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Dublin: 12 °C Friday 22 February, 2019
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Here’s the recipe for a lovely creamy, cheesy leek gratin that will warm the socks off you

GIY expert, Michael Kelly also tells us what we should be doing in the garden this week.

Michael Kelly Grower

I GOT A much overdue clean up done on the polytunnel last weekend. Like most people that own a tunnel I am a borderline obsessed with mine – it’s been such a good friend to me over the years, bringing table loads of food, particularly at times of the year when there’s little happening in the veg patch outside.

So, I contemplate it, consider it, and generally fuss over it, far more than I should.

As I worked to clear the detritus of this year’s tomato and cucumber crops, I was debating yet another winter restructuring inside the tunnel – some years ago, I changed the layout so that I have one wide bed up the centre, two paths on the outside of that bed, and then two narrow beds up the outside of the tunnel.

That’s brilliant to maximise the usable space in the tunnel since you can plant right up to the edge of the plastic on each side (as you are able to reach in from the paths). It also means that I can grow tall plants (like tomatoes, cucumbers and runner beans) in the middle bed because they are growing in the centre where there is the maximum height in the tunnel.

The downside is that the paths are in a location where the roof of the tunnel is starting to slope down and so the ‘headspace’ isn’t great. I have to bend my head to one side when walking in the tunnel which is not so bad if you’re just popping in to grab a handful of tomatoes, but, is downright uncomfortable if you’re spending longer in there doing some work.

So, I am contemplating going back to the original layout I had when I bought the tunnel first, with just one path up the centre and two wide beds on either side. That’s a big job, and will complicate my tomato growing arrangements (and if I can’t grow toms right, I don’t see much point in having a tunnel) but it will make working in the tunnel an awful lot easier.

Obviously in the grand scheme of things, this is not a major decision, but in the microcosm of my veg growing world, it’s something to be mulled over.

Things to Do this Week

  • Good garden hygiene helps greatly in the prevention of disease carry-over from one year to the next so remove yellowing leaves from any crops remaining and rake up fallen leaves.
  • Mice can be a problem at this time of the year and crops sown in the ground like broad beans, garlic etc can be vulnerable. Protect them under cloches.
  • It’s a good time of the year to add lime to your beds (particularly the ones that will take brassicas next year), so buy a pH testing kit if you don’t already have one, and test your soil

shutterstock_150455084 Source: Shutterstock/Elena Shashkina

Recipe of the Week – Leek and Bacon Gratin

Leeks are the mainstay of the winter veg patch and this seems to have been a relatively decent year for them.

Here’s a lovely creamy, cheesy leek gratin that will warm the socks right off you.

I boil a ham on a Sunday to use for sandwiches for school lunches for the week – on Wednesday or Thursday, the remnants generally end up in some class of a pie, tartiflette or gratin. This one is perfect – leeks and bacon are a great combination.

Ingredients:

• 125ml veg or chicken stock

• carton double cream

• 150ml milk

• 1 garlic clove , crushed

• 1 bay leaf

• a knob of butter butter , for greasing

• 800g potatoes , peeled and thinly sliced

• 2 leeks , washed and thinly slliced

• 175g sliced ham, chopped

• 85g cheddar, grated

Directions:

Pour the stock, cream and milk into a small saucepan, add the garlic and bay leaf and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, cover and let the flavours infuse while you get on with the rest of the dish.

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4/fan 160C. Butter a two litre gratin dish well. Mix the potatoes, leeks and ham together in the dish, and spread out in an even layer. Pour over the stock mixture and tuck the bay leaf in the middle.

Season and sprinkle with the cheese. Stand the dish on a baking tray to catch any spills. Loosely cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Test the potatoes with a knife – they should be just beginning to soften. Remove the foil and bake for another 35-45 minutes, spooning some of the stock mixture over every now and again until the potatoes are tender.

Cool for 15 minutes before serving.

shutterstock_111621425 Source: Shutterstock/rangizzz

Tip of the Week – Sow Spuds

Some GIYers do a sowing of early potatoes in the polytunnel or greenhouse which gives an extra early crop in April/May. Plant sprouted seed potatoes at 15cm deep and 30cm apart.

As plants emerge next year, they will have to be covered with a thick layer of fleece as they will be very vulnerable to night time frosts. A hard frost can kill a potato plant.

Read: Fed up of sweeping up Christmas tree pine needles? Save them, they could prove handy>

Read: This is Hannah, and this week she took one last trip to the vet>

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About the author:

Michael Kelly  / Grower

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