Yum Yum… Veggies on the BBQ!
The best part about growing your own vegetables is that you get to eat them and it's even better when a celebrity chef cooks them for you! Luck was with us this week when Paul Flynn from the famous Tannery Restaurant in Dungarvan dropped by FOTA and barbequed up a seasonal storm on Sean's new addition to my patio. Paul's natural enthusiasm for homegrown edibles is clear and his eyes just lit up with bbq possiblities as he wandered through my plot - onions, pea-shoots, courgettes, leafy greens, baby carrots, broadbeans and herbs were harvested pronto! Some people presume that meat is the only entity that can be bbq'd and cold salads are the only bbq offerings for a vegetarian, but with the help of some oil and a roasting tray, Paul proves different. His roast veggie dish splattered with goats cheese and herbs was divine and I now have a new addiction, roasted broad beans, yum yum in the tum!
Early potatoes can be harvested whenever you feel they are big enough and this is usually from the end of June onwards. A good way of checking is to pull one or two spuds from below the soil and if happy with size, lift the whole plant. By picking some potatoes and leaving others, this will allow those left on the plant to further mature. Earlies don't store well so only dig as much as you need. Remember when digging potatoes, to tease your fork in from the side to prevent damaging and splitting tubers. As spuds grow they get pushed upwards and those exposed to light will go green and turn poisonous. This is why you need to remember to keep earthing them up throughout the season. Maincrop spuds can stay in the ground up until October and their skins will be matured by then which is ideal for storage.
The Dreaded Blight
Potato blight has to be the most famous plant disease in the world but there is yet no known cure for it. Prevention is the only way and since the disease is linked to temperature and humidity (prevalent from mid-summer onwards), keep tuned to the weather forecast. If serious blight warnings are issued and you haven’t planted blight-resistant varieties, you may need to use a homemade mix. Early potatoes are often lifted before blight season strikes so this is a very good incentive for growing them.
First signs of blight appear as dark, spreading spots on the top of the leaves with a faint whitish growth underneath. If the conditions are right, these grow rapidly and the blight will travel down the leaf stem and into the tubers. If your potatoes do get badly affected by blight, cut back plants to within 2 inches of ground and make sure to remove and burn leaves and stems. Leave plants in the ground for around 3 weeks before lifting and do not keep affected potatoes for seed next year. New blight resistant varieties really are one of the most effective ways of dealing with the problem so next year look out for: Setanta, Sarpo Mira and Sarpo Axima.
Burgundy Mixture Recipe to combat Potato Blight
Proportions differ from grower to grower, but here's the mix I use if blight warnings are issued.
Add 50 g Bluestone (copper sulphate) to 2 litres of hot water. In a separate container add 60g washing soda to 3 litres of hot water. After a half an hour mix the two liquids and spray directly onto the potatoes, making sure to spray under the leave as well. Do not spray if raining as mixture will not stick. This 5 litre mixture is enough for 20 square metres.
Organic gardeners are permitted to use bluestone (copper sulphate), but certified growers must get permission from the organic certification authorities before using the spray.
Fiery Garlic Spray Recipe for Aphids (Homemade Organic Insecticide)
Just like the aphids feasting on my broadbeans, other veggies such as cabbages, salads, tomatoes and leafy greens are succeptible to attack as well. If you want to control these organically, you could try this recipe.
Chop a couple of cloves of garlic into a litre of hot water. To make it fiery, chop in a chilli pepper aswell. Add a spoon of washing-up liquid. Mix them together, leave to infuse overnight and then pour through a sieve into a spray gun. Spray the mixture directly onto insects every couple of days.
The Pleasure of Polytunnels
Despite all our complaints about the so-called summer, our Irish climate is actually a great one for growing a wide variety of crops. We are however limited to cool climate produce so if you want to grow a broader range of crops and extend your season then a polytunnel is the only option. Our tunnel in the Nano Nagle Centre is currently teeming with aubergines, tomatoes, basil, french climbing beans, cucumbers, peppers, chilli’s and butternut squash – all warmer climate crops. Because tunnels cost money, you really want to make the most of your ground under cover, so it’s best advised to fill it with crops that you can not grow outside in the Irish summer and make use of every inch by training plants upwards as opposed to letting them bush out and sprawl. During the cold seasons, tunnels are fabulous for overwintering crops and the best way of ensuring fresh pickings all year round.
All us gardener's are hooked on trying to have fresh produce all year round and in the absence of a polytunnel, you could try making your own unit for protected cropping. Commerical cloches can be bought but you can also be creative and make your own as they basically consist of a frame and a cover. I constructed mine using hoops made from plumbing pipe anchored into the soil with cut re-inforced bars and covered it with plastic which I bought from a polytunnel company on the internet. You could also cover these hoops with fleece or even bubble wrap. If like me, you use plastic, remember to make it easy to open as you'll have to water, weed and harvest. If using cloches in the summer, ventilation is important to prevent diseases flourishing. Beware of open ended cloches as they will just become devastating wind tunnels.
The height and span of your cloche depends on the hoops and can be adjusted accordng to the crops you want to grow. You can make them to fit perfectly over one of your raised beds and the best thing is that unlike a polytunnel, they are very easy to move around the garden. If you want to keep yourself in fresh greens until next Spring, build your cloche now and start sowing batches of winter salads from mid-August until the beginning of October.
I will look at my herbs and take some semi-hardwood cuttings to keep me well stocked in plants and prezzies for free!