First Steps Towards Food Security

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Time to introduce another venture and realm of exploration.. growing food for the local community.

This growing season was intended to be a taster.. to explore the possibility of establishing a CSA scheme [community supported agriculture] in 2013. We wanted to see how much food we could grow, how much labour was involved, and what would be the main obstacles.

This is a summary of our findings so far:

First observation was relating to site. The soil was very high in clay content, making it difficult to work. In wet weather the ground is water-logged, a few days of sun bakes the clay into a solid crust. We added several trailer loads of very old chicken manure from a very generous farmer based near Slane, and rotovated it into the footprint of the poly-tunnel and the raised beds. The raised beds were constructed hastily and without proper consideration, resulting in a resurgence of the grass which was originally growing there. In hindsight, we should have mulched the beds or completely covered them for several weeks before sowing anything into them, but time was against us and it was already late in the season when we eventually got around to building the beds, which incidentally are not far from the traditional lazy-bed design.. we used this method for the potatoes, with mixed results. Again the grass did prove a problem, growing from the bottom of the up-turned sods and up between them. I will go into more detail on this again.

We wrote off a lot of the choked seedlings in the grassy raised beds and concentrated on erecting the poly-tunnel when it was clear that they were a lost cause. A hard-earned lesson that will be well-noted. There was some survivors to note among the casualties, including leeks and peas. They seem to be not so attractive to slugs and able to handle the water-logged soil. We immediately sowed a few more trays of late leeks to fill in the spaces. They are experimental since it isn’t normal to plant leeks at this time, but hopefully they are large enough to weather the winter when it comes. We also did a few trays of spring onions, since they mature so quickly and can easily be ready before the end of the growing season. At the time of writing the leeks have just been planted out last week, and the spring onions will go in this week. To combat the weed problem, we have experimented with a system using newspaper as a mulch, with rotted manure as a dressing to keep it down.

The poly-tunnel was finally completed over a month ago, already very late to be transplanting our root-bound selection of tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes, pumpkins,peppers and basil. Nearly all these plants had already started flowering and were crammed into a tiny propagation greenhouse which Stuie had attached to the south end of his mobile home. I will describe the story of our tunnel in another post.

I should perhaps explain that this little joint-venture is a collaboration of myself, my old friend and neighbour, Stuie, who recently acquired the use of his mother’s 6 acre field, and agreed to let us fence of a 15 by 30 metre corner of it, and our mutual friend, Marcus, who approached us with the idea of growing food for sale in local markets. We have divided the cost of materials, seeds and other expenses evenly between us, the labour is shared as and when each of us is able to spare the time. Marcus works from 6am to 1pm in a full-time job and joins us most afternoons. Stuie has picked up some carpentry work recently so hasn’t been around as much as he’d like to, I am juggling several hats, but manage to get up to the site most days. We would all love to be able to spend more time in our budding veg. plot, but needs must. with the lessons learned this year we can hopefully produce much more next year with a lot less effort. We will have a lot less to do in terms of infrastructure and ground-work, since the bed-building, manure-adding, tunnel-building and fencing was the bulk of our labour input.

More lessons..

Another revelation was the threat posed by our slimy friend..the slug..in all it’s wonderful shapes and colours, it has been responsible for more damage than all the other pests and problems put together. We have been told that this year was a particularly bad one for slugs, with all the rain, but they seem to be at the top of every Irish growers most-unwanted list.

Slug Control- The Options

We have tried everything we heard of and more to minimise the slug-impact on our plot, some measures faring better than others, but none a complete success.

The first and most-widely-used control is the slug pellet. Marcus managed to find an organic version that promised only slugs would be affected, but reports in various publications citing evidence of risk to birds and other wildlife that eat slugs was enough to put me right off them.

My permaculture experience told me that we didn’t have a slug problem, we had a duck deficiency.. what old Bill was trying to get across was that nature will find a balance if we leave it alone. Our huge slug population is partly the result of a dwindling bird/hedgehog/frog population. So it is our intention to excavate a pond as soon as possible, which we hope will encourage slug-loving critters into the area.. and to acquire us some ducks as soon as possible.

Incidentally, we tried beer traps with some success, although I found myself drinking more beer just to end up with the dregs, and I was wary of attracting even more slugs from afar when they heard there was beer on tap at our plot. we also tried concocting a vile brew of dead slug tea. The idea is to propagate a parasitic nematode that lives on the slugs. to do this you collect about 30 slugs, leave them in a sealed bucket with a few inches of water for 2 weeks, until the slugs perish, but the nematode multiply! then you dilute the concoction into 10 litres of water and spray your beds with it. In theory this increases the population of nematodes, which infest the slug and eat it from the inside.. trust me you don’t feel sorry for the slugs after seeing your beloved seedlings massacred.

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So where are we now??

The tunnel is finally producing.. courgettes, tomatoes, lots of basil, some coriander, pumpkins are appearing too, beans are not doing great but are bearing some pods. Here are some photos..

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These photos are taking ages to upload.. the resolution is too high, so I’ll take some more at a lower resolution and post them later.

Comments,questions and advice always welcome.. thanks for reading..

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About microfarmer

On a mission.. to share my passion.. for growing pure food in a thriving soil.. other related passions include.. agroforestry, woodcraft, natural materials, alternative/ appropriate tech., travelling and learning, food and herbal medicine. Working co-operatively to create meaningful livliehoods and innovative solutions
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