Situated on a quarter acre on the approach to The Glasshouses is the outdoor Vegetable Patch. Crops that thrive happily in Ireland are grown here. The Vegetable Patch serves two main purposes:
1. Production Garden
Delicious organic vegetables are produced here for the Cookery School and Ballymaloe House. These crops change with the season and year by year, so it's always interesting to take a walk in this part of the farm and see what's new. At various times of the year you will see Potatoes, Rhubarb, Sea Kale, Leeks, Globe Artichokes, Strawberries, Turnips, Parsnips, Celeriac, Jerusalem Artichokes, Green & Red Cabbages and more.
2. Educational Garden
Ballymaloe Cookery School is, of course, a teaching environment. Students and visitors alike are assisted in identifying the various vegetables and plants with the help of strategically placed information signs. With such a variety of crops grown in this area, it may well be the first time a student has seen a particular vegetable outside of the supermarket!
The Vegetable Patch is often used to test out experimental planting and sowing techniques. The various limitations imposed on organic food production spur us on to constantly test out new and interesting methodologies, such as biodynamic planting. We began to take an interest in trialing this technique because we noticed that often germination was very successful, and often it was not. We decided to test the biodynamic technique on beetroots, carrots and spring onions. Biodynamics involves sowing crops in harmony with the various phases of the moon. The tides are at their highest at new and full moon, so with moisture rising this is the optimum time to sow crops with their roots underground. The primary aim of biodynamic planting is to optimize yield, flavour and quality. It is a purely experimental effort and interesting for comparative purposes.
Our No Dig area is also located here. Humus has been added to the soil in this area, enabling the soil to retain moisture. (Soil can hold the equivalent of 80-90% its own weight in moisture, increasing its capacity to withstand drought.) The humus provides over 25 minerals and nutrients together with microbes, such as bacteria and fungi, all of which are necessary to create the biodiversity required for essential healthy growth, and to protect against pests and diseases.
Another popular technique frequently used both in the gardens and farm is growing green manure. This has been done for thousands of years and involves the incorporation of certain green plants back into the soil with multiple benefits:
- improves the soil structure
- boosts soil fertility
- increases soil biodiversity
- increases the Nitrogen content of the soil
- suppresses the growth of weeds
- helps to prevent soil erosion
- helps to reduce pests and diseases affecting plants & vegetables
Read Susan Mannion's Garden Diary for more detail on these experimental growing techniques.