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And so it begins. Another season starts with the determined act of seed sowing in the potting shed. A bag of compost opened and tipped out on the sowing bench. Cold black plastic pots filled with even colder blacker compost.
Seed labels lined up awaiting a scrawl of information. Seed packets fished out from my big box of tricks and ripped open to reveal their bounty. It’s just tomatoes, aubergines and peppers today so five tiny little seeds are placed gently on the surface of each pot (one for each variety I will sow and 17 pots in all).
Ah but it feels good to start again in to another season. While I work I try to remember whether it’s my tenth or eleventh season? Then I find myself wondering how many seasons I have ahead of me. Maybe thirty if I am lucky?
I pull myself back from such existential thoughts and try to stay in the moment. I plug in the heated cable to start the process of warming the sand beneath the seed pots. I realize I am whistling.
It feels too cold to be sowing seeds. The calendar says spring (in that strange Irish way that labels February spring) but it’s definitely still winter outside. All day the weather has alternated erratically from sun to cold showers of rain. I have shelter from the elements in here in the potting shed but I can feel my feet are numb in my wellies and the tips of my fingers are cold.
I’ve a hat on my head and several layers of fleece beneath my jacket, and I can see my breath while I work. I would like to luxuriate over this process, particularly today since it’s the first sowing of the year, but it’s too damn cold – so I move quickly. Sow a pot, label it, move on to the next one.
Before I finish I make a cloche over the pots with some rubber pipe and spread a layer of clear plastic over them, tucking the plastic in beneath them. I am creating a little hothouse for these seeds, which need heat to germinate. It feels a little artificial, but my growing year always starts like this – coaxing Mediterranean conditions from a cold February and trying to warm up the world.
Things to Do This Month - February
Turn over the soil only if the weather is dry – if the soil sticks to your boots it’s too early for digging! Keep off the soil to prevent soil compaction - use timber planks to stand on for access. If you have not already done so order/buy your seeds, spuds and onion sets. “Chit” or sprout seed potatoes – put them in a container (e.g. used egg carton or empty seed tray) and leave them in a bright warm place. Check the pH of your soil – you can buy a soil pH testing kit in any garden centre. Lime your soil now if required (to reduce acidity in very acid soils), particularly important in your brassica bed.
Finally, we can sow some seeds. On a sunny windowsill indoors, in a heated greenhouse or on a heating mat: sow celery, globe artichokes, celeriac, leeks, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, peas, aubergines, peppers/chilli-peppers. In polytunnel or greenhouse: beetroot, Brussels sprouts, summer and autumn cabbage, carrots, leeks, lettuce, radish. Outside: Weather permitting you can try planting out broadbeans, spinach, kohlrabi, onion and shallot sets, Jerusalem artichokes, parsnip and early pea varieties.
Winter cabbage and cauliflowers, Brussels sprouts, spinach, kale and leeks.
Recipe of the Week – Perfect Parmesan Parsnips
Here’s a recipe from our friend Donal Skehan who contributed two lovely recipes to GROW COOK EAT, our new grow/cookbook.
· 1kg of parsnips.
· 3 tablespoons of wholemeal flour.
· 1 tablespoon of ground black pepper.
· 1 tablespoon of sea salt.
· 1 generous handful of Parmesan cheese.
· 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
Preheat the oven to 200oC/390oF/Gas 6. Peel the parsnips and chop in half and then slice into four. You may need to slice the chunks in half again depending on what size you want them.
Place the parsnips in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring the pot to the boil and simmer for 4 minutes. Rinse with a little cold water and drain the chunks in a colander.
Combine the flour, pepper, and salt in a large bowl. Tumble the parsnips into the bowl and toss to coat.
Place in a large roasting tray, sprinkle over the Parmesan cheese and drizzle with olive oil. Roast in the oven for 25 minutes or until golden brown and crispy.
Tip of the Week – Slugs
Yes, slugs are a pain in the veg patch but there are lots of ways of keeping them away from your plants (which is better than blitzing them with nasty blue chemical pellets!).
1. Do a slug hunt! Collect the slugs in a bucket and get them away from the veg patch – night time is a great time to collect slugs after they come out to play.
2. Encouraging birds and frogs in to your garden will help keep the slug population under control.
3. Slugs don’t like the following so try sprinkling them on the ground around your veg plants – egg shells, gravel, coffee granules and salt.
The home of the GIY movement and our brand new food education centre, GROW HQ, is finally open in Waterford city. In addition to our 65-seat home-grown food café and shop, we’ve a range of growing and cooking courses happening weekly – for courses happening this month, check out www.growhq.org
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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