Monthly Archives: February 2016

Find one of thirteen.

Earlier this month, I published a post on a list of 16 “challenges” I was setting myself for 2016. Number thirteen on the list was:

“Find thirteen interesting items (these could be anything from something picked up beach-combing, to finding something in a charity shop – ideally it should not be something new or that I have paid full price for!)”

So here is the first find. This piece of drift wood spoke to me as soon as I saw it. At first it reminded me of a playtpus (looking at the left-hand side), but looking at the photograph I can also see a dolphin (right-hand side). It’s not very big – less than a foot long, perfect addition to the flower garden.



It was a lovely beach not far from Belmullet, on the NW coast of County Mayo. The beach was covered in shells, so the kids and I had great fun collecting cockle shells, razors, clam shells, limpets, and the odd queen scallop shell.


Spring is coming

It may be cold outside but there is a definite feeling of spring in the air. The birds are singing and chasing each other around the garden, and stocking up on peanuts.



The flowers seem to be coming in small flurries but I love the bright daffodils. So far only the dwarf ones are open but the others are not far off.


And the primrose are flowering in the bank by the hedgerow. They are one of my favorite wildflowers.



And for the early pollinators food is becoming available, so I am sure if it warms up a couple of degrees we will start to see a few early hoverflies and bumblebees. Willow is an excellent early pollen provider. This is a cultivated willow, always one of the earliest to have catkins and pollen in my garden. The wild willows are usually a couple of weeks behind it.


The Day of the Bean

Thanks for Lori and Robbie for hosting The Day of the Bean, a blogger action day to celebrate International Year of the Pulses.


As a gardener I love beans; as a cook and consumer I love beans. Beans are versatile, come in a range of varieties, and you can add them to nearly any dish.

Our first bean crop every year are broad beans. Usually I forget to plant them in November and start them off in February. However, in November 2015 I actually remembered and so my beans are currently about 30cm high and begging to be planted out into the polytunnel from the pots I started them off in! Usually we can harvest in early July but this year, with my head start, (and depending on the weather) we may have some by late May!

The other beans I grow are dwarft purple beans. Usually these crop well inside and out but last year they did not respond well to our cool wet summer and so I had to rely on the greenhouse crops. They look great, though fade to dark green on cooking.

Runner beans can crop really well but again in summer 2015 they really suffered, but the previous year we had a bumper crop. Generally though you can’t fail with runner beans and this year I will make sure to have some in the tunnel or greenhouse as well as outside.

Finally, I also grow climbing french beans. Again they do better in a warm summer and so last year they did poorly outside (not helped by slugs!). I did manage to get a late crop from some later plantings  in the greenhouse.

Of course the other huge benefit of growing beans is that they fix nitrogen, and so are essential for a good crop rotation in any vegetable garden. So even if you don’t get a good crop you still get nitrogen!

And finally if you only need one reason to grow beans then think bees. Because bees love bean flowers!

Garden bumblebee (Bombus hortorum)

Garden bumblebee (Bombus hortorum)

Neonicotinoid Update

I just wanted to update you on some issues regarding neonicotinoids. Last week I posted a blog about concerns that neonics are having devastating effects on bee populations.

I decided to email some companies here in Ireland and the UK that supply seeds (both flowers and vegetables) to see whether any of their products contained neonics. A number of companies have not responded. However I did have some positive replies from others.

Unwin Seeds (in Ireland Woodies sell Unwin seeds ) were quick to respond that they do not use, nor have ever used neonicotinoid insecticides as a seed treatment in any of their seed ranges.

Thompson and Morgan also confirmed that they did not use any neonicotinoids on their seeds. However the person who replied did think that most insecticides containing neonicotinoid are now banned within the EU, which isn’t true as only three of the neonics chemical are only temporarily banned here.

Lidl are confirmed that their seeds were not treated.

De Ree UK also confirmed that their seeds were never coated with neonicotinoid chemicals.

Aldi asked for me to be more specific about the products but it is interesting that it was announced during the week that “Aldi Süd is the first big retailer in Europe to ban eight bee-harming pesticides from domestic fruits and vegetables produced for their markets.” This is  a huge step for a retailer and I hope it means their stores Europe wide will ban these projects. It is also setting a great example to other retailers. The Greenpeace press release also lists foods where these chemical s are being used. They include:


  • Thiamethoxam – applied to lettuce and endive
  • Chlorpyrifos, clothianidin – applied to kohlrabi, herbs, Brussels sprouts, head cabbage, cauliflower, and kale
  • Cypermethrin – applied to leek, head cabbage, and leguminous vegetables
  • Deltamethrin – applied to cauliflower, peppers, eggplant, zucchini/courgette, cucumber, pea, head cabbage, tomato, and lettuce
  • Imidacloprid – applied to apples, peaches, apricots, and lettuce


As consumers we can play a role here. Ask your retailers whether products they sell have been treated with neonics. Make a conscious effort to buy organic where you can. Or even better grow your own.

16 for 2016

16 for 2016 – some of my favourite bloggers (Wild daffodil and the Aran Artisan) and have been completing a 2016 list of 16. I love the idea which originally came from Cathy at nanacathydotcom.  So better late than never and starting in reverse order:

16:  Plant sixteen different vegetables in the garden (not necessarily types, so for example, could have three varieties of lettuce)

15: Read fifteen books in the year

14: Send fourteen wildlife records to the National Biodiversity Data Centre

13: Find thirteen interesting items (these could be anything from something picked up beach-combing, to finding something in a charity shop – ideally it should not be something new or that I have paid full price for!)

12: Give away twelve plants to worthy homes

11: Have eleven fun days out with the kids

10: Complete ten butterfly and or bee transects this year

9: Try nine new recipes. I sometimes find that I get into a cooking rut where you cook the same things week in and week out. I’ve got myself into one of those and need to start experimenting with some new ideas

8: Go on eight cycle rides

7: In addition to number 2 below have seven Mayo days out to some of my favourite Mayo places.

6: Try to do six random acts of kindness to complete strangers (I have stolen and adapted this idea from Cathy, the original blogger of this great idea.

5: With the help of my family make, and put up five bird, bat and /or insect boxes

4: Make four home-made presents for family and/or friends

3: Have three swims, ideally in the Atlantic

2: Find two new places in Mayo to explore

1: Record one new species for the garden

0: Zero days complaining about the weather especially the rain – because there is nothing we can do about it, so will learn to have to adapt!

St Brigid’s Day

Today the first of February is St Brigid’s day in Ireland. It is also seen by many here as the first day of Spring. With Storm Henry blowing outside it still feels a bit like winter! But there is a definite change in the light, which is always nice.

One of the lovely traditions of this day is the making of St Brigid’s crosses. Agoyvaerts has  a lovely tutorial on her blog which is well worth a look. This is one I made last year.

Brigid's Cross

Brigid’s Cross

We’ll be making some “modern” ones later with our local ladybirds group (like girls scouts for 5-7 year olds) using fuzzy pipe-cleaners in bright colours. The pipe-cleaners are a little easier for little hands.

So wishing you all a happy St Brigid’s day and a Happy Spring!!