Grow It Yourself - November

I attended a sustainability conference this week for Climate Finance Week hosted by Sustainable Nation and AIB that brought former UK climate change advisor Sr David King to Dublin. The weather before and after the event was biblical which was appropriate given that what we heard inside Dublin Castle was utterly, utterly terrifying. We become somewhat numb to the endless bad news about climate change, but it could be about to get a whole lot worse as feedback loops create an acceleration of the worst affects. Melting water sitting in lakes on top of arctic ice are absorbing sun light, heating up further and causing more rapid melting. In Siberian Russia, methane gas that was locked in the permafrost for millennia is literally exploding out of the earth, blowing 60 meter craters in the ice. The arctic vortex which generally sits in the atmosphere above the arctic, keeping it toasty cold is ‘meandering’, causing unheard of minus 18 degree C temperatures in Texas. 

The final speaker, Not Impossible Labs’ Mick Ebeling is a man that could inspire you to believe that there’s no problem that can’t be solved by human ingenuity and a commitment to change. I am naturally optimistic about the ability of citizens, chefs and companies to affect change, but it couldn’t stop my sense of foreboding that the next decade could be a horror show. The lack of tangible action in the face of the scientific consensus that this is our last chance, is made all the more frustrating by the fact that we know what to do to stop it but we simply lack the political will globally.

As if to reinforce that point, in the space of 24 hours Trump confirmed he was exiting the Paris Agreement and (not to be Out-Trumped) our own Taoiseach told the world that climate change may have some upsides and a ‘ledger’ of pros and cons to be considered. Ah…Leo.. improved winter temperatures in Ireland will not be of much benefit to us as a species if we no longer exist.

Of the many terrifying things Sr David had to say, the most terrifying of all was that the Chinese government (with their deep pockets) are hatching plans to buy up global supplies of rice to protect their citizens in the event of a total rice crop failure at home due to flooding. It’s a reminder in case it’s needed that if the proverbial hits the fan, it will be food that will be most important asset of all. In that context the continuing challenges faced by our own commercial growers and farmers and our lack of appreciation for the value of food is all the more alarming. Over 15 years ago we had over 400 veg growers in Ireland. That’s now down to under 150 and these growers and their generational knowledge continue to be lost in the face of aggressive supermarket discounting of veg, competition from imports and consumer apathy about the value of having an indigenous veg industry.

In the garden it’s been a frustratingly wet couple of weeks, and while I slosh around the veg patch in ever muckier wellies, I’m feeling worried for our commercial veg growing friends. Climate change makes their already enormously challenging commercial environment all the more precarious, and we have to face the reality that if things don’t change we won’t have Irish veg to buy. A third of the national potato crop is still in the ground where it must remain until things dry up a little. The national carrot and brussels sprout crops apparently are showing dangerous signs of climate stress. I think I know how they feel.

The Basics – Sow

In the face of such alarming news, growing your own food as always offers solace and positivity and the chance to make a statement about how sustainable you want your food choices to be. Though you might not think it, there are still some things you can sow at this time of the year. This is the ideal time for sowing garlic but you can also sow over-wintering onions, peas and broad beans. Broad beans are best sown direct in the soil. Level out the soil with a rake and then using the end of the rake, mark out two shallow rows (45cm apart). Place the broad beans on the surface of the soil in the rows, 15cm apart. How many beans to sow, really depends on how much you like broad beans and how much space you have available – I find 15-20 plants or so is more than enough for a serious crop. Using your finger, push the beans 5cm down in to the soil and then rake the bed again to cover the holes.

Recipe of the Week – Traditional Shepherd’s Pie

In the olden days, meat pies were done with left over stew and not with mince. The reheated stew was then topped with pastry or with mash potato (more traditional in Ireland). The diced lamb in GROW HQ’s Head Chef JB’s Traditional Shepherd’s Pie gives this a fantastic texture, and it’s full of in-season vegetables – garlic, carrots, parsnips and onions.


• 500g diced lamb
• 4 large tomatoes or 1 small tin of chopped tomatoes
• 2 garlic cloves
• 2 medium carrots
• 1 parsnip
• 1 large onion
• chopped rosemary leaves
• 200 ml good homemade chicken stock (made from the left-over bones of a roast chicken)
• pinch of salt
• 1 Tbsp cooking oil
• 700g nice buttery mash potato to cover the top


Fry off the diced lamb with a little cooking oil in a wide stock pot for 5 to 6 minutes until golden brown. Peel and slice the vegetables. Add the vegetables to the meat and fry off for 3 to 4 minutes.
Add the chopped garlic, rosemary and salt. Add the chopped tomatoes and the chicken stock and simmer on low heat for 2 to 3 hours until the meat start to become flaky. Pour the lamb stew into a pie dish, cover with mash potato and bake at 150 degrees celsius for 45 minutes.

Michael Kelly is an author, broadcaster and founder of GIY.

© GIY Ireland 2019 – all rights reserved.

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