Before we launch in to the 2014 growing season, I want to take this opportunity to take a look back at 2013. So, how was it for you?
I seem to spend a lot of time complaining about the weather in this column (usually about the lack of sun and too much rain), but I think it's fair to say that 2013 went against type, which was heartening.
At least we can say that dreary, wet summers are not perhaps our default climate after all -- though of course normal service may well resume in 2014.
We had a ridiculously slow start to the year, with the cold weather making life very difficult in the spring garden. In the traditionally busy month of May, it was too cold to plant some veg outside and some were destined never to catch up (my onions, normally my pride and joy, were abysmal this year). The traditional burst of spring growth didn't happen in my veg patch until well into June, and little wonder -- in early April, many counties in Ireland recorded night time air temperatures of -7C and we had the coldest May in many parts of Ireland in 17 years. Brrrr.
In some sense, we seemed to leapfrog directly from winter in to summer -- but boy, what a summer. July was the warmest on record in many locations in Ireland and we officially entered heat wave and drought conditions.
That made for very pleasant times in the veg patch, albeit with far more outside watering than normal and pressure from the family to abandon the garden and head for the beach!
Most veg thrived as a result, with fruiting plants such as courgettes, pumpkins and squashes faring particularly well.
So, how did the veg perform? Well, here's the report card.
Aubergines -- F After a good year in 2012, normal service resumed with my aubergine growing in 2013. All plant, no fruit.
Bean, Broad -- B+ Great crop this year, with loads now in the freezer for winter. Growing them is only half the battle -- it takes real commitment to turn your crop in to usable food (all that picking, shelling, podding, blanching etc).
Bean, French -- B+ Incredibly prolific for such small plants.
Bean, Runner -- B Just two plants (Enorma) in the polytunnel provided a tonne of delicious beans for months.
Beetroot -- A The variety Detroit Globe is simply a stalwart -- three sowings during the year led to a pretty consistent supply.
Broccoli, Calabrese -- B Grew it in the polytunnel this year and was rewarded with lots of delicious broccoli. Small amounts, regularly is the way to go.
Brussels Spouts -- F Had to buy sprouts at Christmas. Slugs and caterpillars. Enough said.
Cabbage -- C+ Good year for cabbage, which I grew in a Grow-Grid mat from Sow Easy Grow, which kept weeds down.
Carrots -- A Grew Autumn King, Rothild and Namur. Great year. Still have delicious carrots in the ground.
Celeriac -- C Decent crop but small -- think the lack of water in summer might have impacted. That's my excuse anyway.
Courgette - A They loved the warm weather and completely thrived. Loved the yellow variety Parador.
Still had some small new courgettes in November.
Cucumber -- A Brilliant year. Way too many as usual.
Garlic -- B+ Sowed them last December and they did well (nice cold winter helped) -- lovely big juicy bulbs. About a dozen bulbs still left in a braid.
Kale -- B First year that I've grown kale successfully. The variety Nero di Toscana was under constant attack from caterpillars but the other varieties (Red Russian and Redbor) did well.
Leeks -- A Have a great crop of about 30 leeks in the ground still.
Lettuce -- B Repeated sowings paid dividends.
Onions -- D+ Because of cold weather, sowed in module trays to get them started and then planted out a month later. Don't think they ever recovered from the slow start.
Parsnips -- B Solid. Still have a good few in the ground.
Peppers -- B Good year, particularly for chilli-peppers.
Potatoes --B Grew Duke of York, Homeguard, Orla and Setanta. Still have good crop in storage -- slug damage was an issue this year (oddly, given that it wasn't a bad year for slugs in general).
Pumpkin/squash -- A Great year for them -- harvested about 40 in total, particularly loved the squash variety Delicata and the pumpkin Baby Bear. They thrived in the sun. Still have about 15-20 left on top of kitchen dresser.
Shallots -- A Excellent crop of varieties Garden Gourmet and Red Sun which somewhat made up for the poor onion harvest.
Spinach -- B Lots of tender annual spinach during year, and perpetual spinach remains a safe bet.
Sweetcorn -- B They enjoyed the sun -- if I had known how good the summer was going to be, would have planted far more!
Tomatoes -- A A slow start, but more than made up for it. Twenty plants in the tunnel gave delicious toms from late July to late November.
Best variety? Sungold. Worst variety? The blue tomato Indigo Rose was a novelty, but utterly tasteless.
Michael Kelly is author of 'Trading Paces' and 'Tales from the Home Farm', and founder of GIY
Grow it Yourself Diary: Week 84
New Year's resolutions get a bad rap, because they seem to represent the folly and flightiness of the human spirit.
We start off the year with grand intentions to eat only salads, walk/run/swim 100 miles a week, and to do Bikram yoga in a sauna until we weigh as much as a baby sparrow. But then by the end of January we've guiltily abandoned our good intentions. This year, make a simple resolution that can transform your life. Grow food. And before you think that sounds like a resolution that might involve significant effort, life changes or all round hassle on your part, fear not!
It doesn't have to be a huge amount of food. We're not talking 100pc self-sufficiency or living off grid. It's not scary or daunting.
Here are the "Don'ts": l Don't spend a load of money on expensive garden equipment, books or tools. l Don't grow a goatee. l Don't dig up your garden or sign up for an allotment. l Don't learn Latin so you can read plant names.
For now, we're keeping it small-scale, achievable, practical. Unlike most of our resolutions, this one is about working with our limitations -- our lack of time, space, or lack of green fingers. Just grow food. Grow some salad leaves in a container. Stick a pea in some potting compost in a pot. Grow your own garlic. Or some herbs on your balcony. Start small.
Pick three vegetables that you like to eat and learn how to grow those. How about setting yourself the target of producing an entirely home-grown meal? Just one little meal. That's easy right?
Research shows that by growing some of your own food -- your dietary habits may change. Because of the deeper understanding and connection with food that you will have as a result of your food growing experiment, you will be welcoming health and happiness in to your life, and saving some money.
You will be out in the fresh air, getting some exercise at the same time. You will have access to the most delicious, nutritious, seasonal food.
This is your year. 2014 is the year that anything can happen. This year, let your intention be to grow food! Happy New Year from all of us at GIY.
Things to Do This Week
* If you haven't already done so, you could still spread some manure or compost on your vegetable and fruit beds and cover them down with black polythene to start warming them up for spring sowing. Make sure that it's well-rotted manure and be careful not to spread fresh manure in beds that will take root veg in the spring.
* If you don't have a compost heap, this is a good time to get started. Timber pallets are a cheap and easy way to build a heap.
* Consider a compost trench for your legume (peas and beans) bed -- bury kitchen waste at a spade's depth and cover with soil.