When you have been growing your own food for a few years, it’s easy to forget what it felt like when you started out first. I am talking about that sweaty, daunted, vaguely frightened feeling—afraid to start, afraid to make a mistake, afraid to look foolish if it goes wrong. I am reminded of something that a friend once told me when I asked her why she didn’t grow her own food. She said her Dad gave her a beautiful flowering orchid once as a present, and instead of feeling gratitude she felt a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, knowing that it would only be a matter of days before she would kill it. The feeling in her stomach, she said, was preemptive guilt that she couldn’t keep this beautiful living thing alive. Little wonder then that so many people who would like to grow their own food don’t ever start.
So, here’s a confession. In my first few years of GIYing I was completely and utterly useless at it. Voracious reading on the subject left me feeling none the wiser. A veg growing guide might, for example, tell you that you start growing garlic by sticking a clove in the soil—I would immediately wonder, “which end do you stick in the soil?” and riddled with indecision, I would be reluctant to even try. The first time I sowed carrots, I ended up weeding the little seedlings away, because I had no idea which were the weeds and which were the carrot seedlings.
Most people start their GIY journey by buying a book—usually some sort of a vegetable growing guide that has an A–Z listing of all the vegetables one can grow. This seems sensible and I’m all for people buying books (particularly if it’s one of mine…) but I always think that starting with a comprehensive guide to growing is like using the Kama Sutra to learn the basics of sex. What one really needs of course, is to keep it simple, start small and focus on vegetables that are easy to grow (like herbs and salad greens for example). A couple of early quick wins will give you the confidence to keep going.
Incidentally, I wince whenever I hear the phrase “green fingers”—the idea that you are either born with an ability to grow things, or not, is deeply unhelpful. In reality, growing things is a skill and like any skill it takes time to master. All of us have to go through that phase where we are novices and we have to accept the fact that we will most likely kill a lot of plants while we wait for our ability to catch up with our enthusiasm. Once we’ve accepted that fact, it somehow doesn’t seem so scary. Let’s be honest, in the grand scheme of things, a couple of plants sacrificed for the greater good is not such a big deal. Don’t let yourself get derailed by occasional mishaps. Get back on the horse and try again. The most important thing is that we show up each spring ready to try another season.
Things to do this April
If poor weather in March has hampered your outdoor work, then April is the month to catch-up. The key words for April are weeds and slugs. You need to stay on top of them both. Check your early spuds regularly and earth-up as required. Water your tunnel/greenhouse—things can get pretty warm on a nice sunny April day and seedlings will dry out quickly.
Indoors: lettuce, tomato, pepper, chilli-pepper, cucumber, celery, celeriac, basil, leeks, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, parsley, courgette, marrow, globe artichoke, beans, sweet corn and pumpkin. Outdoors: broad bean, onion sets, pea, beetroot, cabbage, spinach, Brussels sprouts, parsnip, spring onion, leek, carrot, radish, broccoli, turnip. Plant out cabbage plants when they are 15/20 cm tall into well prepared soil that has been manured.
Stored fruit and vegetables are likely to be a distant memory at this stage and new crops are only starting to trickle in which makes April a tricky proposition. The middle of this month might see the first asparagus and the first early spring cabbage. The other two star performers this month are purple sprouting broccoli and rhubarb.
Recipe of the Month—
Sicilian Style Purple Sprouting Broccoli
For the season that’s in it, here’s a sprouting broccoli recipe with a Sicilian twist that’s full of flavour. Serves 4.
- 1kg sprouting broccoli
- 6 anchovy fillets (drained—retain the oil)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion
- 12 black olives
- 125ml stock (chicken or veg)
- 125ml red wine
- 1 tsp butter
- 1 tsp flour
Heat the oil and simmer the onions, anchovies and olives for 5 mins. Add the broccoli and give it a good stir. Add the stock and the wine and then stir in a tablespoon of the anchovy oil. Season. Cover and cook for about 10–15 mins. When the broccoli is tender, remove the lid and simmer for another few minutes. Take out the broccoli and transfer to a warmed serving dish. Thicken the sauce by adding a roux made from the butter and flour. Stir the sauce until it boils and then pour over the broccoli. Serve with crusty bread, fried potatoes or rice.
Tip of the Month—
Starting Celery and Celeriac
Celeriac and celery seeds are sown the same way, but while celery is succession sown (perhaps three sowings over the season), celeriac needs just a single sowing (as it stores well). Early April is a good time to sow them. Sprinkle seeds liberally in to a 9cm pot filled with potting compost. These seeds need light to germinate so do not cover the seed with compost. Place the pot somewhere warm (a sunny windowsill or a heating mat). It’s slow to germinate so don’t expect any action for two to three weeks. Keep the compost moist (covering the pot with clingfilm or a freezer bag will keep moisture in and lessen the need for watering). About 2 weeks after germination (when about 3cm tall), prick the seedlings out in to module trays (one seedling per module). They will be planted out in the ground about a month later (ideally by late May for celeriac).
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 150,000 people and 4,500 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. Join today at GIYireland.com.
Michael Kelly is a freelance journalist, author and founder of GIY.
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