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Grow It Yourself - May

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On one level, food growing is quite simple – you sow a seed, a plant grows, you eat it. But of course it’s the bits in between those major milestones where things can get complicated. Sometimes it doesn’t get complicated at all and everything flows beautifully. I smile, zen-like, and feel mighty happy with my abilities – but even then I can’t shake the uneasy feeling that I have no idea why it went so well this time.

And sometimes, it doesn’t go so well. Seeds don’t germinate. Seedlings die. There’s too much rain, or not enough. It’s too cold, or too damn hot. The place is overrun with weeds. And slugs. Everywhere you look, there’s a weed with a slug on it. Plants bolt or run to seed. Growth is puny, or over-abundant. Yield is poor, or there’s a glut you can’t handle. Too little nitrogen in the soil or not enough. Too acid. Too alkaline. Too many things to learn, not enough time.

Food growing is a skill and like any skill worth having, it takes time to get a handle on it. So the most important skill that one can have as a food grower is the ability to take the long view and be patient. You won’t learn all the skills you need in one season, or in ten seasons.

Learning to relax and sit with the discomfort of not being an expert is a very liberating thing. Peas didn’t germinate? Chill out. There’s always next year. Rhubarb has run to seed? Well, at least the flowers are pretty.

It helps I think to view GIYing as a whole range of little individual skills. Eating the elephant in bite-sized chunks makes it feel like a more manageable meal. Growing each individual vegetable is a skill in itself, because they are all different – but there’s a series of core skills that don’t really change.

These are the foundation skills, the building blocks for everything else. It’s like the leaving cert on which you can then build your higher education. If you can master these, then you’re well set up. Have a look below at some of the basics.

GIY 101

If I was to devise a GIY Skills course (hey, that’s not a bad idea actually..), semester 1 would be all about getting soil ready, because it all starts with good soil. So in that soil preparation and improvement category I would put the following individual skills: good composting, getting soil ready if starting from scratch; single/double digging; soil improvement (mulching, adding compost/manures etc); and then preparing a bed for planting (raking soil to a fine tilth).

Once you’ve got your soil in good nick, then it’s time to move on to semester two - sowing and planting things. In that category there are again some core skills: sowing seeds indoors or under cover (I think if you’re shown how to do this right, you will almost always have successful germination of seeds); pricking out and potting those seedlings on; sowing seeds direct in the soil (things like peas, carrots, onions, spuds etc).

Then you’re in to a plant maintenance phase and there’s another range of small skills to master: weed control (mainly, hoeing); managing pests and diseases (particularly slugs); watering (knowing how much or how little to use); plant maintenance (e.g. pinching off growing tips to bulk plants out, pinching out side shoots on tomatoes etc).

And finally, we get to the really fun part, when you get to sample your home-grown food. There are important skills there too: knowing when to harvest from a plant; being able to deal with gluts; being able to ‘process’ and store your food so you can prolong the season (braiding, pickling, drying, freezing, clamping etc).

Still here? Congratulations – you’ve just graduated in GIY 101!

GROW HQ

Check out the courses, classes, events and more at the home of the GIY movement, GROW HQ, 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.

GIY Ireland

Things to do this Month - May

To-Do

May is the time to get those outdoor beds ready for early summer transplanting. Fork over and rake. Earth up potatoes as the plants develop. Put protective barrier around your carrots to thwart the dastardly carrot root fly. Regularly hoe weeds and mulch. Water plants if required. Support tomato, bean and pea plants with twiggy sticks, pea netting, timber supports with chicken wire, or existing fence or hedge. Pinch out the growing tips of broad beans plants to help prevent Blackfly.

Sow

Indoors for planting on later: basil, dill, coriander, courgette, cucumber, sweet corn, pumpkins.

Outdoors: winter cauliflower, cabbage, kale, spinach, sprouting broccoli, leeks, beans (French, Runner, Climbing French), beetroot, parsnip, turnip, swedes, radish, lettuce, peas, broccoli, rocket, carrots. Harden off and begin to plant out seedlings you have lovingly raised indoors – e.g. tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, brussels sprouts, sprouting broccoli, cabbages, sweet corn, leeks.

Harvest

May is another tricky “gap” month as stores continue to dwindle. Continue picking asparagus, purple sprouting broccoli, radish, rhubarb, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach and chard. May is likely to see the first real bumper salad leaves like lettuce and rocket – as well as the first garlic, beetroot and globe artichokes.

Recipe of the Month – Asparagus and Toasted Pecan Salad

Lucky the GIYer that has well-established asparagus in their garden – here’s a lovely asparagus salad. Serves 3-4.

Ingredients:

• 1kg asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
• 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
• 3 tbsp olive oil
• 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
• 1 tbsp chopped fresh marjoram
• 1 tsp garlic - minced
• 1 red pepper, diced
• 1/3 cup chopped and toasted pecans

Directions

Cook the asparagus in a pot of boiling, salted water until tender (about 4 mins). Drain and then rinse with cold water. Boil the vinegar in a saucepan until reduced by half. Pour it in to a large bowl – whisk in the oil, mustard, marjoram and garlic. Season to taste. Add asparagus and bell pepper and blend well. Sprinkle with pecans.

Become a VIPea

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 – this year we will support over 250,000 people and 8,000 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. It will also entitle you to a 10% discount at GROW HQ and our online shop. Join today at www.GIY.ie.

GROW HQ

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

About GIYMichael Kelly

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. 
© GIY Ireland 2017 – all rights reserved.

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