Archive for ‘The New Growth project’

October 11, 2012

The New Growth Project – The Seed is Growing…

by Ciaran Burke

The days can be long. The days can be lonely, boring, and hopeless. It is a different world when you are unemployed, time moves slower, shops are more expensive, the cloud has no silver edge.

One afternoon in January I had an idea. This happens sometimes, especially when I garden. Digging a vegetable bed, pulling some weeds or chopping brambles, it gives you time to think. Often a simple solution springs from the earth as you tug at a dock root, sometimes the ideas are fantasy, but this idea was good, it was something new, something I had to do. It would involve doing something for nothing, something for someone, something with our garden. It was only the start of an idea, but it was growing fast. I did not know how it would be when fully formed, I had to let it grow before I could tell my wife.

That was a Sunday. The following Friday I was driving to Castlebar when I got a call. I had just parked at a garden centre and I answered the phone, my wife Hanna had an idea! During her lunch, she had been watching Sinead O’ Shea’s documentary about Ireland, the collapse of the Irish economy and its social effects, depressing stuff. But it planted an idea in her mind, the same idea that sprung from the earth and into my head the previous Sunday, The New Growth Project.

The idea had not yet got its name but basically we had the same starting point. Why not give a course in our garden, a couple of days a week, for a small group of people who are unemployed. Teach them about gardening, how to grow food, propagate plants and care for a garden, simple.

When I got home we talked about our shared idea: how we would do it? Two days each week, use the garden as a classroom. Would we get funding? Maybe, maybe not, but we would do it anyway. We gave it a name, I envisaged a logo, Hanna gave it form. We printed posters, we stuck them in shops, we e-mailed newspapers, one of them responded. We talked about it to our friends, we got encouragement. The applications came in, too many, we could only take four people. Telling unlucky applicants the bad news was hard. Then on a wet Tuesday morning at the start of March we welcomed our first four participants on The New Growth Project. Every Tuesday and Wednesday for the next twelve weeks they learnt how to sow seeds, prick out seedlings, plant plants, prune plants, move plants, about plants to eat, plants to weed, plants to admire. We studied flower structures, examined leaves and dissected seeds. We talked, we solved problems of the world, we had many laughs.

“I will miss the course next week”, he said on the last day. 9 months unemployed, the hardest part was not the lack of money but the lack of worth, the nothingness that fills the day, but now he had his garden to do. Although he would miss the course, he had been lifted by the experience, had made new friends, he could see breaks in the clouds. Sunny days will come, we are starting small but we are going to grow. Our hopes for the future; to develop further training programmes, to provide employment through social initiatives, to grow as individuals and help people to learn skills that enhance their chances of finding work.

Gardening is a cure, my grandfather often said, “the answer is in the earth”. From the cold dark earth in Spring, new shoots emerge seeking light from the sky, warmth from the sun, and can grow into beautiful things. Sharing our garden, having people come to learn, has brought a great reward for us. A positive energy, an inspiration, a purpose for our place. Our one acre plot down a country lane is now not just our garden, it is The New Growth Project.

Yesterday we started our third course of The New Growth Project with six new participants. We recently received a grant of €1,500 from Mayo County Council through the Local Agenda 21, which will help us to continue running the project. The next plan is to build a shed which we can use as a classroom, to raise the money for it and source cheap, free or recycled materials.

Noel, one of the participants on our first course of The New Growth Project told us about his experiences on the course one sunny day in March, watch the video

See what a typical week on The New Growth Project course involves

More information about The New Growth Project

The documentary “Collapse of the Celtic Tiger” by Sinead O’Shea can be viewed on the Al Jazeera English Webpage LINK

March 26, 2012

Planting Potatoes in Plastic Bags

by Ciaran Burke

Harvesting New Potatoes

Early potato tubers are usually chitted before being planted outside. This involves placing the tubers in a well lit, frost free place. The shoots develop from the eyes of the tuber and will then be planted outside when the soil has warmed to 6° Celcius.

Early varieties take between 75 – 90 days to mature. Harvesting can start in early summer. Irish people use St Patrick’s Day, 17th March, as the date by which you must have the early potatoes planted.

Not everyone has space for planting potatoes, in fact not everyone has a garden. However, just about everyone can enjoy harvesting a few of their home grown potatoes in summer using old plastic compost bags for planting. To obtain an earlier crop, tubers can be planted in a tunnel or glasshouse. Tubs or barrels can also be used. I decided to re-use a couple of old plastic compost bags. Here is what I did:

Step 1: I turned the bags inside out to reveal their dark side which attracts more heat, and looks nicer. I rolled down the bag so as to allow light for the shoots when they grow. Into the base of the bags I made a number of slits to allow drainage.

PLANTING POTATOES IN BAGS- 10 CM LAYER OF COMPOST IN BAGS

PLANTING POTATOES IN BAGS- 10 CM LAYER OF COMPOST IN BAGS

Step 2: From our compost heap I got a wheel barrow of lovely dark compost.  A 10cm (4 inches) layer was shoveled into the bags and then firmed with my hands.

PLANTING POTATOES IN BAGS- COVERING TUBERS

PLANTING POTATOES IN BAGS- COVERING TUBERS

Step 3: The tubers I placed on the compost and then covered with a further 10cm (4 inches) of the good stuff, and firmed. Then the compost was watered.

PLANTING POTATOES IN BAGS- TUBERS PLACED ON COMPOST

PLANTING POTATOES IN BAGS- TUBERS PLACED ON COMPOST

Aftercare: When the stems grow to 15cm (6inches), more compost will be added, to a depth of 10cm (4 inches). As the plants grow the sides of the bags are unrolled to allow for greater depth. I will continue to add more compost as the stems grow until it is 5cm (2 inches) below the top of the bag. The potatoes will need to be well watered. They need a weekly feed of liquid seaweed fertilizer to promote growth. When the plants start to flower the crop will be ready to harvest.  As a true Irish man I can’t wait to cook the first potatoes; steamed and then eaten with melted butter and some chopped chives from the garden, yum!

  • There is nothing quite like your own compost from the garden when growing vegetables. Learn about making compost on my other blog Ciaran’s Gardening Blog and download an information sheet on Home Garden Composting.
  • Listen to a podcast of “In The Garden with Ciaran Burke” – Episode 13
  • WATCH THE YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THE NEW GROWTH PROJECT HORTICULTURE COURSE. This is a free training course that we are running in our own garden in Co. Mayo, Ireland. For more info: THE GARDEN SCHOOL Each week we make a video of what the students are doing on the course.

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March 13, 2012

The New Growth Project – First week Video

by Ciaran Burke
New Growths Potting

New Growths busy potting

Last tuesday we had the first class of The New Growth project. Click on the link below to see how our students got on on the first days.

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