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Organic Grow-How

Regular expert advice from Fruit Hill Farm on organic growing.
  • Gooseberry Sawfly

    Sawfly larvae Sawfly larvae

    Gooseberry sawflies lay eggs on your gooseberry plants. When the caterpillars hatch out they can devastate the plant leaves so that you end up with a bush that looks like this -

    sawfly-damage Gooseberry sawfly damage

    They also attack red and white currant bushes. The fly arrives anytime from April onward. The female sawflies lay eggs on the underside of leaves, low down in the center of the bush, so the young larvae go unnoticed until they have eaten their way upwards and outwards, devouring the leaves as they go -  often defoliating a bush completely.

    They can have several generations in one season so it is important to keep an eye on the plants throughout the summer.


    Regularly check the plant for sawfly caterpillars and pick them off by hand.

    pyrethrum4 Pyrethrum is made from chrysanthium flowers

    You can also spray the plant with Pyrethrum which is an organic treatment effective against sawfly caterpillars. Pyrethrum is an extract from the flowers of the Chrysanthemum. Pyrethrum's natural instability - light and the oxygen degrade pyrethrines quickly - works as well in its favour: there are no residues left after a few hours so it is safe for humans, bees and birds. It is effective against a range of pests - not just gooseberry sawfly.

    Pyrethrum works on contact with the insect so it is advisable to spray in the evening when beneficial insects such as bees are not active.

    To use Pyrethrum against Gooseberry sawfly, simply spray onto the plant where the caterpillars are present. You can buy Pyrethrum concentrate suitable for diluting and spraying from your own sprayer or as a ready diluted product in a 750ml spray.

  • Managing Weeds Organically

    How to manage weeds without chemicals

    Weeds are particularly difficult for organic farmers to deal with as chemical herbicides are, of course, strictly prohibited. Broadly speaking, there are four approaches for weed control in an organic situation:

    • Mechanical and manual weeding
    • Flame weeding
    • Mulching
    • Green manures

    Mechanical & Manual Weeding

    dock-digger Dock and Ragwort Digger. Excellent for getting out the long tap-root.

    This covers any method which physically interrupts any unwanted plant growth. Perhaps the most obvious (and most off-putting) method is the hand pulling of weeds. Physically uprooting weeds and removing them from the soil is an effective, though laborious, way to remove them from your garden. However, many species can re-grow from fragments of their roots that are left behind, so it is important to remove as much of the root system as possible. This can be difficult with well established perennial species. Dock weeds, with their long gnarled taproots are notorious for this. A specialist Dock Digger-  a two pronged digging tool - can be helpful in removing established docks and other tap rooted weeds such as ragwort and dandelions.


    Hoeing is a great way to keep weeds at bayIt is far better if weeds can be dealt with before reaching that stage. Hoeing is very effective when weeds are just germinating and still small. Hoeing involves using a blade like implement to cultivate the soil usually for the purpose of eradicating weeds. There are various styles of hoe but the principle is the same. Using a long handled one where possible greatly reduces strain on the body as a perfect upright posture can be maintained.

    Weeding, working in the garden. A kneeling cushion will protect your knees.

    The current dry spell makes perfect conditions for hoe weeding. The lighter dry soil creates much less resistance for the hoe blade minimizing the effort required. More importantly, the weeds will dry out (desiccate) and perish on the soil surface. In wet conditions, however, many weeds are capable of a magical resurrection – re-rooting themselves and taking off again! A disadvantage of mechanical weeding such as hoeing is that new weed seeds are often turned up to the surface where they can readily germinate. This can create a new flush of weeds. Again, if hoeing is regularly carried out this is not too much of a problem.

    Flame Weeding

    flame weeding - a great alternative to chemical weedingOne method often employed is the use of flame weeding, also known as thermal weed control. Running a flame weeder across the leaves of a plant very quickly heats the plant material enough to destroy the cellular structure and prevent respiration/photosynthesis. This takes just a fraction of a second and the plant will wilt and then die over the following days.

    Flame weeding works best when new weeds germinate in early Spring. Small weeds with 2-4 leaves will perish quickly as they have yet to develop food stores in their roots. It follows that flame weeding is not so effective with perennial weeds which will regenerate new shoots from their established root system. This is especially true for scutch grass (Elymus repens) which readily reshoots from its wiry root network.

    Plants which have a large roots system – e.g. grass sods, docks, thistles, nettles may require different treatment. The plant part above the ground may be destroyed due to the immense heat of the flame weeder. But the roots are strong and can supply enough nutrients to rebuild the plant. Therefore the use of Thermal Weed Control on mature weeds with a well developed root system can only be used in order to gain some time and interrupt the growth or stop the plant from producing seeds. Repeated treatments with a flame weeder can result in destroying the plant. However it may be very time and energy consuming. In most cases it is faster and more efficient to mechanically remove the plant. Advantages – no pollution, no chemical residues, easier and faster than hand weeding. Doesn’t disturb the soil and upturn more weed seeds.


    Wool mulch, organic mulch Wool mulch. Will feed the soil as it degrades.

    A mulch is layer of covering around plants that prevents the growth of weeds. A layer of mulch prevents light from reaching the weeds and thus prevents them from germinating and it also covers up any bare soil (which is the perfect place for weeds' seeds to land and  germinate) meaning  that most weeds will not even get the chance to come into contact with your soil to germinate!

    Many materials are used as mulches, which are used to retain soil moisture, regulate soil temperature, suppress weed growth, and for aesthetics.  They are applied to the soil surface, around trees, paths, flower beds, to prevent soil erosion on slopes, and in production areas for flower and vegetable crops. Mulch layers are normally 5cms or more deep when applied

    Mulches can either -

    be temporary/decompose - suitable  material here would be bark chip, straw, pine needles, seaweed, grass cuttings, compost, leaf mold, paper, wool  etc.

    be permanent - suitable materials here would be rock, gravel, ground cover, weed control fabric.  These have the advantage of not introducing weed seeds into your garden. Ground cover and fabric can also be moved at the end of the year and re-used.

    Green Manures


    Any bare ground should be covered with green manures as they are fast growing and will out-compete the weeds. Good manures for this would be phacelia and mustard.

    Aim to have 100% groundcover, 100% of the time.

    You can read an in depth article about Green Manures HERE



  • Irrigation

    If you have a polytunnel you will know how long it takes to water your produce.  Why not install an irrigation system and free up all that time that you spend watering?

    Drip Irrigation

    Perhaps the easiest and most cost-effective way to water your crops is with a drip irrigation system where pipes are laid along the ground and water seeps out of spaced holes directly where your plants need the moisture.  For as little as approx. €85 you could irrigate an 8 mt tunnel.  You can also add to or change the layout of your system whenever you wish.

    Benefits of drip irrigation -

    1. Improved plant growth, as there is continuous soil moisture which penetrates deep into the root zone.
    2. Efficient use of water since less is wasted by evaporation and leaching.irrigation fittings
    3. Reduced nutrient loss from over-watering and leaching.
    4. Weed growth is reduced since you're only watering along the crop rows.
    5. Foliage remains dry, reducing the risk of disease.
    6. Can be used with low pressure systems such as a rain water tank.
    7. Low cost to purchase.
    8. Drip irrigation systems saves time and water.


    In addition to the pipes and connectors, a battery powered timer and a water filter can be useful to keep your system running reliably even when you're away for a few days.

    knockvicar cat

    We are happy to help you work out your system -  so give us a call on 027 50710 to discuss your requirements and we'll help make sure you get a suitable setup.


    Overhead and ground sprinkler systems

    Some people prefer overhead sprinkler systems since they don't get in the way on the ground and can provide an even supply of water across a large area. They're great for a tunnel full of salad crops that don't mind getting wet and require water across the entire ground surface.

    Overhead and ground sprinkler systems require much greater pressure and flow than drip systems, so don't install one without first checking your water pressure and flow. Contact us to discuss if your water supply meets the requirements. We have a selection of high quality sprinkler heads for ground and overhead mounting.

    Watering lances

    Watering lances make hand-watering with a hosepipe much easier. The water is delivered right where you want it -  without bending down or blasting the soil and roots with water being sprayed from a big distance. Our  Professional Geka lance  offers excellent build quality and reliability - very easy to use.

    Geka watering lance Geka watering lance

    Geka Brass fittings

    Brass taps for ther garden, geka couplings

    Geka couplings are an exceptional range whose solid dependability has converted professional users the world over. Selected from the very best materials, they are subject to strict quality control, ensuring you get the best finished product. This is why there is no better selection for coupling, extending hoses and pipelines than using a Geka type professional coupling. They are an excellent investment for the home gardener and the trade professional.


    Watering Equipment

    We have a very large range of watering equipment  - from hose pipes to sprayers to capillary matting and rotary sprinklers.  Please see our web site for more information.

  • Square Foot Gardening


    It’s easy to forget here in spacious West Cork that not everybody has the luxury of a big garden to grow vegetables in. Square foot gardening is a method for helping those with smaller gardens to maximise their space. In square foot gardening, the growing area (typically a raised bed) is marked out into smaller square sections. This helps to plan and create a well planted and neat vegetable garden in minimal space.

    Generally, a bed is divided into a grid of 12” sided squares. So for example a 3’ by 3’ raised bed could be divided into 9 squares and a 3’ by 9’ would make 18.


    As each square is used for different kinds of plants, a variety of crops is insured. The number of plants in each square is determined by the typical size of the individual plants for that particular crop. The originator of the technique, Mel Bartholemew, emphasises the careful and prudent spacing of seeds and plants so that fewer, but ultimately stronger and more productive, plants are raised. The following table is an example of how many plants fit nicely into a square. Your own experimenting might show different numbers suit as the size of plants depends on various factors such as variety, soil fertility and so on.

    Square Foot Gardening Spacings Don't be tempted to stuff the squares!

    When plants are spaced properly, there are a number of benefits. For example, if the space is filled out nicely by the chosen crop, then the ground is covered with a canopy making it more difficult for weeds to germinate and establish. Moisture loss is minimised too as the soil is shaded. For tall or climbing plants, such as peas and beans, it is possible to plant a row along one side of a square using supports such as a trellis or netting. For this, the north edge of the bed should be used so as to not shade out the other plants.

    Working with smaller growing spaces often means that it's not possible to grow a wide range of crops. Here, we have to prioritise and choose crops which give us the best return. I believe that one of the first things we should think about outsourcing to ourselves is salad - especially the leafy stuff. Shop bought leaves are pricey, excessively packaged and usually bland in comparison to what you can pick fresh. Fortunately, they are also easy to grow and productive in small spaces. Loose leaved, or 'cut and come again', varieties of lettuce can be harvested as needed through the summer and are suited to closer spacings typical of the square foot method. The same is true for the spicy oriental salad leaves like rocket, mizuna and mustard. A mixed, or 'mesclun', packet of seeds will provide a variety of different colours and types of leafy greens. This is handy as a diverse salad bowl can be created without having to buy and separately sow individual varieties.

    Cut and Come again Lettuce

    I haven't seen many examples of square foot gardens in Ireland. If anybody practices it themselves it would be great to hear about your experience with the method. As the vegetable garden tends to look quite bare this time of year, it would be also be nice to see pictures of how a well prepared, well fed and eager to grow garden plot looks. 'Preparation' could be the theme for our monthly How does your garden grow competition where you can win a €50 voucher for Fruit Hill Farm by sharing your garden story with us.

  • Raised Beds

    How to make and keep raised beds

    A raised garden bed is a mound of soil raised above ground level and contained by a frame that is used for growing herbs and vegetables. Raised beds can be made from timber, stone, logs or bricks. They are different from container gardening in that they do not have a base and cannot be moved.


    • Earlier cropping as the soil is warmer.
    • Improved drainage.
    • Plants are more accessible and maintenance is easier.
    • Easier to plan and manage a rotation system.
    • Greater yield as crops are closer together.
    • Soil can be tailored to specific crops.
    • Soil is not compacted as beds are not walked on.
    • Offers protection from insects and pest that would normally hide in a pathway.
    • Easy to cover with protective garden mesh or decorative net.
    • Can be constructed to make the most of a sloping site.
    • Waist high raised beds make gardening accessible for the elderly or disabled.
    • Offers some protection from dogs and small children.



    • Can dry out quickly in hot weather.


    Points to note

    • Beds should be near a water supply.
    • Don’t make the beds wider than 1.2m or you won’t be able to reach into the middle without standing on the soil. If you decide for wider beds allow for a path in the centre.
    • Don’t have the beds too long or people will walk across them - two three metre beds are better than one six metre
    • A very deep bed may need a cross support.
    • Take time to consider pathways between beds - how are you going to stop weed growth? The path must be strong enough to take a full wheelbarrow. If you are using grass then they must also be the width of the mower. If the garden is to be used by the elderly then they should be able to accommodate a wheelchair or walking frame.
    • If using timber always use non-toxic preservative. Do not use railway sleepers or pressure treated timber


    How to make a timber raised bed

    First mark and clear you site. Thoroughly digging the area where the bed is going to go will enable you to remove any large stones, tree roots or perennial weeds. To make a bed 1.2 m x 2m x 27cm you will need:




    • Saw
    • Sledgehammer
    • Battery drill with bit for chipboard screws
    • Paint brush


    Construction Screw the 4 (2 -3 times painted from both sides) boards - on site - together. Put the frame into position. Cut the fencing post into 60cm (2ft) long pieces and point them. Drive them into the soil in all four corners. Put screws through the board into the stakes The raised bed can now be filled to the top with manure, compost or topsoil and is then ready for planting. The soil will sag over time. Raised beds therefore require topping up every season.


    Tips for Raised Bed Gardeningcold-frame-167043__340

    • Don’t walk on the soil. Keep your soil light and avoid compaction. When you build your raised beds, build them so that you're able to reach every part of the bed without having to stand in it.
    • Mulch after planting - this will reduce the amount of weeding you'll have to do and keep the soil moist.
    • Plan your irrigation system. This will save a lot of time later on.
    • Install a barrier to roots and weeds. Especially important if there are trees near-by. Can use old wool carpet, thick cardboard or weed membrane.
    • Top-dress annually with compost.
    • Aerate the soil with a garden fork as needed. To lighten compacted soil in your raised bed, simply stick a garden fork as deeply into the soil as possible, and wiggle it back and forth. Do that at eight to twelve inch intervals all over the bed, and your soil will be nicely loosened.
    • Cover up your soil, even when you're not gardening.
    • Add a layer of organic mulch or plant a green manure at the end of your growing season. Soil that is exposed to harsh winter weather breaks down and compacts much faster than protected soil.
    • Think ahead to extend the season. Erect a small cloche over the bed for early and late crops.

    Download the PDF file here - Raised beds information

  • All About Onions

    onionThe onion plant has been grown and selectively bred in cultivation for at least 7,000 years. Onions are part of the allium family - along with shallots, garlic and leeks.

    Onion Sets

    Onion sets are available as white or red for spring planting and as white onions for autumn planting. (Onion Sets are grown by sowing onion seed thickly late in the summer. The plants are allowed to grow just until they start forming bulbs. These immature bulbs are dug, cured like regular onions, then held in temperature-controlled warehouses until spring, when they are sold as onion sets).

    For the biggest summer onions, plant early (March-April).  You can plant onions as soon as the soil is dry enough to work.

    The onion lifecycle is “photoperiodic”, which means it is sensitive to day length. Most onions will make top growth (the green part above the ground) until a critical day length is reached, triggering bulbing.  Bulbing generally begins when there is about 14 hours of light per day.  If you plant your onions in the early spring, they will be fairly large plants when the days get 14 hours long.  Large bulbs will be the result.  If you wait to plant your onions until the end of April, when days reach 14 hours, bulbing will begin immediately and smaller onions will be the result.

    How to plantHow do I grow onions, onions in the garden

    The size of the bulb is dependent on early planting, as well as the adequate supply of water and nutrients. Onions should be grown in full sun, in fertile, moist and well drained soil.  Onions like most vegetables are quite demanding for  Potash(K), medium for Phosphorus(P) and medium for Nitrogen(N).  A good all-round fertilizer is ideal for them. Well broken down FYM or compost is essential for strong balanced growth. For scallions or small green onions, plant the sets 5 cm deep and 3cm apart. They will be ready for eating in about a month when the tops reach 20-25cms. For larger onions, plant the sets about a 1-1.5cm deep and 10 cm apart.


    Onions should be regularly hoed as they don’t like competition from weeds.  Onions are shallow-rooted, so if allowed to dry out, they could bulb early and then you will have small onions.


    Stop watering your onions when they reach the desired size and the tops have begun to fall over. Harvest them when most of the tops are down. Sun-cure them for at least a week before storing to make them last longer.  After that make ropes out of them or store them in net bags hanging in a cool, dry place.

    Overwintering onion sets can be planted in September-October for harvest next June or July. These can be harvested as scallions all season long.

    Red Onionsred onions, organic onion sets, how do i grow onions?

    Red onions are milder than white and are often used in salads or salsa.  They also make a very good garnish due their attractive colouring.  Grow as white onions.  Will keep well if properly ripened and dried.

    Onions from Seed

    Onions can also be grown from seed.  It is important to use fresh seed and to allow enough time for germination.  Start them off in late February/early March in a sheltered place/polytunnel so that they will be a good size when you come to plant them out in April. As they grow, your baby onions will flop over into a tangled mess. To grow sturdy plant with strong root systems, use a scissors (or just pinch them with your fingertips) to keep the plants trimmed to around 10cm tall.  The trimmings can be used in salads or as a garnish.

    Growing onions from seed will give you more choice of varieties.  We stock Robelja (red) and Sturon (white).

    Spring/Bunching Onionswhat are spring onions, how do i grow spring onions

    Also known as scallions or green onions, spring onions are in fact very young onions, harvested before the bulb has had a chance to swell. Both the long, slender green tops and the small white bulb are edible, and are good either raw or cooked. They have a similar flavour to onions, but are much milder.  Successionally sow each week or two from early March for a continuous supply throughout the summer.

  • Crop Rotation

    crop rotation, plan your garden, organic gardening, how do I rotate my veg?


    January is a good time to think about your crop rotation and what quantities you will be growing.  What was a success last year, what did you have a glut off – and what did no one like?  (Bridget - what is wrong with courgettes?) Taking photos throughout the year is a good idea too as it is so easy to forget what everything looked like on a dark January day!

    What is Crop Rotation?

    Crop Rotation is the practice of growing specific groups of vegetables on a different part of the vegetable plot each year. This helps to reduce a build-up of crop-specific pest and disease problems and it organises groups of crops according to their cultivation needs.

    Benefits of Crop Rotation

    • Soil Fertility: Different crops have different nutrient requirements. Changing crops annually reduces the chance of particular soil deficiencies developing as the balance of nutrients removed from the soil tends to even with time.
    • Weed control: Some crops, like potatoes and squashes, with dense foliage or large leaves, suppress weeds, thus reducing maintenance and weed problems in following crops.
    • Pest and Disease Control: Many pests and diseases are plant family specific. By rotating crops between sites these pests tend to decline in the period when their host plants are absent which helps reduce build-up of damaging populations of spores, eggs and pests. Common diseases that can be avoided by a good rotation include clubroot in brassicas and onion white rot.

    Vegetable families

    how do I grow Organic cabbage, how do I keep pests of cabbage Healthy cabbages

    Vegetables are divided into different families depending on the characteristics that they share.

    Umbelliferae  -  Celery, Parsley, Carrot, Celeriac, Parsnip Allium  -  Chives, Garlic, Leek, Onion, Shallot Solanaceae  -  Potato, Tomato, Pepper, Aubergine Legumes  -  Pea, Broad bean, French bean, Runner bean Cruciferae/Brassica  -  Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Swede, Radish, Turnip, Rocket, Kale, Khol-rabi Cucurbitaceae  -  Pumpkin, Courgette, Squash, Melon, Marrow Chenopodociaceae  -  Spinach, Beetroot, Swiss chard Compositae  -  Lettuce, Endive, Globe artichoke, Chicory, Jerusalem artichoke

    For a four year rotation group your crops as below

    1) Potato family: Potato, tomato.

    2) Legumes: Peas, broad beans, french beans, runner beans etc.

    3) Brassicas: Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohl-rabi, oriental greens, radish, swede and turnips.

    4) Roots: Alliums, beetroot, carrot, celeriac, celery, Florence fennel, parsley, parsnip and all other root crops.


    Move each section of the plot a step forward every year so that, for example, brassicas follow legumes, onions and roots, legumes, onions and roots follow potatoes and potatoes follow brassicas.

    Why is this a good rotation?

    • Brassicas follow legumes:   Sow crops such as cabbage, cauliflower and kale on soil previously used for beans and peas. The latter fix nitrogen in the soil, whilst the former benefit from the nutrient-rich conditions created.
    • Potatoes also love nitrogen-rich soil, but should not be planted alongside brassicas as they like different pH levels.
    • Very rich soil and roots don't mix:   Avoid planting root vegetables on areas which have been heavily fertilised, as this will cause lush foliage at the expense of the edible parts of the plant. Therefore parsnips/carrots etc are grown after the brassicas – a very nutrient heavy crop.

    Points to remember

    • Plan your crop rotation before the growing season starts, and mark out the plots on the ground so you know where to plant each crop.
    • Rotations can be as long as you want.
    • Brassicas, onions and potatoes should ideally have four years between crops.
    • Green manures can be used to fill up space on beds and also to protect the soil over the winter.
    • If you have sufficient space you could include a fallow year in the rotation.
    • Certain annual crops such as cucurbits (courgettes, pumpkins, squashes, marrows, cucumbers), salads (endive, lettuce, chicory, rocket) and sweet corn can be grown wherever convenient, merely avoiding growing them too often in the same place.
    • Perennial vegetables (such as rhubarb, asparagus, sea kale) do not fit into the rotation.
    • Aim to always keep the soil covered, either with a crop, a mulch or by planting Green Manures.
    • Never leave soil uncovered - aim to have 100% groundcover, 100% of the time.
  • What does Organic mean?

    What does Organic mean, organic logos

    Organic food is food produced by methods that comply with the Standards of organic farming. Standards vary worldwide, but organic farming in general features practices that strive to cycle resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.

    Organic Growers do not use any chemical fertilizers, insecticides or herbicides on the crops they grow.  Neither do they use Genetically Modified seed. The emphasis is on working with nature to produce a healthy soil environment through the addition of natural inputs (for example seaweed) and green manures. Encouraging biodiversity reduces the amount of pests and weeds are taken care of by mechanical means.  Water resources are conserved and managed and animals are reared in a manner which avoids cruelty.

    To produce anything that is Certified Organic the producer must comply with the Organic Standards applicable in their country.  In Ireland the certifying bodies are the Organic Trust and the Irish Farmers and Growers Association (IOFGA).

    Organic Trust  

    The Organic Trust was founded in Ireland in 1991 by a core group of dedicated organic Irish organic produce, quality Irish produce, good quality farm produceproducers including some of the pioneers of organic food production in Ireland.  The Trust was established as a voluntary not-for-profit organisation to provide a credible system of organic inspection and certification on which the consumer can depend on.

    The Organic Trust is approved by the Department of Agriculture, Food & the Marine in Ireland (who have assigned the control code IE-ORG-03 to the Organic Trust); by DEFRA in the UK to facilitate their organic inspection and certification services in the UK (DEFRA have assigned the control code GB-ORG-09 for such activities) and by the European Commission.

    Organic Trust Ltd Vernon House 2 Vernon Avenue Clontarf, Dublin 3 01 853 0271


    IOFGA was founded in Ireland in 1982. Over twenty five years of experience in inspecting, Irish organic produce, quality Irish produce, good quality farm producecertifying and networking with organic farmers has placed the association in a unique position to serve a dynamic and growing organic market. IOFGA is a voluntary organisation and a company limited by guarantee with a membership open to all.

    IOFGA is approved by the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine (DAFM) in the Republic of Ireland and the Department for Environment (IE-ORG-02), Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in the United Kingdom to provide an inspection and certification scheme (GB-ORG-07).

    Irish Organic Farmers & Growers Association Inish Carraig Golden Island Athlone Co. Westmeath 090 643 3680

    Soil Association 

    The Soil Association was founded in the UK in 1946 by a group of people who were concerned Biodynamic logo, what is biodynamic, gardening with the moon, uk organics, lady balfour, quality organic foodabout the health implications of increasingly intensive farming systems following the Second World War. Lady Eve Balfour was one of the most prominent members. She was one of the first women to study agriculture at Reading University.  Lady Balfour potatoes were named after her.

    Their main concerns were: The loss of soil through erosion and depletion, decreased nutritional quality of food, exploitation of animals, impact on the countryside and wildlife, the loss of soil through erosion and depletion, International womens day, lady eve balfour, women farmers, women that made change.decreased nutritional quality of food.

    Their certification scheme was launched in 1973.  They have an excellent web site. -

    European Organic logo  eu organic logo, organic logo, how do I know it is organic?

    This was introduced in 2010.  The main objective of the European logo is to make organic products easier to be identified by the consumers.  The use of the logo and correct labelling is obligatory for all organic pre-packaged food produced within the European Union.

    What does Biodynamic Mean ?                      

    Biodynamic growing refers to an international movement that promotes a uniquely holistic approach to organic agriculture, gardening, food and health.  Founded in 1924, Biodynamic farming is the oldest 'green' farming movement, and so is a forerunner of organics. All biodynamic farmers and growers practice organic methods of cultivation, are against genetic modification (GM). Biodynamics has metaphysical and spiritual roots that organics does not have. Biodynamics thus embraces the mystery of all life processes, including the subtle and energetic realities that are not necessarily easy to measure or justify using current scientific methods.

    For biodynamics, farming is not a means to maximum production, but an ongoing dialogue with What is biodynamic, gardening with the moon, organic growingnature. It considers the land as an ecological web of biodiversity where our role is to nurture this and help it reach its full potential, whilst balancing the needs of farming and growing with those of the natural world.

    Biodynamic growers are certified by Demeter. International Demeter Standards for production have existed since 1992.  Growers in Ireland are certified by the UK.

    For more information please contact -

    The Biodynamic Association Open House Gloucester Street Stroud GL5 1QG


    Why chose Organic?

    •  Research continues to show that essential vitamins and minerals are higher in many organic foods. Research published in the British Journal of Nutrition found significant differences between organic and non-organic farming.
    •  Organic food doesn’t contain food additives which have been linked to health problems. Among the additives banned by organic regulations are hydrogenated fats, aspartame and monosodium glutamate and all artificial colourings, flavourings and sweeteners.
    •  By eating and drinking organically produced food and drinks, you can reduce your exposure to potentially harmful pesticides.
    •  Genetically modified organisms or crops are not allowed under organic standards.
    •  Animal welfare is a crucial and integral part of organic standards. Organic means the very highest standards of animal welfare. Organic animals are truly free range and are reared asttracting wildlife to yoiur gardn, attracting beeswithout the routine use of drugs, antibiotics and wormers.
    •  No system of farming does more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, or protect natural resources like fresh water and healthy soils.
    • Organic food comes from trusted sources. All organic farms and food companies are inspected at least once a year to establish the compliance with the Irish and European regulations.
    •  Organic farms are havens for wildlife and provide homes for bees, birds and butterflies – there is up to 50% more wildlife on organic farms!


    In Ireland, every person eats on average over 1000 meals a year.  If you want to make a difference to your health and make a statement as a consumer then choosing Organic food is the single most important thing you can do.  If you grow your own food then you know where it came from and how it was grown – there is nothing more satisfying than saying ‘I grew that'.



  • Propagation

    seed trayIf you want to get you seeds off to an early start you will need to create a nice warm and protected environment.  There are 4 ways of doing this - soil warming cable, heated propagator, heating mat, hot press.

    Soil warming cable  

    soil warming cable, how do i warm up my soil Soil warming cable.

    Early propagation requires a consistent soil temperature of 12ºC to 16ºC. Germination and root development are very slow below these temperature levels. If you have a large area to heat up then a soil warming cable is ideal.  The cables are ready to use and can be plugged into a thermostat for complete temperature control.

    You will need to build your own propagator – but this is relatively cheap and easy to do. The  size of the propagator depends on the length of the cable. The following dimensions are recommended -

    6m cable length -    50 watts               0.8m2 –   1.0 m2

    10m cable length – 100 watts              1.6m2 –  2.0 m2

    25m cable length – 320 watts             3.0m2   –   4.0 m2

    • Make a wooden frame to sit on top of a sturdy shelf, adding a wooden base if needed. Use timber 10cm wide and 2.5cm thick. Line the sides and base with plastic, adding polystyrene underneath for extra heat conservation.
    • Make you box the correct size to take the maximum number of propagation trays
    • Fill the bottom 5cm with sharp or silver sand, available from builders’ merchants and garden centres. Do not use soft sand.
    • Fill a 2.5cm layer of dry sand into the box and level it. Drill a hole into the wall of the box nearest to a socket. The hole should be big enough to feed the heating cable through. Stick the complete cable from outside through the hole. Lay soil warming cables in a series of ‘S’ bends, ensuring that the loops don’t touch (The cable could be plugged in immediately before this to make it soft and pliable). Fill another 1 – 1.5cm of sand over the cable or as much is needed to cover the cable. It should not be buried too deep. Level the sand carefully to achieve a smooth surface. The cable can now be plugged in. The heat will be distributed through the sand.
    • When the propagator is in use keep the sand always moist  (NOT WET)
    • Push in a series of plastic tubes or stout wire to create a tunnel over the sand base. Secure plastic sheeting over the top to create a lid that can be adjusted by rolling up at the sides.
    • Thermostat-   To avoid overheating and electricity waste, a thermostat can be used to

      thermostat, propagagtion Thermostat for soil warming cable.

      regulate the temperature

    • Tip: It is highly recommended to install a light source directly over the propagation box. Often propagation takes place in short days where there are not enough natural light hours to achieve healthy plant growth. With the help of a light tube (ideally ‘Grow Light’ tubes or similar lights for plant growth) and a plug-in timer the plants can be exposed to additional light hours. This will reduce the danger of ‘legginess’.

    Heated propagator

    Germinating seeds, how do i germinate seeds, ghetting the soil warm enough to germinate seeds. Heated propagator.

    These are super easy to set up – like a mini polytunnel – and contain a heating mat 1.2m x 0.5m.  They will fit on most greenhouse shelves and are easy to take apart and store when not in use.  Can also be used to give a bit of protection to cuttings and delicate plants later on in the year.  Heated propagators will ensure that your seeds have a constant steady temperature. This results in faster and even germination. Ideal for tomatoes, peppers, chillies, sweet peas etc. If you have an unheated greenhouse, then heated propagators will heat just the seed trays and you won’t face a bill for heating the whole room. You also don’t need to worry about fatal drops in room temperature if the propagator has a thermostat. Heated propagators also allow you to extend the sowing season. They can be used to help cuttings take and protect delicate plants later on in the year.

    Heating Mat

    heating mat, germinating pepper seeds. Heating mat.

    Like an electric blanket for your seed trays!  The mat offers even heat distribution across a bench, and works best when placed on insulating material, such as polystyrene. It comes with a soil sensor and thermostat, and you can set the temperature up to 40 degrees C. It’s perfect for overwintering tender specimens, germinating seeds and taking cuttings. The aluminium mat is spray waterproof.  The big advantage is that they can be set up and put away very quickly and can be used anywhere with light and power.

    Hot Press

    If you get all the towels out of the way this is a great place for starting off your seeds.  Cover pots with a plastic bag so the soil doesn’t dry out.  Good idea to put a sheet of newspaper down sowing seeds, germinating vegetable seedsfirst  - otherwise you will have soil everywhere!

    Keep an eye out for germination and remove as soon as you see signs of growth.  This is the big disadvantage of the hot press method as out of sight is out of mind – you could set a germination reminder on your ‘phone.

    Have a look at our Propagation Section to view a wide variety of items which will help you successfully germinate your seeds.


  • How to grow Potatoes

    How to plant potatoes, what is the spacing between potato plants, do i cut potatoes before planting?

    What to plant

    Earlies:   Very good if you only have a small area. As they are lifted earlier, they are less likely to encounter problems such as wireworms, slugs and blight. Earlies are ready 15 - 16 weeks after planting in March onward.  Only plant when the conditions are right - be patient!

    Second Earlies:   Second Earlies take 16-17 weeks to mature after planting in April

    Maincrops:   Maincrops take 18-20 weeks to mature after planting in mid-April onwards. These take up the most space in the garden, but they are the best varieties to store.  They also will have a higher yield.

    Chitting tubers

    Start to prepare your potato seeds at the end of February by standing them in a tray with the

    chitting potatoes, starting off your potatoes, how do I chit potatoes? Potato with sprouts.

    majority of 'eyes' at the top.  Soon the seed potatoes will produce strong sprouts - this will help the potatoes get off to a good start when you plant them. This is especially true of earlies. Place them closely together so that they remain standing in the same position. Store the trays in a frost-free shed, greenhouse or a cool room in the house where there is plenty of light. The practice of cutting large tubers in half is not advisable as it encourages disease.

    Read our full article about chitting potatoes HERE

    Soil preparation

    Potatoes should be grown on deep, fertile soil that is well drained and contains plenty of organic matter. Choose a sunny position in the garden but avoid exposed sites and frost pockets, these delay the developing foliage. Potatoes need potash so dig in plenty of well rotted manure, compost and seaweed or approved organic potash fertilizer. Do not add lime - potatoes dislike lime and its presence in the soil appears to encourage scab.

    Planting potatoes

    planting potatoes, working in the tunnel, hoew to plant potatoes Planting potatoes.

    Planting can commence as soon as the soil is warm enough - the end of March for earlies and April/May for maincrop. Dig trenches 12/15cms deep, putting the soil to one side. Place the potatoes in the trench with the shoots pointing upwards, cover with soil.  Don't plant too deep as it is colder for the young plants.  Cover with horticultural fleece or straw if frost is forecast.  Plant Earlies 30cm apart in rows 40-50cm apart.   Plant Maincrops 40cm apart in rows 75cm apart.

    General care

    When the shoots appear, use a draw/ridging hoe to pile up the soil over them (earthing up). The shoots should be just buried and a small ridge created on either side. This should be done about three times, or until the haulm (foliage) is too big to cover. Earthing up protects the tubers from frost and reduces the number of green potatoes. It is particularly important that potatoes have adequate water. Unless there is a regular, ample rainfall, the size and quality of the crop will be reduced. To increase yield you can give the plants a potash rich liquid feed every two weeks - liquid seaweed, liquid Horsetail or Vinasse are very suitable for this and would be much appreciated.


    what does bligth look like? getting rid of blight, organic ways of controlling blight Potato leaf showing signs of blight.

    Potato Blight  -  responsible for the Irish Potato Famine - is a serious fungal disease that can wreak havoc with your potato crop.  It can be avoided but for domestic growers there is no way of treating the disease once it has made an appearance in your crop.

    What is potato blight? Potato blight  is caused by a fungus-like organism Phytophthora Infestans. It spreads rapidly in warm humid weather causing collapse and decay of the foliage and rapid tuber rot. Blight spores are produced on infected leaves and are dispersed by the wind to neighbouring plants and gardens.  Spores spread quickly on damp leaf surfaces and during wet weather they are washed off leaves and down the stems into the soil where they can infect the developing tubers.

    What does blight look like? will my potatoes get blight, controlling blight Potato tuber infected by blight.

    How do I recognise potato blight?  Healthy leaves will develop brown patches and effect the whole leaf which will soon dies off.  Infected potato tubers will  have a brown discolouration on the skin and a brown marbled appearance to the flesh when cut. The tubers are firm initially, but will rot in storage.

    What can be done to control Blight

    • Grow early varieties  - these will be harvested before blight arrives.
    • Grow blight resistant varieties - there is now quite a large range to choose from.
    • Hygiene  -  Make sure all tubers are removed from the soil when you dig up your crop.  Most compost heaps will not hot enough to kill the blight spores - instead either burn infected material or bury it at least 45cms deep.
    • Increase spacing between rows to help ensure that leaves will dry faster after rain.
    • Practise crop rotation.
    • Remove any infected leaves as soon as you see them - this will help slow down the progress of blight.
    • When infection levels reach about 25 percent of leaves affected or marks appear on stems cut off the foliage (haulm)  near soil level and rake up and dispose of carefully. When the skin on tubers has hardened, after about two weeks, the tubers can be dug up.
    • Harvest in dry weather.
    • Make sure you plants are strong and healthy.  You can spray with Herfomyc    - a crop stimulant which will encourage the plants to produce their own defence against blight;  or Horsetail  - made from equisetum extract - has plant strengthening and anti fungal properties.
    • Check your stored tubers for signs of rot regularly to prevent further losses.

    Harvesting and storage

    Early potatoes can be harvested when you think they are big enough - normally when the first how to dig potatoes, potato yieldflowers start to appear. Cook immediately so that the flavour is retained. Maincrop are best lifted as the foliage starts to die back in the Autumn. Late Maincrop should be left in 'till October even if the haulm has been cut off as a blight control. This will improve flavour and ensure that the skins are properly matured.

    Maincrop potatoes should be stored in potato sacks in a cool, dark, frost free shed. Check regularly for signs of rot. Keep an eye out for vermin. The ideal temperature for storing potatoes is between 5° and 10°C. Too warm will reduce storage life but too cold can be worse. Below 5°C the starch begins to turn to sugars and the potatoes will develop an unpleasant strange sweetish taste. Bringing them into the warm (around 15°C) for a week or two will usually cure this. If the temperature has fallen to around freezing or below, the potatoes will not only taste strange but become mushy and probably start to rot when the temperature rises.

    storing potatoes, potato yield, high carbohydrate food Good crop of potatoes - makes it all worth while.

    Do you know how Seed Potatoes are produced?  This fact sheet from  The Potato Propagation Centre, Raphoe, Co Donegal explains all. Potato Seed

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