Posted: Thursday February 03 2011, Blog Tags:
Want to improve your gardening skills?
There is a wide range of courses on offer around the country for growers keen to learn more
ST BRIGID’S DAY has come and gone, and so according to Irish folk tradition, spring has officially sprung. But don’t get too excited just yet, because if last year’s spring is anything to go by, those with itchy green fingers still have some time to wait.
Instead, it might be time to remind yourself of that new year’s resolution that you perhaps rather rashly made back in January – the one whereby you devoutly promised that 2011 would be the year you’d become a better class of gardener.
By better class of gardener, I mean the sort of awe and envy-inspiring GYOer who understands the finer points of permaculture, always harvests their own seed and knows exactly how to get the most from their polytunnel. The kind who isn’t daunted by the challenges of revitalising an old and overgrown orchard, knows how to avoid the “hungry gap” and is able to garden organically and sustainably 99% of the time.
Or perhaps you’ve gone even further and hatched a plan to ditch modern machinery, once and for all, to go back to the horse and the scythe.
If all, or even some, of this is part of your plan, then you’re going to need some help from the experts. Below is just a small taste of the wonderful courses on offer all around the country.
* The organic farmer, botanist and independent Irish seed-producer Madeline McKeever, of Brown Envelope Seeds (brownenvelopeseeds.com), will be holding a series of free, one-day vegetable gardening workshops at her home near Skibbereen, West Cork this spring (check website for dates and details), along with a four-day course in seed-saving (Feb 20th, March 20th, June 5th and August 14th. The cost of the seed-saving course is €30 per day or €100 for the full four-day course. Anyone interested in the both the politics and the practicalities of seed sovereignty should find this fascinating.
In partnership with The Organic Centre (theorganiccentre.ie), the hugely-respected organic grower and “horse-whisperer” Jim Cronin is holding a series of courses at his farm in Bridgetown, Co Clare this year, including a four-day “Introduction to Organic Gardening” course (Day 1, February 5th; Day 2, March 5th; Day 3, April 2nd; and Day 4, May 14th), which is priced per day at €79 or €275 in total.
He’ll also be giving a course on “Working with Horses” (May 28th, €95), as well as courses on “Poultry on Your Plot” (June 12th, €79), “Learn to Work with a Scythe” (June 25th, €79) and “Tool Repair Kit” (July 9th, €79).
* Author and professional gardener Klaus Laitenberger is planning a series of one-day GYO courses at his home, Milkwood Farm in Co Leitrim (milkwoodfarm.com), this year, beginning on March 19th with a Beginner’s “Hands-On Gardening Course”, which is aimed at the vegetable garden novice.
This will be followed by “Your Self-Sufficient Garden” (April 30th), “Growing in Polytunnels/ Greenhouses” (May 14th, September 17th, also the subject of Klaus’s next book), and “Grow Your Own Vegetables Fruit”(June 18th).
All Milkwood Farm courses cost €80 and include both coffee and scones on arrival, as well as what you can bet will be a delicious home-cooked organic lunch, “washed down with a glass of wine”.
* Lynne O’Keefe-Lascar and Anna Jeffrey Gibson of Kinvara Sustainable Living (kinvarasustainableliving.com), Kinvara, Co Galway, run a host of interesting courses and evening classes with the aim of encouraging and supporting practical small-scale food production. Their recently self-published Irish Kitchen Garden Calendar 2011, which is packed full of lovely photographs and useful growing tips, is also well worth buying (€9.50 incl. pp). Short courses at KSL include “Orchard Husbandry” (this Saturday, €70), “Polytunnel Gardening” (€190 for the 3-day course but each day can also be booked separately for €70), “Planning a Fruit Garden” (Sat, March 19th, €70) and “Year-Round Herbs and Salads” (May 28th, €70). Concession rates for OAPs, sudents and unemployed apply – ask for details.
* Permaculture expert Graham Strouts will be giving a course entitled “Permaculture Garden Design – an Introduction” at The Organic Centre (theorganiccentre.ie), Rossinver, Co Leitrim (June 11th, €79), where he’ll be covering topics such as edible perennials, forest gardening (it’s not what you might think) and edible landscaping. The Organic Centre will also be running dozens of other great gardening courses at the centre in Rossinver, at Carraig Dulra, Glenealy, Co Wicklow (dulra.org) and at Festina Lente, Bray, Co Wicklow (festinalente.ie).
* Gardening and cooking naturally go hand in hand, which is why Dunmore Country School near Durrow, Co Laois, which is run by Tanguy and Isabelle de Toulgoët and is set in a productive and beautiful one-acre kitchen garden, has been such a resounding success. Courses include a one-day “Intensive Introductory Course”, which covers almost every aspect of vegetable and kitchen gardening, including both the biodynamic approach and the bio-intensive system (March 12th, March 26th, April 9th, April 16th, May 7th, May 21st, €100, including tea or coffee and lunch).
* The school also runs half-day seasonal courses, including its “Spring Course” (March 29th), covering polytunnel sowing, home-made compost, crop planning and much more, €50 incl. tea/coffee break. Finally, given what great cooks the de Toulgoëts are, foodies will love their “Seed to Table” half-day course, based on fresh vegetables in season in March (March 5th, €50 incl. lunch).
* The recent establishment of the new West Cork College of Sustainable Food Production (email@example.com) was inspired by a comment made by Lord David Puttnam at last year’s Skibbereen Food Festival. when he pointed out that despite having a tradition of world-class artisan food producers, Co Cork still has no dedicated horticultural college of its own. Courses at the college will kick off this summer, with an intensive five-day immersion course in horticulture. Details to be announced in March.
* Words of horticultural wisdom from the organic grower Nicky Kyle have already featured several times in this column. Those who’d like to hear more from this very knowledgeable gardener will be glad to hear that she’ll be giving some courses this spring at Rathbeggan Lakes Allotments in Dunshaughlin, Co Meath. (rathbegganlakes.com). Dates are still to be confirmed so check the website for updates.
WHAT TO: sow, plant and do now
SOW (small amounts, in gentle heat, to move to cooler but frost-free spot, before planting out in polytunnel from late-February onwards, using fleece at night for frost-protection): Sugar pea (Delikett), broad beans, carrots, oriental salad mixes, Mizuna, rocket, Swiss chard, spinach, Ragged Jack kale (for baby leaves), lettuce, white turnips, leeks and onions.
PLANT: Very early, chitted potatoes into two-litre pots indoors, to move to cool, frost-free spot before planting in polytunnel mid-February onwards, using fleece at night for frost-protection), Garlic (in individual cloves, direct, outdoors).
DO: Start planning this year’s vegetable plot, order seed (catalogues or online), weed polytunnel crops, sort through stored vegetables and discard any rotten/frost damaged ones.
Fionnuala Fallon, Irish Times
Photographs: Richard Johnston