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Dublin: 4 °C Sunday 15 December, 2019
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The weather's getting better – finally! – so it's time to get stuck into the vegetable patch

Tips on growing your own seasonal produce, as well as delicious recipes, from GIY’s Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Grower

WITH WARMER WEATHER getting established, we might finally make some real progress on this year’s growing. It has been a deathly slow spring. Despite some warm temperatures in early April (which seemed to suit the weeds!), it then got cold again and remained so for most of May – as a result growth has been slow.

There have, however, been some notable successes in the veg patch (there always are). I am now, decidedly, a big fan of overwinter growing thanks to the broad beans and red onions which I sowed back in October. It is the first time I have done so and I’ve found it to work really well.

The red onions in particular are thriving. Up to now I have found this particular type of onion challenging to grow using the more traditional approach (sowing in spring, harvesting in autumn) – they were often soft or inclined to rot quickly in storage. But perhaps sowing them in the autumn gives them the chance to toughen up and acclimatise.

Sowing in the autumn has also given us a super-early crop which is welcome in advance of the main crop of onions which won’t be ready for another few months – we’ve been eating red onions for about three weeks now. The broad beans too are thriving – the plants are up to head height already and this week we had our first baby pods for a salad (you can eat the pod whole at this very early stage).

In advance of Bloom (I’ll be missing in action from the veg patch for well over a week) I had to get a couple of big jobs done so I spent most of last Sunday in the vegetable patch. In the polytunnel I did a big clear out of some winter stalwarts which were well past their best and running to seed (chard, perpetual spinach, endive). I also planted 24 tomato plants, three calabrese plants and a full tray of salad greens (orientals, lettuce, rocket, annual spinach and coriander).

Outside in the veg patch I planted out a full tray of beetroot, some cauliflowers and two courgette plants. I am hoping for the sake of the courgettes that the weather remains mild – a bit like myself, they don’t like the cold.

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With our friends in Cully & Sully, we’re looking for 500 workplaces to take part in our ‘al desko’ food growing challenge by growing peas on their desk at work. Sign up today for a free Give Peas a Chance growing kit for you and up to five colleagues. Each week we will be picking our favourite growers to win cool GIY prizes and the top prize is worth €5,000 including a €3,000 garden which you can donate to your local community. Sign up at www.cullyandsully.com/ourgarden.

Things to do this week – get bed ready for carrots

By sowing carrots at the end of May or early June, you can avoid the dreaded carrot root fly. I also find that leaving my main crop sowing until then is just generally more successful with quicker and more reliable germination. So this week I am starting to get the bed ready for the carrots.

For me that means two things. Firstly I turn the soil in the bed over with a fork so that the carrots have got a nice friable, un-compacted soil mix to grow down into. I also rake the soil over to get it to a nice fine tilth ready for sowing. Secondly, I spray the bed with nemaslug – a tiny microscopic nematode which keeps the bed slug free for up to six weeks. I have found this invaluable for the last few years in keeping slugs away from the little carrot seedlings. That six-week window gives the carrots time to get established.

Recipe of the week – Spinach Salad

Celebrate the new-season spinach by making a meal out of it. This recipe is from the Food Network and makes a delicous healthy salad supper. Serves 4.

Ingredients:

8 ounces young spinach
2 large eggs
8 pieces thick-sliced bacon, chopped
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 large white mushrooms, sliced
1 small red onion, very thinly sliced

Remove the stems from the spinach and wash, drain and pat dry thoroughly. Place into a large mixing bowl and set aside. Hard boil the eggs and set aside. Remove and peel off the shell. Slice each egg into eight pieces and set aside.

While the eggs are cooking, fry the mushrooms in some butter or oil until nicely browned. Then fry the bacon and remove to a paper towel to drain, reserving 3 tablespoons of the rendered fat. Crumble the bacon and set aside. Transfer the fat to a small saucepan set over low heat and whisk in the red wine vinegar, sugar and Dijon mustard. Season with a small pinch each of salt and black pepper.

Add the mushrooms and the sliced onion to the spinach and toss. Add the dressing and bacon and toss to combine. Divide the spinach between 4 plates or bowls and evenly divide the egg among them. Season with pepper, as desired. Serve immediately.

Tip of the week – Make your own plant feed

Nettle tea is easy to make and is a great tonic for plants. Chop fresh nettle stems and pack them into a bucket, covering with water. Cover with a stone or slab to keep the nettles submerged in the water. Leave it for 2-3 weeks. The resulting feed will smell foul, but is dynamite for plants as it’s full of nutrients.

To use, dilute ten parts water to one part nettle feed. This will be particularly beneficial for leafy plants such as brassicas since it’s nitrogen rich. Fruiting crops like tomatoes will benefit more from a potassium rich feed like that made from comfrey. The process (and dilution rate) is the same to make comfrey tea.

GIY’s vision is for a healthier, more connected and more sustainable world where people grow some of their own food. Each year we inspire and support over 65,000 people and 1,500 community food-growing groups and projects around Ireland, and run food-growing campaigns, events and publications. www.giyireland.com

Michael Kelly is a freelance journalist, author of ‘GROW COOK EAT’ and founder of GIY.

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About the author:

Michael Kelly  / Grower

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