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Dublin: 5 °C Sunday 23 September, 2018
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'October is "stock pot" month when carrots, leeks and parsnips come into their own'

It is only now after the first frosts that carrots and parsnips start to really sweeten up, writes Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Grower

OCTOBER IS ALWAYS an odd time of the year for the GIYer I think. We have one eye on the growing year just passed, and one eye on the growing year to come. Not only are the kids back to school, but thoughts are already turning to Halloween break and dare I say it, even to Christmas.

We could be forgiven for thinking that the veg-growing year is over and that we’re in lockdown mode for the winter, when in reality, as far as the veg patch is concerned, this is still 100% harvest time.

Harvest time

In the polytunnel we are still harvesting tomatoes. The plants are a little tired looking now, but they are still productive. We are also still enjoying courgettes, cucumbers, French beans, potatoes and peppers, and this week we were harvesting Florence fennel.

On top of that summer fare, we are now harvesting the great autumn vegetables like pumpkins, squashes, celery and celeriac, as well as that quintessential autumn fruit – the apple.

I also think of October as “stock pot” month when the classic stock vegetables such as carrots, leeks and parsnips come into their own. In fact, though you may well have been harvesting these before now, it is only now after the first frosts that carrots and parsnips start to really sweeten up.

Thinking about 2018

At the same time, thoughts are also now turning to 2018 and the clean slate that it tantalisingly dangles in front of me. In the coming weeks, any beds that have finished cropping will be cleared.

I remove and compost the plants, give the beds a good hoe and leave any weeds on the surface to rot down over the winter. The key as always is not to leave your beds bare for the season ahead. The rain, wind and generally inclement winter weather will wash any nutrients in the soil away and generally play havoc with the soil. Bare soil is not a state that one sees in nature (think of a forest floor for example).

Because I have wet soil in my garden, I cover all of my beds down with black polythene for the winter. It helps keep the soil dry and warm. Before I do that however, there’s some work to be done, replacing the nutrients that have been taken from the soil by this growing season.

Veg patch maintenance

These nutrients haven’t just vanished into thin air though – they ended up in the veg we grew and subsequently went on to nourish us. The way to replace those nutrients and have the soil bursting with life for the start of the growing season next year is to cover the beds with a good thick layer of one of the following – green manure, garden/kitchen compost, seaweed or farmyard manure.

Usually I use a combination of all of these things. Typically, I don’t have enough compost from my compost heaps to cover all of my beds, and I end up trying to blag some good manure from somewhere (last year, it was horse manure from a local equine centre). If I can, I will also do a trip to the seaside for a few bags of seaweed. The plan is to have all the beds covered with their layer of manure, compost or seaweed and then covered down with the polythene by the end of November.

Between November and April, I turn veg patch maintenance over to the earthworms. It will be up to them to drag that lovely manure down into the soil, mixing it with the topsoil to create the perfect growing medium for next year.

The Basics – Green Manure

A green manure is a fast growing “cover” crop grown specifically to add nutrients and organic matter to the soil. While it is growing the green manure protects the soil (its roots hold the soil together) and because it grows so quickly, it also suppresses weeds.

Green manures are dug into the soil when the plants are still young and typically before they flower. The green leafy material is very high in nutrients and so, as it decomposes it improves and protects the soil. The upside of digging in when the plants are young is that they are still quite tender and easy to work with. They also break down in the soil quite quickly. Left to get too old and tough, and it becomes a more difficult job.

To dig in the manure, use a shears to chop down the manure at ground level. Then simply use a fork to turn the soil over, incorporating everything (including the roots). It’s important not to go too deep – the green manure will rot down best and have the most impact if dug in quite shallow (about 15cm).

Recipe of the Week – Carrot Salad with Parsley and Mint

shutterstock_644558083 Source: Zu Kamilov via Shutterstock

This is a very simple carrot salad recipe from Deborah Madison’s seminal veggie cookbook, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. This serves 4-6. I make a batch of this and keep it in the fridge for 2-3 days for lunches.

Ingredients

  • 450g carrots
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
  • 2 tsp finely chopped mint leaves
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Peel and grate the carrots into a large bowl. Mix the vinegar with ¼ teaspoon of salt, then whisk in the oil. Toss with the carrots, parsley and mint.

Season with pepper to taste. Serve right away or cover and chill for 1 hour.

Michael Kelly is founder of GIY and GROW HQ. 

Click here for more GIY tips and recipes.

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About the author:

Michael Kelly  / Grower

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