Paul’s Patch – An Introduction

This year as well as sharing my own adventures down my vegetable patch, I will be joined on Beyond The Wild Garden by two other people who will be sharing their growing experiences throughout the year with us.

The first to come one board is Paul Smyth. Paul is a 21 year old horticulture student who is currently in his third and final year of BSc Horticulture course in Waterford IT. Paul grew up in rural Co Carlow on a small farm, and had an interest in horticulture from a young age. He loves anything to do with plant propagation, in fact anything that involves being outdoors in general! He is the official head gardener at his house, where he manages the vegetable garden and around the house, which has seen its lawn gradually getting smaller and poly-tunnel get fuller as his interest in growing food and plants grows!

Paul Smyth will be sharing his love for plants and growing food over the coming months

Paul Smyth will be sharing his love for plants and growing food over the coming months

Paul, like me, thinks that horticulture and gardening is something that you learn not by yourself but with others. The easiest way is to learn from others achievements and also from their mistakes. That is the main idea behind inviting Paul and our second guest blogger to share their experiences so not only can the three of us learn from each other but also so that everyone who reads Beyond The Wild Garden can get involved in the topics.

Growing with Paul – An Introduction

How I ended up studying horticulture, like most things is a long story, basically I grew on a farm in Co. Carlow. It’s only a small a farm, worked part-time now by my Dad. We always grew our own fruit and vegetables and continue to do today. Growing up on a farm is a great way to stay in touch with nature and appreciate where things come from; you get a much better understanding and appreciation for both life and death. I cannot remember a year where we didn’t grow our own vegetables. It just happened. It wasn’t that it was fashionable or trendy to grow your own like now, it just seem to be a way of life that never went away! Home grown food always tasted better anyway (and always will).

Fruit was another big part of the food growing at home. My granny and granddad had an old orchard and grew soft fruit too. I can remember being made pick raspberries with my brothers on summer days. The fact that we ate more than we put into the punnets is neither here nor there! One of my earliest gardening memories is of weeding potato drills with my granny when I was four or five. It was here that I learned the art of pulling the entire root to kill a weed, much to my annoyance as cutting them was a much easier a lot more fun. My granddad ‘served his time’ in Drummonds seed in Carlow after leaving school so had picked up an interest and skills in horticulture at a young age too. It obviously rubbed off a generation later! My Mayo granny and her family were excellent gardeners too. The farm where she was born has the most impressive vegetable patch I’ve ever seen in my life, still worked entirely by hand! Putting all of this into consideration, it’s easy to see how I ended up where I am today!

Paul's veg patch waiting to be ploughed

Paul’s veg patch waiting to be ploughed

When I was 15 my parents gave me free run of our vegetable patch and I’ve been in charge of it ever since. After watching Hugh Fearnley -Whittingstall trying to become self-sufficient on TV, I was inspired to try it for myself. My veg patch is a section of the field beside our house, roughly an eighth of an acre. I’m lucky in that it’s ploughed annually by our neighbour and I also had the added advantage of a virtually unlimited supply of farm yard manure!!! You could say I cheat, which wouldn’t be entirely wrong! Once the plot is cultivated the potatoes are planted using our vintage tractor and potato planter, manned by two people dropping the seed potato down a chute, with a rhythmical 1-2-3 drop! The rest of the plot is then ridged using the potato planter and I use the ridges as beds to grow everything else.

I also have a poly tunnel that is currently full of other plants, mainly ornamental, including my final year project for college! This is used to grow tomatoes mainly, but peppers, cucumbers, melons, butternut squash and even sweet potatoes have all made appearances. As I’ve learned more, I’ve became increasingly interested in other areas of horticulture, namely ornamental plants and propagation, hence the tunnel being filled with anything and everything.

The veg garden in june 2012, just after planting out everything

The veg garden in june 2012, just after planting out everything

I have a fruit garden that’s been planted over the last 5 years. Around my tunnel I have a perennial veg bed for asparagus and Artichokes too. All of these things have been built up over the past 6 years and generally I don’t spend much on the garden, I usually buy seed or take slips and watch them grow, it’s much more fun! The soft fruit bush’s I bought as measly whips five years ago are a good example of this, from having a single berry in the first year to pounds and pounds in the summer just gone! This year I plant to grow all the usual, plus a few new things as I find experimenting the best way to learn. I’ve tried unusual varieties of tomatoes for this season as I’ve had enough of the usual ones. It’s time to try something new!

The asparagus, artichoke and strawberry beds

The asparagus, artichoke and strawberry beds

After as many disasters and disappointments as successes, I feel it’s time to share some of them with others and hopefully pick up a few tips along the way. As I discussed with David, horticulture is all about learning from others (preferably their mistakes) and sharing knowledge so we can all build up our own methods and systems of growing food and plants. That’s what’s so great about it and why I love it , it’s not about what you know, but what others know and what you can find out.