Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Raised Beds

Over the next four years, while Peter painted, Jean set about turning what was a field running down to the sea into a vegetable garden. By 2004, she was working as garden manager at nearby Creagh Gardens, and her own garden was on the West Cork Garden Trail.
"At that point, I decided to put all my energy into the garden and starting a cafe[currency] seemed a logical step," she said. From serving coffees, the cafe[currency] has expanded into a restaurant with seasonal menus based on produce from the garden and the local area.
In 2008, Gillian Hegarty, a talented young chef from the River Cafe[currency] in London, was recruited and today it's a family affair with daughters Tessa and Joanna working as daytime chefs, Kez handling front of house and Jean giving all her time to the gardens and her winter gardening courses.
When it comes to growing edibles, Perry's advice is to grow in raised beds.
"Since we've done that we've stopped digging, which is great for a woman: there's none of that backbreaking labour every year," she said. I favour deep digging, but Perry makes a convincing argument for her method.
"I believe there is so much beneficial life under the soil, bacteria and nematodes that work in a symbiosis," she said. "What we do is mulch all the time on the top of the bed, and that gets drawn in by the life under the soil.
"The more worms you have, the better. But every time you dig, you are breaking up their life systems. Think of nature: it never has bare soil, there is always something growing."
Perry's method of growing potatoes begins in autumn when she clears the ground of all weeds: couch grass, dock, nettles and dandelions.
"I then make a layered duvet of materials that will break down into the soil, garden compost, seaweed, and straw," she said. "If you don't have access to seaweed, you could use l awn mowing s or even shredded cardboard.
"Come spring, I'm ready to plant," she said. "I pull the duvet aside, make a hole with a trowel, drop in my potato, cover over with a bit of earth and replace the mulch again.
Once the shoots start to peep through I then add a layer of grass mowings that dry out and form a crust. The idea is that the mulch is heavy enough to stop the light getting to the potatoes."
This year, her yield from two beds measuring 7 foot by 14 foot was four sacks of potatoes which were on the restaurant menu by July.
Perry also believes in planting by the phases of the moon, but that's a topic that deserves a column all to itself.

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