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From the Garden: 'Traditionally Irish people put their spuds in the ground on or around St Patrick’s Day'

The act of harvesting spuds is pure GIY joy. Rummaging in the soil underneath a potato plant and finding lots of lovely tubers is as good as Christmas, writes Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Grower

FUNDAMENTALLY POTATOES ARE not difficult to grow.

All you are doing is basically sticking one of last year’s spuds in the soil which sprouts into a plant, which produces lots of other potatoes.

So a single potato is magically transformed into anything from five to fifteen potatoes which you must admit is sort of miraculous.

Traditionally, Irish people put their spuds in the ground on or around St Patrick’s Day, believing it to be an auspicious day on which to do so.

Since it’s always the first outside sowing I do each year, it’s always exciting after a long winter hibernation.

The most important thing to remember is that potatoes form along the stem between the seed spud and the surface of the soil – the more space you have between the two, the more spuds you get.

So, that means either sowing the spud really deep in the soil or ‘earthing up’ once the plant comes out of the ground (i.e. drawing soil up around the stem to force it to grow longer).

Potatoes won’t really mind if your soil isn’t great, and in fact, they will do a good job of helping you to improve it.

Sowing spuds is an almost universally accepted method of helping to turn a poor, unpromising piece of ground into a vegetable patch.

When you grow your own potatoes you also get to try out lots of varieties that aren’t so readily available in the shops (where the Rooster and Kerr’s Pink hold sway) – you can literally grow whatever variety takes your fancy, for e.g. Orla, Home Guard, British Queen, Duke of York, Setanta, Cara, Sarpo Mira and more.

I think it’s weird that we’ve become obsessed with imported sweet potatoes as a so-called superfood when the humble spud is just as nutritious and what’s more it’s a seasonal, fresh, local food that also supports Irish jobs.

It’s one of the most versatile ingredients we have at our disposal in the kitchen.

Very few dinners (in our house at least) do not contain some portion of potatoes, whether they are boiled, baked, roasted, fried, mashed, chipped, or if we’re feeling sassy au gratin or Dauphine.

And if you think supermarket spuds are convenient, well in my view it’s even more convenient to wander down to the veg patch and dig some spuds fresh from the soil – you don’t even have to get in the car.

The act of harvesting spuds is pure GIY joy.

Rummaging in the soil underneath a potato plant and finding lots of lovely tubers is a moment that gives opening presents on Christmas morning a run for its money.

Things to Do This Week: Sow Spuds

The soil in which you are planting potatoes requires a generous application of well-rotted farmyard manure, compost or seaweed before planting (ideally a couple of weeks before).

Sow first earlies in mid-March in single rows, 15cm deep, 25cm apart and 45cm between rows. Maincrop spuds are sown in mid to late April. Increase spacing to 35cm.

It is vitally important to include potatoes in your crop rotation as they are susceptible to disease if grown in the same ground year on year.

Check earlies in mid-June to see how they are getting on. Earlies will be ready about 14 weeks after sowing. Maincrops take 18 weeks.

I typically leave my earlies in the ground and dig as required. They do fine in the ground until September at which point we move on to maincrop. Maincrop can stay in the ground until the first frosts – lift them then and store in hessian sacks.

Recipe of the Week: Potato, Kale and Roast Garlic Soup

This is our chef at GROW HQ, JB’s recipe for potato, kale and roast garlic soup. It is delicious, with the garlic cooked beforehand to give it a lovely flavour.

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole head of garlic

  • a drizzle of olive oil
  •  1 kg potatoes (any type will do)

  •  1 leek

  •  1 small onion

  •  1 small pinch ground nutmeg

  •  sea salt

  •  50g butter

  •  300g green curly kale or cavolo nero

Directions:

Roast the whole head of garlic (skin on) covered with a drizzle of olive oil in the oven at 120℃ for 30/45 min until the garlic softens. Let the garlic cool. Cut the bottom part of the garlic head and squeeze out the roast garlic pulp…. Smells delicious …

Cook the kale in a large pot of salted boiling water for 3 to 4 minutes. Strain the kale and cool straight away in ice water.

Squeeze the cooked leave and chop them roughly. This process will fix the chlorophyll and will keep your soup vibrant green.

Peel and chop roughly all the vegetables and sweat them with the butter, nutmeg and salt on low heat in a large sauce pot for 5 min. Cover with 1.5 litres of cold water and simmer for 20/30 min until all the vegetables are cooked through.

Add the blanched kale and the garlic pulp and blend. Check the seasoning before serving.

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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