Weeds in your garden are wildflowers in a different location. There are many wildflowers/weeds in the RTE allotment.

Dandelions, creeping cinquefoil (very pretty but extremely invasive), ragwort!, at least two types of thistle, dock, plantain, scutchgrass, hawkweed (I like them), buttercup (not too much), nettles, willowherb, shepherds purse, brunel, small coltsfoot, cowslips, the list goes on.  Getting to know your weeds can also inform you about the quality of your soil. On the allotment there is no sign of the weeds of poor soil, like bindweed or mares tail. Some garden flowers became weeds – the borage in my plot two years ago became weeds to other gardeners last year! We also saw love-in-a-mist (not sown by us) and a small variegated nasturtium.

There is no need to take a total extermination view.   There must always be room for wildflowers in and around an organic garden, for example to attract beneficial insects.

Spring is not only a busy time in the garden for sowing seeds, it is also the best time to tackle weeds. They have just started growing since the winter and are easy to hoe or pull out. If you are able to distinguish baby weeds from your little seedlings you’re on a winner, because you can use the hoe.

Most weeds haven’t started to flower and can be added to the compost heap without a thought. For example, dandelions bring up a range of nutrients with their deep roots, and, if not in flower, are a great addition.   Nettles are rich in nitrogen. Small weeds can be left to wilt on the ground or on the edge of the vegetable bed and so become green manure.

When gardening time is limited, you have to prioritise. This is my order of attention. Yours might be in a different order, that’s fine, as long as you have a plan.

  1. Any plants I didn’t sow that compete for nutrients or space with plants I did sow. Weeds in a vacant area of the bed I tend to leave alone, unless they are category 2,3,4 or 5.
  2. Any weeds big enough to provide shelter and breeding space for slugs and snails along the edges of raised beds or near vegetable beds.
  3. Ragwort, dock and thistles.
  4. Weeds creating runners or with invasive root systems in or near a vegetable bed (buttercup, creeping cinquefoil, scutch grass)
  5. Weeds that may look harmless on their own, but are capable of creating lots of seedlings (dandelions, certain thistles, ragwort)
  6. Weeds that may look harmless on their own, but are capable of creating lots of seedlings (dandelions, certain thistles, ragwort)

Green and brown manure

Growing a green manure crop is recommended as a way to keep your soil covered in winter (nature abhors a vacuum). Digging it in improves the structure of the soil and gives the nitrogen used in growing the crop back into the soil before the growing season.  There is a choice of green manure crops, such as mustard, clovers, vetch (from the bean family) and rye grass (dangerous!).

Lovely Stuff!

Lovely Stuff!

Garlic growing on dug-in phacelia

Garlic growing on dug-in phacelia

In 2013 I grew it for the first time but the only green manure seed I could find in early November was mustard.  A disadvantage of growing mustard is that it is a member of the brassica family, so you use up the cabbage slot in the rotation. It grew a bit too strong for my taste, with long thick stalks. The leaves can be eaten, but I’m not a fan.   I ended up cutting the stalks in early spring and putting them in the compost and then using another batch of compost from home to put on the plot.  (Here’s a photo of mustard growing in another plot this year.)

Mustard green manure

Mustard green manure


In 2014 I made sure to get my first choice of green manure early in the year, a phacelia and winter vetch mix from the Organic Centre in Rossinver.  (250g for €4, loads of seeds!).

I already knew phacelia as a pretty, blue flowering ground cover loved by bees before I learned of its usefulness as green manure.  It has attractive feathery green leaves, which after sowing in October resulted in a nice green cover by Christmas.  The winter vetch is a member of the bean family, so double nitrogen.  Unfortunately not much of the vetch came up for me, it may have been a bit slower to germinate, but I suspect birds and the mice helped themselves.

Phacelia close up

Phacelia close up



I dug some of the phacelia in during the Christmas holidays to plant onion sets and garlic.  It is recommended to leave it alone for a few weeks, but I wanted the garlic in before the frost and the onion sets were not getting any better sitting around.  In mid February the garlic is coming up fine, the onions are a bit slower, but I had planted them nice and deep against bird damage.

Don’t try this at home:

On 21 February 2015 I dug in some more of the phacelia and covered that and the rest with newspaper and cardboard (to add carbon) and then I spread a thin layer of shop bought farmyard manure mixed with a small amount of very mature cow dung (very mature, not a bit of a smell, lovely stuff, thank you John B.!)  over it.  I hope it won’t make too rich an addition, but I felt the soil had become a bit hungry and ‘scratchy’ last summer and could do with extra nutrition and bulk. Just for the hell of it I layered in some ripped up excess leaves of the artichoke to add more fibrous material.

Work in progress

Work in progress

Reading it up on the intranet (of course afterwards) mixing brown and green manure can have consequences to do with surplus nitrogen and I won’t be making a habit of it. We are still a few months away from planting or sowing, quantities are small and I’m counting on exposure to the air on top and the work of the worms at the bottom to give the result I’m aiming for.

22 February 2015


From Kathy, allotment holder:

This weekend, I put compost on my bed. It was homemade in my own garden from veg waste in my kitchen. I tossed it out onto the bed and spread it around. I was amazed to see the amount of tea bag bags partially decomposed, although the compost was 6 months old.  Note to self: Shake the tea out of the bags, placing the tea in the compost and the bags in the brown bin. They do decompose eventually.

I also started the preparations for the wild flower area. When I raked back the grass I was amazed to see so many small plants struggling under the carpet of tangled grass. I think I will strim back the grass ruthlessly and have a better look at what is there before buying in seed.


Spring showing. Plants emerging from under the grass cover.

photo 1

Compost & tea-bags.

From Tom, allotment holder:

“I have been working three beds in a rotation system.  I harvested main crop potatoes out of one in late September and then sowed green manure in it. Then in mid December I dug that in (having to stop mid job after finding a wasps nest under the wooden edging, which I had to get rid of!) and planted garlic and onions for over-wintering.  In a second bed I had early potatoes and now I still have leeks and celery and celeriac which I planted after the potatoes came out and we have been using on a weekly basis. I would hope to have this bed empty by March for the new season.  The last bed had onions and garlic in it earlier in the year and now there is a second crop of Russian kale, purple spouting broccoli, mixed rainbow chard and autumn carrots, again which we have been eating regularly all over the winter months.  This has meant that I have had fresh vegetables all year other than the ‘hungry gap’ probably from March until June when the new early crops come on stream again”

From Ursula, allotment holder:

‘Pruning the gooseberries this year definitely came under the heading of a Chore rather than a job – they were in a terrible condition. Unfortunately we had covered them too closely and the netting hadn’t been removed  so all the branches had become entwined both in the netting and curled around on themselves. I probable ended up cutting back more than would normally be recommended so here’s hoping that we get even a small crop this season. All the weeds have been removed and they have been fed. The work was finished before the real cold spell came in so hopefully they have acclimatised’.



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