Biodiversity charity are sowing the seeds of success

Fiann O Núalláin looks at a charity genuinely committed to biodiversity, and which is using e-learning to spread the message further afield.    

Biodiversity charity are sowing the seeds of success

I am not a big drinker, I can take it or leave it, mostly I leave it or at least limit it — I prefer it sociable rather than antisocial and unfortunately the vast majority of Irish people – let’s be honest – just can’t hold their drink.

I don’t want my time out ruined by maudlin, mauling, passive-aggressive, incoherent or loud-mouthed fools or worse being ‘educated’ by wine bores.

I also don’t need to obliterate my personality to allow myself have a personality. I am as opinionated and as happy go lucky when sober as I may be when drunk — or so I have been told. Not preaching that’s just how I feel about it.

However, there is something deeply rewarding in a chilled craft beer at the end of a hard day’s gardening — never mind after a short temperance rant — and I do love to dabble a bit in the sometimes explosive fun of elderflower champagne and other brews from my garden and hedgerow forages.

Presently, I have some ginger-spiced perry on the go and a strawberry and lime cider that is fully promised away. I don’t do it every year but when I do, it entertains me to home brew and I enjoy sharing the results with friends and family. That’s the sociable side of it. No messiness with that. It’s probably as wholesome as you can get with alcohol in the mix. I remain an amateur for it, and while some batches are just genius, others are best kept for the slugs or to kick-start the compost heap.

Next weekend there is a beermaking-made-simple course being run by Irish seed savers on November 14 and it has me umm-ing about it. And on the Sunday there is a classic — cidermaking from 10am-4:30pm.

I am a huge fan of the Irish Seed Savers Association and all the work they do there, and jump at any chance to visit. They do so much to not just preserve the botanical heritage of Ireland but keep it alive in such novel ways. In the same weekend you can learn how to plant an orchard as well as how to brew it next year.

And you can see, touch and even hug (if no one is looking), a living seed bank of 140 native apple trees. Now I know there are seed banks around the world, with all sorts of seeds cryogenically frozen in contamination-proof storage units, hidden deep inside nuclear proof vaults — which is great and I hate to spoil the backslapping but we don’t need a time-capsule.

We need a living biodiversity — adapting to climate change as it happens, toughening up to evolving pests and diseases. A seed frozen in time is a museum piece. The Irish Seed Savers Association project in Co Clare is a genuine ark for the future of Irish food security — nothing frozen in time there.

Its range of heritage potatoes is amazing and the organic veg seeds are not just heirlooms for the novelty factor but extremely functional to Irish growers. Their Siberian tomato (aurora) that germinates in low temperatures and ripens early gives me a head start every year and when it comes to carrots their ‘danvers’ and ‘giant red’ varieties are packed with beta-carotene and can take early frosts well.

You can check out their catalogue online at or visit in person. They open from Tuesdays to Saturdays, 9.30 - 16.30.

There is a stunning orchard which is actually several orchards, a real woodland, Bridget’s glade, those brilliant seed gardens and the all-important café with the more important cáca milis. Bring a cowbell for Heidi’s hideout. It’s a great day out.

Saving the best till last — in case the rothar is punctured or the GPS jitters at anything not city centre — you don’t have to travel to learn. ISSA plans to develop an e-learning facility where it will soon be possible for anyone to go online, sign up for an ecourse, and then log in and do the workshop in their own time. Helpful course tutorials will be filmed at Irish Seed Savers HQ and there will be opportunities for people to ask questions and get feedback.

What I love about it is that the modules will be arranged so that you can easily complete the ecourse in manageable chunks of time and a series of multiple-choice questions at the end of each module will provide a self-learning tool — but you become part of a community too. The courses will also have a private Facebook group forum so participants from all over the country and further afield can share their experiences.

I asked Geraldine Tobin, an ISSA champion, about their crowdfunding campaign and its benefits to the Irish gardener.

She told me they needed everyone’s help to make it a reality. “We are asking people to log on to and support the Irish Seed Saver campaign. Everyone who supports the campaign will receive a perk. There will be a variety of perks on offer including free ecourse places.”

The campaign will run until December 21 and I asked her if Irish Seed Savers is under pressure financially and she said they are always looking at ways to become more self-sufficient. “E-learning seems to be an ideal way for people to learn more about a range of extremely important and empowering gardening and sustainable living skills while helping us to raise money.”

Irish Seed Savers Association, Capparoe, Scarriff, Co Clare


* If you have them, chicory roots can be lifted from the garden now to force indoors (best achieved in a dark warm shed, although under the stairs is worth a shot). Remove foliage, pot them on and wait for the chicons to develop over the next three to six weeks.

* It is the last chance saloon for green manure this month, but I find grazing rye will germinate at November temperatures with a fleece covering. (keep on for a few weeks after germination to give a good establishment)

*Keep a check on bud pecking and bark stripping as well as thin spurs on orchard trees and garden espaliers/cordons etc.

With pears and apples, prune to remove crossing and rubbing branches and prune to keep tree centres open to circulating air – both practices limit the potential for infection and crop reducing diseases later in the year.

Do not prune cherries, plums, apricots, peaches, nectarines or almonds – best wait until spring to avoid any potential winter-establishing diseases.

*Now is the perfect time to plant roses for their fragrance and their edible petals – it is essential that the planting hole be deep enough to cover the graft union, so I advise laying that meter stick or the shovel handle across the hole with the plant in place, to make sure.

*Now is also the perfect time to prune existing roses.

*Spread manure and compost over vacant cultivated beds

*Get the puncture fixed and get to Capparoe....

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