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Dublin: 8 °C Thursday 23 January, 2020

From the Garden: Cleaning the house and garden are not chores - but the route to enlightenment

Since reading the book, I’ve started sweeping the floor every morning in a mindful way – it’s delightfully old school and calming at the same time, writes Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Grower

I PICKED UP a fascinating little book called A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind in the airport a few weeks back, and it has reset how I view some of the mundane jobs that need to be done around the house and garden.

The word ‘chores’ is probably deeply unhelpful to describe these jobs since it has such negative connotations.

In his book, Buddhist monk Shoukei Matsumoto suggests that keeping the house and garden clean is not a chore at all, but a route to enlightenment. Who knew? 

The key to transforming these tasks from repetitive, annoying ‘must-dos’ into something a little more spiritually useful is both simple and infuriatingly tough at the same time: they must be done mindfully.

I’ve been practising in the last few weeks: trying to stay in the moment while pottering around the kitchen or the veg patch and it is surprisingly calming. Staying in tune with your breathing while you are working gets rid of the mental chatter (if only briefly), as well as removing the sense of impatience that often accompanies mundane jobs.  

Take sweeping the floor as an example. Our tiled kitchen floor is a great colour for disguising dirt, so it can generally go a few days or longer before it needs a hoover.  

Since reading the book, however, I’ve started sweeping the floor every morning in a mindful way. It takes about 3-4 minutes (I timed it) and it’s delightfully old school and calming at the same time.

My daughter thinks it’s hilarious and slags me off about my ‘mindful sweeping’ which she always says while making quotation marks in the air with her fingers.

Out in the potting shed meanwhile, I try to stay mindful while seed sowing.

A bag of compost opened and tipped out on the sowing bench. Cold black plastic seed trays filled with even colder blacker compost.

Seed labels lined up awaiting a scrawl of information. Seed packets fished out from my big box of tricks and ripped open to reveal their bounty.

While I work I try to remember whether it’s my 14th or 15th growing season?

Then I find myself wondering how many seasons I have ahead of me. Maybe 30 if I am lucky? I pull myself back from such existential thoughts and try to stay in the moment. I plug in the heated cable to start the process of warming the sand beneath the seed pots. I realise I am whistling.

I have shelter from the elements in the potting shed but I feel my feet are numb in my wellies and the tips of my fingers are cold. I can see my breath while I work. I would like to luxuriate over this process, particularly today since it’s the first sowing of the year, but it’s too damn cold – so I move quickly.

Sow a seed, label it, move on. Before I finish I make a cloche over the pots with some rubber pipe and spread a layer of clear plastic over them, tucking the plastic in beneath them. I am creating a little hothouse for these seeds, which need heat to germinate. It feels a little artificial, but my growing year always starts like this – coaxing Mediterranean conditions from a cold February and trying to warm up the world.

The Basics – The Needs of Seeds

You will probably remember from your science classes back in school that seeds need some specific conditions in order to germinate and thrive. Most seeds need these three conditions:

1) Heat – generally speaking, most seeds need a decent temperature to germinate.

A warm windowsill in the house or a heated bench in the potting shed is therefore ideal for starting seeds off. There are exceptions, but it’s a good rule of thumb.

2) Light – once germination begins, light is essential.  

This explains why seeds are sown too early in the year often get ‘leggy’ and weak. They are literally straining to reach the light because there is not enough daylight.  

Some veg, such as celery and lettuce, need light in order to germinate in the first place. Most seeds need 14 hours or so of light in order to thrive. Some growers even use artificial lighting to compensate for the lack of natural light early in the year. I prefer to work with the seasons a little more.

3) Humidity / Moisture – the key when it comes to watering seeds is that they need uniform moisture. They should not be water-logged, and certainly never allowed to dry out.

Gentle watering with a fine rose is essential to ensure you don’t wash the seeds away (or push them too deep into the soil to germinate). 

This Month at GROW HQ

Spring has sprung, just about, and this month at GROW HQ we have a range of courses, classes and events to kick off the growing season.  

We’ve also a range of cookery courses and special seasonal eating events including a silent mindful lunch and our monthly Friday Feast.  

Recipe of the Week – Perfect Parmesan Parsnips

Parsnips, as you know, are tough as old boots and I still have a decent batch in the ground outside in the veg patch. Here’s a great recipe for tarting them up a bit from Donal Skehan from the GIY cookbook GROW COOK EAT.


  •  1kg of parsnips.
  • 3 tablespoons of wholemeal flour.

  • 1 tablespoon of ground black pepper.

  • 1 tablespoon of sea salt.

  • 1 generous handful of Parmesan cheese.

  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil.


Preheat the oven to 200oC/390oF/Gas 6. Peel the parsnips and chop in half and then slice into four. You may need to slice the chunks in half again depending on what size you want them.

Place the parsnips in a pot and cover with cold water.  Bring the pot to the boil and simmer for 4 minutes.

Rinse with a little cold water and drain the chunks in a colander. Combine the flour, pepper, and salt in a large bowl.

Tumble the parsnips into the bowl and toss to coat. Place in a large roasting tray, sprinkle over the Parmesan cheese and drizzle with olive oil.  

Roast in the oven for 25 minutes or until golden brown and crispy.

 Michael Kelly is an author, broadcaster and founder of GIY.

© GIY Ireland 2019 – all rights reserved.

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Michael Kelly  / Grower

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