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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

independently funded articles on GM potatoes

http://www.biofortified.org/genera/studies-for-genera/independent-funding/ is a list of 126 articles on GM foods, apparently independently funded. 10 contain potato in the title.

Only two involved feeding potatoes to animals:

Ewen SWB, Pusztai A (1999) concluded that it made the rats sick. 

Rhee, G.S., Cho, D.H., Won, Y.H., Seok, J.H., Kim, S.S., Kwack, S.J., Lee, R.D., Chae, S.Y., Kim, J.W., Lee, B.M., Park, K.L., Choi, K.S., 2005.  concluded that the rats were fine.   I could not find the complete article

Kuiper HA, Hub P J M Noteborn, and ACM Peijnenburg. 1999 Adequacy of methods for testing the safety of genetically modified foods. Lancet 354:1315-6. This paper suggests  Arpad Pusztai's research was flawed.

I can't find this on the internet but would be interested to read it. 

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/pubmed/18320254  assesses the bioavailability of carotenoids in GM potatoes, and involves subjects eating 1100g of potatoes on two occasions a week apart. This may have been enough to assess its bioavailability but it does nothing to assess its safety as a food.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1242293/?tool=pubmed  describes mass spectrophotometer fingerprinting of GM and non GM potatoes but does not include any feeding trials.

Defernez M, Gunning YM, Parr AJ, Shepherd LV, Davies HV, Colquhoun IJ. (2004) J Agric Food Chem. 2004 Oct 6;52(20):6075-85. NMR and HPLC-UV profiling of potatoes with genetic modifications to metabolic pathways. describes differences in metabolites in various GM and non GM cultivars. It finds differences but said they did not appear important, again no testing on animals.

Enot DP Manfred Beckmann, David Overy, and John Draper (2006) Predicting interpretability of metabolome models based on behavior, putative identity, and biological relevance of explanatory signals PNAS October 3, 2006 vol. 103(40): 14865–14870 How to work out whether plants have substantially equivalent metabolite content, including an analysis of transgenic potatoes. another metabolite fingerprinting exercise, without actually testing any of the potatoes on animals or humans.

Next is: Lehesranta,Satu J., Howard V. Davies, Louise V.T. Shepherd, Naoise Nunan, Jim W. McNicol, Seppo Auriola, Kaisa M. Koistinen, Soile Suomalainen, Harri I. Kokko and Sirpa O. Kärenlampi. 2005. Comparison of Tuber Proteomes of Potato Varieties, Landraces, and Geneticallyn Modified Lines. Plant Physiology 138:1690-1699.

it has a lot of information about proteomes and the differences between varieties both GM and other wise but no conclusions about how safe they are to eat. 

The eighth is Rhee, G.S., Cho, D.H., Won, Y.H., Seok, J.H., Kim, S.S., Kwack, S.J., Lee, R.D., Chae, S.Y., Kim, J.W., Lee, B.M., Park, K.L., Choi, K.S., 2005. Multigeneration reproductive and developmental toxicity study of bar gene inserted into genetically modified potato on rats. J. Toxicol. Environ. Health A 68, 2263–2276. 

This paper concluded that the GM potatoes didn't do the rats any harm, but I cannot find the complete paper only the abstract.

Shepherd LV, McNicol JW, Razzo R, Taylor MA, Davies HV (2006). Assessing the potential for unintended effects in genetically modified potatoes perturbed in metabolic and developmental processes. Targeted analysis of key nutrients and anti-nutrients. Transgenic Res. 15(4):409-25. Again I could only find the abstract and it did not refer to the safety or otherwise of eating GM potatoes.


Why I don't want Teagasc's GM potato trial to go ahead

At their research facility Oakpark, Teagasc have inserted a Late Blight phytophthera infestans resistance gene into Desiree potatoes and have been growing them in green houses. They now have  permission to trial them outdoors. This blog outlines why I don't want this to happen.
Potato flower showing yellow stamens which produce pollen, surrounding
the green stigma which accepts it, for fertilization of the eggs below.

GM plants are  different to normal ones due to the method of insertion of the GM genes. During normal reproductive behavior, plants arrange their genes, in a specific way. When a gene is inserted by a living vector or a gene gun, there is no control over where the gene is inserted into the chromosome and so it may cause unpredictable changes in the genetics of the plant.  It may change the expression of existing genes, tuning them on or off, it may scramble others, and it may cause the production of new proteins.

Potato berries look like their relative, the tomato. They contain true potato seed (TPS)
Arpad Pusztai who worked in the Rowlett Research Institute, in Scotland, tested GM potatoes, into which a snowdrop lectin gene had been inserted. He fed them to rats, as part of a mixed diet, using unmodified potatoes as a control and also feeding a group of rats on the unmodified potatoes injected with lectin. He reported health issues in the rats eating the GM potatoes but not in the other two groups attributing the problems to the modification process.  Pusztai's and Ewan's peer reviewed results were published in the Lancet in 1999.  There is a good pod cast of Arpad Pusztai being interviewed here  

The potato that Teagasc is working with is the domestic cultivar Desiree, Solanum tuberosum into which they have introduced a gene from a closely related, but different species, Solanum venturii. Because these two species are capable of hybridising naturally they are calling it cysgenic rather than transgenic. What this means is that the gene could be introduced by traditional plant breeding methods. However, it would take longer to breed a commercial cultivar as the progeny would have many of the traits of the wild venturii species, and would have to be back crossed to the domestic potato for several generations to improve it. Desiree is a prolific producer of pollen and seeds. The trial will no doubt be carried out very carefully to ensure that there is no genetic drift from the trial to other potato crops however the GM genes could be transferred several miles by pollen on insects, and the seeds could be transferred by machinery or by people deliberately taking them to grow out themselves.

Members of the potato family, also known as the Night shade, or Solanaceae family contain many poisonous substances.  Potatoes leaves and fruit are poisonous and although potato tubers contain only small amounts of glycosides this can easily change if they are left in the light. It is possible that the GM process could cause the production of some new poison in potatoes either brought from the venturii species or caused by mutations and genetic disruption around the site of the inserted gene. It seems Teagasc have no plans to test for toxicity in the GM potatoes.

The trialling of GM products on animals to assess their safety has largely given results showing that the animals didn't suffer. Some are reviewed here. Of the 42 reviewed here, only two showed negative results. However both were in potatoes. One of the worrying things about modern scientific research is how much of it is funded by industry. The fact that Puzstai's contract was not renewed after he found problems with GM potatoes,  and said on television that he wouldn't like to eat them, (he was working for the British government) makes me wonder who would fund unbiased research, or allow publication of negative results.

Contamination of Non GM crops is inevitable once they are released to the public. In their own trial Teagasc showed that Desiree pollen travelled over 20m, carried by a beetle. They did this by planting Desiree potatoes surrounded by Golden wonder potatoes. As Golden Wonder potatoes are male sterile they do not produce berries unless they receive pollen from another cultivar. They found a small amount of viable seed on the Golden wonder potatoes, more than 20 away from the Desiree potatoes.

Seedlings from true potato seed do not all germinate in the second year. Unless great care is taken seedlings and their tubers could contaminate other potatoes. They might look identical to the original Desiree and could only be found using expensive tests. If Teagasc had chosen a male sterile variety such as Golden the risk would be considerably reduced.  If released this GM potato could cause invisible contamination of visually similar, non GM potato varieties.

Potato seedlings emerging under beans, in
my garden, two years after potatoes were grown there

On their website Teagasc refer to the fact that cysgenisis is being considered for exclusion from the scope of GMO legislation, by the European Commission. This would mean that  no license would need to be applied for for GM crops where the inserted genes were from a close relative.

Another piece of information on Teagasc's website is the fact that BASF has applied to the European Food Safety Authority for a license to market a GM late blight resisitant potato  and another GMO potato 'Amflora' has already been licensed. Amflora was developed for industrial starch production and not for human consumption. If the GM blight resistant cultivar were introduced here, it would be easier to introduce the industrial varieties and other GM crop species. Once GM crops have been introduced to Irish farms it will be impossible to prevent genetic drift into non GM varieties. It will be particularly difficult to control if wind pollinated crops such as sugar beet and maize are introduced. Bee pollinated rape seed will also be impossible to contain as it will become a roadside weed as it is in North America. This will compromise organic farming, which prohibits the use of GM crops. 

The apparent ease with which blight resistance can be introduced to potatoes is very attractive. Late Blight has become an increasing problem,  since it began to reproduce sexually in Europe.  The potato is the best producer of food per acre in terms of calories that we can grow in this climate. New potato cultivars are loosing their resistance quickly as the blight organism evolves. However introducing one gene by genetic engineering is unlikely to produce a lasting resistance. It is by growing genetically diverse strains of potatoes in a landscape of different crop species, that the best protection from evolving blight and other diseases is most likely to be found, in other words in genetic biodiversity. 

Breeding potatoes for blight resistance using traditional plant breeding methods is quite successful. Some of the most resistant varieties, that have cropped well here inspite of four bad summers in a row have come from Sarvri Trust. The Sarvri family have been breeding blight resistant potatoes, in Hungary for over 40 years, using traditional plant breeding methods, to transfer blight resistant genes from wild potato species to the domestic type. The Sarvari trust in Wales took up the work of the Sarvari family in 2002, preparing selected cultivars for commercialisation. Many of us have been growing Sarpo potatoes for years and have appreciated their blight resistance during the recent bad summers.  The future of the trust is now in doubt and its director David Shaw said at its open day that as little as £100,000 could make all the difference. You can listen to an interview with David Shaw here

In Ireland the organisation Spuds is organising trials of Sarvari Trust potatoes by volunteers. Here Nike Ruf is interviewed about the project. 

The consolidation of the seed industry is shown diagrammatically below. Three major chemical companies own or control most of the seed companies. This consolidation has happened in the last 40 years or so and has gone hand in hand with the reduction in available crop varieties. The introduction of  regulations for seed production, originally inteded to protect farmers form badly behaved seed companies now threatens agricultural biodiversity. As the seed industry consolidates the number of available varieties of seeds is reduced, especially  varieties that perform well without chemical inputs. 


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Organic Sector Development with photos (unrelated) from Martin and Yvon's meitheal last Sunday.

I got a letter from Cait Curren, a member of the government's new Organic Focus Group asking for my thoughts on the organic sector. I spent quite a long time drafting my reply, so I thought I would put it here. If you read it, would you let me know in a comment. I have added some pictures of Martin and Yvonne's O'Flynn farm near Kealkil as encouragement to help keep you reading. We had a lovely meitheal there on Sunday

Dear Cait,
Here are a few of my thoughts on the organic sector, in West Cork.  I am involved in organic production on several levels. 

1, Education; As part of the West Cork College of Sustainable food production I teach organic horticulture. We also run courses on seed saving, plant breeding and growing staple foods, on the farm here. 

2, As Brown Envelope Seeds; We grow a range of vegetable seeds suitable for Irish conditions.

3, I produce organic beef.  

 Regarding expanding the organic sector, I do not see much scope in meat and vegetables as both are well supplied in this area. There is no incentive for organic beef production as the premium so low and the paperwork and logistics so tricky. 

I know most of the organic growers in the area, and from what I can see those making a living are doing so almost entirely in polytunnels, and supplying local markets. There is little room for expansion as we live in a sparsely populated area. Vegetables such as carrots and onions are imported because they cannot be produced as cheaply, on the scale that there is market for them. In other words, to grow them at the price they are being imported for, would require either slave labour, or large mechanised farms. There would not be a big enough market for the produce from large mechanised farms, and we are too far from markets to export them successfully. It is also difficult to produce them from a climatic point of view. Supermarkets prefer to bring in cheaper imported produce, than to sell local produce. There is also strong competition from 'chemical free' growers. Farmers' markets are thriving and along with the hospitality industry, seem to be the main outlet for organic growers, I think there may be scope for expansion nearer Cork city but I cannot see much scope for expansion in vegetable production here unless food prices rise considerably, 

However, I do think there is scope for new crops, especially if some research were done on their commercial production.

I believe there is scope for increased seed production of brassicas, beets, parsnip and spinach. These can all be produced outdoors. Indoor production of seed of any vegetable, grown in Ireland, is also possible. 

Quinoa is an expensive and useful staple crop. I have been growing it successfully for several years now and as it costs about 6 times the price of wheat. Although there are some problems with harvest and processing, I don't see them as insurmountable. 

I notice that whole food shops sell very little Irish food, often ordinary things like wholemeal flour and oats are imported, because they are cheaper than Irish products. Perhaps the focus group could work out why this is the case. Other products like linseed, coriander seed, and vegetable oil could easily be produced here if connections were made between farmers and wholesalers. 

West cork has a history of hemp and linen production. If the price of fibers rose it would be an excellent area to produce them. 

With considerable amounts of poor quality timber in the area, there is scope for biochar production. This could lead to lower imported inputs into conventional and organic agriculture.

Large numbers of non food garden plants are imported and could be grown here, however this is not an area in which I am informed.

Organic flower production needs to be researched, at current prices of imported flowers, it wold probably be hard to compete, but daffodils have been produced here in the past and there is no reason why flowers cannot be produced all year round in polytunnels, but this would probably be easier close to significant population centres. Again this is outside my area of expertise. 

 Education in schools
I believe the organic focus group should be working to get people growing their own food, where possible, rather than trying to create jobs.
This can be done by ensuring skills are learnt at a young age by introducing a food course in schools. Children can be taught how to grow and cook their own food. The leaving cert agriculture curriculum needs a major overhaul, (unless that has happened in the last couple of years). I was appalled by the narrowness of it when my daughter did it in school, There was almost nothing about horticulture, nothing at all about agriculture outside of Ireland, and I don't think there was any mention of organic farming either. 

Third level education
West Cork is already a centre of  horticultural education with the several colleges providing Fetac courses such as Rossa College in Skibbereen, which delivers a Fetac level 5 course. 
Kinsale college of further Education offers a Fetac level 5 permaculture design course which includes a FETAC level 5 horticulture qualification.

The introduction of a Masters degree course in organic horticulture at Lissard in Skibbereen and the introduction of a degree course in horticulture at CIT are positive developments in this area. The addition of an organic degree qualification in CIT would be welcomed. The practical part of the CIT horticulture course is run at Clonakilty agricultural college. 
 Agricultural research university
An agricultural research university, where organic and conventional agriculture can be compared in terms of cost, labour, and inputs and outputs, is badly needed. 

Nutrient Consevation
Research into nutrient conservation and recycling methods, such as no-till agriculture, biochar applications composting and recycling sewage and municipal waste needs to be done. 

Compost production
Most certified organic compost is imported into Ireland. Research into, and support for the production of certified organic compost for growers is needed.

New crops
Research into new crops needs to be carried out.

Plant pathology
A plant pathology lab where growers can bring get problems diagnosed and solutions suggested and also receive training could be established. 

Participatory plant breeding programme 
A participatory plant breeding programme for resilient crops, capable of adapting to climate change, and to Irish conditions is vitally important. This programme would include scientists, plant breeders, famers and agricultural advisers in developing new crops and new varietes for 21st century agriculture, in Ireland.

All these areas of research would be as relevant to conventional agriculture as organic.

I believe Clonakilty Agricultural college is ideally placed to fill this need. In conjuction with UCC and CIT, Teagasc could expand into these areas of research and training. It is an ideal site for this research facility. It has 140ha of excellent agricultural land, and superb teaching facilities, and student dormitories, canteen etc. 
 Food security
The organic sector is naturally placed to improve national food security, Incentives to grow staple foods for people instead of animals are needed, New crops that can become part of our staple diet need to be researched. It is very dangerous from a food security point of view to be depending on imported potatoes, wheat rice and pasta for our main calorific intake. 

Another food security danger is the high dependence of Irish agriculture on inputs like fossil fuels, seed, and machinery. 

Seed security could be achieved through the establishment of regional seed banks, at least one in every province.

Availability of land
A major constraint on organic horticulture is access to good land. Many of the best growers are producing food on the worst possible land. Making land available to local food initiatives needs to be done. A tax on the sale of agricultural land for development could be used to set up new entrants into horticulture, on suitable land, near centres of population. Unused development land owned by councils should also be made available.  Penalties to councils who do not supply allotments where there is a demand should be imposed. Councils should be empowered to buy agricultural land at agricultural land values where necessary, for allotments.

Organic farmers and growers have a real image problem to overcome in Ireland. Conventional farmers see them as critical of their produce and consumers see the produce as expensive, and are not easily convinced of its superior qualities. Education and publicity are needed to clarify what organic means because most people don't really know.

Farm Apprentice Scheme
A farm apprentice scheme would be really useful, I think students should visit farms more than once in a year so that they get a realistic view of the year round workings of a farm. Urban leaving cert Ag science students should have access to working farms, a scheme where school children could learn about farming in the same way as they are immersed in Irish college, could be established. A financial incentive for the host famers would help. 
 Marketing Structures
The developemnt of Farmers' markets depends on legislative clarity. There is constant confusion around market rights, the casual trading act and the new EU local government legislation. This prevents producers from participating in markets and entrusting their livelihoods to them. There is a social stigma attached to market trading which also limits their development. Co-operatev marketing of horticultural produce does not seem to work very well. I was involved in the West Cork Growers co-operateve which collapsed about 15 years ago. I would not be rushing into joining another one.
 Horticultural Development officer
A horticultural development officer would be useful to connect growers and potential growers to training and apprentice schemes and to identify the needs of suppliers and consumers of organic produce. Such a person could establish the seed needs of the organic horticulture sector by establishing on farm variety trials, publishing results and coordinating seed producers and growers. 
 In conclusion
Although horticulture is marginally profitable in this area due to stiff competition from imports, tough climatic conditions, and a small market, the future may bring new opportunities and incentives. With current world population growth, the peaking of agricultural land, and fossil fuels, the price of food is increasing and the euro is devaluing. Increasing food and fuel prices and devaluing of the euro will be good for local production. The fostering of basic skills at primary and secondary level would allow for a fast expansion in production if the economic conditions for horticulture improve. 

A legal frame work allowing access to land to new entrants into horticulture needs to be in place, for when that takes place.

A research facility, would have many benefits, such as developing new crops and varieties for Irish conditions.  It could also develop methods of minimising the needs for agricultural inputs, through recyling of nutrients, new growing techniques and soil additives such as biochar. This research would benefit conventional agriculture as much as organic. 

Both the organic and conventional agriculture is at risk from the break down of input supply chains, due to economic chaos. 
Fuel, seeds and other inputs, most of which are imported, should be stockpiled or produced at home. Any development of the organic sector should encourage the production of these inputs.
 Madeline McKeever
tel 028 38184
On 23 Jul 2012, at 11:07, Cait Curran wrote:

Dear Grower

The Government has appointed a new group called Organic Focus to progress the development of the organic sector and I am part of that group with the brief of horticulture and education.
The existing organic farming development plan is being reviewed and updated and I’m anxious that the priorities of horticultural producers will be reflected in the plan.
Of the ten primary objectives of the current plan, two relate specifically to horticulture and these are “to obtain approval for the appointment of an organic horticultural advisor” and “appropriate research in horticulture should be examined”. There has been little progress on either objective.
In 2010 the Organic Growers of Ireland made a submission on the development of the sector to the Minister for Horticulture and the priorities identified were:
1.      1.  The appointment of a Horticultural Development Officer who would provide support for growers through education/training, the development of a mentoring and advisory service and the development of market structures
2.       2. Research into organic methods to be carried out in Ireland
3.       3. Third level and post graduate courses to be developed
4.       4. The setting up of an organic farm apprenticeship scheme
5.       5. A support scheme specifically for growers to be established
6.     6.  New marketing structures to be developed
I feel that any objectives to be included in the new plan will have to be very specific and achievable, given the current economic climate.
I would appreciate if you could take the time to have a think about what you would consider to be the main priorities in developing the horticultural sector and let me have your opinion as soon as you can as I have to report back to the Department of Agriculture at the end of July.

Kind regards

Cait Curran
Tel: 087 2311580

Madeline McKeever
tel 028 38184

Monday, April 2, 2012

Variety Trials

We have just returned form a fantastic weekend up at the Irish Seed Savers Association conference in Ennis. It is looking fantastic up there and it was a real inspiration to see how much is going on.
I am in awe of how well the gardens look.
and extremely envious of their new seed bank building

I was asked to speak about variety trials and below is a summary of my talk.

Sourcing the right seed for a farm or garden is critical to its success. Seed must be in good physical condition and it must be a suitable variety. Most growers have favourite varieties that are planted annually. However, the varieties available, the growing conditions on any given farm, and the demands of the market are constantly changing. Conducting variety trials offers growers an opportunity to continually select the best varieties available for their particular system. Most seed is produced in climates that are warmer and drier than Ireland and it is not adapted to conditions here. Traits such as the ability to germinate at low temperature, and seedling vigour are inheritable. So seed produced in your area is more likely to be adapted to your garden conditions, and seed produced in your own garden, even better.

When conducting scientific trials researchers replicate the (varieties) at least three times across the field in order to account for field variability. A single planting in the field is an observational trial. For most gardeners this is enough. Several varieties sown beside each other will give a lot of information. However to thoroughly know a variety it must be grown for several years and in different parts of the garden, and in different seasons, to assess its overall performance. A single trial is really only a snapshot.

I would be great if all gardeners in Ireland or even in West Cork were to do a variety trial of one vegetable and share the results, that way we could all benefit from the information. I have been trying different vegetables and different varieties for 25 years and have still only tried a small proportion of what is available. So please try and grow more than one variety of any vegetable and share the information.

When doing a trial remember to
1 Include a variety you are familiar with.
2 Choose varieties with traits you are looking for, such as disease resistance, yield, colour and flavour.
3 As far as possible, treat each variety the same way and grow in the same area.
4 Label the trial properly, and draw a diagram somewhere else incase your labels fade or disappear.
5 Record the results on paper. It is surprising how easy it is to forget, especially when several traits are being compared.

The photo below shows four varieties of swedes. The one on the left is a Dutch variety called Friese Jele, or Golden Friesian. In this particular trial sown in August last year it performed least well of the four. The other three are Irish varieties sourced from the Irish Seed Savers Association. All three, from the left, Best of all, Tipperary Turnip and Western Perfection, outperformed the dutch variety. Best of all did significantly better than the other two so we will be saving the seed from it this year.

    Friday, March 23, 2012

    Staple Food Course Notes

    These are the course notes for the staple food workshop we ran on the 18th of March which might interest some people.

    What is a staple food?

    For the purpose of this workshop, I am defining a staple food as any food that contributes a significant number of calories to your diet. I have given some details on the calorific value of some animal products as a comparison but I am mostly going to talk about crops that you can grow here. The purpose if this workshop is to enable participants to make informed decisions about about much of their food they can, and want to grow for them selves, how much space it will take and how much money they will save.

    In deciding which staple crops to grow the following factors must be taken into consideration.

    Availability of seed

    Ease of culture


    Processing and cooking

    Nutritional value


    Cost of buying it

    As well as calories crops contribute protein and other important micro nutrients but for today I am only going to consider calories.

    How many calories do we need?

    According to the FAO between 2005 and 2007, Irish people ate 3500 calories/day, similar to other Europeans, but in contrast to Eritreans who ate an average of 1500. Depending on who you ask, your age, gender and the kind of lifestyle you lead, you need diffferent amounts of calories, however most sources give it as between 2000 and 3000 per day. I have used 2700 as an average figure or and adults food intake, which gives a round figure of 1 million calories per year.

    Staple foods that can be grown here fall into a few major categories, cereals, starchy vegetables, legumes, small grains, fruit, nuts, and oil seeds.

    The potato is the easiest and most commonly grown staple food.

    It is a starchy vegetable. Other starchy vegetables are winter squash, parsnips and carrots which can also contribute to a staple diet. Most other vegetables, although nutritionally important do not contribute many calories to the plate.

    Cereals and dried peas and beans are not normally grown in gardens because they are relatively cheap to buy and difficult to process. Other small grains such as buckwheat, quinoa and amaranth are also possible. I have had most success with quinoa.

    Of the legumes, peas, broad beans and runner beans are the easist to get to grow and yield. Dried haricot beans are possible and in good summers they yield well but in a year like last year they yield poorly.

    I have no experience of extracting oils from seeds but I have grown Camelina and other brassica crops similar to oilseed rape, linseed, and sunflowers with a view to home oil production. As vegetable oil is the cheapest form of calories, it has been my lowest prioity in terms of food self sufficiency.

    Fruits have a low calorific value generally, however apples do have a significant number are the most commonly grown fruit around here.

    The calorific value of some common foods is shown below.


    2,700cals in kg

    1million cals in kg

















    Winter Squash




    Hazel nuts




    Dried legumes








    Vegetable oil





    (12 large) 1400







    Yield and space requirements of crops

    The best conventional wheat crops in ireland yield 10T/ha which is 1kg/sqm. They average about 7T/ha. Organic cereal yields average around 5T/ha. The yields of crops used in the table below are a result of a combination of my own experience and internet sesrches and should be regarded as a guide. They are the yields I would expect to get here, using organic production techniques. The beef yield is based on Teagasc figures for an organic grass only system. The egg yield is based on feeding 2.5kg of organic mixed cereals and legumes per dozen eggs.

    Potatoes come out as top calorie producers per sqm and show that about 1sqm/ day should supply your energy needs.

    Cereals and pulses need a bit more space, vegetables such as cabbage take about four times as much space to produce the same number of calories, and beef and eggs more than 10 times as much space. The hazel nut yield is based on Kent. I don’t know what yields could be achieved here.


    yield/sqm in kg. approx

    area needed for 1M cal in sqm













    Winter Squash



    Hazel nuts



    Dried peas






    Vegetable oil









    Cost of food

    The table below shows the cost of some items of food in online supermarkets at the moment. I have used the prices of conventional food as I cold not get an organic price for some things. It serves to compare the difference in price per caorie of different kinds of food. The first column shows the cost/kg and the second the cost of 1M calories . Here it becomes obvious why people do not grow their own flour, oil and pulses as they are so cheap. What also becomes noticable is how expensive vegetables are per calorie. Eggs and beef come out looking cheap in comparison.

    price online supervalue/Tesco March 2012 in €/kg

    Cost of caloriess in the supermarket in €/ 1M





    Broccoli 5-10 2.






    (6/kg spelt) 1.1/kg


    Winter Squash



    Hazel nuts



    Dried peas

    (5.50 marrowfat )1.5 split

    (marrowfat 1650) 450




    Vegetable oil









    Growing Cereals



    Grow easily

    Awkward to harvest

    Versatile in cooking

    May need drying

    Store well for several years

    Need processing, threshing dehulling, grinding.

    Wheat and barley originated in the middleast where they are sown in autumn and grow during the mild winter when most of the rain falls. The warm summers are spent ripening and hard dry grain is formed. In Ireland it is a challenge to get cereals dry enough to store. Most must be dried indoors when harvested. This can be done either passively, on a floor where it is not more than a few inches deep, or actively in a drier where hot air is blown through it. Oats and rye probably evolved as weeds in wheat and barley fields in cooler climates than the middle east. They are the hardiest cereals most adapted to the northern European climate. They are easier to grow than wheat, coping better with a poor summer by ripening quickly. Cereals can be sown in spring or autumn, and particular varieties have been adapted for both. All cereals make a good cover crop preserving soil structure, and preventing nutrient losses over winter and protecting bare soil. They are susceptible to crows and other birds particularly just as they are sown and also when they are ready to harvest. Cereals should yield about 5T/Ha under organic conditions. That is 500g/sqm. Sowing rates should be to give about 400 plants/sqm which is about 10-15g/m This should give about 600-700 ears/sq m

    Growing cereals in a garden

    Sow seed in September or October or in March or April, thinly, in rows 30cm apart. The soil should be clear of weeds. Cereals do not require high fertility to grow and infact too much nitrogen in the soil wil cause the plants to have waek stalks and fall over more easily. If they are being grown as a green manure they can be broadcast at a rate of about 25g/sqm. If possible protect from birds after sowing, with a net. A lower rate should be used for growing for seed. Keep well weeded by hoeing between the rows.

    Oats can be used green for tea and oatgrass as well as mature and dried. For tea harvest when the seeds exude a white milk when pressed under a nail. Main crops of cereals should be harvested when the plants have turned brown and the seeds are no longer milky, or when the birds start to eat them. The plants should then be harvested by cutting them at the base, bundling them into sheaves and drying under cover. They can be threshed by running through a garden shredder, although this damages the seeds a bit or by banging the plants on the edge of a bucket or barrel. They then need to be winnowed in a stiff breeze to remove the debris. Oats need to be dehulled, steamed and rolled to make the familiar flaked oats used for porridge. Hulless oats may be simply soaked and boiled to make porridge or ground into flour.

    Wheat and rye are usually used as flour which is produced by grinding it in a mill. Small hand mills are readily available but are really hard work to produce enough for bread making. However freshly ground flour is much tastier than flour that is old. The fats in cereals begin to go rancid as soon as the grain is ground and this affects flavour. Larger mills are expensive but make grinding your own flour a practical proposition. Spelt is a form of wheat and should be autumn sown.




    Great yields

    May not keep all year

    No processing needed

    Potatoes are the most productive staple crop you can grow in Ireland. They have nutritional value of about 750cals/kg and a surprising amount of protein. They need minimal care and attention, no processing other than cooking. Yields of 30 Tonnes/ha are normal in conventional agriculture and on a garden scale this is possible too. That is 3kg/sqm, (or a half stone), or 2,250cals, roughly enough food for an average person in a day. This means that by planting an area of 400sqm or 40mx10m (less than 1/10th of an acre) you could have enough calories for the year.

    Potatoes like a rich fertile soil with plenty of organic matter, an even supply of water, and a good weeding early in the season. The flavour of potatoes varies with soil condition more than any other crop that I know of. Potatoes grown with too much fresh manure, seaweed or chemical fertiliser have poor flavour. I think the best potatoes are grown in newly broken up grassland, without any applications whatsoever. They are also good when grown with well composted manure. Some people have a problem with wireworm in grass but it isn't a problem here.

    The most important factors when planting potatoes are getting them under the surface of the soil, keeping them weed free and earthing up. A good organic soil will hold enough water for potatoes and they should never need watering. Watering very dry soil, (in a tunnel for instance), causes potatoes to crack a sudden watering causes the tubers to expand so fast that the skins burst open.

    On a garden scale you can just place them on the surface of the soil and pile compost and mulch on top, but it is important to keep a heavy mulch on top as if the new tubers are reached by light they will go green, and green potatoes contain poisonous substances. Alternatively you can prepare the soil by digging or rotovating and push them under the soil. The deeper you push them the less earthing up you will have to do, but the slower they will come up. I like to get all my potatoes in about now and if all the ground is not prepared, I dig a trench, put as much good compost in it as i can spare, and then the seed potatoes. I cover them up roughly and as they begin to come up I fork out any weeds between the rows. As soon as possible they need to be earthed up. This means moving soil between the rows, against the stems, to cover them but without covering too much of the leaf area. Bringing soil around the plants kills the weeds, and encourages the stems to produce tubers. It also covers tubers close to the surface preventing them from going green.

    I space early potatoes about 30cm apart in rows 60cm apart and maincrop potatoes 40cm apart in rows 90cm apart.

    Early potatoes come out of the ground from June to August so there is time to grow another crop after them. Leeks or spring cabbage make a good crop to follow potatoes depending on your rotation.

    Harvesting potatoes is a satisfying job. Care must be taken not to stick the fork through them. So, insert your fork 30-40cm from the stalk and lever them up all around.

    When harvesting maincrop potatoes for storage they must be sorted and the skins dried. Harvest all of them even the marbles as they will be weeds next year. Divide them into marbles and damaged potatoes for animals, small green potatoes that can be destroyed, slightly damaged potatoes for immediate use, seed for next year, and perfect potatoes, for storage.

    Storage Potatoes need to be dry when stored and keep best in a cool environment, but will rot if frozen, so in ireland, unless you have a cold store, a cool shed or back kitchen is best. We keep them in the unheated back kitchen as it is rodent free. In cold weather potatoes must be covered by straw or other insulating material to protect from frost.

    Selecting potatoes for seed.

    You can save your own seed for potatoes if you are a bit careful. Potatoes suffer from viruses, which reduce yield and are not immediately obvious in the field. Plants with viruses may be stunted, have curled or yellow leaves and generally look poorly. Always select potatoes for seed from best looking plants. Seed potatoes are traditionally produced in Donegal and in high altitude sites where the aphids that spread viruses are absent. The potatoes for seed should be approximately egg-sized, but larger green potatoes can be used for seed too. The seed potatoes should be left in the light for a few days to harden the skins, but not allowed to dry out too much. If seed potatoes are stored at too high a temperature they will be come wrinkled prunes and use up all their energy supplies before they are planted. This is especially true for early potatoes that are programmed to sprout early. If you have room for them in the bottom of the fridge that will help hold them. As soon as they start to sprout they must be kept in the light or the sprouts will look for light and grow too long. They will then fall off when you handle them. A couple of weeks before planting, seed potatoes should be put n a cool bright area for the sprouts to develop. This is called chitting.




    Easy to grow

    Saponins need to be removed from seeds

    Very high quality protein

    We are not used to eating it

    Stores well

    Sow quinoa in April, thinly, in rows 30cm apart. Keep well weeded. Thin the seedlings, until there is at least 10cm between plants. The crop should be harvested when the plants have begun to turn yellow and the seeds emerge from the heads when rubbed. This will be sometime in September. The plants should then be cut at the base, and bundled into sheaves. Drying should be completed under cover. If mature quinoa plants are left outdoors in damp weather the seeds may sprout in the heads. When fully dry, the seeds can be threshed out by running the plants through a garden shredder, or by banging them on the edge of a bucket or barrel. They then need to be winnowed in a stiff breeze to remove debris. The bitter seed coat must be removed before eating. This can be done by a combination of toasting on a dry frying pan, rubbing gently, soaking in a solution of breadsoda, and by rincing in clean water several times during cooking. Buzzing the seeds in water in a food processor is also supposed to work but I haven’t tried that yet.

    Peas and Broad Beans



    Easy to grow

    Indoor space my be needed for drying

    No processing involved

    Haricots will not yield well in cool summers

    Keep well

    Good protein

    How to Grow

    Sow peas and broad beans for drying in March or April outside in rows, 40cm to 60cm apart. The seeds should be about 5cm apart and 2cm deep. Both like a moist rich soil and appreciate a generous amount of compost either dug in, or as mulch. Beware of slugs as they can decimate emerging seedlings.

    Most pea varieties need to be supported on sticks or a fence. Check the height of the variety and erect an appropriate structure. Keep well weeded.


    To save seeds from peas and beans allow them to mature fully. When the pods turn brown and crisp harvest them and allow them to dry completely. It the weather is wet or if broad beans are badly affected by chocolate spot, they may have to be harvested before they are fully mature. Then they must be dried as quickly as possible under cover. When the pods are dry they may be shelled out by hand. Peas are slow to pod by hand and Mike has adapted the garden shredder as a threshing machine. To do this he replaced the metal blades with wooden paddles. This is a lot quicker than hand podding, although there is a little damage to the seeds, some of which become split. Peas and beans can be stored in an airtight container when really dry. To test if they are really dry, hit with a hammer. If they shatter, as opposed to squash, they are dry enough to store in an airtight container. If they squash they need more drying.

    Growing Drying Beans

    Sow outdoors in May and June 20cm apart in rows 30cm apart. If beans are sown in cold wet soil they will not grow fast enough to get ahead of the slugs. The first warm week in May is best, and sowing can continue into the beginning of June. Keep well weeded. Dwarf drying beans do not need support. Most varieties can be used green as well as dried but this will reduce the final yield. Climbing beans both common and Runner need support and will grow 3m high. The seeds or plants should be placed at the bottom of the support poles. When a dry bean crop is harvested it is a lot heavier than a green bean crop that is picked regularly so a stout frame must be erected.


    Dwarf bean plants should be harvested whole when most of the pods have turned brown. Drying can be completed indoors. It is better to cut off the roots so that soil does not get mixed in wth the seeds. Climbing beans mature over a long period and so the pods should be harvested as they mature and go brown. The beans can be shelled when the pods are crisp. This can be done by hand, or by threshing with a stick. Before storing check the beans are really dry by hitting with a hammer. Like peas they should

    shatter, not squash

    Pumpkins and Squash



    No processing needed

    Need a good summer

    May not keep all winter

    Like haricot beans these like a warm summer. They will respond well to heavy manuring of the ground. Sow 2 seeds in a 7cm pot and keep in a warm place, in April or May. When the seeds have germinated, put in a bright place but keep pretty warm, for instance a south facing window sill or green house. Dig holes about 60cm apart where the plants will finally be planted out and fill them with well rotted compost, about half a bucket per plant. Plants should not be put out of doors until a warm spell in May, or June and protected from frost and slugs. Then plant out and water in well. The fruits whould be harvested before the first frost and cured indoors in a sunny warm place. They should keep for several months. If only one varietey of any species has been grown then the seeds can be dried and kept for the following year.




    Stores well

    Need a good summer

    Not interestng to eat

    Again marginal in the Irish climate, however we have had success growing a short season variety called Painted Mountain.

    Sow the seeds indoors in pots or modules in April or outdoors in May or early June. Corn needs full sun warm weather and plenty of compost in the soil. As the it is wind pollinated the plants should be arranged in a block with at least four rows of plants 60cm to 90cm apart. Within the rows the plants need to be about 30cm apart. The cobs are produced on the side of the plants with the corn-silk protruding. Pollen must land on this for the kernals to be produced. After the seeds have been fertilised they begin to swell and the silk dries out. This is when it is ready to be used as sweetcorn. For corn meal or seed corn the cobs are left on the plant until the plant dies back. Then the cobs are harvested and dried. The seeds are rubbed off the cobs and ground into flour. Small amounts can be done in a coffee grinder.

    Growing your own fat and proteins.

    The most common seed grown here for oil is rape seed. Also possible are more unusual brassica seed crops such as Camelina and radish which have been grown in the past for oil. They are easy to grow but hard to extract the oil, sunflower and nut oils are also possible but not easy. In many ways animals are an easier to produce. Excess land can be used to produce grass for cattle. Excess grain, milk and potatoes are also concentrated in a pigs and chickens. Cheese butter and meat all contain lots of fat and protein.


    All seeeds are susceptible to damp and rodents. They are best stored cool and dry. When they are really dry they can be put in rodrnt proof containers outside, or they cn be stored in a cool place in the house in bags. Unless you are sure they are very dry it is better to keep them in paper bags or sacks as they mey go mouldy in plastic.