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Potatoes are a fantastic beginner’s crop




By Debby Looney, gardening expert

Every year I do an article about potatoes, which might seem repetitive, but there are always gardeners new to this.

It seems that this year there are more people than ever growing their own veg and spuds, maybe the joy of it, or the situation in Eastern Europe is the reason. In any case, I think planting potatoes is one of the most rewarding crops, for adults and especially children. You don’t need a lot of land to grow spuds, they can even be grown in potato bags or pots - or tyres stacked on top of each other.

There are also great pots available with a basket in them which you can lift out to watch the progress!

Seed potatoes are available from February onwards, but it is too cold to plant them out then. To give them a head start, a technique called chitting is employed. To chit, simply take your seed potatoes and put them on a cardboard tray, ensuring they do not touch. Alternatively use the molded side of an egg box. Place in a cool but bright spot, free from frost. They will sprout, but this is exactly what you want. You can start to chit potatoes from the beginning of February onwards, for planting out in mid March.

There are three main types of potatoes; first earlies, second earlies and maincrop. The difference between them is planting out times and harvesting times.

First early varieties are:

Duke of York, Orla, Sharpes express, Casablanca and Arran Pilot. They are planted out from March, but need to be protected from from frost. Plant them 30cm apart, 60cm between rows and 12cm deep. Harvest in June.

Second early varieties are:

British Queen, Homeguard, Nicola and Charlotte. Plant out from March, again protecting from frost, 30cm apart, 60cm between rows and 12cm deep. Harvest in July. Maincrop varieties are Rooster, Kerr Pinks, Setanta, Golden Wonder, Maris Piper and many more. Plant out from the beginning of April. Plant 40cm apart, 75cm between rows and 12cm deep. Harvest from August onwards.

Earthing up – what is it?

It is done when the potato plants are about 20-30cm tall. Pile soil loosely around the stems. This encourages potatoes to form higher up the plant than they would normally, increasing your yield quite substantially. With maincrop varieties it can be done twice.

Blight is caused by fungal spores which are airborne and particularly prevalent in warm humid weather. There is usually a blight warning given on weather forecasts. First symptoms are yellowing foliage, followed by dying foliage. Quickly after that the potatoes will rot. To prevent blight, you can spray with Copper Mixture. It works by sealing the leaves with a layer of copper, preventing the fungus from taking hold. If the disease takes hold, cut away all the foliage, take it away and if possible burn it. Leave the potatoes in the ground for several days, and hopefully they will not be affected.

There are blight resistant potatoes, such as Sarpo Mira. These are not as prone to getting the disease. Planting first and second earlies is also a good way to avoid blight, as they are usually harvested before the blight season begins.

If you are starting a vegetable garden, potatoes are a fantastic beginner’s crop. They loosen the soil in preparation for future crops, but they are also more or less trouble free and quick growing. They are an excellent crop when gardening with children, large enough to handle, resilient to being stood on in the garden, and the surprise young children get when you dig up that one small spud which has magically become a bucket full is something to see!

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Wildflowers are not always simple to grow

By Debby Looney, gardening expert There is nothing quite like the low, humming sound of insects in the garden. I always find the different pitches of the buzzing fascinating, from […]




By Debby Looney, gardening expert

There is nothing quite like the low, humming sound of insects in the garden. I always find the different pitches of the buzzing fascinating, from the drone of a big, furry bumble bee to the high pitched whirring of hoverflies.

And wasps always seem to have a dangerous sound – it is unique to them, in any case. It is possible to help pollinators into your garden at almost any time of the year, solitary bees such as bumbles and leafcutter bees, will come out of hibernation on a sunny December day if there are some heather flowers nearby. tulips, hyacinths, crocus and snowdrops provide sustenance in early spring, along with shrubs such as hamamelis, daphne, viburnum and willow. In April, the small flowers of the field maple attract many insects, as do the large trumpet shaped flowers of rhododendrons and azaleas. Wildflowers are now beginning to bloom, and they are the subject of today’s column!

While it seems counterintuitive, wildflowers are not always simple to grow, especially as we mean ‘pretty meadow blooms’ as opposed to ‘weeds’! Creating an area for wildflowers takes some preparation. Most important is that it is a weed free area. Kill off any grass or weeds before sowing, either by using conventional weedkillers, or by laying down a sheet of black polythene or weed suppressant. Make sure any seeds which germinate are removed also, and that problematic plants such as rushes, are dug out. Most importantly, ensure all grass is gone, as wildflowers do not compete well against its vigorous growth. Rake the top layer of the soil loose to a fine tilth, and do not add fertiliser! Wildflowers will generally not do well in a rich soil. When your area is ready, decide which seeds are best for your spot. There is much to choose from, for example, single varieties such as ragged Robin, teasels and poppies, or mixtures. There are seed mixes for perennial meadows, ones which attract birds – these usually have a high volume of seed bearing flowers, mixes for bees, ladybirds or certain colour mixes. There are also soil specific mixes.


Sow your seeds thinly and evenly onto the prepared ground. I tend to cover with netting at this time of year, because, although it is the best time of year to sow, and there is a very high germination rate, birds are also a problem!

The only maintenance really is to keep an eye on slug damage – I scatter in a few pellets when I sow anything – and if there are very dense clumps of seedlings forming, thin them out. When the flowers have gone to seed in the autumn, just cut them to ground level, leave the cuttings a few days for the seeds to drop out, and rake the foliage up. If left to rot in situ, it will make the soil too fertile for a good display the following year.

I mention the use of slug pellets. To the best of my knowledge, the use of metaldehyde poison in slug pellets has been banned for a few years now, and pellets are made of ferric phosphate which is not harmful to pets or birds unless ingested in very large amounts. However, there are some ingredients used in slug pellets which may potentially cause damage to earthworms and other soil dwellers, so please, always use sparingly and where possible, not at all!

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Routine and balance are crucial in the run up to exams

By Niamh Dwyer, Chairperson of the Kerry Branch of Guidance Counsellors As you approach the countdown to the beginning of the Junior and Leaving Cert Exams on June 8, it […]




By Niamh Dwyer, Chairperson of the Kerry Branch of Guidance Counsellors

As you approach the countdown to the beginning of the Junior and Leaving Cert Exams on June 8, it is very important to maintain a healthy balance so that you can pace yourself properly.

It can be tempting to try to pack in long hours of last minute study at this stage and become more focused on what you don’t know instead of what you do! Stress is a normal part of facing exams and in fact a certain amount of it is helpful to ensure that it mobilises you to perform well, but it is essential that you keep it, and the exams, in perspective. After many years of supporting students before, during and after exams, I know too well how overwhelming the experience can be so I urge you to do everything you can to look after your well-being at this stage.

Before the exams

Stick to a good routine with a healthy balance in terms of revision, rest, fresh air, sleep and diet. Don’t be tempted to work late at night as it is usually unproductive and impacts on your concentration the following day. Approach your last minute revision in a targeted way with the guidance you have been given by your teachers. Have a schedule with your exam dates/times highlighted hanging up where it is obvious and visible at home and take a photo to save on your phone.

During the exams

Set two alarms for the mornings of exams and allow lots of extra time. You will need to be in your assigned seat in the exam centre at least 30 minutes before the start of the exam on day one and 15 minutes before all other exams. Hydration is really important during the exams to help with concentration so make sure you have plenty of water. The first thing to do when you look at the paper is to read the instructions carefully, your teacher will have gone through these many times with you. Mark all the questions you are going to do and write out a quick time plan for yourself. Focus on exactly what you are being asked; the most common feedback from examiners is that students give a lot of irrelevant information so keep glancing back at the question to keep yourself on task to target the marks.


If you feel you are becoming really anxious in the exam hall, focus on controlling your breath to bring a sense of calm. Breathe in through your nose for two seconds, hold your breath for one second, and breathe out through your mouth for four seconds. Repeat for one minute.

After the exam

Try to avoid too much discussion after each paper, ‘post-mortems’ of the exams are rarely helpful and can add to stress levels so once each exam is done, take a break and then move on to preparing for the next one. I can tell you that regardless of what happens in each exam, you will have lots of options available to you and an interesting journey ahead.

Keep in mind that while the Leaving Cert is an important exam and big milestone, it will not define you for the rest of your life. Best of luck to the class of 2022!

Niamh Dwyer is a Guidance Counsellor in Scoil Phobail Sliabh Luachra, Rathmore, and Chairperson of the Kerry Branch of Guidance Counsellors. She is also a Career Consultant. For details see or follow @mycareerplan on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.


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