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I have two blackcurrant bushes in the garden – they are prolific croppers and don’t get a huge amount of love from me if the truth be known. I always consider them a second-tier crop – not quite as tasty as say raspberries, strawberries or blueberries.
At the same time, we always do our best to bring the crop in and get it in the freezer, because it’s great for jams and ice-creams. At this time of the year we are able to grab handfuls from the freezer at night time and let them thaw out so they can be thrown on porridge in the morning. They are rich in numerous health benefiting phyto-nutrients and anti-oxidants.
If there’s a downside to them, it is that they get enormous and if left un-pruned they will quickly become overcrowded which will lead to poor harvests. Naked stems at this time of the year make it easier to prune, and of course the plant is lying dormant so it’s not knocked back by the pruning.
The basic idea is to create a light airy plant in a bowl shape, but keeping as much of last season’s growth as possible since it is these that will bear most of next year’s fruit. The new season shoots should be relatively easy to identify – they are quite smooth, tea-coloured, and clearly “new” looking. The older shoots will be more gnarled and grey looking. Start by removing congested and weak stems, any diseased branches or those branches that are crossing over.
Then take out some of the older growth that is clearly unproductive – that is, not carrying any new growth. I try to remove about a third of the plant, leaving about 10 strong healthy shoots. You can also give the base a good dressing of compost. The result should be a healthy plant that will pay you back in spades.
Things to Do this Month - December
As you clear remaining crops from your veggie patch, dig the beds over and add well rotted compost or manure. Get Educated – book yourself on a course! Start planning what you would like to grow next year and work out what crop rotation system you are going to use. Study seed catalogues carefully before deciding on the best varieties to grow. Start a Compost corner or heap. Keep an eye on your stored veggies and discard anything that’s rotting. Collect and store leaves in bags to make leaf mould or use as cover for bare soil.
If you haven’t already done so plant garlic – it should be in the soil by the shortest day of the year. Bring herbs like mint, chives, lemon balm, parsley, thyme indoors by lifting and potting them up.
Buck the seasonal trend by continuing to harvest winter salad leaves like corn salad, land cress and mizuna. You should still have at least some produce left in the December veggie patch e.g. winter cabbages, Brussels sprouts, leeks, kale, Jerusalem artichokes, carrots, celery, turnips, parsnips, winter cauliflowers, swedes, spinach, chard and celeriac. From your stores you can enjoy pumpkins and squashes, potatoes, onions, apples, beetroot and garlic.
Recipe of the Month – Spinach and Ricotta Pie
The ricotta cheese gives this a nice creamy texture. This is a great dish to get spinach in to your diet in a way that doesn’t feel frugal. Serves 4.
• olive oil
• 1 medium onion , finely chopped
• 2 garlic cloves , peeled and crushed
• 250g young spinach
• 1 egg
• 250g ricotta , drained
• ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
• 100g feta cheese
• 4 sheets filo pastry (each roughly 38cm x 30cm)
Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the onion and garlic for 10 minutes until soft but not coloured. Add the spinach and cook for 5 minutes, stirring.
Tip into a sieve and press to remove as much excess liquid as possible. Cool.
Beat the egg with the ricotta and nutmeg and season. Stir in the feta with the spinach and onion.
Heat the oven to 200C/fan 180C. Rub a little oil in a 20cm cake tin. Line with the filo sheets, leaving excess pastry overhanging and rubbing each sheet with a little oil.
Spoon the cheese and spinach mixture into the tin. Bring the pastry up and over the top of the pie. Brush generously with oil.
Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown and crisp.
Serve warm or cold.
Tip of the Month – Relax..
It would seem harsh of me to suggest that you should be out in the veg patch working this month, when really this is the last time we can really kick back and enjoy a break before the 2017 growing season begins in earnest.
I always marvel at how suddenly the mood changes as the new year arrives at midnight on New Year’s Eve. With the relentless march of the calendar it is no longer “the end of the year” and instead is very suddenly “the beginning of the new year”.
That’s an important emphasis shift for the GIYer, for even though it’s only a few minutes later there is, all of a sudden, a whole lot to do! So, enjoy it while you can.
Put your feet up, pour yourself a glass of something wet, and before the madness begins all over again, comtemplate your successes over the last 12 months.
By joining GIY you help us to continue the work of supporting people just like you to grow food at home, at school, in the workplace and in the community – each year we support over 65,000 people and 1,500 community food growing groups and projects. It costs just €35 to join GIY for a year, and to say thanks we will send you a seasonal copy of our supporter’s magazine GROW and some GIY seeds for you to sow each quarter. We will also send you our weekly tips, news and advice ezine and offer you discounts to GIY events like the annual GROW Fest. Join today at www.giyireland.com.
GIY is a not-for-profit organisation that aims to create a healthier, more sustainable world where people grow their own food. We inspire and support people to grow food more successfully by bringing them together to share advice, tips and ideas. There are approximately 65,000 people involved in the GIY movement in Ireland, which is proudly supported by Woodies DIY.
For more information check out www.giyireland.com
Michael Kelly is a freelance journalist, author and founder of GIY Ireland.
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