Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Community Garden Network Genius - Reflections on One of Their Horticulture Courses


Horticulture in Autumn

In a Co. Carlow Community Garden 

Plant Dormancy and Plant selection 

As this course ran in the autumn, it was  a perfect time to work on maintenance or make changes to the garden. This is because in October, November and December and for a few months still to come, plants are dormant. This means there is no sap sending nutrients up and down stems and there is little photosynthesis happening as leaves were falling. This became particularly relevant to us at the end of the course where we had the chance to plant an apple tree. Not only is this the best time to plant them but we used the positioning of the tree to learn about plant needs, in terms of depth, orientation, soil preparation and the importance of choosing a good specimen. Discussion was had in regard to cheaper trees from super markets - it was decided they were no good 'at all at all' - and a criteria for assessing trees, such as balance of branches and root strength.

Harvest and Autumn Bulb Plantings

There has been a big focus on learning how to grow food. Throughout the course we enjoyed the fruits of earlier labours, in that there was spinach, potatoes, leeks, parsley, brussel sprouts, kale and other great vegetables to harvest each week. Nonetheless, there was an interest in extending the season and hunger for knowledge and hands-on experience, so we did some autumn planting as well. This included onions and garlic. Each clove of garlic, in a bulb, contains the full potential to grow into a bulb itself the following year. Checking that onion and garlic bulbs were good and hard when purchased, will stand people in good stead when buying spring bulbs too.   

Crop Rotation Principles

Deciding where to plant them reminded us to get out our planting plan of the spring and consider crop rotation: The principle that says that if you do not plant the same crop every time in the same bed, you won’t strip the soil of nutrients and you can also avoid repeat pests and diseases. The way we learnt to remember a rotation scheme was ‘People Love Bunches of Roses’
P being Potatoes 
L being Legumes - beans
B being Brassicas – like cabbages
O being Others – like salad or broccoli
R being Roots – like carrots or parsnips

Food Waste and Using Up The Halloween Pumpkins

We decided to plant onions and garlic where the squash was ripening near the wall. This brought Halloween to mind and the humungus waste there is of pumpkins and therefore food that could be eaten. 50 million tonnes or something radical. One of the days we decided to take the situation in hand and investigated pumpkin recipes. Everybody did serious vegetable  preparation that day and there were some other beautiful ingredients brought, to make a pumpkin cake which was very rich and delicious on a cheese-cake esque base of crushed nuts.

Photo taken by Community Gardener Esther Hawe

Seed Saving, Composting and Pumpkin Seeds as a Natural Wormer

The soup was also well received and used some of the garden’s potatoes and half the seeds were dried and roasted and the other half  were more seriously laid out to dry on tissue in the window, with a view to saving the seed for next year. There was a lot of learning about food waste and composting solutions. This time the compost bin might not have been able to handle the quantity which was lucky for two pet pigs who enjoyed the peelings and pumpkin pulp a lot. Pumpkin seeds are known as a natural wormer and help keep the parasite burden down in any digestive system.

Bee and Bug Hotels and Organic Growing

Each class involved a mixture of practical and classroom learning and we were lucky to have some very bright and sunny autumnal days. One of the main priorities of the community garden and all the students is to not use any chemicals and create a natural thriving growing space. There is already a lovely Bee Hotel or Bug Hotel as they are sometimes called as all beneficial insects are welcome there. There are over 90 types of solitary bee living in Ireland (this means they do not belong to a hive!) So they need a safe place that won’t be pulled asunder, like a log pile etc.

This is the bee hotel last year with the Magic Unicorn behind. The willow fence has been woven in recent weeks so I will include an up to date photo of that

Landscape Design and Health and Safety

Everyone enjoyed the work on landscape design and contributed ideas on where the pond should be placed; the health and safety plan of putting crates in (to hang aquatic plants but also to make sure no one small could fall in) seating, decorating and ground preparation. Each topic brought a lot of information and I would like to thank Dee Sewell of Greenside Up Garden Workshops for being the fountain of knowledge we needed, to get such an extensive and intensive course completed.

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