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Fancy growing your own? Here's what to plant this week...

It’s the month of all things Irish so, fittingly, it’s time to get the spuds planted.

THE RISE AND rise of ‘alternative’ carbs such as rice, pasta and cous cous has seen sales of the humble spud decline over the last decade. In fact Bord Bia reports that sales of the spud could fall by as much as 40% in the next decade if the trend continues unchecked.

The spud’s reputation has taken a hammering of late – it is deemed old fashioned, fattening and a hassle to cook. Take a deeper look beneath the ‘ditch the carb’ headlines, however, and you find a product that’s far more than just a carbohydrate – it’s full of potassium, fibre, vitamin B6 and vitamin C.

Take away the copious quantities of fat that we often add through cooking (or post-cooking) of potatoes and you have an exceptionally healthful low-calorie, high-fibre food that has been linked to a diminished risk of developing cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. It is also, generally speaking, an entirely unprocessed food and let’s be honest, the same simply can’t be said for pasta.

To top it all, at a time when more of us are committed to supporting local foods, the potato is a genuinely home-grown product, and by buying it we support a huge local industry of growers and packers (whereas sweet potatoes for example are generally imported from the US). Thankfully, the potato is one of the few remaining vegetables where Irish people generally won’t tolerate a foreign import equivalent and so that’s good for Irish jobs and the environment too – thanks to much reduced food miles.

Few of us are lucky enough to be able to grow enough spuds to be self-sufficient and that’s fine – it’s good to grow some of them ourselves AND support local growers at times of the year when we don’t have our own. I like to think that GIYers can act as the ultimate spud ambassador – as growers we get to understand this wonder-crop a little better and at a time when the number of potato varieties is reducing sharply (with Irish tastes increasingly favouring the Kerr’s Pink), we get to try lots of different varieties and sample the flavours.

So it’s fitting that this week we celebrated St Patrick’s Day morning in our house with the annual ritual of sowing our early potatoes. I don’t buy the idea that spuds are old-hat or that their best days are behind them – in fact I think it’s only a matter of time before contemporary Ireland falls in love with them all over again. After all they are a healthy, local, seasonal super-food – so what’s not to love?

Things to do this week: sow potatoes

Sow early potatoes from mid March (St Patrick’s Day traditionally) in single rows, 15cm deep, 25cm apart and 45cm between rows. Maincrop spuds are sown in mid to late April. Increase spacing between the spuds to 35cm. It is vitally important to include potatoes in your crop rotation as they are susceptible to disease if grown in the same ground year on year.

Earlies will be ready about 14 weeks after sowing. Maincrops take 18 weeks. I typically leave my earlies in the ground and dig as required. They do fine in the ground until September at which point we move on to maincrop. Maincrop can stay in the ground until the first frosts – lift them then and store in hessian sacks. For a GIY video tutorial on growing spuds check out www.giyireland.com/videos/detail/potatoes.

Recipe of the week: Kale Slaw with Red Cabbage and Carrots

This week, I harvested three red cabbages from last year’s growing and though they were a little sad looking on the outside they were perfectly fine once a few of the tougher outer layers were removed. This Martha Stewart recipe is great – a tangy, delicious, beautiful-looking ‘detox in a bowl’. The Dijon mustard gives it a kick, while the apple cider vinegar will aid digestion.

· 1 tablespoon olive oil

· 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

· 1 teaspoon apple-cider vinegar

· 3 cups mixed shredded kale and red cabbage

· 1 carrot, peeled and julienned

· 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves

· 2 tablespoons diced red onion

· 2 tablespoons sunflower seeds

· 2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds

Ingredients

In a small bowl, whisk olive oil, mustard, and apple-cider vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.

In another bowl, combine kale, cabbage, carrot, parsley, and red onion with sunflower, pumpkin, and hemp seeds. Season with salt and pepper, drizzle with dressing, and toss to coat.

Tip of the week – look after your soil

• Don’t walk on beds when wet

• Be wary of rotivators – they destroy soil structure

• Apply bulky manures annually – 1 bucket per sq m

• Instead of digging, loosen soil with a fork

• Keep soil covered – bare soil is unnatural

• Use green manures as much as possible

• Never dig in autumn and leave soil bare

• Apply ground limestone or calcified seaweed if soil is acidic

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 60,000 people and 800 community food-growing groups and projects around Ireland, and run food-growing campaigns, events and publications. 

British people are now going to be able to enjoy Ballymaloe Country Relish

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