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Dublin: 16 °C Friday 19 April, 2019
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I wince at the phrase “green fingers” – everyone can grow their own food

All you need it a little time to build your confidence.

Michael Kelly Grower

WHEN YOU HAVE been growing your own food for a few years, it’s easy to forget what it felt like when you started out first. I am talking about that sweaty, daunted, vaguely frightened feeling – afraid to start, afraid to make a mistake, afraid to look foolish if it goes wrong.

I am reminded of something that a friend once told me when I asked her why she didn’t grow her own food. She said her dad gave her a beautiful flowering orchid once as a present, and instead of feeling gratitude she felt a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, knowing that it would only be a matter of days before she would kill it. The feeling in her stomach, she said, was ‘preemptive guilt’ that she couldn’t keep this beautiful living thing alive. Little wonder, then, that so many people who would like to grow their own food don’t ever start.

So, here’s a confession. In my first few years of GIYing I was completely and utterly useless at it. Voracious reading on the subject left me feeling none the wiser. A veg growing guide might, for example, tell you that you start growing garlic by sticking a clove in the soil – I would immediately wonder, “which end do you stick in the soil?” and riddled with indecision, I would be reluctant to even try. The first time I sowed carrots, I ended up weeding the little seedlings away, because I had no idea which were the weeds and which were the carrot seedlings.

Too much information at once 

Most people start their GIY journey by buying a book – usually some sort of a vegetable growing guide that has an A-Z listing of all the vegetables one can grow. This seems sensible and I’m all for people buying books (particularly if it’s our one!) but I always think that starting with a comprehensive guide to growing is like using the Kama Sutra to learn the basics of sex. What one really needs of course, is to keep it simple, start small and focus on vegetables that are easy to grow (like herbs and salad greens, for example). A couple of early quick wins will give you the confidence to keep going.

Incidentally, I wince whenever I hear the phrase “green fingers” – the idea that you are either born with an ability to grow things, or not, is deeply unhelpful. In reality, growing things is a skill and, like any skill, it takes time to master.

All of us have to go through that phase where we are novices and we have to accept the fact that we will most likely kill a lot of plants while we wait for our ability to catch up with our enthusiasm.

Once we’ve accepted that fact, it somehow doesn’t seem so scary. Let’s be honest, in the grand scheme of things, a couple of plants sacrificed for the greater good is not such a big deal. Don’t let yourself get derailed by occasional mishaps. Get back on the horse and try again. The most important thing is that we show up each spring ready to try another season.

Things to do in April

To do

April is the catch-up month – if you haven’t started this year’s GIYing, it’s not too late. Keep on top of weeds (with regular hoeing) and slugs (with regular squishing). ‘Earth-up’ early spuds as required. Water your tunnel/greenhouse if dry. Seeds raised indoors need to be acclimatised outdoors before planting out. This is called “hardening off”– bringing them outside for a few hours by day and back in at night for at least a week.

Sow

Indoors on a sunny windowsill: lettuce, tomato, pepper, chilli-pepper, cucumber, celery, celeriac, fennel, basil, leeks, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, parsley, courgette, marrow, globe artichoke. Indoors in small pots for planting outdoors later: beans (dwarf French and climbing French), runner bean, sweet corn and pumpkin.

Outdoors: broad bean, pea, beetroot, cabbage, spinach, Brussels sprouts, parsnip, spring onion, leek, carrot, radish, broccoli, turnip.

Harvest

April is a tricky proposition for the GIYer as new season crops are only starting to trickle in. The middle of this month might see the first asparagus and early spring cabbage. The other two star performers this month are sprouting broccoli and rhubarb. You could also be harvesting leeks, spring cauliflowers, kale, spinach, chard, lettuce, carrots (in polytunnel), radish, spring onions and wild garlic.

Recipe of the Week – Sicilian Style Purple Sprouting Broccoli

For the season that’s in it, we’re continuing our series of sprouting broccoli recipes with a Sicilian style dish that’s full of flavour.

Ingredients:

1kg sprouting broccoli
6 anchovy fillets (drained – retain the oil)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion
12 black olives
125ml stock (chicken or veg)
125ml red wine
1 tsp butter
1 tsp flour

Heat the oil and simmer the onions, anchovies and olives for 5 mins. Add the broccoli and give it a good stir. Add the stock and the wine and then stir in a tablespoon of the anchovy oil. Season.

Cover and cook for about 10-15 mins. When the broccoli is tender, remove the lid and simmer for another few minutes. Take out the broccoli and transfer to a warmed serving dish.

Thicken the sauce by adding a roux made from the butter and flour. Stir the sauce until it boils and then pour over the broccoli. Serve with crusty bread, fried potatoes or rice.

Tip of the Week – Starting Celery and Celeriac

Celeriac and celery seeds are sown the same way, but while celery is succession sown (perhaps three sowings over the season), celeriac needs just a single sowing (as it stores well). Early April is a good time to sow them.

Sprinkle seeds liberally in to a 9cm pot filled with potting compost. These seeds need light to germinate so do not cover the seed with compost. Place the pot somewhere warm (a sunny windowsill or a heating mat). It’s slow to germinate so don’t expect any action for two to three weeks. Keep the compost moist (covering the pot with clingfilm or a freezer bag will keep moisture in and lessen the need for watering).

About two weeks after germination (when about 3cm tall), prick the seedlings out in to module trays (one seedling per module). They will be planted out in the ground about a month later (ideally by late May for celeriac).

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 60,000 people and 800 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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