Posted by in News.

GIY: ‘We really don’t need a heatwave – just a few days with the sun in the sky’

I don’t know how the poor plants will react if we skip spring altogether, writes Michael Kelly.

Michael KellyGrower
AS MORE HORRENDOUS rain and wind lashed us early this week, there were whisperings of fine mild weather for this weekend. I latch onto rumours in the hope that by taking and multiplying them, they will be more likely to come to pass.

In the space of an hour, two people mentioned the phrase ‘heatwave’ to describe the incoming weather which made me laugh. We really don’t need a heatwave – just some warmer temperatures and a few days with the sun in the sky and no rain. I don’t know how the poor plants will react if we skip spring altogether and head straight for summer.  I don’t know how I will react either.

Veg patch

Anyway, I’m starting to feel the pressure in the veg patch on a few fronts now. 75 tomato plants are ready to plant out; I’ve main crop potatoes still to sow which really should go in before end of month and it’s high time to sow onions.

Onions are generally sown between mid March and mid April, depending on the weather. They really do need that length of a growing season to give them a chance to mature. So, most growers have been watching the soil and air temperatures carefully over the last few weeks, hoping to get them sown.

Earlier this week taking advantage of a dry evening, Youngest Child and I sowed the onions having prepared the bed last weekend. Using onion sets, it’s a quick enough process once you’ve the bed ready.

As per our Head Grower Richard’s advice, a handful of seaweed dust (for potassium) and a handful of poultry manure pellets per square yard is a good way to get the bed fertilised for onions. Rake the bed so it’s nice and flat, and tamp down with the back of the rake.

Setting onions

Mark out the rows. I do four rows (20cm apart) of onions in a standard 1.2m wide bed. Within each row the onion sets are sown at 10cm apart. With this spacing you will get 40 onions from a meter of veg bed. This year I’ve dedicated 4m of bed to onions so will get 160 in total. Harvesting them in August, they should last about 6 months.

I put a fleece cover over the beds, partly because it will help warm the soil and keep them toasty, but also because it keeps the birds from pecking at them. I sowed some over-wintering onions last October, which are doing ok (though they were really put through their paces with the snow) and hopefully they will be ready to eat about a month before the main crop onions.

The allium family (onions, garlic and leeks) section of the veg patch is more or less full now, with a small area left for leeks. One final note – I sowed any leftover, slightly dodgy onion sets (any soft ones, or ones that have sprouted etc) side by side in a tiny little area of the bed which we will eat as scallions. Because of that they don’t need the same spacing as the normal onions.

You could also sow these in a container or window box –they should be ready to eat in 6 weeks or so.

The Basics – Transplanting Toms

Myself and Richard have nerdy horticultural conversations over lunch at GROW HQ occasionally – they are the types of conversations that only veg obsessives could ever really enjoy. This week we’ve been exercised about transplanting tomato plants and specifically whether to plant them out or pot them on at this stage.

Sown in February, my plants are now outgrowing the module tray they are in – so I need to make a decision on them, but it seems a little risky to put them out in the polytunnel given the weather we’ve been having. He says he sowed his tomatoes a whole month later than me, so he wouldn’t have the problem that I now face.  He calls me a premature germinator.

So why not leave them in the module tray? 

Well, when tomato plants are in a module tray and getting bigger they are competing for light. This can result in you losing the early fruit as the plant wisely decides it won’t have enough light for the first fruit truss.

In theory, potting them up in to their own pots would be a good plan but (a) it will be expensive – all those pots, all that compost and (b) it’s an extra layer of quite considerable work and (c) unless I give them plenty of space the light access problem remains the same.

I literally don’t have enough space in the potting shed to provide plenty of space to 70 tomato plants in pots. So I think I’m going to take my chances and plant them out in the tunnel this weekend.

When discussing the potential for cold nights to play havoc with freshly planted tomato plants, I was reminded of a tip I got some years ago from a wise old GIYer – Hugh O’Neill, father of my friend Feargal. Hugh’s tip is simplicity itself – get a sheet of newspaper and pull it down over the cane that’s supporting the tomato plant, making a hole in the centre of the sheet. The paper will then rest gently over the plant, keeping it nice and snug, and can be pulled off again the following morning.

Recipe of the Week – Roast Beetroot Falafels

Beetroot Falafels are a good lunch box filler to go along with a salad.  This recipe from Trinity’s Kitchen is straightforward and delicious. Serve with a little yoghurt or a tahini dressing.


  • 2 beetroot (just under tennis ball size)
  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • 250g chickpeas
  • 1 handful fresh coriander leaves
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 heaped teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt


Ahead of time: Slice the rough neck/top off the beetroots and discard. Chop the remaining beetroot into cubes (1.5cm/half an inch cubed in size). Bake in the oven on a baking tray for about 45 minutes on a high heat (180 degrees C). When done, take out and leave to cool until you are ready to make the falafels.

Add all ingredients into a food processor and blend until everything has broken down. It doesn’t need to be pureed completely, just broken down into tiny pieces so that when you compress, everything binds together.

Roll into balls (a little smaller than golf balls in size). Press the balls down into mini patty shapes. Place onto a grill tray and grill on a medium/low heat for about 8 minutes on each side. You can also bake these in the oven as an alternative to grilling.  Serve right away.

Michael Kelly is founder of GIY and GROW HQ. The GIY TV series GROW COOK EAT is on Wednesdays on RTE 1, presented by Michael Kelly and Karen O’Donohoe,