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Dublin: 6 °C Tuesday 15 October, 2019

Growing your own food? Here's what to do in July...

Some handy tips for the vegetable patch this weekend…

Michael Kelly Grower

IT’S FAIR TO say that laziness is never particularly rewarding or productive in the long term. This fact was brought home to me this week when my decision not to put up supports for my broad bean plants was laid low by a particularly nasty little wind which felled most of the crop.

You might recall earlier in the year I mentioned that this season, for the first time, I sowed broad beans pre-Christmas. I was delighted with the result. Sown in October, the beans grew on quickly for six weeks or so, and then stopped – the little seedlings were hardy enough to withstand the heaviest frosts the winter could throw at them. Then in the spring they burst in to life and gave us a really early crop – we were eating our first broad beans by May and hurrah for that.

Generally speaking a fairly basic bamboo cane/twine frame is enough to keep a double row of broadbeans supported – I’ve seen people supporting the individual plants with twiggy sticks, but I think that’s overkill. I just put a bamboo cane on each corner of the bed and run a few lengths of twine around them to box in the plants and stop them falling over.

With the over-wintered plants, I was lulled in to a fall sense of security by their all-round hardiness – the plants seemed tougher and sturdier than normal. Though there was part of me that knew it was folly, I decided I would try growing them without support. But then along came a gusty night, and the wind knocked down well over half of the plants. Most of the felled plants were killed off by this incident so last evening I had to remove them and belatedly put a support in place for the remaining plants.

Of course, by now they are too big and heavy to be supported by bamboo canes and so I had to buy some fence posts and wire to do the job. Ultimately, a much bigger job than it would have been had I done it right in the first place. There’s a lesson in there somewhere, which one would hope I will learn from (but there are no guarantees).

Things to do this month – July

Greenhouse cucumbers need support in the form of canes or strings – ideally these should be erected before planting. Tie the plant to the cane at regular intervals as it grows up it. You can pinch out the growing tip when it reaches the top of the support to stop it growing any taller. OR, you can also train it so that it grows down the same support again (be careful when handling the stem – it can snap quite easily).

Cucumbers benefit from a humid environment so spray the leaves on very hot days. Pile compost around the base of the plants every couple of weeks – this will retain moisture. Water generously. If you notice powdery mildew on leaves (like a white mould – it also affects pumpkins), use a milk spray.

Recipe of the week: Ratatouille

Ratatouille is a classic summer dish that makes great use of veggie patch “gluts”. It can fairly be described as “fiddly”, but I think it’s worth it. This serves four.


5 super ripe tomatoes
3 courgettes – cut in to slices
2 aubergines – cut in to chunks
2 red or yellow peppers – sliced
1 onion, peeled and sliced
2 garlic cloves , peeled and crushed
5 tbsp olive oil
bunch of basil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar

Start by doing all your choppin’ and slicin’. Score a cross on the base of each tomato, then put them into a bowl. Pour boiling water over the tomatoes and leave for half a minute, then pour off the water. Cover them with cold water and leave to cool – the skin should come off easily now. Remove the seeds from the tomatoes and roughly chop.

Heat 2 tbsp of the oil in a sauté pan and brown the aubergines on each side, then set aside. Next up brown the courgettes in a little more oil and set aside. Then do the same with the peppers. Cook the onion for 5 minutes, add the garlic and fry for a further min. Stir in the red wine vinegar and sugar, then tip in the tomatoes and half the basil. Return the vegetables to the pan with some salt and pepper and cook for 5 mins. Garnish with the rest of the basil and serve with some crusty bread.

Tip of the week: which plants need lots of water?

Which veg plants need a lot of watering in dry weather and which can ones can withstand a bit of a drought? It’s difficult to come up with a definitive list, but here are some guidelines. Leafy vegetables like brassicas, lettuce, spinach and celery needs lots of water – 10-15 litres per square meter a week.

Fruiting veg like toms, peas, beans, cucumbers need heavy watering when they are flowering and fruits are starting to swell. Too much watering of root crops will encourage lush foliage rather than good roots – in early stages water only if soil is drying out but more is required when roots are swelling.

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

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.

Think you’re too ‘time poor’ to grow your own food? Think again…

Perfect for a picnic on a summer’s day – my trick for growing sweet, delicious tomatoes

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About the author:

Michael Kelly  / Grower

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