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Dublin: 6 °C Thursday 13 December, 2018

Supermarket queues: How well would we cope with a more sustained crisis?

Growing some of your own food has a role to play in creating a more resilient food future, writes Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Grower

LIKE MOST PEOPLE the heavy snow had us confined to the house for three days last weekend, and again like most people, the Alpine novelty wore off pretty quickly.

From a food availability perspective, the Hungry Gap is not a great time of the year to be stuck in the house. Although we have some lovely tomato sauces in the freezer, the larder is relatively empty and apart from some cavolo nero kale, the polytunnels are all but empty.

I do have some parsnips, carrots and celeriac in the ground still, but there was far too much snow to get near them.

Vulnerable to shocks in food chain

I was looking at pictures on social media of queues as the supermarkets reopened on Saturday and Sunday and was struck once again, at just how vulnerable we really are to shocks to the food chain.

Whether it’s Siberian conditions at home this year, cold weather affecting courgette and lettuce production in Spain (2017) or dioxin contamination in pork (2008), there seems to be regular reminders of just how fragile our food chain really is. One has to wonder, how well would we cope with a more sustained crisis?

You won’t be surprised to hear that I think growing some of your own food has a role to play in creating a more resilient food future. Probably not in the sense that people would have their own supply of food (though they might at least have some), but because in GIY we passionately believe that the more people we can get to grow some food, the more those people will seek out local, seasonal veg when they shop.

A greater demand for Irish veg means more commercial growers coming in to the system and a more robust and sustainable food chain in the long term.

Kicking off growing season

Anyway, perhaps as a result of recent events, it’s with renewed determination that I kick off my growing season this year.

March is the real starting point in terms of sowing. So, yes I sowed some of the long-season veg like tomatoes and chillis last month (and it’s not too late to do so if you didn’t get around it), but this month we really kick things off.

In the potting shed for later transplanting, I will be sowing salads (lettuce and oriental greens, and salad herbs like coriander and dill), spinach, celeriac, celery, leeks, calabrese, cauliflower and scallions.

In a week or so, I will be sowing early potatoes outside as well. I’ve written here before about what a wonderful crop celeriac is, particularly in terms of how well it stores in the ground for the winter. I always try to grow 30 of them or so, and they last us right through the winter. I think you really need to get the crop in to the soil outside by May, so get it sown now if you can as it’s slow to get going.

With Storm Emma and the Beast from the East behind us, here’s hoping that some spring weather will arrive quickly now so we can crack on with the growing.

The GIY TV show GROW COOK EAT starts on Wednesday 14 March at 7.30pm on RTE 1.

The Basics – Growing Celeriac

shutterstock_744323296 Source: Shutterstock/A la Musubi

If you like the taste of celery, but find it a little cumbersome, then celeriac is the vegetable for you. Celeriac has a similar flavour to celery, but is grown for its knobbly, turnip-shaped swollen stem.

As vegetables go, it’s ugly as sin, but don’t let that fool you – it tastes delicious. It’s very hardy and (unlike celery) stores extremely well. A decent crop of celeriac can see you right through the winter months to late March. Grow celeriac as you would with celery, but because it stores well, there’s no need for succession sowing.

A single sowing in late March or early April is all that’s required. Broadcast (sprinkle liberally) the seed in to a pot filled with compost. As is the case with celery, celeriac 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. Prick the seedlings out in to module trays (one seedling per module) about 2 weeks after germination (when about 3cm tall). If you grow 24 celeriac you can enjoy one a week from October to the end of March. You will need 1m of veg bed for every 9 celeriac (where the bed is 1.2m wide).

Recipe of the Week – Quick Sausage Casserole

shutterstock_192053600 Source: Shutterstock/Martin Turzak

I often use a sausage casserole recipe when I need a quick fix for a mid-week dinner and this recipe from Delicious Magazine takes around 15 minutes to prep. Combine some good quality sausages with seasonal veg and you have a really delicious, healthy and hearty meal.


  • 4 large potatoes
  • 4 carrots
  • 8 good-quality sausages
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 400g can chopped tomatoes
  • 400ml vegetable stock
  • 1-2 bay leaves


Turn the oven to 180°C. Peel the potatoes and carefully cut them in half, then into quarters. Peel the carrots and cut each carrot into about 4 or 5 even pieces. Prick the sausages all over with a fork – this helps the fat to run out of the sausages, so that they don’t split open as they cook.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-based casserole and fry the sausages, turning often, until lightly golden all over – this should take about 10 minutes. Remove the sausages from the pan and put them on a plate. Add the chopped onion to the casserole (there will still be some oil in the pan from the sausages) and continue to cook over a low heat for 5-10 minutes, until the onion is slightly soft.

Add the garlic and paprika and cook for another minute. Add the chopped potatoes and carrots and stir everything around in the casserole so that the vegetables are coated with the oil.

Add the tomatoes and stock (to measure the stock, you can use the empty tomato can – filled up, it will hold 400ml of stock) and the bay leaves. Bring to a simmer (so it’s just bubbling gently). Return the sausages to the casserole. Using your oven gloves, carefully put the casserole into the oven.

Cook for 45 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked through, and serve.

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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