Growing food and eating food is all about community!
Now that spring is here, it’s a great time to start thinking about growing your own fruit and veg. Not only is it great for the head to watch stuff grow, it’s also increasingly important to produce and eat stuff that’s grown close to home. Plus it’s great fun and soon you too will be making ‘chitting’ jokes to your new community of growing pals!
When I speak to people who are interested in growing food they often don’t know where to start. But they always mention two things. One, that if things are too difficult to grow they’ll quickly lose heart. And two, because outdoor growing space is often a luxury, a focus on things that can be grown in smaller spaces, in containers and bags, for instance, would be useful.
So over the next few months, I’ll be focusing on growing foods that are easy and that can be grown in both small and large spaces. I really feel that everyone can grow their own food successfully, all you need is some enthusiasm. And at the end of it all, you’ll have yummy things to eat, and food to share with your friends and family. Growing food and eating food is all about community!
I’ll be starting this month with two of the easiest crops of all; onions and potatoes. March is typically the beginning of the growing season in Ireland as you must wait until the risk of frost has passed. It’s for this reason that people usually wait until St Patrick’s Day to start planting their spuds, but I think this rule is good for your onions too.
The easiest way to grow onions is to pick up some ‘onion sets’. These are very small onion bulbs and they’re widely available and relatively cheap. A certain German supermarket chain currently has them widely in stock. They can be grown in pots, window boxes, grow bags, and buckets, or else sown directly into the ground.
You pop these sets into the soil so that you just see the tip above it. And that’s it! Now you just have to water and wait.
- The more space you leave between them the bigger they’ll grow. I do 15cm between them in the ground and less space between them in containers.
- Always plant them into freshly watered soil.
- If you have any netting it’s good to cover them when they’re small to stop them from being eaten by birds.
- The onions will be ready to pick in summer when the tall neck of the onion begins to droop.
You can also grow onions from seed, which are cheaper than onion sets but trickier to start. Plant the seeds in a seed module tray and place them in a greenhouse, grow house, or on a windowsill. When they are big enough to lift, plant them using the same guidelines as for onions sets.
Potatoes are by far the easiest and most enjoyable crop to grow. They will grow anywhere and in virtually any conditions. And they are delicious! You need to pick up some seed potatoes, and a ‘first early’ variety to plant this month. Other varieties can be planted later in the year.
You’re chitting me?
To grow spuds, it all starts with the chits – those white things that grow out of the potato skin. Lots of growers will first put their seed potatoes into an old egg box with the chits facing outwards, and place them in a dark room. This forces the chits to grow. But in practice, your spuds will grow even without doing this! Potatoes just love to grow.
When you’re planting potatoes in a grow bag or into a bucket, make sure there is at least 15cm of soil under your potatoes and that the biggest chits face upwards. Then place another 20cm of soil on top. I usually put 5 seed potatoes into a grow bag, or 4 into a bucket. Just make sure whatever you’re using to grow them in that there’s at least 15-20cm between them, and that the container is tall enough for you to keep adding soil as the potatoes grow.
When planting into the ground, dig a little trench 15cm deep and put in your potatoes at a distance of 30cm. Then cover your potatoes over with soil and water.
- When you begin to see the potato plant poking its head above the soil, cover it with more soil so it’s forced to grow some more. This is a process called ‘earthing up’ and gives you a higher yield per plant.
- Your potatoes are ready to lift after the flower starts to fade, usually after about 14 or so weeks.
Best of luck with your first plantings and feel free to ask questions or share your progress with me on Twitter @lovelyallotment or on Instagram @mylovelydublinallotment
Let’s get growing!
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