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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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Irish Mail On Sunday 23rd May 2010

Yesterday, Eugene Higgins of The Irish Mail On Sunday did a great Piece on The Garden Group with the tagline How a Bloom maverick is taking bloggers on tours of our ‘secret’ gardens and titled it A www.walk on the wild side

The main picture is of Dena [@curlydena], Mom Vena [@VenaW] and Dad Andrew Walker. [And to think I spent so long brushing my hair that day 😀 ] The other two images are courtesy Jennifer Farley Photography [@laughing_lion]. I’ve asked Eugene for the main text of the piece and will post it below as soon as I get it. For now…..

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Irish Independent March 3rd 2010

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Wednesday 3rd March was a nice day. I’d had a really great chat with Susan Daly over the phone last week and awoke to a clatter of texts and messages all singing Carly Simon on the answering machine 😉 Great to have humorous friends…

I must say it is a great article. Extremely well written by Susan and it was an absolute honour to speak with her. One of life’s really nice people.

For those that didn’t get to do so, one can read the article in full here. Apart from a sexy gardener erm….. 😆 also featured are two more of lifes really nice people kieran Murphy and Pat O’Mahony.

Thanks also to John Mc Williams for the photograph used above.

‘People ask why I don’t charge for my expertise — where’s the fun in that?

Wednesday March 03 2010

“I’m not stupid with the euro in my pocket, but some of the things I most enjoy I do for free. “Recently I took a group of people around the war memorial gardens in Islandbridge. “My wife made country apple pie and we had coffee in flasks, and we have another trip coming up to Ireland’s Eye. “But what people kept bouncing back to me afterwards was: Why didn’t you charge for it?

“I don’t get that. I competed at the Irish Conker Championships last year just for fun. “It’s like I won’t put a shop on my blog (doneganlandscaping.com), because that’s not why I do it.

“I’d say 50pc of the phone calls I get are for free gardening advice, and I’ve been on the garden side of things on the Niall Mellon trips. “I’m going to sound like a martyr, but for me, it’s just not the point of life to always have to tie in everything you do to paying the bills.”

The Guardian Newspaper – The New Carbon Hypocrites…?

Today I got a message noting the guardians coverage of a nice story

World’s coral reefs could disintegrate by 2100

Researchers at Carnegie Institution say corals are being overwhelmed by rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere

This is the original post for The Guardian by Ian Sample, science correspondent, in San Diego…. It even has some lovely photos 😉

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I read the piece. And a fine written article it is if I may say so. I was impressed. That was until I saw their ads for their online shopping parked right beside it…..

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Yes that’s right…. you can read about the CO2 destruction of the coral reefs whilst drinking your coffee from a mug that has been posted and delivered to you from the UK…. ? Aparently….

It reveals the worlds most severe carbon footprint offenders

Erm…………? What’s the word I’m looking for……?

I live in Ballyboughal. So it’s plane to Dublin Airport. Then to the sorting office…somewhere…. then to Balbriggan and then to my house…… ?

I’ve spoke about green ethics here before… but this one simply stinks of anything that’ll make a few bob being very honest…. that is unless the guardian are going to have an organic corn fed carrier pidgeon deliver this mug right to my door….. ?

Wouldn’t it be nice if the Guardian Eco section simply had a sign there saying buy local as possible…. ?

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Irish Gardening Online…?

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I remember reading an article posted online by good friend and nursery man Pat Fitzgerald. It was about trying to promote the gardening industry. Here’s a little taster of what Pat had to say….

…we collect last years good condition gardening magazines and make some beneficial use of them instead of hoarding them. Why not distribute these magazines into as many hair dressers, doctors, chiropodists, dentists, nail bars, beauty salon waiting rooms as will be agreeable to accept them…

Before I go any further, Pat does say himself that it is…

a possibly nutty, naive or optimistic idea

I was talking about this over the weekend with some friends of mine who work in the media industry. It wasn’t that we were laughing or being disrespectful in any way to Pat or the idea… far from it. In fact the point that seemed to be made was more is this as good as it gets for an industry that I have another 30 years odd to work in. I shall rephrase…. Is this what the amenity horticultural sector is resigned to in order to promote itself…. I know for sure the farming industry would never be seen even suggesting this nor the building federation…. isn’t that right Tom Parlon ?

I am fully aware that there exists ‘industry bodies’ but whether they will ever chose to form an opinion and be perceived as industry leaders is possibly a land very far away from here. I guess in that, what I am trying to say it that my next door neighbour could not name me one garden related association…. I think that’s a fair point.

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To there I suppose one could turn to government bodies…. but the green party aren’t really a green party anymore and being that I have never received even two bits of encouragement by way of payment acknowledgement for my role in online green sector….. I am beginning to wonder who’s the promoter of who and what on earth I am doing this for. But, like I said before it’s not like I get paid to write this Irish Green Blog. But then again, it was never about the money.

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I hear friends of mine calling their children the facebook generation…. I saw myself last week reading a blog post on generating electricity I also found myself reading some gardening articles on different things to try out in the garden. There are literally blogs to cover every subject available…. but very few in Ireland on green related matters. There are people who have set up websites that sell gardening related products. A quick google search will show just how many…. But that said I still prefer the peronal touch. I also know that every gardener in the country can supply me with plants and drop out just to make sure they’re doing alright after the transaction. I also like to know a person before I buy anything… but again thats just me.

promoting....

But with very few Irish television programmes dedicated to gardening [if at all any] on the production line and what seems like also a few less publications [particularly magazines] dedicated to the horticultural industry I guess I am beginning to wonder if the follow on effect will be that of a demise or at least a fall in interest in the great outdoors. Being honest, not even I can get a gig writing about gardens weekly… or monthly for that matter.

On the flip side… it is very easy to point fingers. And this is not about figuring out who to blame. It is the realisation that something should be done. Needs to be done. Has to be done. And now.

When I look at the online side of things I see very few Irish gardeners with an online presence. I see very few weblogs. I see very little of a presence on even something so huge such as twitter. Recently I found it impossible to come up with 20 Irish green people using the tool [properly or at all]. It’s not like I keep it a secret. I have posted and explained on every online tool I use and I even publish my statistics.

the stone age...

Considering it is the year 2010…. one would think with the upcoming Irish Blog Awards that it would be possible to have a green/ eco/ gardening category….? I think I may know of four weblogs that could enter… but nothing more. Put in that context what can I say.

I’d like to think that the various efforts such as the garden guest sessions and of more recent times the garden group would/ could and did stir the interest a little. It seems to…. surprising?

The reality is I will continue to do my instructional gardening videos and posts. I’ll continue to do so of my own time and money. I’d like to think Irish garden related companies gave me some support… To put that in context…. Recently I could not get a company to send me some products for review – although they did samples…. just not for review??? I explained I would buy it in the shop and review it anyway [ 🙄 or do I use this one 😆 ]. which is what I have done to date. Maybe some feel I may actually be honest or that its better not to have it mentioned, photographed and video’d…? And for the record I have never received any products for free for this blog. Not even a book. Not a complaint. Just so you know.

The question that remains is…. should the Irish Horticultural Industry invest all of the resources available to it and go place those magazines in the doctors surgery?

where do we go from here....?

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