Monday 22 October 2018

Gerry Daly: Nothing tastes as good as homegrown veg. Here's a simple guide!

It's time to sow, writes Gerry Daly

Vegetable seeds can be sown outside in open soil or indoors in trays, depending on kind and variety
Vegetable seeds can be sown outside in open soil or indoors in trays, depending on kind and variety

In recent years, there has been a great upsurge of interest in home-grown vegetables because they are unsurpassed for freshness and flavour. While it is possible to grow a wide range of vegetables, it is best not to take on too much at the outset. Start with a couple of square metres, even one square metre, and grow easy kinds with a quick return reward for the effort expended, such as radish, rocket, mustard leaves and leaf lettuce. Then, with greater confidence and skills, expand the area and the range of vegetables grown.

Vegetables are best sown in a sunny spot in good fertile soil without weeds or tree roots. If you have a suitable spot, there is no need to go to the trouble and expense of raised beds as vegetables will grow perfectly well in good garden soil, and, indeed, raised beds can be prone to drought in a warm summer.

Vegetable seeds can be sown outside in open soil or indoors in trays, depending on kind and variety, and details are on the seed packet. Most vegetables are sown directly outdoors: cabbage, cauliflower, sprouts, broccoli, turnips, swedes, radish, carrots, parsnips, onions, scallions, leeks, peas, broad beans, French beans, beetroot and lettuce.

From April, these crops are sown into well-tilled, fine soil. Mark little drills with a stick drawn along a taut line or the handle of a rake.

Some vegetables can be damaged by frost and so can't be grown outdoors until the danger of late frost is past in about late May. These crops should be sown indoors in April and planted out at the end of May.

This group of tender vegetables includes outdoor tomatoes, sweet corn, courgettes, pumpkins, squash, runner beans, celery and peppers. Some vegetables can also be sown indoors to get early crops, such as summer cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, peas, French beans, lettuce and onions.

Indoors, in a greenhouse, kitchen window sill or propagator, sow in trays of seed compost, kept moist and warm until seeds germinate. Then prick out seedlings into other seed trays, about 5cm apart each way, or into small individual pots. Larger seeds such as sweet corn, runner beans, French beans and pumpkins can be sown directly into small pots.

Vegetables need enough space for each plant to develop to a usable size. The amount of space varies for each vegetable and may even vary between varieties of a particular vegetable. Some, such as peas, beans, scallions, radishes, potatoes and onion sets, are sown at their final spacing and need no further adjustment. Others do need to be spaced and that is done by transplanting or by thinning.

For vegetables that are transplanted, sow the seeds outdoors in a seedbed and, when the seedlings have six or seven leaves, lift and transplant them to their final spacing. Water the young plants afterwards to help them to recover. Transplanting is used for cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, onions, sprouts, leeks and lettuce. Crops sown indoors are, of course, transplanted outside when large enough.

Some crops are thinned to final spacing so as not to disrupt the roots. Carrots, parsnips, turnips, swedes and beetroot are thinned to their final spacing in two stages. Make several sowings of the quick-maturing salad crops - lettuce, rocket, radish, beetroot, scallions - and of white turnips, peas, French beans and carrots to spread supply and avoid gluts.

Control weeds as soon as they appear. Don't allow them to get beyond the seedling stage or to flower. Light hoeing between rows gets rid of most weeds, and hand-weeding will be needed in the rows of vegetables.

Timeliness is all important for success with vegetables.

Admire the show:  Mr Middleton's Tulip Extravaganza at The Bay Garden is a four-week spectacle of tulips and spring bulbs with over 15,000 bulbs planted in 120 varieties. Viewing is on weekends, 2-5pm, as follows: today; 14 and 15 April; 21 and 22 April; 28 and 29 April, or by appointment. Talks on growing tulips. Entrance €5; thebaygarden.com

Plant it: Despite the cold, showery spring, that most elegant of trees, the magnolia, is about to flower, or in some favoured spots, is already in flower with magnificent tulip-shaped flowers of white or light wine-purple along bare branches. If you don't have space to grow this fine tree, you can always admire beauties such as Magnolia x soulangeana (pictured) in passing!

Skill up: If your garden is lacking that special something, consider going along to designer Ingrid Smyth's Introduction to Garden Design, aimed at giving you the tools you need to design your dream garden. April 14, 11am-4pm, fee, €65, including lunch. Places are limited to 15 and booking is recommended. details on info@ingridsmythgardendesign.com

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