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Dublin: 13°C Tuesday 20 October 2020

Updates from the potting shed - and a recipe for spicy carrot and lentil soup

There’s an overall sense of spring in the air and the mild weather makes the job of coaxing seeds up a little easier, writes Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Grower

WE HAVEN’T HAD too much cold weather this winter, but in the last few days things turned freakishly mild, with temperatures in the low teens by day and even staying above 10 degrees at night.

There’s an overall sense of spring in the air, but like most GIYers I can’t help but worry about how unseasonal it is and still think it likely we could get another cold snap in March or April.

The potting shed

On the other hand the mild spring weather makes the job of coaxing little seeds from the soil a little easier. I wrote last week about how I always sow my tomatoes, peppers and aubergines in the potting shed in February.

All of these veg need a long growing season, but they also prefer temperatures in the mid-twenties and so it goes without saying that sowing them from seed successfully means having to cheat the Irish weather somewhat. I create a mini-Mediterranean for them using a heating mat and lots of fleece.

shutterstock_583923523 Source: Shutterstock/nednapa

To my delight (and it was delight) the tomato seeds germinated quite quickly and quite suddenly mid-week this week. One day it was bare soil, and the next about half the seeds had germinated, and surprisingly tall seedlings had pushed out of the soil.

It’s hard to believe that these tiny little plants will grow up to 8ft tall or more during the summer months and will be (we hope) laden down with hundreds of tomatoes.

It is warm enough by day at that moment that the fleece cover can come off during the day at least. With the heated mat helping to dry the soil out, I am having to water the trays every other day.

The mild weather has helped and hindered elsewhere

Out in the big tunnel a row of early pea seeds that I sowed in January have also germinated, and have started their determined growth towards the metal support I put in place for them to grow up.

There’s no sign of any life yet above the soil with the early potatoes, also sown in January and also covered with a thick layer of fleece to keep them warm.

I also did a clear out in the salad polytunnel this week mostly to clean up the paths that had become suddenly carpeted in weeds (presumably again, “thanks” to the mild weather) and to clear out the autumn-sown pak choi that had bolted.

The hens were delighted to receive these plants and have spent a happy two or three days picking over them. We still have some oriental greens, winter purslane (claytonia) and spinach in the tunnel, but probably only enough for a few weeks more so I am reminded to schedule a sowing of salads in the week ahead.

If this mild weather continues they should grow quickly to replace the ailing polytunnel crop.

The Basics – Thawing and freezing of soil

Mild weather is always welcome to gardeners but it often means that our soil is deprived of one crucial winter and spring process: thawing and freezing. As the ground thaws and freezes between day and night it contracts and expands.

This constant thawing and freezing of soil breaks up the larger clods which makes it easier to work the following spring. Turning soil with a fork will start to break up the layers, as well as exposing insect eggs and larvae for the birds to take care of.

In addition, if it freezes again, it will kill any exposed pests. Fans of “no-dig” gardening on the other hand generally don’t bother with turning the soil, they cover the ground with a layer of fertility-returning organic matter (usually compost, seaweed or farmyard manure) and let the worms do the job of digging that into the soil over the winter months.

This month at GROW HQ: A Soil Health Panel Discussion; 6.30-8.30pm Monday, February 27

Scientists are saying there are only 60-100 food harvests left before our soil is totally degraded.

Based on the launch of the People for Soils Campaign which is working towards gaining protected status for soils in Europe, this panel will discuss the current issues of soil erosion and compaction, management and protection and our national issue of flooding.

Soil erosion is a huge issue worldwide, and we are still learning about its importance and role in food security and climate change. The panel includes GIY Head Grower Richard Mee and Michael Kelly. Tickets €10 from www.growhq.org.

GIY Cottage Market

DX7C5082 GIY’s Community Manager Karen O’Donohoe and founder Michael Kelly at the launch of GIY’s new Cottage Market initiative. Source: Mary Browne

We are aiming to put home-made, home-grown food and craft back at the centre of Irish communities and with that in mind we’re inviting community groups around Ireland to apply for supports as part of our new “Cottage Market” initiative.

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The initiative invites groups to avail of start-up funding in order to set up and run their own Cottage Market. Our partners Ulster Bank and The Ireland Funds are set to support us to the tune of €65,000 over the next two years.

Applications can be made at www.cottagemarket.ie in order to avail of funding, training and other supports which will help them to establish and run their very own Cottage Market. The deadline for applications is March 3 next; the groups behind the 20 new Markets will be selected by March 10 with the training programme taking place on March 25.

Recipe of the Week – Spiced Carrot and Lentil Soup

shutterstock_579685819 Source: Shutterstock/Olga Nayashkova

This is a lovely spicey soup from the BBC’s Good Food website. It’s full of iron and low in fat.


  • 600g carrots, washed and coarsely grated (no need to peel)
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • a pinch of chilli flakes
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 140g split red lentils
  • 1l hot vegetable stock
  • 125ml milk
  • plain yogurt

Heat a large saucepan and dry-fry the cumin seeds and chilli flakes for 1 min, or until they start to jump around the pan and release their aromas. Scoop out about half of the seeds with a spoon and set aside.

Add the oil, carrot, lentils, stock and milk to the pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 15 mins until the lentils have swollen and softened. Whizz the soup with a hand blender or in a food processor until smooth (or leave it chunky if you prefer).

Season to taste and finish with a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkling of the reserved toasted spices.

Michael Kelly is founder of GIY and GROW HQ. 

Click here for more GIY tips and recipes.


About the author:

Michael Kelly  / Grower

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