.)
    GIY still do have some seed starter packs, and also a few individual seeds.

Joanna and Klaus Laitenberger’s Green Vegetable Seeds is normally a favourite, but they have closed their online shop for now. Do check, they are hoping it will only be down for “a short period”! And let us know by email to sustainableskerriesnewsletter@gmail.com when you see it’s open again, so we can update this post. Thank you!

Where to find tips for new food gardeners

Of course you can google “how to grow radishes” (or tomatoes or Jerusalem artichokes), but the results may not always be best suited for conditions here in Ireland.

So here are a two Irish online places that we found particularly helpful.

There is also a video channel that I particularly like. RED Gardens Project (RED stands for Research Education and Development) consists of 6 family scale gardens each one 100m2 (1000sqf) and following a different methodology, or approach to growing vegetable. It’s based in Cloughjordan, Co. Tipperary (yes, the eco village!), and Bruce Darrell publishes regular, highly data-driven videos comparing different (organic) ways of growing your food.

So in the end… it’s all about the beginning!

The biggest reason that any of my own gardening projects have failed in the past is that… I had great plans, but didn’t get around to actually putting those seeds in the soil! This year, what with being at home a bit more and all that, I’ve finally managed to start some tomatoes and beetroot on the kitchen windowsill. I stuck a few potatoes into the ground. And I have more new seeds that I will make use of over the weekend. What a great way to spend Easter, planting on my tomatoes and sowing some radishes!

Join us in the Skerries Food Growing Group, subscribe to our Sustainable Skerries Newsletter and let us know how you are getting on with your planting!

PS: Want to do that little bit extra for climate action? Make your garden regenerative! https://kisstheground.com/5-ways-to-make-your-garden-regenerative/

PPS: Remember the pollinators! Read Charlie’s recent blog post here on our website.

PPPS: And these tips by Ernestine about plant sharing are also well worth a read.