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Dublin: 10 °C Tuesday 18 December, 2018
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'There is simply nothing more warming than a French onion soup'

Michael Kelly is back sowing and says, ‘It’s impossible not to feel full of springtime enthusiasm when you see signs of life emerging in a seed tray.’

Michael Kelly Grower

IT HAS BEEN nearly four months since my last seed sowing so it’s wonderful to be back in the potting shed this week doing my favourite thing – sowing seeds.

It’s February, so it’s still relatively tentative sowing and almost exclusively confined to vegetables and herbs that will be planted out in the polytunnel as opposed to outside – e.g. tomatoes, chilli-peppers, aubergines, spinach, beetroot, and some salad leaves and herbs (oriental greens, lettuce, rocket, coriander and dill).

Tomatoes, aubergines and chillies need a long growing season so you’re as well to get them started this month, although you could wait another couple of weeks if you want.

The weather has been arctic of course with some snow on the ground this week, all of which makes it more challenging to persuade the little seeds that it’s a good plan to come out of the ground. Basically, success at this time of the year is about cheating them into thinking it’s spring.

Springtime enthusiasm

First of all I use an electric propagation mat, which gives the seeds some ‘heat from beneath’ to help them on their way. It’s important to keep a close eye on watering when doing this, as the compost can be inclined to dry out on a sunny day with the extra heat.

Secondly, I also put some horticultural fleece over the trays and pots – always at night time and often in the day as well if it’s particularly cold outside. It’s better if you can leave it off by day so they get plenty of light (which they also need as well as decent temperatures).

I find it’s an added bonus if you can bring the water for watering them up to room temperature. I use a 2l water bottle with some little holes in the lid as a nimble watering can at this time of the year – it’s ideal for watering seed trays. I leave it on the heating mat so the water warms up too. They seem to appreciate it.

It’s impossible not to feel buoyant, hopeful and full of springtime enthusiasm when you see signs of life emerging in a seed tray. Let’s hope the winter cold snap moves off soon to enhance the experience.

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The Basics – Chitting Spuds

Chitting potatoes is a process where we try to get a little bit of a head start with our spuds while we wait for the weather and soil to warm up a little. The idea is that because you’ve got this headstart, you will be able to harvest potatoes a little earlier.

Chitting involves leaving your seed potatoes in an egg box or seed tray in a room that’s relatively bright so that they will start to sprout. These sprouts will eventually become the shoots that appear above the ground.

Leave them like this for about a month to six weeks and they should produce lots of sturdy green sprouts. Stand the potatoes in the tray so that the “eye” end is facing up (the eye being the little depressions found on each spud). Hence the use of an egg carton – it helps the spuds to stand up.

It’s important that the room is bright – if it is too dark, the sprouts are literally reaching for light, which will make them long, leggy, translucent and weak. Chances are the sprouts will then break when put in the ground. Shorter, green sprouts will be much tougher.

Recipe of the Week – JB’s French Onion Soup

There is simply nothing more warming than a French onion soup. This recipe serves four.

Ingredients

  • 250g onions
  • 1l homemade chicken stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 25 g plain flour
  • 4 table spoons rapeseed oil
  • 1 glass of dry white wine
  • 1 slice of sour dough
  • 100g grated smoked cheddar
  • 1 garlic clove
  • sea salt and crack black pepper

Directions

For the garlic croutons, dice the sourdough, crush the garlic with 2 table spoons of oil and toss the diced bread in the garlic oil. Roast the croutons in the oven at 180℃ for 10 minutes.

For the homemade chicken stock, simmer for 2 hours the bones left over from your ‘Sunday roast’ covered with cold water with garden herbs, 1 carrot, 2 chopped tomatoes and 1 celery stick.

For the soup, slice the onions within the fibres of the onions. Fry the sliced onions in a
stockpot with 2 table spoons of oil until caramelised. Add the flour and stir for 2 to 3
minutes. Add the white wine (don’t drink it all) and let cook on low heat for 2 to 3 minutes

Add the chicken stock, the bay leaf and seasoning. Let simmer for 20 minutes.
Poor the soup in oven proof bowls, top with croutons and grated smoked cheddar. Place under a hot grill for 3 to 5 minutes.

Michael Kelly is founder of GIY and GROW HQ. 

Click here for more GIY tips and recipes.

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Michael Kelly  / Grower

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