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Dublin: 16 °C Saturday 21 September, 2019
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From the Garden: One vegetable is essential to the Irish diet - so why not learn to grow it?

Potatoes are high in vitamin C, naturally fat-free, a source of fibre and potassium and low in sugar. They are also versatile and delicious, writes Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Grower

AS IF POTATO consumption in Ireland wasn’t under enough pressure already with our growing allegiance to pasta and rice, there’s a new threat from the recent EAT-Lancet commission report.

Although the report and most of the media attention was largely on recommending a reduction in meat and dairy consumption (90% in red meat and milk consumption, and a 70% reduction in chicken) it also recommended a substantial reduction in the consumption of potatoes and other starchy vegetables. 

It seems strange to see Lancet recommending that we increase our intake of veg but reduce our intake of potatoes – this GIYer simply can’t view one veg as good and another as bad. 

Potatoes are high in vitamin C, naturally fat-free, a source of fibre and potassium,  and low in sugar. 

They are also a cinch to grow, and versatile in the kitchen (mashed, baked, roasted, chipped) so, as always, I will be getting a super early crop going in the polytunnel this month.  Most people sow their early potatoes outside in the vegetable patch in March, but if you have a polytunnel or greenhouse you can get started right now – for a super early crop around May.

Some years ago I went on a course with Jim Cronin over at his smallholding in Co Clare, and he outlined this method, which creates very deep beds and gives you an abundant crop.

Cultivate the soil in the bed, in the tunnel where you are going to sow spuds and make it loose. Take the soil from the bed (down to the subsoil) and put it out on to the path.

Put your seed potatoes on to the subsoil at 10-inch spacing. On top of each potato put a little bit of soil.

Put 15 inches of farmyard manure on top of the spuds. The little bit of soil stops the manure from burning the seed potatoes.

The manure can be fresh or composted. Then put the soil from the path back on top of the manure.

It is the depth of manure and soil on top of the seed that encourages a long stalk and therefore lots and lots of lovely spuds.

Put some fleece on top to protect from cold weather. Take the fleece off once the potato plants appear but put it back on at nighttime when frost is a risk.

Hoe occasionally to prevent weeds from taking hold, until the plants produce a canopy of leaves, which will prevent weeds.

Do not water until some of the plants start to flower – probably in April. (There is enough moisture in the air in the tunnel in Feb and March and if you water too early you will get tall, leafy plants but few spuds.)

Start to look for spuds from early May. Cut stems down to 2 inches in July (if you still have any spuds left by then), which will allow you to leave them in the ground for longer.

The Basics: Jobs for the Month Ahead

Prepare:

If you have not already done so order or buy your seeds, spuds and onion sets.

“Chit” or sprout seed potatoes – put them in a container, such as a used egg carton or empty seed tray, and leave them in a bright warm place.

Check the pH of your soil – you can buy a soil pH testing kit in any garden centre.

Lime your soil now if required (which it is in very acid soils), this is particularly important in your brassica bed.

Sow:

Later this month we can, finally, sow some seeds.

On a sunny windowsill indoors, in a heated greenhouse or on a heating mat: sow celery, globe artichokes, celeriac, leeks, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, peas, aubergines, peppers or chilli-peppers.

In a polytunnel or greenhouse: beetroot, carrots, leeks, lettuce, radish.

Outside: Weather permitting you can try planting out broad beans and early pea varieties.

Harvest:

You could still be harvesting carrots, leeks, celeriac, Winter cabbage and cauliflowers, Brussels sprouts, spinach and kale.

Recipe of the Week: Mick’s Made-up Sausage and Beer Stew

Last night I was searching for ideas to make dinner and all I had in the fridge was a tray of sausages.

I was tempted to go for a simple plate of sausage, eggs and chips but I had some veg in the basket from a harvest last weekend and decided to concoct some class of a stew.

It was surprisingly delicious, and warming on a cold January night. I would generally pair sausages with cider in a stew, but, with it being dry January all I had in the fridge was a bottle of non-alcoholic lager!

Never mind, it seemed to work.

Don’t worry too much about sticking to the veg ingredients – you could use celery instead of celeriac or swede instead of squash. Be adventurous.

Serves 4

Ingredients 

  • 6-8 good quality dinner sausages
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 1 leek, chopped finely
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and diced
  • Half a celeriac, peeled and diced
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • ¼ of a squash or pumpkin, peeled and chopped into large chunks
  • Small bottle of beer
  • Tin of tomatoes or 2 tbs tomato puree
  • 500ml beef or chicken stock
  • 1 tbs mustard (I used Dijon)
  • 2 tbsp chopped herbs (parsley, rosemary and thyme)
  • 1 bay leaf

 Directions:

Heat a small amount of oil in a frying pan. Cut the sausages into chunks and fry them for a minute or so on each side until browned, then remove from the pan and set aside on a plate.

In the same frying pan, fry the onions, garlic, leeks, carrots and celeriac on a gentle heat for about 10 minutes (until soft). Transfer to a heavy saucepan or casserole.

Pour the bottle of beer into the frying pan to deglaze the pan, scraping any nice brown bits off the pan with a wooden spatula. Bring to the boil and let it simmer for about 10 minutes to reduce down a little.

Add it to your saucepan with the veg, and also add the stock, tomatoes, herbs and mustard. Bring to the boil and then add the squash or pumpkin.

Cook for 15 minutes with the lid on. Add the sausages back to the saucepan and cook for another 15 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Check the consistency – leave to simmer for another 10 minutes if it needs to be thickened or add a little boiling water if it’s too thick.

Serve with crusty bread or for a change crispy baked potatoes.

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

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About the author:

Michael Kelly  / Grower

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