Grow it Yourself - May

BeetrootThis month we will be harvesting the first of our new season beetroot - OK, so they will be no bigger than golf balls and will have been grown in the polytunnel, but they will be all the tastier and more tender as a result.

I was turned off beetroot as a kid because the only way I ever saw it presented was pickled and floating in vinegar – fresh beetroot plucked straight from the soil and baked to retain all the goodness, is a different matter entirely: earthy, tender, wonderful and incredibly good for you.

Interesting to note that we also still have about half a dozen beetroot from last year in a box of sand in the shed – they were sown in July, lifted for storage in October and we’ve been eating a couple a week since. They have held up well. They are an altogether hardier affair than the new season ones – about the size of large oranges and not quite as tender, but they taste pretty good still and make a useful addition to salads (raw, grated).

To my mind this brings home why beetroot is the perfect GIY crop – it can be difficult to source fresh in the supermarket, it’s easy to grow, doesn’t demand much space and with a little planning it can be enjoyed fresh all year round.

GIY IrelandBy the way, if you are heading to Bloom in the Phoenix Park (31st May to 4th June), come visit us at the GIY Zone. We will be showing people how to sow seeds and generally spreading GIY Joy. We’re also aiming to break a Guinness World Record for the most people sowing seedlings at the one time, and creating a giant seedling mosaic!

Things to do this Month


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.


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.


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.

Operation GIY Nation

This month in Operation GIY Nation we’re showing you how to grow salad leaves in a container. You can download the project help-sheet from

Recipe of the Week – Beetroot and Goats Cheese Salad

Walnuts, goats cheese and beetroot make ideal bedfellows.

This serves four.


• 12-15 baby beetroot
• 2 tbsp lemon juice
• 80ml extra virgin olive oil
• 1 tsp Dijon mustard
• 70g baby spinach leaves and some small beetroot leaves
• A bunch of flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped
• 100g soft goat's cheese, crumbled
• 75g toasted walnuts

Twist off the leaves from the beetroot (don’t cut, this causes them to bleed), leaving about 2 inches of stalk attached to the beet. Wash them well and pat dry. Place them in a tinfoil parcel and bake in a hot (220 degrees Celsius) oven for about 35-45 minutes.

They will be very tender when cooked – pierce with a knife to check. Take a beetroot and rinse under a cold tap (so you can handle it), then quickly remove the skin by rubbing with your fingers – if it is well cooked, it should come off easily. Repeat with all the beetroot and cut them in to quarters. Whisk the lemon juice, olive oil and mustard together in a small bowl. Season to taste.

Place the spinach, beetroot leaves and chopped parsley in a large bowl. Add half the dressing and toss well.

Divide among 4 serving plates (or leave in the large bowl if desired), then scatter with beetroot, goat's cheese and toasted walnuts. Garnish the salad with some parsley, drizzle with the remaining dressing and serve immediately.

Tip of the Week – Sow Beetroot

Beetroot likes a deep, sandy soil, manured the previous winter. Apply organic fertiliser about a week before sowing. Germination is in about 10 days and you will have roots to eat in about 3 months. I always sow beetroot in module trays and then carefully transplant them about a month after sowing. They should be planted 4 inches apart in rows about 12 inches apart.

Bear in mind that a beetroot seed is actually a “cluster” of up to five seeds, so even if you sow just one seed you may end up with a small cluster of plants – thin them out to just one seedling. Sow every two weeks from April until July (for a continuous supply of young beets) although you can start even earlier (March) in a greenhouse or polytunnel.

Sow another batch in July, which will be ready to lift in October for winter storage.

For a GIY video tutorial on growing beetroot check out directory at

Grow Magazine:
The 64-page GIY magazine, GROW is a must-read for anyone interested in growing their own food in 2012. Includes contributions from Joy Larkcom, Fionnuala Fallon, Kitty Scully, Hans Wieland, Darina Allen, Klaus Laitenberger and Joyce Russell. The magazine costs €4.50 and is available from our website and in most good newsagents. GROW is sent free of charge to subscribing members of GIY. GIY membership costs €35 and the member's pack includes the magazine, 7 packs of GIY seeds, grower's wallchart and a GIY member's card.


We are trying to get 100,000 people to take a pledge to grow something they can eat – take the GIY pledge at

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

GIY’s vision is for a healthier, more connected and more sustainable world where people grow their own food. We bring people together in community groups and online to inspire and empower them to grow vegetables. There are over 100 GIY community groups and approximately 12,000 people involved in the movement around Ireland. GIY is a registered charity – CHY 18920.

For more tips, information and support visit

© GIY Ireland 2012 – all rights reserved.

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