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Irish Independent 10th May 2010

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It was the last course I did in grow your own and Susan Daly came out to my home in Ballyboughal [North County Nowhere, Dublin] and did the grow your own class. She then covered it in Mondays [may 10th] Irish Independent in the features section.

As disclaimers go…. Susan didn’t get a free spot to cover the class. She rang me two days before however to book herself in. If she wasn’t covering it for a newspaper I might have given her a free spot. For the sole want of getting a photo of me hugging a tree in the piece, I did however brush my hair parting to the left that little bit better and she did have an extra mug of coffee 😀

here’s the piece in full – I really want to do the course in the Wicklow mountains. I’m about half way down in this article.

Read Susan’s Blog – well worth a browse. The hair parting did nothing for me. 😉 It came under the title Apocalypse Postponed in the newspaper. I put the bit mentioning the GYO class in bold type below.

How to fend for yourself

Self-sufficiency is the buzzword in these challenging times, so Susan Daly gets a few lessons in fending for herself

Monday May 10 2010

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No-one knows what the future holds, especially now that it’s obscured by a cloud of volcanic ash. The view from here, such as it is, isn’t brilliant.

Turn on the radio and TV and it’s all economic collapse and climate change. Take a break and rent a DVD and you can choose between The Road (Viggo Mortensen wandering around a dying, post-apocalyptic world) or the Book of Eli (Denzel Washington, er, wandering around a dying, post-apocalyptic world).

On the bright side, some folks have never been happier. ‘Survivalists’ are people who firmly believe disaster, manmade or otherwise, is just around the corner and make preparations accordingly. For them, making a nuclear shelter and laying down 10 years’ worth of bottled water and tinned sardines is just common sense. They’re only waiting to be proven right.

Digging a bunker in the back garden might be overkill for most of us, but there are ways in which we can better prepare ourselves for difficult times, fiscally or otherwise.

Always the pessimist, I decide to deal with the worst-case scenario first. I’ve always wondered: How would I cope if I was plonked in the middle of nowhere without shelter or even a drop of water?

My first reaction would be to cry. Copiously. My second would be to ring up former army sergeant Patsy McSweeney (presuming my mobile still worked).

Patsy, whose hobbies include camping out in the Wicklow Mountains in snow without a tent, teaches bush craft survival courses at Loughcrew Estate in Co Meath. He takes one look at the way I’m sitting on the ground while listening to his instructions and immediately he can tell I’m a namby-pamby city gal.

“Always get something between your backside and the ground,” he says, “Even if it’s to sit on your heel. Otherwise, you’re on the quickest route to freezing yourself.”

Sir, yes sir. This is not my world, it’s Patsy’s, and I’m as helpless as a baby. To get me and two similarly soft pals in a more ‘survivalist’ state of mind, we are sent off to skim the tree tops on a sky-high zipwire. Physically exhilarated, we are then posed a number of brain challenges which force us to think laterally about our situation.

Team spirit elevated, Patsy gives us very basic tools to set ourselves up for the night. I cheat with a camping flint to start a fire. A piece of Patsy eccentricity that has been bothering me all day — he’s been picking bits of sheep wool out of barbed wire and stuffing it in his pocket as we walk — suddenly makes sense. It is perfect kindling to get the flames jumping.

The shelter is less easy to bluff. In the event of a ‘forced bivouac’ — sleeping outdoors without a tent, to you and me — this is the first thing to be sorted.

We get the basics assembled, a large stick laid like a crossbar across two branches and a lean-to of layered pine fronds. I feel like Bob the Builder without my little digger, carving out a catch-drain in a semi-circle with a stick to lead groundwater around and away from our precious shelter. Digging the latrine downwind is, mercifully, someone else’s job.

All of this is thirsty work. I am deluded from a childhood of reading Famous Five books into thinking that a nearby babbling brook should quench that problem. Not necessarily, warns Patsy. Rotting ferns or bracken can easily poison water. The test for this is to rub a few drops of the water on your lips. If it stings, you’re in trouble. ‘You first,’ I think.

“The Indians say that running water always runs free,” says Patsy. “But not if there is a dead sheep upstream it doesn’t.” Lovely. In the end, we establish that the best way to get water is to dig a hole in the ground, put a plastic bag in the bottom (there’s never a shortage of plastic bags blowing about the countryside, sadly), put a stone on top and let water gather overnight.

Rainwater is reasonably clean, and if needs must, boiling lake water twice is an option. Little tip: A twig with the bark scraped off, thrown into water as it boils, helps draw impurities and the smoky smell from it.

Food is an easy trout from a lake, scraped out in a stream and baked over a frame of sticks but, if we’re honest, we’d probably all die in a post-apocalyptic landscape. Surely the wildlife would be wiped out? In the event, nettles and dandelion boiled into tea is good for hunger pangs but that won’t sustain us long.

I’m still not confident I would survive long in the open air — Patsy left us for five minutes to sit and meditate on the sounds of the wood and I was freaked out by a cow moaning in the distance — but I think I can do something about the food.

Back in Dublin, I look into the GIY movement (Grow It Yourself). We rely so much now on air-freighted goods that are easily held hostage to random volcanic eruptions. Gardener Peter Donegan hosts groups of novice growers at his home in north Dublin. On a bright April morning, I head up there with the knowledge that I have killed every one of those ‘living herb’ plants I’ve ever bought in the supermarket.

Peter relieves me of my plant-homicide guilt. “Those things are force-grown and leggy,” he says, “They are not meant to survive beyond a few days.”

Other things I learn from Peter: seeds have a shelf-life of a year, but you can freeze them just like a bag of peas; I can grow lots of things in my tiny courtyard that never sees a shaft of light (solar panels work on cloudy days — so does photosynthesis); mint is invasive and should always get its own pot.

He also makes me squeeze a fistful of wet compost in one hand, and a dry fistful in the other. “People are afraid to get their hands dirty, but you have to get a feel for what is overwatering, and what is underwatering, the two biggest killers.” It’s like CSI — Cabbage Slaughter Investigation.

Nails duly dirtied, we set about separating and pinching seedlings, planting potatoes and onions, rocket and runner beans, beetroot and pumpkins, sorrel and strawberries.

One month later at home, the onions and potatoes are sprouting, the beans are running wild and the mint is trying to take over the world.

Of course, when it comes to really fending for ourselves, the best question to ask is: What would Darina Allen do? She had an ‘eat seasonally, eat locally’ approach long before it was fashionable. Her most recent book, Forgotten Skills of Cooking, suggests that growing our own beans might only be the start of it. Only two generations ago, Irish people knew not only how to produce their own food but how to kill it, cook it, make shoes and pianos from it. (I may have made that last bit up.)

I’m not up for making my own sausages — I don’t exactly have room for a pig — but I have a go at churning my own butter. Butter is like dust in our house, it ends up on everything, so it might be a good idea to have a Plan B in case creameries go out of business.

As per Darina’s step-by-step instructions, I whisk cream until it collapses and separates into buttermilk and fat. There is lots of faffing about with iced water and then comes the fun bit — squeezing the remaining buttermilk out of the fat. I thought the wet-compost test was bad but this is gross; slimy and sticky and I end up with butter behind one of my contact lenses. I now understand why Darina always wears those famous spectacles.

In the end, I’m not sure my finished product is right. It looks a bit pale and sickly, and doesn’t smell very nice. Perhaps my hands were too warm. Perhaps I cheated by not getting the cream from my own cow. I just have to hope that in the event of the apocalypse, Kerrygold is spared.

– Susan Daly

Irish Independent

The GIY Rathgar Terenure Talk

 

I got an email in some time ago from a friend of mine. Séan wanted me to do a talk on growing your own. He is a member of a new movement call GIY – grow it yourself – that seems to be sweeping the nation.

I had heard about GIY but I didn’t really know a vast amount of exact facts about it being honest. The talk I did was Monday, just gone, April 27th

The GIY movement was set up to encourage people to get together to share expertise in food growing.As we have become increasingly urbanised we have lost a lot of the knowledge and skills that our grandparents had in food growing, storing and cooking. GIYIreland aims to tap into our desire to reduce food miles and to produce and consume organic food by organising groups at a local level so that people can learn those old skills from each other and connect with like-minded individuals. GIY Ireland has charitable status.

As regards the group I was to speak to Séan sent me this wee note….

The Rathgar/Terenure GIY group was set up at a meeting in the Rathgar Junior School (RJS), 62 Grosvenor Road in February 2010. We have a mix of allotment growers, garden owners and those with just a balcony to grow on. Most of the group are beginners but there are some experienced members and we hope to bring in experts to share their knowledge and expertise. Our group numbers about 30-40 very enthusiastic amatuers and we would welcome more members.

In this case [and in short] I spoke about how I used to grow plants under my bed when I was 4 all the way up to today…. and that pretty much not a whole lot has changed if you elminate 20 odd years of decking, cobble and garden design fads. In that same breath horticulture has only changed in how it is presented, packaged and sold…. the way in which it is done, for fun, shall never alter. And in those four/ five lines [compressed] that took an extremely refreshing [one member commented after] a little over 45 minutes 😉

I must admit I had just left the coombe hospital and hadn’t eaten. But the reception I got was amazing. The appreciation shown and the wee gift given and beautifully wrapped left me breathless. Sincerely, it was an absolute honour to speak to such a fine group gentleman and ladies.

The format then is that the group sit in ‘pods’ [a small group] and discuss a specific topic helping each other out with their star bit of advice. The pod I was in ended up discussing composting. I was blown away…. but as I later answered in th Q & A [the final part of the meet] everything, not living anymore must decompose – the only thing that may vary is the preparation and how you do it. As long as your smiling at the end 🙂

GIY Rathgar/ Terenure meet on the last Monday of the month in the RJS. For more info email: dalysmith [at] iol [dot] ie or phone Sean on [vodafone prefix]6369636

*other images of GIY talk

Donabate Allotments

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I was talking to Trevor Sargeant at another gig. Trying to find a time that suited us both to meet we settled on meeting at the allotments in Donabate on Saturday morning. However which way it happened we missed each other.

I took a walk around anyway and I have to say I was very impressed with the enthusiasm that was literally brimming out there…. phenomenal 😉

Some were just getting started, others had just short of set up home there…. I’m looking forward to heading back in a few months time to see the transformation form what at the moment is just the beginning of what I can only say is something amazing.

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Gardening…. It’s Kids Stuff

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You may remember I was asked to do a gardening class at the La Leche League of Ireland annual conference. On Saturday 6th March I travelled to Maynooth Co. Kildare to do just that.

I know I’ll be doing a gardening course soon, but, there are some obvious major differences in the populus breakdown of those attending on March 20th.

Most can drive cars. Legally. On a motorway. At speeds of up to 75km per hour. Some will shave and in general I will assume most have their house not in a tree.The class mates on this occasion where very much the opposite. 😉

If I did have a plan…. it went straight out the window within the first 10 seconds. The general idea was to grow some seeds. To get the hands dirty. To do so inside and to have some fun with gardening in mind.

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In a previous class the children had decorated old glass jars and these were used instead of pots. Compost was felt and softened, hardened and softened again. It was stuffed into jars and emptied. The seeds were opened and compared; the large broad bean seed versus the speckle of dust like lettuce seed. Funnily enough, most of the boys chose the big broad bean while the girls chose chives. So much more practical and logic they decided.

All in all and in just under 2 hours the class was completed. Some asked for extra advice on how to care for theirs… others already knew. My only fault, in hindsight, was the fact that I was an Arsenal fan and that didn’t go down so well with the boys…

The jars were sealed up ready for some to take their seeds on a long journey to their new home. Either or it was gardening and it was great fun. I just hope they enjoyed it as much as I did. 🙂

Many thanks to Joan Broe and Jennifer Foxe for being so nice. Really appreciated 🙂

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A Gardening Course …?

update 13th March 2010: One space has become available… pop your name down below, email or text me if your interested 🙂

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Over the last weeks I’ve been researching chatting with some friends about gardening and the usual how to bits of outdoor advice.

From those conversations came the suggestion that I should do a crash course of some format in ‘gardening‘.

I did teach horticulture and courses before. But this class request or what one should get at the end of it is to be slightly different as those urging me to do so are not horticulturalists – moreso they have a window ledge/ balcony or only wish to garden in small amounts and stints.

The outcome…? Either a one day course in gardening at my homestead or a 1.5 hour evening course in Dublin City Centre over a 3/4 week period. The majority in this case decided on a one day workshop.

To tailor make this session to the people and their wants I am proposing the following:

  • a one day crash course from 9.30am – 3.30pm
  • The first day/ date is Saturday March 20th
  • cost of materials only to be covered set at €60 per person
  • you take home what you make on the day
  • lunch will be included
  • to take place in Ballyboughal [it’s near Swords/ North Dublin 😉 ]
  • numbers will be limited to a maximum 8 people only

What we will achieve on the day:

  • gardening basics
  • how to grow your own from seed
  • growing plants on a budget
  • window ledge balcony gardening
  • looking after your plants
  • planting your planters
  • growing in a confined space
  • not enough hours in the day/ the 10 minute gardener
  • herb and salad kitchen gardening

this email just came in and sums it up nicely….

Basically: this is for the [wo]man, parent, adult, child who wants to do a bit of green living but not farming. Enough to have summer salads, fresh herbs, maybe even some fruit – at the same time logic enough that you’ll watch footie/ daytime tv and go out rather than hug trees. You’d like a bit of green, you need a place to start but without getting bamboozled – and let it grow from here….

The idea is simple enough and if numbers run over/ demand is great enough/someone approaches me with a suggestion I’ll do a second class/ consider those options then.

If you would like to do this class – or – have any queries or suggestions

  • pop your name down as a comment below
  • email me info[at]doneganlandscaping[dot]com
  • telephone me on [vodafone prefix – and then] 6594688

What do you think …..?

UPDATE:

If numbers fill up for the first group of 8…. assuming there is demand enough – I will do another day course. Put simply I’ll let the names spill over to a second group of 8 and we’ll call it from there. Crawling versus walking and all that cliché stuff 😉

Once again – your course/ class made better by your suggestions…. pop them in comment box below 🙂

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