Below you will find a list of some of the most common questions we get asked here at Irish Seed Savers. If you cannot find an answer below to a question you may have then please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will do our very best to help. Remember to share your excess seeds and plants with your neighbours, family and friends and spread the word of the importance of saving open-pollinated seeds for our food security.
Growing for Apartment Balconies
Certain plants are well-suited to container growing. Try growing tomatoes, peppers, salads, herbs, peas and beans. Experiment with other crops. Watering – put a reservoir beneath each pot that can hold at least 500ml, which you can top up if you’re going away for the weekend.
Make your own liquid feeds from nettles and comfrey and water your plants with it. Try growing potatoes in an empty compost bag which can easily be earthed up by topping up with a mixture of soil and compost. Don’t allow the containers to get water-logged put a few stones at the base of each to improve drainage
Growing for Housing Estates
Use south facing walls for climbing plants (like tomato, climbing beans) or espalier fruit trees (like plums and pears). Practise a simple four-year rotation between 4 roughly equal beds. The 4 main groups are the cabbage family, the onion family, the potato family and the pea family. Others can be slotted in whenever there is space.
A clump of comfrey in the corner will make excellent liquid plant food when it is cut and steeped in a water bucket. Use cloches to cover early crops and protect them from frosts. A mini glasshouse or cold-frame made from recycled windows will prevent seedlings from getting leggy on the windowsill.
Growing for Community Gardens
Advertise, asking if there is anyone interested in starting a community garden, and ask around about a spare plot of land. Organise workshops with an experienced local gardener on some important topics like weeding, slug control, composting, etc.
Have a garden log-book to record what was done when you weren’t there to keep track of the work being done throughout the week. Plant some fruit bushes and trees if the space allows, remember to have at least 2 apple trees for pollination. Grow comfrey as a plant food, and use flowers and herbs to encourage a healthy environment.
Growing for Market Gardens
Start small, polytunnels are a great way to designate a space. Have both indoor and outdoor cropping space. Visit as many farmers markets as you can and talk to other growers in the area. Build a loyal local customer base within a 5-10 mile radius.
Locate your composting area in a sunny spot.
What can I grow on poorly-drained/boggy ground?
There are few plants that like sitting in a bog or having their roots constantly drenched. Water filling air-pockets in the soil and cutting out oxygen, vital for root development. If it is waterlogged, you will need to create a growing-bed that drains either by digging drainage trenches around beds or building up raised beds. Most plants can tolerate periods of wet and if your garden is poorly drained in the wintertime (when little is growing anyway) this may not be necessary. Generally speaking, adding organic matter to the soil will improve drainage, boggy ground can be quite acidic, so get a soil pH kit and if necessary, add ground limestone to the soil to bring up the PH.
How do I deal with blight on my potatoes?
Blight is an endemic disease of potato crops in Ireland. The disease appears as spots on the leaves. Initially, the spots are gray-green and water-soaked, but they soon enlarge and turn dark brown and firm, with a rough surface. It is not always possible to predict which varieties are the best and most blight resistant, as every year, conditions (weather, soil conditions) vary considerably, so there is no such ‘one size fits all’. The simplest way to deal with it is to avoid it altogether by growing mostly earlies and then the more blight-resistant main-crops such as the ones we grow here at Irish Seed Savers. Earlies should be out before conditions are right for the (phytophthora infestans) fungus to spore, and some heritage varieties have proven themselves capable of standing up to blight without need of spraying. If spraying, keep it herbal, a horsetail solution sprayed on the leaves can strengthen the plant inhibiting disease.
Growing in drills helps; the larger the better, and earthing up provides a barrier against the spores being washed down from the infected haulms so that tuber blight can be minimized. If blight gets a severe hold later in the season, it is better to cut off the stump at the soil level, saving the actual crop from being affected. This will reduce the size and quality of potatoes, but at least you get a crop. For small gardens where space is limited, just grow early varieties, avoiding blight altogether. After harvesting the potatoes, you will still be in time to sow or plant a later crop such as beans, salads or main crop carrots.
Will my packet of seeds still germinate or grow next season?
Many vegetable seeds retain their germination viability for several years, although it does vary a little from crop to crop. Seed packets should be stored in a cool, dry, dark place (paper bags in a biscuit tin is fine). They deteriorate very quickly if they are exposed to sunlight, high temperatures extreme fluctuations in temperature, or high humidity.
Does my garden need to be sunny all day to grow good fruit, vegetables and herbs?
We have a short growing season in Ireland (unless we have a polytunnel, which allows us to grow all year round).Commonly grown and eaten food crops need to grow in direct sunlight for part of the day so before deciding where to grow your foot, it is a good idea to go out into the garden at different times of the year-spring, summer, autumn and winter taking note where there is sun, shadow, wet and dry places. You might even find that your front lawn is the best spot…
Why won’t my seeds germinate?
Seeds germinate when conditions are just right. The most common cause for seeds appearing to fail to germinate is because it is still too cold, or due to sowing too deeply in the soil or compost. A good general guide is to watch nature for new growth in bare soil in the spring, indicating that the soil is warming up. If seeds don’t germinate, just try again. Sow seed at a depth 2 x the size of the seed. For big seeds like beans or courgettes and squash, lay them on their side which will allow growth downwards for the root and upwards for the shoot.
Before sowing, make sure the soil or compost is firm but not compacted, and water before sowing seed, otherwise you risk washing compost off the top or dislodging the seed from its position. Once sown keep moist not sodden. A light spray mister or very fine rose on watering can is ideal. In spring, for direct sowing outside, wait until soil has warmed up sufficiently. This often means delaying sowing in wet weather, but usually later sowings of crops germinate rapidly and seedlings thrive and grow better, with less disease. The moral of the story is: don’t rush!
Are your trees Irish varieties?
Yes, we have the largest native Irish collection in Ireland, as well as some old English and French varieties that have been traditionally grown in Ireland.
What kinds of conditions are preferred for optimum growth?
Well drained soil is very important, a south facing slope is preferable for the trees growth and health. Wind shelter is also very important, especially for pears. Soil preparation and planting proximities are crucial for creating a good start and healthy growth.
Do you have trees that are more resistant to disease?
No. Although few varieties aren’t so susceptible to scab and canker. All trees will suffer due to poor conditions either of soil, wind or pollination.
What do you mean by rootstocks?
Apples and fruit trees are propagated by grafting or budding onto rootstock in order to achieve early fruiting and control growth and size. The more dwarfing the rootstock, the smaller the tree and shorter life span. The larger the rootstock, the more fruit it produces and will have longer life span.
I want to store my apples over winter; do you have any that keep well?
Late fruiting varieties are actually better keepers than early varieties.
When is the best time to plant apple trees?
The best time is the dormant season which is normally between November and March, posting bare rooted trees at this time of the year. Trees bought in pots can be planted all year round, providing that they’re well watered when planted, in order to avoid causing them any hydric stress.
Do I need more than one tree in order to ensure good pollination?
Yes, two trees are preferable in order to ensure good pollination. If there are other apple trees in the neighbourhood, or crab apples, they should provide enough pollen, as insects travel good distances (up to 3 miles for bees.)