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Dublin: 11°C Friday 15 October 2021

Think you're too 'time poor' to grow your own food? Think again...

It’s what we choose to do with our time that really counts.

Michael Kelly Grower

ONE OF THE most common objections put to us here in GIY about food growing is the amount of time it takes. It is a reasonable thing to be concerned about because, of course, all of us are supposedly time poor in this modern age.

I’ve always wondered about that expression – time poor – it seems an odd thing to pair the words ‘time’ and ‘poor’ together. We can be actually poor, and not have any money, but time poor people have exactly as much time available to them as everyone else. It’s what we choose to do with that time that really counts.

Sometimes I have to spend time ironing – it’s not something that I ever enjoy or would choose to do if I didn’t have to. But I choose to spend time growing food not because I really have to, but because I love it. I’ve never worked out how long I spend in the veg patch each week, because it’s not time I resent spending. Doing a rough tot, I suppose it’s maybe 6-8 hours a week at this busy time of year. I find that as the years pass, the time I spend GIYing becomes as much about the journey as the destination.

Thankfully, these long summer days give me the chance to get out to the veg patch in the early mornings and late at night. This morning before anyone in the house was up, I stirred myself to get out of the bed to do an hour in the veg patch. I planted out some cucumber plants in the polytunnel, pinched out the sideshoots on the tomato plants, and planted out my sweetcorn. Eventually, this time spent GIYing will invariably result in some food that we can eat – but that’s hardly the point. These stolen moments in the veg patch, when the world is just awakening itself, are the most precious moments of all.

Things to do this week – pinch out sideshoots on your tomato plants

As tomato plants grow, “side shoots” appear at a 45° angle between the main vertical stem and the horizontal leaf bearing branches. Left unchecked these will grow in to mini tomato plants and they suck the energy from the plant (energy which it needs to produce all that lovely fruit). These side shoots therefore need to be nipped out with your fingers. If you do so, the plant will produce more fruit.

You need to check your tomato plants once a fortnight or so and nip out any shoots that have appeared. If one gets away on you un-noticed and is very large, remove it carefully with a secateurs – it will tear the plant if you try to nip it out. It’s amazing how tidy a tomato plant looks if its sideshoots have been nipped out, and conversely how unruly it will look if they are not.

Incidentally, these side-shoots can be planted in to a pot and will become a brand new tomato plant – thrifty or what? A neat trick is to pot up a side-shoot late in the season (August or September) and keep it indoors over the winter. In the spring of next year, it will burst in to life, and produce tomatoes far earlier than your other plants.

Recipe of the week – carrot and kohlrabi salad

Kohlrabi is a wonderful replacement for cabbage in any type of “slaw”. This is a simple, mayo-free, super-healthy, tasty slaw.


2 large carrots, peeled
2 kohlrabi, peeled
2 tbsp sunflower oil
4 tsp cumin seeds
4 tsp lemon juice

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Finely shred the carrots and kohlrabi, on a mandolin or on the coleslaw setting of your food processor. Put these in a bowl with a large pinch of salt and mix together well. Heat the sunflower oil in a small pan, add the cumin seeds and, as soon as they start to sizzle, add them to the vegetables with the lemon juice and toss together.

Tip of the week – grow Florence fennel

Florence fennel is grown for its aniseed-flavoured swollen bulb – it’s an acquired taste and won’t suit everyone, and it’s also a little difficult to grow well. On the other hand, it’s an incredibly attractive plant that will look fantastic in your veggie patch while growing. It’s worth noting that Florence fennel is a different plant to herb fennel, though the leaves of Florence fennel can be eaten in salads.

Florence fennel is frost -ender so it makes sense to wait until June to sow. Mark out lines and make a shallow drill 1cm deep. Water if dry and sow seed thinly in rows 45cm apart. Thin to 30cm when they have established. You can also sow Florence fennel in module trays if you wish – sow two seeds per module and thin out the weakest one when they germinate. Plant out after 4-5 weeks. Keep well watered in dry weather (dry soil encourages bolting) and weed regularly. You can earth up the bulbs as they start to swell to make them whiter and sweeter. Harvest when the bulbs are 7cm across.

GIY’s vision is for a healthier, more connected and more sustainable world where people grow some of their own food. Each year we inspire and support over 65,000 people and 1,500 community food-growing groups and projects around Ireland, and run food-growing campaigns, events and publications. www.giyireland.com

Michael Kelly is a freelance journalist, author of ‘GROW COOK EAT’ and founder of GIY.

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About the author:

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