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Dublin: 12 °C Thursday 17 October, 2019
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Squash and peas please: crops you can plant in May

Squashes are incredibly delicious and they store well – so they can certainly start you on your path to self-sufficienty.

I LIKE GROWING all vegetables, but I love the ones that are sown once during the year and store well, so for example carrots, parsnips, onions, garlic and so on. These are the real high-return crops, where it’s possible to become self-sufficient (or close to it) with a single act of seed sowing. Squashes are another good example of this type of vegetable – thanks to their hard-as-nails outer skins they will store very well from harvest time (around October) right through to the following May which is an impressive eight months.

Though we’re in mid May now, I still have a couple of squashes left in the kitchen (variety Uchiki Kuri) from last year’s growing. They are an incredibly versatile and delicious veg to have around – equally at home in a salad, risotto, stew, roast, tart or quiche – and the bigger ones have a serious amount of eating in them. It will be a bittersweet moment when the final one is hacked open and eaten.

Why don’t commercial growers get in on the act?

So easy are squashes to grow, and so well do they store, that I always find it strange that more commercial growers here don’t get in on the act, particularly with the more unusual varieties of squashes. Generally speaking most supermarkets only stock butternut squash (and usually imported ones) – it’s a shame they are not more adventurous because there are far sweeter and more flavoursome varieties out there.

My favourite of all squash varieties is the ghostly, grey-blue Crown Prince which despite its enormous size and pumpkin-like demeanour, has an incomparable sweet flavour. I’ve seen an imported version on the shelves of a well-known Dublin artisan supermarket for a whopping €12, but never an Irish one (and from then on treated my own stock with a new-found reverence!).

It’s a good time of the year to sow squashes, so this week I got stuck in (see details below). I am growing the squash varieties Crown Prince, Delicata and Uchiki Kuri, and the pumpkins Baby Bear and Vif Rouge d’Etampes. I have sown about 30 seeds in all, but will probably not have enough space to plant them all out. If I can produce about 40-50 fruits in total I will be happy that there are many months of good eating ahead this winter.

Things to Do This Week – Sow Squashes

Sow seeds in early to mid May individually in 7cm pots filled with potting compost. Sow about 2cm deep. The pots will need to be kept on a heating mat or a sunny windowsill. Transplant them to larger 12 or 15cm pots after about 3 weeks. Leave the pots indoors or in a greenhouse or polytunnel. Make sure the soil where you are going to grow your squashes has had a decent application of well rotted manure or compost.

Harden off the plants well and then plant out in early to mid June. Cover with fleece if it’s cold at nights. Space the plants 2m apart (or 1m apart for bush-varieties) – this seems a lot, but once these babies get moving, there will be no stopping them. They can take over a veg patch, sending shoots here there and everywhere. So probably not a great idea for a small garden. Keep them in check.

Tip of the Week – Squash Tips

A key issue with squashes can be failure to set fruit in cold, wet summers. You can help them along by hand pollinating – if this sounds very David Bellamy, don’t worry, it’s actually quite straightforward. You are simply transferring the pollen from the male to the female flower using a soft brush.

You can identify which is which by looking at the flower stalk – the male stalk is plain while the female flowers have a small fruit on the stalk. Grow squashes somewhere sheltered – they don’t like wind. Protect young plants from slugs in early stages.

Recipe of the Week – Broad Bean and Dill Pilaf

If you sowed overwintering broad beans last October or November, you might well be celebrating your first broad beans of the year in the coming weeks.

Ingredients:

300g basmati rice
50g butter, plus extra to serve
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
500ml vegetable stock
400g podded and skinned broad beans (about 1.6kg unpodded)
handful dill, chopped

Directions:

Rinse the rice until the water runs clear, then soak in warm water for 5 mins and drain well. Heat the butter in a saucepan and add the onion and garlic. Sizzle everything for 8-10 mins until softened, but not coloured. Stir though the rice and pour over the stock. Cover, bring to the boil, then turn down heat to a minimum and cook the rice very slowly for 10 mins. Lift the lid, and quickly scatter over the podded beans, then replace the lid. Turn up the heat and simmer for 5 mins until all the liquid is absorbed. Add the dill, give the rice a good stir and serve with extra butter melting through.

Give Peas a Chance at Work

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 5 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.

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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