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Dublin: 12 °C Tuesday 19 March, 2019
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Gardening: Plant your potatoes right now plus a recipe for warming winter root veg frittata

It’s the perfect time of year to clean out your polytunnel and start sowing potatoes and carrots, writes gardening expert Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Gardener

GENERALLY SPEAKING IT’S far too wintry outside to be sowing seeds, but the polytunnel is a place that doesn’t abide too rigidly to the vagaries of the Irish climate. In fact, polytunnel owners can extend their season at both ends, starting a little earlier and keeping going a little later than you would if growing outside. This is, in fact, one of the big benefits of owning a tunnel.

Typically I wait until February to sow any seeds, usually starting with the long season crops like tomatoes, aubergines and peppers sown indoors (on a heated mat or in a warm room).

It will be March before there is any sowing direct in the veg patch outside, and even then it will be only potatoes. But if you are really itching to get started with some sowing this month and you have a polytunnel or greenhouse, you don’t need to wait. A very cold snap could still cause havoc to January-sown seeds, but it’s worth the risk.

Veggies for early starts

Aubergines can be started off this month from seed, if you can provide them with temperatures of 20 degrees Celcius or more. For me that means a heated mat in the potting shed, but a warm room in the house will work too.

An early start with aubergines is often the difference between success and failure with this tricky to grow crop. Check out our veg directory on giy.ie for information on how to sow them.

In other years I’ve also had success with direct sowings of carrots and potatoes in the polytunnel in January. With the carrot sowing, I had tender young carrots ready to eat in early May. That is a useful thing indeed, particularly since I don’t sow my main crop of carrots until May and they’re not ready until September.

January-sown spuds will most likely need a fleece cover to protect emerging plants from frost, even in the polytunnel. If it works though and temperatures don’t dip consistently, you could be rewarded with a crop of new potatoes in early May which is much earlier than the outside crop.

shutterstock_403210663 Source: Shutterstock/amenic181

Don’t plant too many though. They might take up space needed in May for other more valuable crops like tomatoes (which will be ready to be planted out around then if sown in February).

Our polytunnel still has loads of oriental greens in the ground from an early autumn sowing last year, but I am still inclined to try a small sowing of lettuce and oriental greens for the polytunnel now. These will be ready to eat (hopefully) around early to late March when it’s possible that the existing crops will be past their best. As always with salads, consistent sowing is key.

You could also try a sowing of peas direct in the soil (possibly with a fleece cover just until the little seedlings get established). Again don’t go too mad as you don’t want them taking up valuable space in the tunnel when we get to the business end of proceedings in May/ June.

Things to Do This week – Clean up the Tunnel

  1. It’s a great time of the year to clean your polytunnel and get rid of any buildup of dirt and green mould which will decrease the amount of light available to plants over time. A long handled soft brush with a bucket of hot soapy water is the best job for this. A ladder might be needed for getting to the top of the tunnel (be careful). Use a hose to rinse. Repeat on the inside. You might need to wear rain gear.
  2. Recently someone told me that they clean the top of their polytunnel using a big sheet of bed linen, with a person on each side of the tunnel holding on to an end and pulling over and back as if it was a giant hanky. I’m officially intrigued.
  3. Stop tears and rips in the plastic from turning into something more serious using special polytunnel repair tape. I’ve had the same sheet of polythene on our polytunnel since we bought it well over ten years ago. A little care goes a long way.

Get Ireland Growing

Here in GIY we’ve seen how a little support and encouragement and a small grant is often all that’s needed to get a community food-growing project off the ground. Over the last few years we’ve been proud to support over 400 such projects including school and community gardens, but also food-garden projects focused on adult autism, mental health, direct provision centres, probation services and much more.

With our clever friends in Energia we’ve teamed up this year to create Energia Get Ireland Growing. We’ve a fund of €70,000 available to 85 projects across the island of Ireland, with grants from €500 to €2000. The deadline for applications is January 26th. For more details check out giy.ie.

Recipe of the Week – Winter Root Veg Frittata

shutterstock_514858066 Source: Shutterstock/DronG

If I am not feeling too adventurous in the kitchen, or am feeling a little rushed, then this is a go-to recipe, particularly at this time of year when root crops are still abundant.

You can throw pretty much any combination of veg at this recipe and it will stand up to the abuse quite happily. Couldn’t be simpler or more delicious – serve it hot or cold.

Ingredients

  • 500g mix of 4 or 5 different vegetables such as onions, carrots, squash, parsnip, beetroot and potatoes
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 7 large eggs
  • A handful of mixed herbs (eg parsley, rosemary and thyme), finely chopped
  • About 20g well-flavoured hard cheese, grated (cheddar or parmesan will do fine)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Prep the veg. Peel the onions and thickly slice. Peel the carrots, parsnips, beetroot, spuds and squash and cut into roughly equal chunks (about 2cm on average). Put in an ovenproof dish, add the garlic, oil and plenty of seasoning and bake for about 40 minutes until the veg is tender.

Beat the eggs together with the chopped herbs and some more salt and pepper. Take the dish from the oven, pour the egg evenly over the veg and scatter over the grated cheese.

Return to the oven for 10–15 minutes until the egg is set and the top is starting to colour. Leave to cool slightly, then slide the frittata out onto a plate or board.

Michael Kelly is founder of GIY and GROW HQ. 

Click here for more GIY tips and recipes.

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About the author:

Michael Kelly  / Gardener

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