To kick off our blog, we visited our Head Grower Heiko to see what new plants are growing at Shanbally House and Gardens.
Safe and snug inside the giant polytunnels are a myriad of new plants that are nurtured from seed. Our Head Grower Heiko (pronounced ‘Hi-Co’) has over twenty years’ expertise working on organic farms. However, since joining Shanbally House, he pivoted to growing medicinal plants. So let’s talk about growing plants at Shanbally Farm!!!
Today, we are sowing German Chamomile by placing 10-12 seeds carefully in each cell of the propagation tray. This is one of many sowings performed each year, with the next in April, May and August. “Early summer is better because Chamomile needs sunshine to open,” said Heiko, fondly discussing the uses of the delicate flower. Chamomile is well known for its sedative properties and its ability to alleviate mild digestive disturbances.
Dried Chamomile is used for hydrosols and tea. The top part of the plant, as well as the flower, leaf and part of the stalk, are used for hydrosols. Whereas only the flowers are used for tea which can be quite tedious work. However, Heiko reassured me by restating its therapeutic values: “It’s very relaxing picking flowers, as Chamomile is calming. Unlike Yarrow, which is great for arguing but you can’t argue when picking Chamomile.” To protect the seedlings from dew and frost, they are kept under a light fleece. ‘We only open this once a day for ventilation,’ says Heiko.
Talk about Diversity:
Diversity is the key to success at Shanbally!! You will therefore find many exciting varieties of wild plants of which you might not have heard of before. There is goldenrod, verbena, comfrey, honeysuckle, artichokes, mint, acrimony, mallow and calendula. To add to this list is wild angelica, lady’s mantle, skullcap, Siberian roseroot and lavender. However, you will also find baptisia, peonies, butcher’s broom, and bison grass to name a few. Tucked away in a sealed propagator are chilli and sweet peppers. They are kept at a cosy 21 degrees Celsius by an Infrared light bulb.
For a lot of the seeds, “Winter cold breaks dormancy,” said Heiko, which means they will not begin to germinate until they are exposed to a period of low temperature to kick-start the process. Many plants like the hedge nettle and lady’s mantle can be propagated by division. When a plant has many roots, it can be separated and re-potted for a greater yield.
What about Pesticides?
Pesticides are not required as the vast array of crops grown on the farm also protect it from pests. “Diversity helps keep the balance on the farm,” said Heiko, referring to nature’s way of controlling undesired insects by natural predators like wasps and insect-repelling plants like garlic and tansies.
Our growers take care to ensure that plants are robust enough to withstand the elements outdoors, replanting only when it is strong and healthy and the timing is right. “If you start to grow plants late, they will struggle through the winter and the weeds take effect which in turn makes it harder to control later in the year,” said Heiko. Since he began producing medicinal plants, Heiko has learned that they are different from vegetables to grow. Germination can be erratic and some plants don’t rear their heads until some others have done so first. “[Wild plants] don’t believe when something is too good to be true,” he said.
Growing plants at Shanbally Farm – The Proof!!