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Gardening guru: January to-do list plus a delicious recipe for buttery colcannon

January does not seem like the typical month for gardening, but there are actually several things you can do in the garden now, writes Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Grower

I LOVE HOW when the year turns from old to new, my GIY life gets turned on its head. The end of the year very suddenly becomes the beginning. The wind down becomes the ramp-up. A dwindling to-do list suddenly looks very busy again. The sudden shift in tone on January 1st is dramatic.

I have often found my enthusiasm wanting as the new growing year begins. But this year feels different. I am itching to get started. I wonder is it because our normally boggy, out-of-bounds winter garden has been dry and accessible so far this year, resulting in more garden time than normal?

Whether you’re enthusiastic about it or not, it’s always advisable to hold off until February to get started with your seed sowing. Even the crazy Celtic calendar sees January as winter. The days are too cold and short for successful seed sowing (although I might just do a sneaky little sowing of oriental greens on a heated mat in the potting shed just because I like to live on the edge).

January to-do list

This is usually filled with silly jobs that no sensible GIYer would ever really be bothered with: sharpening your hoe, cleaning your plant labels and the like.

This year, inexplicably, I find myself searching for silly jobs to get stuck in to. I’ve already cleaned out the potting shed and the polytunnel and today I decided to sort out my seed box in advance of getting my seed order done. Unusually for me, I decided to be brutal with a cull of unneeded seeds.

Although it might seem thrifty to hold on to seeds perpetually, it’s generally a false economy in a busy growing year particularly with slow-to-germinate vegetables. It might take 3 weeks for example to discover that out of date celery or carrots seeds are dead, by which time the window for sowing them might have passed.

Here are some things I learned about myself

  • I am not as adventurous a grower as I like to think I am at the point of purchase. I never got around to sowing those spelt, amaranth or ruby red flint corn seeds that I bought 3 years ago.
  • I really do not need to buy any more salad leaves. From a wide and varied range of oriental greens and every variety of lettuce known to man, I think I have all bases covered.
  • The extent of my seed hoarding is ridiculous. I discovered old packets of seeds that are 5 years or more past their sow-before date but until this year, I’ve never had the heart to throw them out.

What’s come over me this year? Who is this new, decisive person and where have they hidden the real me? The phony war that is January in GIY-land continues.

3 Things to Do This Week

1. If you have any root vegetables left in the soil, it might be a good idea to get them out and store them somewhere frost-free now. We’ve escaped severe frosts so far this winter, but January is often a time for them. I still have beetroot, carrots and parsnips in the soil but I will certainly be lifting the beets and carrots in the week ahead and storing them in boxes of sand (parsnips are tough as old boots).

2. As you clear beds, cover them down with leaves, compost, farmyard manure or seaweed. Bare soil is not something that’s common in nature for a reason. Valuable nutrients will be washed away.

3. Get your seeds ordered. We have a full range of seeds on the GIY webshop at www.giy.ie but spread the love. Check out Brown Envelope Seeds in Cork and the Irish Seed Savers too.

January at GROW HQ

Here in GIY, we don’t believe in giving things up for the New Year. Instead why not start an amazing habit or hobby instead? January is wellness month at GROW HQ and we’ve a range of classes and events covering everything from GIYing for beginners, meditation, vegan and vegetarian cooking, mindful eating, juicing, yoga for the seasons and a panel discussion on gut health.

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Recipe of the Week – Colcannon

I love the warming earthiness of colcannon – it’s my favourite way to eat cabbage. I’ve no cabbage left so I will be using kale for this recipe instead. Serves 4.


  • 500g of cabbage, stalks removed and then shredded
  • 500g potatoes, scrubbed
  • 2 knobs of butter
  • 150ml hot milk
  • 4 spring onions, finely chopped

Steam the potatoes in their skins for a half hour, then peel and mash them. Add a lump of butter. Season well.

Meanwhile steam the cabbage or kale in a small amount of boiling water until tender. Don’t overcook. Put the milk in a pan and throw in the spring onions, simmering for about 5 minutes. Add this and the cabbage or kale to the spuds and beat well.

Serve with a knob of butter on top and sprinkle with some parsley. Some chopped ham or crispy bacon added in before serving also works a treat.

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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