Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Saturday 27 May 2017

Springing into action to grow my own veg is a great feeling

Joe Barry

Joe Barry

The signs of spring are now all around us and most welcome after a mild but rather dreary winter. We can, of course, still expect some rough weather ahead and harsh east winds can quickly wither any fresh green growth caught in the open.

However, inside the poly-tunnel, the climate is always kind and I am making a start by sowing spring vegetables.

For outdoor planting, I always liked the old guideline of waiting until the cherry is in blossom, for we can then be assured that the ground is warming up and germination will be rapid.

For early potatoes, salads, spinach and many others, the polytunnel is invaluable and allows me to extend the growing season and enjoy fresh food for the whole year round. I used to be scornful of raised beds and looked on them as an urban gardener's toy but having finally put some in last year, I now realise their worth.

Last year, I purchased cheap second-hand scaffolding planks, which are ideal in size and make excellent edges for the beds after a quick coat of a safe preservative.

With a raised bed, you get better drainage and with paths between them, you can manage the different crops without compacting the soil.

It is also easy to net beds to protect crops such as cabbages and cauliflowers from the cabbage white butterfly.

They can be of any length, but don't make the beds too long or you will find yourself walking across them occasionally, which rather defeats the original purpose.

A width of around 140cm is ideal and allows the centre to be reached easily from both sides. The height can be anything from 20cm upwards.

If, like me, you do not want to eat food that has been sprayed with pesticides, raised beds allow for good, simple plant protection without resorting to the use of poisons.

With the shelter of the polytunnel and well-drained beds, I am now planting potatoes earlier than usual.

Later on during April and May, the spuds will be relatively well grown and, whenever frost threatens, I will cover them with horticultural fleece, which is easier to handle and cleaner than straw.

When the danger of frost is past, fleece is also simple to remove and reuse.

This year, I am planting the first early Lady Christl, along with Sharpes Express, but for the main crop I will continue to plant Sarpo Mira and Sarpo Axona, both of which are excellent croppers, good to cook and eat, and store well. Crucially, they are also both resistant to blight. Last year's crop kept perfectly in a shed when covered in dry compost.

I will also sow spinach and a variety of salads which will be ready when the winter varieties are finished.

With leeks, turnips, potatoes, celery, carrots, kale and winter salads, I am relatively self sufficient, especially when one adds in the vegetables from last summer stored in the deep freeze. It is really satisfying to grow your own food and the exercise one gets when gardening is surely more beneficial and cheaper than joining the local health club.

- Teagasc are running a series of free one-to-one forestry clinics from February 13-24. Contact your local Teagasc office to book a consultation and remember to bring your maps.

Indo Farming