WEST Cork garden writer, Joyce Russell, has released her new book New Vegetable Garden Techniques: Essential Skills and Projects for Tastier and Healthier Crops.
Her two previous books, The Polytunnel Book and Build A Better Vegetable Garden, each sold 40,000 copies and were also translated into several languages.
In her latest book, Joyce reaches into her depth of experience, encapsulating everything she has learned over the years.
Tell us about your new book, New Vegetable Garden Techniques?
“I wanted to write this book because I wish this was the kind of book I had when I began growing my own fruit and vegetables. When I first started out I had a field, and didn’t know how buying a packet of seeds would translate into having a garden,” said Joynce.
“ I’ve been gardening a long time, I have years of experience, and I wanted to write down all this knowledge as concisely as possible and illustrate it with photographs so people can keep coming back to refer to it over and over.
“The book had been simmering away in my mind for many years, and it was my daughter talking to me about her garden that triggered me to write it. She would ask me questions, or people would write to me to ask my advice to relatively simple questions that I could answer, but knowing that there’s a lot more that I could give.
“As the number of people who were asking questions was going up, that was the point then when I thought the book was needed.
Gardening for Body & Mind
“I grow organically and I love the fact that it comes into the house at the very best of quality — but gardening goes much further than that. Gardening and growing your own fruit and vegetables is hugely important for body and mind. It keeps me physically fit, I have a very active lifestyle, and just the quiet space — even weeding gives you the time to think, to look up and appreciate the beauty of the garden and the things around you,” said Joyce.
“I think it is important for people to be aware of growing and to make Ireland as sustainable and food secure as it can be, but I also think, on an individual basis, gardening is just something that is fundamentally good for you.
“Decades ago, when I first came to West Cork, everyone had a little corner of garden and many people would grow their own food. That’s really changed, because of imported food or cheaper food in shops, but I think people have really rediscovered the benefits of eating your own and how the whole process of growing and gardening can be beneficial too.”
Soil is important
“Soil is the absolute heart of the garden, and compost feeds the soil. If you’re an organic gardener you’re aiming to build the quality of the soil — to enable successful growing not just for a few years, but for decades without robbing all its nutrients,” the gardener explained.
“But the book isn’t all about digging soil, a lot of the book has tips for people who have tiny gardens or backyards. One of my favourite projects in the book for small spaces is the Bucket Garden. It occurred to me that a perfectly good garden could be created by filling buckets with compost, and it’s completely portable. A surprising amount of food can be grown in 12 plastic buckets!”
Where did your love of gardening come from?
Joyce explained: “My grandfather was a keen gardener, he lived with us when I was young. He had a lovely greenhouse and grew tomatoes, grapes and potatoes, but at the time I didn’t pursue gardening; I just thought it was interesting and liked eating tomatoes off the vine.
“When I moved to Ireland, we had a field and I had no idea what to do with it. A friend wrote in a school copy book the different months of the year and a list of what I might possibly sow at those times. Some things worked and some things didn’t — I was picking up other people’s knowledge and it just went from there.
“I had a family, we didn’t have massive incomes, and I wanted to feed my family and my children as best I could. I just discovered that I loved it, and I still do.
Favourite time of year?
Spring is my favourite time of year — there’s so much optimism and possibility! Every year in the garden some things do brilliantly and others not so well, depending on the weather, how busy you are and how much time has been put into the garden. But in spring, everything is possible — all these things are going to grow perfectly because that’s my belief! I have lots of tomato seedlings in the tunnel now, and they’re only teeny weeny, but I look at them and in my mind’s eye I see plants dripping with tomatoes and I can conjure up the taste of them.”
What keeps you going back to the garden?
“It doesn’t take much to get me out into the garden — if the day is fine, I’m out there! I love watching things grow, whether that’s waiting for the seeds to pop through or the first time a flower comes out for the year. It’s just the whole possibility and energy about growing that makes me realise that life will always go on, and to engage with it and enjoy it,” said Joyce.
“Get out there!”
“The book isn’t just for beginners, there’s a lot of depth in there, which makes it a book for anyone, no matter what experience you have. I really think there is something in there for everybody.”
For most people, gardening is a hugely positive thing in their lives, and whether you come to it in your teens or twenties or later on in life, it doesn’t matter.
“Gardening is a continual cycle of learning and puts you in touch with a community of other people who love talking about gardening. So there’s always something new to learn. That and, of course, more than anything, gardening is fun!
Joyce’s book is out now to pre-order on Amazon, and released tomorrow, April 18.