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Beautiful weather? Get out and spend some time in the vegetable patch

This week’s tips for Grow It Yourself-ers: onions, shallots and sowing peas.

WE WERE BLESSED with beautiful weather this week and it couldn’t have come at a better time, when a few extra days off for Easter gave me the opportunity to get out and spend some time in the vegetable patch. It was simply glorious to be out working with the sun on my back (and in a T-shirt to boot) – all felt right with the world. Though it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that cold weather could return, for now, it’s definitely spring and I’m loving it. The sap is rising in every living thing, including this GIYer.

This week I got the peas and onions/shallots sown, which are two of the major springtime outdoor sowings. Harvested in August or so and hung in braids, onions will keep right through the winter months up until this time next year – so it’s an important sowing.

To get a 9-month supply, one would need to grow about 250 onions (assuming you need one a day, which most families do). While this might sound like a lot of work, I grow mine from sets (baby onions) so the job of sowing them involves nothing more than sticking the set in the soil so that the tip is just about popping out of the soil (having first raked the bed flat).

While there is generally just a single sowing with onions, I sow peas twice a year – once in early April and then again at the end of May – the second crop will be appreciated later in the summer.

peas gutter

Podding peas can be somewhat of a palaver – fun and romantic at first but rather tiresome after a fashion. So this year, to reduce the amount of podding required, I am growing more sugarsnap peas (which are eaten whole, pod and all, and have a wonderful sweet crunch) and mangetout (which are similar). I sow peas direct in the soil, as they are pretty reliable – see the tip below – but I have also sown them in 1m lengths of guttering as you can see in the picture.

This is a very handy way to sow smaller quantities in the controlled environment of the potting shed – once the little plants are ready for planting out you simply dig a small trench and slide the soil and plants out in to the trench.

Uploaded by Giy Ireland

Things to do this week – Sow Peas

Peas can be sown in module trays (or even old lengths of gutter) for later transplanting, but for the last few years I have sown them direct with good success. I make a shallow (4cm) trench about 15cm wide with a hoe and place the peas in a zigzag line along the row, spacing them about 5cm apart. Simply rake the soil back over the peas and then firm the soil in with the back of the rake.

Pea plants are tall and willowy and will need support when growing – a length of chicken wire between two posts works well or you can buy rolls of pea support netting in your local garden centre. It’s a good idea to put your support in place at sowing time, as it can be more difficult to do when the plants start to grow. You can enjoy fresh peas from May to October if you succession sow (I do at least two sowings – early April and late May – approx. 2m rows of peas each time).

Recipe of the Week – Baked Swiss Chard

My search for interesting things to do with my chard glut continues – I found this recipe on BBC Good Food and thought it was great. This recipe uses the stems of the chard as well – these are nutritious and taste really good. Don’t waste them.


Oil or butter, for greasing
1kg Swiss chard, stems cut into 1cm pieces and leaves into quarters
200ml double cream
1 garlic clove, crushed to a paste with sea salt
2 egg yolks
200g Parmesan, grated (or vegetarian alternative)
75g dried breadcrumbs
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves


Put a pan of salted water on to boil and cook the chard stalks for two minutes until tender. Remove the stalks with a slotted spoon. Add the leaves and cook for 30 secs-1 min. Drain and reserve 200ml of the cooking water.

In a saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer, then add the garlic and cook for two mins. Whisk in the water, egg yolks and 140g Parmesan, and let them all melt together and bubble for three mins. Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Add the chard to the saucepan, season, mix well and tip into a greased baking dish.

Top with the breadcrumbs, thyme and remaining Parmesan. Cover with foil and bake for 15 mins. Remove the foil and cook for 15 mins more until golden and bubbling..

Tip of the Week – What is potting compost?

Potting compost is the medium that is used to sow seeds in and shouldn’t be confused with garden compost which is a nutrient-rich material made from rotted garden and kitchen waste used to improve soil fertility.

Seeds do not need to be sown in a medium that is rich in nutrients since they already have all the nutrients they need for germination. So, potting compost is very low in nutrients and ideal for starting seeds off. It is also a sterile medium, which means you know there are no weed seeds in it and it retains moisture very effectively which is important for your seeds.

If you intend to grow a plant to maturity in a pot, it will need to be transplanted in to a medium that has more nutrients in it (eg, a mix of regular compost and soil etc). Potting compost generally only has enough nutrients in it to last about 4-6 weeks.

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.

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

I wince at the phrase “green fingers” – everyone can grow their own food

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