by Justine Sweeney, PRO
Last month Clonakilty Grow It Yourself group greatly enjoyed guest speaker Jonathan Doig from Narmada Organics. Jonathan showed us some really interesting slides to explain how in 1982 he set up his vegetable growing business in Upper Froe, Rosscarbery.
Jonathan was certified organic in 1986 and sells his vegetables in Scally’s Supervalu and The Olive Branch health food shop in Clonakilty. He also supplies local and Cork city restaurants and cafés from his 11 polytunnels and two acres of land.
Jonathan’s farmyard manure, which he composts for between three months and a year, has to be GMO free and so he gets it from a local farmer who grows his own cattle food, maize and barley. His propagator is a triangular wooden glass house that was donated to him many years ago. Electricity provides the heat but a simple sheet of plastic over the plants ensures extra warmth at night. He makes his first sowings here in January but, as it is expensive to heat and there is a lack of space, he moves plants out as soon as possible into his polytunnels.
Lettuce is one of Jonathan’s major crops; he likes to give his plants a head start against the slugs by letting them grow quite big before planting outside. Jonathan’s tips in the battle against slugs include not planting lettuce near grassy borders and laying fleece over the plants for protection so they can grow faster. He harvests the crop as early as possible because if they stand still for too long they can get infested. His last tip was not to over-water the polytunnel, as this would encourage slugs in. It is impossible to keep the slugs out completely but May and June are the worse months and then thankfully they diminish in July and August.
Other major crops for Jonathon are rocket, mizuna and mustard leaves; these are sown using a very cheap hand sower that taps out seven to eight seeds at a time into a seed tray with 198 cells. These trays are kept in the tunnel for three weeks, and then the seedlings are transplanted into the soil inside to grow on until harvest.
Some of minor crops, those that are not so commercial or profitable, are grown in original 40 year old tunnels. These tunnels are lower than newer tunnels, thus they have poorer ventilation but are ideal for aubergine and chili plant growing. Jonathan’s courgettes, planted outside through Mypex weed mesh, are first grown under tunnel plastic and then swapped to fleece before uncovering for the rest of the season. Kale is grown outside under fleece cloches to begin with then under black mesh netting later in the season, to provide protection against butterflies and pigeons.
Jonathan has a special method to grow tomatoes; he digs trenches in his tunnel that are then filled with composted farmyard manure and backfilled. He then digs a hole, waters it and puts in some seaweed dust. The tomatoes are planted two foot apart and watered with liquid seaweed manure. They are then covered with fleece to bring them on quicker – heavily watered ground at the beginning also encourages early growth. As his tomatoes grow Jonathan pinches out side shoots but allows three leading shoots instead of the usual one. This ensures that he has a high yield of 5kg from each plant. After the initial watering, he then spares the watering, as this will only dilute the flavour and encourage fungus. He has never suffered blight because there are no potato growers for miles.
Leeks and herbs are also grown on Jonathan’s site. All of this is achieved with very little mechanical intervention; he gets someone to come in and rotavate just three or four times a year. His most important tools are his wheelbarrow and strimmer. The whole operation is very labour intensive but provides employment. Earlier in the year one or two people help out, rising to four to six people in the height of the summer. Jonathan doesn’t have to worry about maintaining costly machinery and has less of a carbon footprint.
The next GIY meeting will be on Monday, June 8, in O’Donovans Hotel, Clonakilty at 8pm. The guest speaker will be Graham Strouts who will be educating us about growing unusual and exotic edibles. Graham teaches Sustainable Horticulture and Permaculture at Kinsale College. Followed by general fruit and vegetable Q&A and plenty of tea, coffee and chat. All are very welcome to attend. Please feel free to bring any spare seeds, seedlings, gardening books or magazines to share.