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Diarmuid Gavin: It's time to dig for the planet

Growing your own vegetables will cut food miles, chemicals and packaging

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Now is the time to make decisions about what to grow

Now is the time to make decisions about what to grow

Now is the time to make decisions about what to grow

If we are lucky enough to have a garden and time to tend those gardens, and if those gardens aren't on top of Mount Brandon, we have an obligation to make the most of our planet's resources by growing some of our own food. During the last world war across the water, garden owners dug for victory. Now it's time to dig for our planet.

Because of urbanisation and the fact that most of us live in suburbs, towns and cities, we purchase our food from centralised locations such as supermarkets. The quality and choice of the food we eat has never been so good and many say it's never been cheaper.

But the real price is a costly one. Out-of-season berries are flown half way around the world to jazz up our breakfast cereals and stalks of broccoli come shrink-wrapped in plastic. Between food miles, packaging and chemicals, there's a big price to pay. So our responsibility is to make the most of our planet's resources by substituting some of what we buy for fresh produce we grow, even from small plots.

If you have use of a garden and some time, this will become a joy. While there may not be a lot growing in February, now is the perfect time to make decisions about what to grow and where to do so. The time-honoured advice is to grow what you or your family and friends like to eat.

Basics such as potatoes, onions, cabbage, broccoli, peas and beans, root veg like parsnips and carrots and tomatoes are always popular and sensible choices. If you're more of a fruitarian, think about strawberries, raspberries or even a small self-pollinating apple or plum tree.

Play to your soil's strength. If you have naturally light sandy soil, carrots and other root veg will flourish. Heavier clay soils are better for brassicas such as cabbage and cauliflower. Either way, soil improvement will be your first and most important task.

So what do you need to do now? First of all, choose your site. Vegetables like to be grown in a sunny position and not too exposed. I like having the veg and herb patch near the kitchen as practically speaking it makes sense when you want to grab a few herbs. Traditionally veg patches have often been hidden at the end of the garden but so many vegetables have inherent beauty themselves it's a shame to hide them.

Digging is good for removing weeds and stones but it can have a negative impact on the structure of your soil so try not to overdo it. Rotovators are sometimes necessary to break up heavy or badly compacted soils but they will also be damaging to the structure so be mindful of this. The best way to improve soil structure, regardless of the type of soil you have, is to add well-rotted farmyard manure. Manure helps loosen heavy soil and adds bulk and water retention quality to lighter soil. It provides nutrients and earthworms that will sift through your soil, aerating it and helping to form rich crumbly earth. Garden compost will also be a beneficial addition to your veg plot.

It's a good idea to make a plan on a piece of paper and mark out what is going where, assess how much you can actually grow. Armed with your plan, you can go shopping for seeds, onion sets, soft fruit and seed potatoes.

I kicked of my 2020 veg growing by buying some seed potatoes last weekend (make sure to get yours soon as they quickly sell out by spring). I like to try different varieties and this year I'm plumping for maincrop Maris Piper. It's a classic potato, great for roasting or chipping and stores well. It has good eelworm resistance but if you want to avoid blight, either go for early varieties such as Duke of York or choose Sarpo varieties such as Mira and Axona. These were bred in Hungary specifically for resistance to blight and have proved very resilient.

Get chitting (popping them on windowsills to encourage sprouting) so you can get them in the ground at the end of March/early April.

Top Tip

Good soil structure and fertility are the key to good crops. Soil structure is easily damaged by compaction, particularly when the conditions are wet so neither walk nor work on wet soil.

Irish Independent