Monday, 9 September 2013

Well fed and well watered in Letrim

Planting  winter salads in the glasshouse
"Lovely Letrim my hole!" Mike said when Eileen and myself told him we were off for the weekend to train with Klaus Leitenberger. Klaus who is a GIY Legend lives just under the shade of Benwiskin mountain across the Sligo border on the western tip of Letrim.For those of you who don't know many people deride poor County Letrim which is the least populated county in Ireland( probably because it seems to be the wettest place in Ireland too).In fairness to Mike who flat out refused to come, (he also had a number of cat and wheatgrass sitting duties for Eileen and Orla) he wasn't far wrong.A long sunny scenic three and a half hour drive from Limerick through Clare, Galway, and Sligo ended up cloudy and wet once we got to Letrim!

Maybe if the day had been fine and sunny it would have left a nice impression, but it was raining all bloody day, raining and cold, raining and cold and miserable, I'd go on but I think ye are getting the picture.Last time I was in Letrim for a weekend it rained all that weekend too. Maybe I am just unlucky in Letrim? Maybe it was a slight hangover and lack of sleep ( I'm a cheap night out before one of ye books me into AA).I must be getting conditioned to County Limerick, (being that much closer to the equator) which on the whole is mild and agreeable most of the time. I brought two sets of clothes, thermal winter and optimistic autumn, guess which ones I wore? The winter thermals of course!

some of the humongous tomatoes
In fairness to Klaus and Johanna we got a warm hospitable welcome. In the house fires blazed in all the hearths, and good warm cups of coffee and tea, with scones greeted us inside the door. In all 16 people were on the course across a range of knowledge and ability. What surprised me most was how many of them were absolute beginners, I had expected people with lots of experience here to pick his brain. After all he ran the Organic centre in Letrim, ran a successful market garden in the UK, appears on TV and does talks. Why aren't these lads doing beginners gardening courses first to get the basics and then go on one of these courses? The mind boggles.

The other thing that amazed me was the geography. People had travelled from Northern Ireland, Dublin, Wicklow, Waterford, Galway, Cork, all over the country. I thought we might be regarded as a bit mad for coming from Limerick! Ha!

looking across Johanna's pond to a rain soaked Benwiskin
No matter the weather we got an awful lot out of the day. The course was "Growing in Poly tunnels and Greenhouses" and was focused on what to grow through the winter months.Eileen and I tried to say as little as possible and just take it all in , but I was found myself wanting to ask loads of questions and had to somehow put a lid on it! I would love a few hours with Klaus to pick his brain, and he is so agreeable and nice it would be easily spent. He was still taking questions at half four, long after we should have been finished for the day with all the appearance of not minding at all which really says a lot about him . Johanna was lovely too. She made the most delicious three course meal for us for lunch-it was bloody hard work getting back up and going outside afterwards!

Klaus gives us a masterclass in his outdoor bog garden
So what did we cover?
  • We looked at tunnels and how to manage them for year round cropping with examples of how to do it with different succession crops.
  • The importance of choosing tunnel and glasshouse friendly varieties to prevent premature bolting, especially with root crops.
  • We ran through typical under cover crops with hints and tips for success with sowing them-this was excellent.
  • We found out how to make a German hill bed! Amazing stuff!
  • We went out to the glasshouse and looked at how it was built. We also did practical work, sowing, transplanting and pruning, and other hard work like tasting varieties of tomatoes, delicious salads and grapes!
  • Looked at Klaus's more unusual "Inca"crops, ( like tuberous nasturtiums) and why he grows them
  • Discussed the sweetest varieties of Tomatoes to grow and which to avoid!
  • Looked at techniques for saving your own seeds, recommended tools and techniques for cultivating good soil
  • and loads more!

I have pages and pages of notes! If you get a chance I highly recommend a day with Klaus, Johanna and their lovely kids. The next courses will run in 2014. He only does 4 a year so book early!

For courses and info on Klaus check out his website

Cool stuff I heard of on this class

Ladies check out Wild Wellied Women a group Klaus trained who run a box scheme in Letrim, an interesting model for women who want to grow food together and make a commercial venture out of it. Mary J I'm thinking of your neighbour with the old walled garden for this one, check it out!

It looks weird but Klaus demoed this garden "gark" tool that is some kind of mad cross between a spade and a rake. It is so cool! And apparently unbreakable-you can drive over it.Perfect for the accident inclined gardener!

Read all about what it can do here on the GIY website.

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