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Garden Advice

catterpillar cabbage (2)As I type this weeks article the door off my outside room is open and I am wondering on the one hand if and how the weather reports for the last five days have been so far off the radar. It was due to become Noahs ark type weather but somehow or other a few short down pours, a sort of weather Gods mini-tantrum if you may, came and very swiftly passed. The importance of this to me and any garden enthusiast is of serious importance.

Last week I had tonnes of soil to shift, by hand, well, with a bucket shovel. Of which my upper body carried. And when I say tonnes, I mean twelve of them. Suffice to say, my left arm is at present the size of a bullock.

I have been reading back over what I have written on my garden blog for the last few days and noted my reference yet again to attire for the great outdoors and yes I hear you holler back at me

There is no such thing as bad weather – just the wrong clothing

But if you have ever lifted a bag of saturated and wet bagged compost you’ll have a rough of idea of what a difference this could make to ones day….. alone from a just keeping the place clean and trying to sweep up mud, as versus dry clay or from a muscle development perspective – have you ever carried eleven litres of milk ? Then try carrying eleven litres of powder milk. A bit of a weight difference ?

But within this there is a point where the methodology of the construction of the raised vegetable beds in which the soil was filled, has to be of extreme behind the scenes intelligence to be able to support the weight from inside forcing against the timber. And this is the point where all of the you get what you pay for type cliché’s come to mind, my favourite of which is

cheaper can often be more tearful than cheerful

Whilst I did touch on it in last weeks article I have yet to rummage through the seed catalogues and chose the crops I want to grow here for the seasons of lower temperature that are en route. I was stalled in this department because my hens, now touching three years old are slowly progressing to pet only status. Personally, I simply couldn’t shorten their tenure, if you understand me, but the eggs resulting from their stay here are lessening. In conversation with my good friend Paddy we found a solution.

Paddy has what I can only describe as a bird sanctuary. He also has twelve chicks and a Mom that need to be re-homed. It will be a straight swap. But once again, I am back to the point where construction of the area in which the hens will be housed will make life very easy for me. To side track mildly, I don’t, personally, understand the wee triangle type all-in-one hen-house set ups. They may suit fine the domestic, with three garden walls scenario, but when like me you live in an Emmerdale farm type affair – where the dogs keep the cats away and the cats keep the….

All Gods Creatures gotta place in the choir some sing low and some….

Again, it is horses for courses and one suit does not fit all. Funnily enough, outside of my own garden and fowl, I have two one-off hen areas to build within the next month, something that in my eleven years in the landscaping business, has never happened at all.

To the photosynthetic side of my garden, my garlic has developed some rust on the almost crozier like stems and are just about to burst into flower. I can’t wait for that one, but as soon as they pass I’m hoping to plant an autumn/ winter crop.

My apple trees were weighted to the point of leaning over almost at a forty five degree angle and the pear trees I can happily boast are quite simply in abundance.

Outside of that there’s not much else really to brag about. August running into September is a bit of a no mans lands type month for me and it is here I refer to gardeners hindsight in that forward planning is everything. Anything I have growing at the moment was planted months ago and I’m literally just waiting for the lettuce to bolt and the onion stems to die back so that I can plant something else in their place.

If you do want your greens on your table come Christmas, now is the time to act. In the meantime I’m going to go one step ahead and get myself ready for moving some of my trees. Digging holes and moving soil…. again.

Contact Peter Donegan

The Gardener, originally published in The Tribesman week Monday 29th August

Homemade Chicken Run

I had written this post on my chicken house and run in April ’09 some time ago which gives better details.

Anything else just leave a comment or you can contact me in the following ways:

Hens: Diana Missing

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For those that don’t know. I have had 4 hens called The Supremes. Diana obviously [pictured above], Jean, Cindy and Mary.

I was intending to put a post out about Diana. She’d been brooding for some while on an estimated 20 eggs and would not get off them. 3-5 days later I had to make a decision. The problem is the eggs kind of slow cook and one simply can’t eat them. The other problem is she hadn’t been eating.

These is the footage [streamed lived] just after my first attempt to move her. As you will see I was unsuccessful.

I eventually did move her but, I knew she wasn’t happy. When later I let Diana and The Supremes out for a walk, she just stayed on her own. These scenes show the last recorded sighting of Diana…

Yesterday evening I notified Ballyboughal’s twitter account. But with only 5 people in Ballyboughal on twitter, it was always going to be a tough ask.

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Add to that the fact that Ballyboughal.net, the only blog in the village, was down.

There are reports of one or two young ladies a little upset over the matter. The local ladies [Moms] did go out for a walk as soon as the news broke and searched literally high and low. As of today Diana still has not been found.

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Irish Times 31st May 2010

I got a call last week from Conor. He was doing this article on Grow Your Own and asked for some thoughts.

To the pieces I know that I have written that may refer to my quotes below.

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Grow your own kits cheaper than B and Q. I think it’s a logic alternate piece. There are many products I have reviewed that I purchased from b&q. This just happened to be one I thought was a bit not for me.

This is one post on which compost to buy. If of course one wishes to buy miracle grow compost, which comes with a feed in it, plant in your bedding plants – which have a feed in them and then purchase a liquid or granular feed…

The ultimate guide to chickens. There are hen houses out there that do cost more than others. But if I see one more person tell me that my hens know by instinct to not eat my lettuce, radishes and prize roses will eat weeds and that grow your own hens will save me money…. i’ll implode. €1500 plus is a lot of eggs.

And as a buy the way I also did a talk, quite recently, for one of GIY groups.

The pieces I point out above are just some. There are many others in there. You may have to search within the blog. My comments are in bold below but I do recommend you read the entire original Pricewatch article by Conor Pope.

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Pay Less For Your Greens

The Grow it Yourself movement means gardens everywhere are being taken over by fruit and veg – but growers take note – there’s no need to spend a fortune, writes CONOR POPE

IT IS A WARM sunny afternoon and Trevor Sargent, the former Green Party leader and recently resigned Minister of State with responsibility for Food, is covered in bees. Since he stepped down from his ministerial post in controversial circumstances earlier this year he has become an amateur bee-keeper and has proved so adept at managing his hive that the bees now need a second home.

He is in the process of relocating some of them when Pricewatch interrupts him to talk gardening.

Along with the bees, Sargent has a kitchen garden which has grown rapidly in the last two years. While it is hardly a surprise to learn of this ardent Green’s green fingers, the amount of fruit and vegetables he is cultivating on his small plot of land – no bigger than 7 by 13 metres – is quite remarkable.

This year he has potatoes, onions, leeks, shallots, garlic, beets, chard, kale, cabbage, four types of beans, lettuces, radishes, apples, blackcurrants, plums and a cornucopia of other fruits and vegetables growing in his patch. It has even been floodlit and laid with concrete paths to allow him to garden day and night and in good weather and bad.

For Sargent the motivation is not about saving money but about “appreciating what goes into making the food that appears on our supermarket shelves and understanding the difficulties our growers face. I don’t know how I’d measure the financial cost of the hours I spend in the garden in the middle of the night but it is cheaper than a psychotherapist and keeps me sane. I find the weeding relaxing and something of a therapy after the frustrations of politics,” he says.

Sargent is part of a growing army of Grow It Yourself (GIY) advocates in Ireland and as the movement grows so does the amount of cash we spend on herb, fruit and vegetable plants. It has increased by 40 per cent over the last eight years. The estimated spend on such plants in the gardening year between April 2009 and March 2010 was around €14 million. Spending on sheds, glasshouses growing tunnels and the like increased by 38 per cent to €58 million from 2007 to 2010.

Not wanting to be left out, Pricewatch hopped on the bandwagon earlier this year and we planted our own potatoes in a barrel. In keeping with a long-standing Irish tradition, the planting took place on St Patrick’s Day. Incidentally, this tradition first took root because in the 19th century, the Catholic Church distrusted potatoes because there was no mention of them in the Bible and they grew underground so were obviously closer to the devil. Not wanting to incur the wrath of God or the priest, the peasants sowed their spuds on holy days and sprinkled them with holy water, for all the good it did.

Our seed potatoes cost less then a fiver, the bag in which they are growing cost the same, the compost was another tenner which takes the total cost of bringing our crop to table at around €20. We could, in fact, buy considerably more potatoes for that sum than we’re likely to get, but to look at it from a purely money-saving perspective is to miss the point, says radio and TV presenter and ardent grow your own enthusiast, Ella McSweeney.

“You’re not going to save money in the first year but if you set yourself up properly it is conceivable that you will ultimately cut your costs by growing your own vegetables,” she says. She cautions newbies like us against rushing out and buying all the gear needed to set up a full-scale kitchen garden on day one.

“The more you spend the higher your expectations and the more likely you are to feel like you have failed if things don’t go right from the start.”

She advises people to start with the easy things – lettuce, radishes – and points out that the key is to grow the things that you like eating. The other key is the soil. “If you get your soil right then everything will happen but if you get it wrong then it will be a lot of frustration.” She says people can source well-rotted manure from farms and stables for free or half nothing.

All might not be rosy in the GIY garden, however. Peter Donegan has a landscaping business in north Co Dublin and writes an engaging blog on all things gardening. While he is 100 per cent supportive of people who decide to grow their own vegetables, he expresses grave concern at the rampant commercialisation of the sector and wonders why many of the GIY advocates, those with the loudest voices, are not warning people against spending big money on fertilisers and kits which are entirely unnecessary and ridiculously overpriced.

He cites the example of a grow your own kit which sells in B&Q for €6.99. “For that you get three small pots, three handfuls of compost and a couple of seeds. Given the fact that a couple of handfuls of compost cost virtually nothing – five cent tops – and you can buy 1,000 seeds for no more than €4 and use jam jars as pots, the total cost of a DIY kit could be no more than 10 cent.”

Donegan points out that there are scores of companies trying to cash in on the grow your own movement by selling bags of supposedly enriched fertiliser at sky-high prices, chicken runs for €1,500 and glass houses for even more again.

“Gardening as I knew it when I was five years old was compost-less. It was a handful of muck, sieved and at the back of it all just good craic. But now there is so much claptrap paraphernalia out there now that people are being conned into buying and no-one seems to be shouting stop.”

While McSweeney agrees that we don’t need to be spending much on getting off the ground, she does look beyond the finances and says growing your own gives you “an enormous amount of respect for what you buy in the shops and it gives you a huge insight into what it takes to grow crops. You learn all the time and it is possibly the most satisfying thing of all.”

For his part, Sargent is critical of the “purist approach” supermarkets adopt to vegetables. “Their insistence on vegetables conforming to a standard size for example leads to a huge amount of waste.” He also bemoans the fact that a lot of the stuff cannot be bought from Irish growers in Irish shops. Only 15 per cent of the onions sold in Ireland are actually grown here so if you want to be sure of eating Irish onions your best bet is to grow them.

A lot of vegetables which can and are grown in Ireland never make it on to supermarket shelves because the big retailers and wholesalers prefer to deal with international suppliers who can guarantee a constant year-round flow of information so while scallions grow handily enough in Ireland, the big boys prefer to ship it in from Mexico where they are produced for a pittance by workers paid peanuts. “Wholesalers would have to shift their gaze to smaller Irish producers,” says Sargent. “But they seem reluctant to do that but it is what is going to have to happen at some point if we are ultimately to have food security.”

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the ultimate guide to chick-hens

big smile...

big smile...

Since I last wrote about ‘The Supremes’, things have really settled down. In the last ‘snappy’ post, the day they arrived, the set-up wasn’t exactly complete.

the complete hen runhomemade chicken hen perchchicken hen feature old tree stump

  • The chicken wire I got wasn’t 6 foot tall [more 3′ approximately] and I only had enough to go once around. I completed the upper level with that green tennis court kind of mesh… [see pics above].
  • I made a little perch for them using the pole off a broken sweeping brush. And I threw in an old lump of a tree stump as a sort of feature. They use both to sit upon.

I know that the hens food can be expensive; [depending on what you buy] AND as a result of that…. I now realise the amount of S*** one can be sold and how the products and prices are figured out is almost beyond me. In some cases, disgraceful to be very honest. It almost makes me a little angry. Bad bandwagon jumping where nurturing and encouragement should be given….

To that…. I’ve seen such varient & useless paraphernalia; most of which I can only describe as ‘dog kennels on stilts’ and all sorts of fancy bags of ‘super dooper hen feed’ and honestly, 99% of it is all crap. FACT. Something I’d hope the likes of Richard Corrigan will point out on his show…. ? Whats worse is a lot of these bandwagon jumping guys are getting in touch with me…. ? A lot of them don’t even have chickens!! Some have even taken the notes from my blog…. hmmmm 😯

It’s a ‘family’ way. It’s a way of living. It has F*** all to do with this word as the media constantly suggests it does [and as does The RTE/ Corrigan show]. Not when a shed costs €360. A good ‘buy right & buy one once’ shed by the way. In my honest experience – anyone who has hens, fowl, chickens…. etc… [and to all of the press out there….] It is cheaper to buy a tray of eggs, for the first few years at least. If you do write anything else – you’ve never lived the good life and know nothing about it.

feed for hens barleyhen water feederhen feeder

  • Back to the nice business… the big bag of barley 40kg costs about €10 in a good old style honest farm supplies shop. This and the kitchen green waste will feed them. They absolutely love potatoes and the peels…. but not so much carrots it seems 🙂 I might change this to a bag of wheat when that runs out.
  • The water container [white kind of upside down bucket – see pics above with a red bottom trim] is only for baby chicks so they don’t fall in. Any bucket that will hold water will do. Even I can be sold ‘stuff’ that is unnecessary…..
  • The steel feeder is necessary if you have a daily job… but keep it inside so as to keep the food dry – otherwise it turns to slop.
  • The four hens cost me €12 each. That will give you a good guide on how much to pay.
hen-eggs-just-layed

...all this for an egg

And after all of that… and just 11 days after arrival…… I got my first egg 🙂

There was a bit more of a hullabulooo in the run today [see pics below]. I stepped in to see the ‘nest’ being prepared. Poor thing didn’t know what was happening…. but all is good. The other guys were faffing around like…. like, well headless chickens I suppose… 😉

I can now walk in and pet them. The dogs have grown accustomed to them. It has however been a learning curve and a journey of sorts; yet,  one I am glad to have taken part in and I do love dearly, still. I always have

Most of my materials came for free… or I had them already. Maybe in a year or 2 it will pay for itself…. but not this year. But then, I am happy. I am 99.9% of the time a very happy chappy and that’s something no amount of money can buy 😆

the other hens want to see whats going onhens perparing to layhen making the nest

Was it worth the money? every penny! Would I recommend it? 110% Whatever you do and however you choose to do it…. have fun, smile and above all enjoy…. I promise you, for the first egg alone, it’s worth it!!

this video is courtesy of my friend Blaithín.

All my weblog articles of hens [so far] are here: