Grow It Yourself - February

Winter Veg Patch

As we move towards sowing time, my inner critic is active again, goading me to get started on work in the veg patch. Every time I look out the window at the veg patch, or visit it to grab a leek or some parsnips for the dinner, it starts up its never-ending critical commentary.

“You really need to get some compost on that bed,” it says. “Look at those weeds, you’d really think you would keep it tidier. That polytunnel needs cleaning and look at the state of the potting shed. You started GIY? Really? You’d think the so-called founder of GIY would be more on top of things in his own veg patch.”

My inner critic, it turns out, is a total pain in the ass.

As a New Year gift to myself, I’ve been reading Aoife McElwain’s excellent new book “Slow at Work” and it strikes me that its principles could apply not just to my work life, but to my veg patch life too.

I am constantly beating myself up about what’s to be done out there, rather than cutting myself a break or, God forbid, praising myself for how much I’ve actually managed to grow. I’ve done very little in the veg patch since November, but instead of relishing the break, most of the time I just feel guilty.

Aoife’s book promises to show us how to “work less, achieve more and regain our balance in an always-on world”. It’s a promise I think most of us could really latch on to in these frenetic times. It’s a fascinating book that explores the cult of busyness, the imposter syndrome and the problems of procrastination.

The phrase “I’ve been beating myself up” is a really interesting one. It points to the strange duality that’s the core problem of the human experience. Who exactly is it that’s beating me up? Is it me? Creating a tiny little bit of distance between you (the experiencer of life), and your inner critic (that constant inner monologue) is one of the healthiest things you can do for your mental health and all-round happiness.

Just being able to notice or watch the critic, to catch it out – is usually enough to be able to stop identifying with it so much. After a while you realise your inner critic is actually kind of a moron. It’s like the worst type of bullying boss – hyper critical and repetitive, often sulky, whiney and childish. Never giving you a break, always saying the same dumb stuff, time and time again.

If you’ve already broken your new year’s resolution, how about trying this: get to know your inner critic. Start listening out for it and watching its patterns. Don’t identify with it so much or take it so seriously.

The first time you find yourself smiling at your inner critic you will know you’ve made significant progress. As for me, I’m staying out of the veg patch for another few weeks. My inner critic is not happy about it, but then again, he never is.

Slow at Work by Aoife McElwain is €12.99 and available from Gill Books.

GIY Ireland

Things to Do this Month

To Do

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.

The Basics – How to Hoe

Speaking of new skills. Learning how to hoe properly is one of the most useful skills I’ve acquired in the veg patch – it’s the ultimate labour and time saving device.

I wouldn’t be able to keep on top of my veg patch weeds without it. Hoeing is 8 times faster than pulling weeds, apparently. I would love to have been at the trial where they established that fact.

Ideally you want to hoe to prevent weeds as opposed to having to get rid of them. Although you may have to pull weeds if they get well established, it's preferable not to have to, since it upsets soil structure and fertility. Far better to hoe weeds which basically dislodges the roots and forces them to die - they then rot down and add to soil fertility.

From April to September run over the entire patch with a hoe each week - its enjoyable work if you do it right, standing upright with a long-handled hoe and moving it forward and back just beneath the soil surface.

Try to hoe when the soil is dry. Weeds are more likely to take root again in wet soil. It’s good to redouble your hoeing efforts at two times of the year – (1) go in to the winter with a clean patch and (2) in spring, don’t let weeds get established.

Mulch and green manures will prevent weeds from becoming established, as will coverings of mypex, plastic etc. Also important to keep the grass around your patch short - otherwise it’s a great seeding environment for weeds.

Recipe of the Month – Celeriac, Kale and Apple Broth

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s excellent first book River Cottage Veg Everyday is the most used cook book in our house, packed with user-friendly delicious veg recipes. As a result, his new book River Cottage Much More Veg is on my must-acquire list. This is a new recipe from it – a timely, warming, nourishing celeriac, kale and apple broth. Serves 4-6


• 50g pearl barley or pearled spelt
• 2 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
• 1 onion, chopped
• 2 garlic cloves, chopped
• ½ small celeriac (about 250g), peeled and cut into roughly 1cm cubes
• 1 litre hot veg stock (see page 190 for home-made)
• 150g curly kale or cavolo nero, leaves stripped off the stalks and roughly shredded
• 5–6 sage leaves, sliced into fine ribbons
• 2 medium eating apples, quartered, cored and chopped into roughly 1cm cubes
• Sea salt and black pepper
• Extra virgin olive or rapeseed oil, to finish


Put the pearl barley or spelt to soak in cold water while you prepare the vegetables.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan or small stockpot over a medium heat. Add the onion and garlic with some salt and pepper. When everything is sizzling, turn the heat down low, cover the pan and let the veg sweat, stirring once or twice, for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, rinse the barley or spelt well. Add the barley or spelt to the pan with the celeriac. Sauté, stirring, for 2–3 minutes, then pour in the hot stock.

Bring to a simmer and cook, partially covered, until the grain is almost tender (about 15 minutes for spelt, 25 minutes for barley).

Stir in the shredded kale and sage and bring back to a simmer. Cook for 5 minutes, then add the cubed apple and cook for a further 2 minutes only.

Remove from the heat, taste the soup and add more seasoning if needed.

Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and finish with a trickle of extra virgin oil and a grinding of black pepper, then serve.


Visit the home of the GIY movement, GROW HQ in Waterford for a range of classes and courses on growing and cooking food. Our plot-to-plate café and bistro, just 110 paces from the veg patch, won the Farm to Plate award at the Food & Wine Awards and Local Food Hero at the Irish Restaurant Awards. Open 7 days from 9am to 5pm and serving evening meals from Thursday to Saturday.

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 500,000 people and 9,000 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

About GIY

Michael 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

Michael Kelly is a freelance journalist, author and founder of GIY Ireland. 
© GIY Ireland 2018 – all rights reserved.

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