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Dublin: 6 °C Tuesday 10 December, 2019
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From the Garden: Making the most of polytunnel growing this winter

I feel blessed to have so much delicious, nutritious food to hand, writes Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Grower

IT’S ALWAYS TEMPTING to avoid the veg patch when the weather is this grim and the ground so wet, and I’m inclined to give myself a pass on the basis that I’m more or less on tops of things this year. 

There are still beds that need a cover of seaweed or compost to return the nutrients we took from the soil before the year is out, but there’s still time for that.

This weekend, I spent a happy hour in the big polytunnel, where it was nice and dry even though the rain was pelting down on the plastic outside.

It does feel like we’re finally reaching the end of the harvest – remarkably there were still some tomatoes and cucumbers to gather, but the plants are on their last legs.

There were enough tomatoes to make another batch of passata for the week ahead, and though I took out some more plants to compost, there were still enough tomatoes left to warrant leaving them behind to see if the remaining tomatoes ripen.

It’s not unusual for tomatoes to survive until December if the temperature is controlled in the tunnel and doors are kept closed. I also harvested six or seven cucumbers.

We’ve been eating cucumbers from six plants pretty much consistently since early July which is an impressive five-month streak.

Though I’m not usually interested in eating salads at this time of the year, cucumbers are still a great lunchbox filler to have in the bottom of the fridge.

Perhaps the best of all outcomes from the polytunnel this year was the beetroot that I sowed in September after clearing out the climbing French beans.

I was worried they wouldn’t have time to develop, but they’ve produced a brilliant crop of lovely tender beets.

Since the polytunnel door is closed all day and night, I am leaving them in the ground for now but will keep an eye on them for any sign of cold damage.

The over-wintering onions have also pushed themselves out of the soil – a cheery sight. The green manure I sowed in the tunnel in October has flown along and the intense mat of green makes my heart glad in the dreary weather.

I love the idea that these beautiful green plants are feeding the soil as they grow. In addition to the beets, we still have carrots, parsnips, leeks, celeriac and kale in the ground as well as squashes, pumpkins and garlic in the house and a larder full of pickles, chutneys and krauts.

Despite the onset of cold weather and shorter days, I feel blessed to have so much delicious, nutritious food to hand. Along with the wood stove and night-time candles, the abundance of food adds to the general feeling of the Danish cosiness known as hygge.

IMG_1963 The green manure Michael sowed in his polytunnel in October. Source: Michael Kelly

The Basics – Cats in the Veg Patch

Is your moggie (or the neighbour’s moggie) causing you stress in the veg patch? 

Try these common deterrents:

  1. Stretch rows of chicken wire over seedling beds to prevent cats from rooting up or spraying them
  2. Stick twigs into the soil of newly sown beds to prevent digging
  3. Keep the soil moist because cats like dry soil to do their business 
  4. Cats dislike the scent of citrus fruits, so scatter orange and lemon peels around the soil in your veg patch to discourage them. Some people are also known to leave rags soaked in vinegar on the soil to deter them. They also dislike the scent of rosemary and lavender
  5. In a pinch, a spray of a hose if you catch them in the act will also cause them to scarper.  

Recipe of the Week – Winter Root Veg Frittata

An omelette or frittata is a great thing to put into school lunch boxes instead of a sandwich and the beauty of it is that it can adapt to the seasons.

In the spring you can use new season spring greens, in the summer you can use courgettes and tomatoes before transitioning to root veg in the winter. You can throw pretty much any combination of veg into this recipe and it will still be delicious. 

Couldn’t be simpler or tastier, served hot or cold.

Ingredients

  • 500g mix of four or five different vegetables such as onions, carrots, squash, parsnip, beetroot and potatoes
  • One large garlic clove, finely chopped
  • Three tablespoons olive oil
  • Seven large eggs
  • A handful of mixed herbs such as parsley, rosemary and thyme, finely chopped
  • About 20g well-flavoured hard cheese, grated (cheddar or parmesan will do fine)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius, 
  2. Peel the onions and thickly slice and peel the carrots, parsnips, beetroot, spuds and squash.
  3. Cut into roughly equal chunks (about 2cm on average).
  4. Put in an oven-proof dish, add the garlic, oil and plenty of seasoning.
  5. Bake for about 40 minutes until the veg is tender.
  6. Beat the eggs together with the chopped herbs and some more salt and pepper.
  7. Take the dish from the oven, pour the egg evenly over the veg and scatter the grated cheese on top.
  8. Return to the oven for 10–15 minutes until the egg is all set and the top is starting to colour.
  9. Leave to cool slightly, then slide the frittata out onto a plate or board and dig in. 

Michael Kelly is an author, broadcaster and founder of GIY.

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Michael Kelly  / Grower

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