Sunday, November 6, 2016

Organic Gardening in Ireland: One Yank's New Life in the Soil

Organic gardening in Ireland has become more and more popular as people look to grow their own vegetables and fruit. Studies show that organically grown food has more minerals and nutrients than food grown with pesticides – and taste better. Growing organically can also cut the cost of food bills while helping to protect the health of those consuming them.

Since relocating to the beauty of West Cork Ireland, this erstwhile Yank has tried his hand at the organic life. Having never before grown a sausage, I’ve put three planters in my small back garden which overlooks the Atlantic, filled ‘em with soil, sewn in a goodly amount of local cattle dung, and prayed. 

The resulting crops of Irish spuds (usually Roosters), onions, strawberries, carrots, lettuces, and rhubarb – though of small quantities – give me immense satisfaction. And what a great result considering I really don’t know what I’m doing.

However, I’ve been in luck. On a recent trip to the United States I happened upon a fellow American who happens to be an expert in organic gardening. D. Keith Crotz, an American living in the great U.S. State of Illinois, has devoted much of his life to this area. With a Botony and History of Science degree from the University of Illinois (Champaign), then Graduate School at Southern Illinois University, Keith first worked as a botanist at one of the world’s greatest museums, Chicago’s Field Museum.

During the late 70’s and early 80s, his interest in growing green was piqued by attending a number of organic farming conferences. After that he started selling garden books, and developed a passion not only for organic growing but also for the preservation of America’s heritage seeds. During that recent stay in America we had the opportunity to chat a bit about the budding organic gardener in all of us – and he proffered a few tips, as well.

“Organic gardening allows the small gardener the opportunity to work with their soil using only those natural materials at hand,” Keith says. “Green manuring and composting are satisfying to the soil – and the soul.”

Keith points out that one of the most difficult disciplines a newbie organic gardener must learn is the art of crop rotation and fallow ground. “It’s important to let a planter and its soil rest,” he explains. “Cover crop the soil and plant Daikon Radish in the Autumn. It’s a natural soil buster that will break down the soil in the garden throughout Fall and Winter. In spring don’t plant anything else for that season but instead let it rest. Or as an alternative, you could plant an annual clover.” 

For those starting out he suggests keeping it simple. “Even a five foot by five foot area will do,” Keith explains. “Start with a tomato plant and a pepper plant. Because you’re in Ireland, do think of a lazy bed for some potatoes. Add a row of green beans, a few lettuces, and maybe some turnips and peas. It’s one of the reasons, I think, that I garden: I get to say ‘Lettuce, turnips and pea!”

Keith recommends using a good spading fork or a broadfork to break up and prepare the ground before planting. “I recommend digging a small plot with the five by five dimensions I’ve mentioned so root crops and new plants can get deep into the soil. The broadfork in particular can be expensive so borrow one if you can!”

Which is exactly what I intend to do. Now that the last of the rhubarbs have died away, and the late spuds lifted, I’ll take Keith’s advice and find a broadfork to borrow. As winter approaches, you’ll find me in my planters, preparing the garden for next year’s crop, making sure to keep one fallow to let the soil rest a bit. Thank you, Keith for this expert advice!

Books On Botanical
For a list of rare and out of print books on everything Botanical, go to Keith’s website, The American Botanist Booksellers,

American Seeds
And while we here in Ireland are not legally permitted to buy bulbs or living plants from outside the EU, we can legally bring in seeds from most anywhere in the world. If you’d like to try your hand at some American seeds visit Keith and his online Seed Savers Exchange by going to

If this blog interests you, then you might want to know more about living and working in Ireland. Are you thinking of traveling to Irelandmoving to Irelandworking in Ireland? Do you want to understand what makes the Irish tick, how you can get a job here, and how to survive in this wonderful country? If so, consider purchasing the 2015 Kindle edition of A Survivor's Guide to Living in Ireland. Over 11,000 have already done so! Now over 85,000 words long, this book could make the perfect gift for those interested in this wonderful country. Simply click on any of the above links to purchase the new 2015 Kindle edition. You can also download free apps to read the Kindle version on any PC or Mac. 

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