At the meeting of Fermanagh Gardening Society (FGS) at the Killyhevlin Hotel on Tuesday, February 21, more than 90 members and visitors heard from John and Jan Corrie from Drumhilla Garden, Manger, Belleek.
Their subject was ‘Growing vegetables in Fermanagh’. They came to live there in 2017, following retirement, and the half-acre site has three raised beds in the polytunnel, and a further seven raised beds outside.
Crops are rotated around these beds to avoid diseases building up. One crop in the same place will continue to deplete the soil of the same nutrients.
They are challenged by their heavy clay soil, but they do everything they can to improve it through making their own compost in bays, known as ‘the New Zealand method’.
Beech leaves are sourced as well as spent mushroom compost, and a friendly local farmer can supply farmyard manure. They have also been known to source seaweed from Rossnowlagh beach and grow their own comfrey and borage.
Bokashi bins are used to compost the fresh food from the kitchen. It is diluted 1 part in 10 parts of water.
John said that in the Victorian kitchen gardens of the past, they would spend 20 years building their soil, and thereafter it just required maintenance.
The great advantage of a polytunnel is that it extends their normal growing season of six by two months, by one month at either end of the six.
All vegetables are sown indoors, and the previous day John and Jan had been planting onions.
The vegetables that they would sow outdoors directly are carrots, parsnips, suede and turnips.
For someone starting out to experiment with growing vegetables, they would recommend starting with potatoes, onions, garlic and peppers.
Although they need to water in the polytunnel with rainwater harvested from sheds and the carport, they tend to leave the outside to itself, and find that works.
A few bantams and rescue hens roam the plot and orchard and are happier now that the bullying ducks have been rehomed elsewhere!
Hens are great for pests, and we learned a lot about their other methods of natural pest control.
There is soapy water for greenfly and whitefly, companion planting, scented oil in the watering, salt on weeds or burning of weeds.
It’s best practice to only thin carrots when the weather is damp, to avoid attracting carrot fly. Then there are nematodes for vine weevil.
John, engaging in his frequent dry humour, stated that Santa’s advice still holds good for weed control, being: “Hoe, Hoe, Hoe!”
John and Jan try to be self-sufficient and find that by growing first earlies, second earlies and main crop potatoes, they have ample all year round for the table. They also find that the crop of carrots can be successfully stored, stacked in trays of slightly damp sand.
Bumper crops of tomatoes can be made into soups, sauces and frozen or simply given away.
Peas and beans are another crop that can last all year round.
John and Jan are members of the Social Farms and Gardens group, which uses farming and gardening to transform lives and connect people, putting pride back into communities and improving health and wellbeing.
Given their background of working professionally with children and adults with intellectual difficulties, they bring their understanding of how gardens and growing can all aid mental health.
Drumhilla Garden is open on Saturdays for anyone to come and get involved, and on Thursday for referrals from health professionals and self-referral. There is no charge to visit the garden.
They can be contacted at 028 6865 9799, or (mobile) 0797 493 8717.
The next meeting of FGS will be held next Tuesday, March 21 at 8pm in the Killyhevlin Hotel, Lisgoole Suite. The speaker will be Averil Milligan, speaking on the topic, ‘Spring’.
Averil studied at Greenmount College. She is a horticultural expert and was previously the head gardener at The National Trust’s Rowallane Gardens, Saintfield.
Inspired by the famous gardens and her knowledge of plants, she has now created her own unique range of soaps and body butters, and produces ‘Wild About Soap’ products, which are beautifully fragrant and luxurious, chemical-free and all made from infused plant and herb oils and natural ingredients.
FGS will also be thinking about the Annual Daffodil and Spring Show, to take place on Saturday, April 1 at 1.30 pm. The venue will be AMH, New Horizons Fermanagh, based at Cherryville, Drumcoo, Enniskillen.
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