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I can't look at another salad. It's winter and I need some warmth

Growing your own food and eating seasonally is a way of reconnecting with the nutrition cycle that nature intended for us, writes Michael Kelly.

THERE IS ALWAYS a point around early November when I am suddenly not terribly interested in eating salads any more. I am always surprised at how quickly this transformation happens.

One day I am enjoying the last of the summer salad crops and thinking of ways to use them up. The next I have an inexplicable desire for something more warming – a good bowl of soup, or a homely one-pot stew.

All of a sudden, the remaining salad crops in the veg patch (some rather bedraggled tomatoes and cucumbers in the polytunnel for example) seem to have outstayed their welcome.

Growing your own food and eating seasonally is a way of reconnecting with the nutrition cycle that nature intended for us. When our bodies are leading us towards eating one type of food over another at particular times of the year, we would do well to listen to its wisdom for physiological reasons.

In the spring, we should consume lots of tender, leafy vegetables that represent the fresh new growth and cleanse and lighten our systems. In the summer, foods that are light and full of water such as tomatoes will help keep the body cool, hydrated and balanced. In the autumn and winter, nature is in transition.

The bodies of our ancestors would have faced some very lean months. Perhaps this explains the intuitive need to store nourishment by eating richer, heartier foods.

carrots and parsnip

Even in modern times, the winter body needs food to keep it warm and to help it conserve energy – so we need a different type of fuel. Tomatoes and cucumbers just won’t cut it. In general, foods that take longer to grow are more warming than foods that grow quickly – so think classic stock pot veg like carrots, onions, garlic and potatoes.

In this context, think about how utterly lacking in seasonality the modern food chain really is. Glossy strawberries, plump tomatoes and other out-of-season vegetables grace the shelves of the supermarket throughout the winter.

At first this might seem exciting, but just because modern food-chain logistics allows for these marvels, doesn’t mean that our bodies wouldn’t be better off with more seasonal fare. Traditional Chinese Medicine suggests that we should eat different foods for different seasons – and that eating seasonal foods that are similar in nature to the external environment will help us to adapt better to seasonal changes and remain healthy.

The Danes have a word that I really like in the context of the transition to more homely winter meals. That word is hygge – there is no direct English translation, but it hints at a cosy state of wellbeing where one is feeling homely, warm, comforted and in the company of good friends.

There is as little as five hours of daylight in the winter there but they fight back with warming food, open fires and good company. Most surveys place Denmark as among the happiest nations on earth, despite their cold and dark winters. Perhaps their embrace of hygge food explains why.

Things to Do this Week – Starting with a Lawn

A question we’re often asked here in GIY is this: if you are starting out with a lawn and want to grow your own food next year – where do you start? It’s a GREAT time of the year to be thinking about this issue because if you do some preparatory work now, you can have the soil ready to grow on by the spring of next year.

The traditional way to convert a lawn in to usable ground for growing vegetables was to dig it but here’s a way to do it that involves NO digging or rotivating. How does it work?

Well, instead of you breaking your back, you get soil microbes and earthworms to do the hard work for you, breaking down the organic matter and leaving you with beds that will be rich and fertile. All you will need is some good compost or well-rotted manure, plenty of organic matter (straw, kitchen and garden waste) and some cardboard.

The first step is to mark out the area that you want to convert in to a vegetable bed. This can be as big or small as you want/need. (Tip – don’t bite off more than you can chew).

Spread a 2-inch layer of garden compost or well-rotted manure on the grass and give it a water to moisten it. Next, cover the compost with a layer of cardboard. This prevents light from getting at the grass, therefore killing it (and any weeds) off.

Spread another 2-inch layer of compost on the cardboard and then a big 18- inch layer of mixed organic matter (best would be a mix of grass cuttings, leaves, straw, seaweed (if you can get it), kitchen and garden waste. Moisten this layer too. This is a lot of organic matter so you will probably need to stockpile for a few weeks before you start. Finish with a 2-inch layer of straw.

Then wait. Ground prepared like this now, should be ready to grow on in April or May of next year. It will simply require a forking over.

shutterstock_248902171 Shutterstock / Paul_Brighton Shutterstock / Paul_Brighton / Paul_Brighton

Recipe of the Week – Apple and Blackberry Cobbler

My lack of skills with pastry and cakes means I won’t be gracing the Great Irish Bake Off any time soon – but this Nessa Robins recipe from our GIY book GROW COOK EAT is really simple to make and utterly delicious.


  •  1 large cooking apple, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
  • 200g blackberries
  • 75g caster sugar

Cake Batter

  •  110g butter
  • 110g caster sugar
  • 175g self-raising flour
  •  1 egg
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1 teasp vanilla extract


  • 1tbsp oats


Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/Gas 6. Grease a medium sized casserole dish, with a little butter. Line the bottom of the casserole dish with the apple slices and blackberries.

Sprinkle over the 75g of sugar. In a food processor, or mixer, add all of the batter ingredients, apart from the oats, and mix for a few minutes, until well combined. Spoon the cake batter evenly over the apple and blackberries. Smooth over with a knife and sprinkle over the oats. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 35- 40 minutes, until the pudding has risen, is golden in colour and cooked through. Serve hot or cold with custard, cream or vanilla ice-cream.

shutterstock_95255866 Shutterstock / Alena Brozova Shutterstock / Alena Brozova / Alena Brozova

Tip of the Week – Freezing Berries

Berries will lose some structure when thawed but they’re still ideal for making smoothies and fruit crumbles/pies etc. Spread them on a single layer on a baking tray to freeze – when they are well frozen, pop them in a zip lock freezer bag.

By freezing them flat like this before putting them in a bag it makes it easier to grab a handful as you need them. Otherwise, they just freeze in one block and you have to thaw them all in one big batch.

Michael Kelly is a freelance journalist, author and founder of GIY.

Read: Ireland and the spud go hand-in-hand, but they’re in decline. Myth they’re fattening is damaging>

Read: Here’s the seasonal veg you can enjoy raw this autumn>

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