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Dublin: 5 °C Monday 24 February, 2020

GIY: Sow seeds on a sunny indoor windowsill and try this cheesy leeks recipe

We’re coming out of our winter shell this month, writes GIY guru Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Grower

A THOUGHT OCCURRED to me last weekend as I considered what to do with my morning – there is, literally, nothing to do in the veg patch. We’re in a sort of interregnum, perched uncomfortably between two growing seasons. It feels odd.

Most of the preparatory work for the season ahead is finished. All of my beds are covered down nice and snug with a layer of compost or manure and a covering of black plastic.

I can assume that underneath, some interesting and beneficial things are happening – the soil is warming up (or not getting as cold as the soil around it) and the worms are doing their thing, breaking up the compost/manure and bringing it down in to the topsoil. Everything is as it should be.

Previous experience has taught me that it’s a bad idea to sow seeds this early in the year, even if I am tempted to get stuck in – there is just not enough light or heat in the days yet for seeds to do well. In previous years I’ve sown seeds around now only to find that (a) they get all straggly and weak because they are literally straining to reach the light and (b) they are ready for transplanting in late February or March when it’s too cold outside to plant them.

So here’s the bad news if you’re itching to get started (like I am). It’s as well to hold off for another few weeks, and even longer if you can bear it. Some of the long-season plants like tomatoes, aubergines, peppers could be sown next month, but really your vegetables will thank you for it if you hold off until it gets a little milder.

For the moment, we busy ourselves with jobs that barely qualify as GIY-related. Last weekend, I decided to power-hose the outside of the potting shed. It’s a job that’s sort of worth doing and I can list the benefits for you if you’re interested but it’s hardly vital in the grand scheme of things. That for the moment, is about as good as it gets.

HQ Courses in February

We’re coming out of our winter shell this month at GROW HQ, with a range of growing courses timed to coincide with the new growing season. On Saturday 10 February join our Head Grower Richard Mee for a course that looks at planning your veg patch; preparing the soil; sowing in trays for early crops outside; planting and pruning fruit; and preparing the tunnel for summer crops.

For complete novices, I’ll be delivering a full day ‘Beginners Guide to Growing’ course on Saturday 24 February.  More details on these and other courses at or on 051 584422.

The Basics – Things to Do in February

To Do

Turn over the soil only if the weather is dry – if the soil sticks to your boots it’s too early for digging. Keep off the soil to prevent soil compaction – use timber planks to stand on for access.

If you have not already done so order/buy your seeds, spuds and onion sets. “Chit” or sprout seed potatoes – put them in a container (eg 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 (to reduce acidity in very acid soils), particularly important in your brassica bed.


Finally, we can sow some seeds. On a sunny windowsill indoors, in a heated greenhouse or on a heating mat: sow celery, celeriac, leeks, lettuce, tomatoes, peas, aubergines, peppers/chilli-peppers and oriental greens. In the polytunnel or greenhouse you can direct sow: beetroot, summer and autumn cabbage, carrots, lettuce, radish.

Outside: Weather permitting you can try planting out broadbeans, spinach, kohlrabi, onion and shallot sets, and early pea varieties.


Continue harvesting winter cabbage, Brussels sprouts, spinach, kale and leeks.

Recipe of the Week – Cheesy Leeks with a 3-Mustard Sauce

shutterstock_555301699 Source: Shutterstock/Brent Hofacker

Leeks and cheese – what’s not to love. Try making this Lotte Duncan recipe with blue cheese or swapping out the leeks for some other seasonal veg (parsnips etc).


  • 3lb (1kg 350g) small leeks, trimmed and washed and cut in half
  • salt and pepper
  • 2oz (50g) butter
  • 3oz (50g) plain flour
  • ¾ pint (425ml) milk
  • 6oz (175g) cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1oz (25g) parmesan, or similar vegetarian hard cheese, grated
  • 1 tbsp (15g) wholegrain mustard
  • 1 tbsp (15g) Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp (5g) English mustard

For the topping

  • 2 tbsp fresh white breadcrumbs
  • 1oz (25g) grated cheddar cheese


Preheat oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6/180C fan oven. Place the leeks in a pan of cold salted water, bring to the boil and simmer for 3 minutes until just tender. Drain and put under cold water immediately to refresh and stop the cooking process.

Place the butter, flour and milk in a saucepan and slowly bring up to the boil and whisk all the time. Once it is up to the boil, reduce the heat and let it just simmer for 2 minutes. Add the grated cheddar and parmesan and then the mustards. Season with salt and pepper.

Put your leeks into a shallow serving dish and pour over the sauce. Mix the breadcrumbs and the cheese together and scatter over the top of the leeks. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes until the top is golden brown.

Michael Kelly is founder of GIY and GROW HQ. 

Click here for more GIY tips and recipes.


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Michael Kelly  / Grower

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