Grow Your Own – April 2017 (3)

Last year was our first year of poly-tunnel growing. Due to a combination of lack of confidence and wanting to get a head start on growing a few crops I bought some ‘starter plants’ from a local DIY store to give us a head-start while I waited to see if the seeds I had planted were going to actually grow!


I bought a 6 pack of tomatoes as starter plants. We also planted 4 varieties from seed and virtually every seed germinated so I ended up donating a lot of tomato plants to family & friends. I had 2 problems last year, the first was overcrowding as I planted the 6 starter plants in the same raised bed – I have never seen such big tomato plants – it made it really difficult to actually see and harvest all the delicious tomatoes. The second issue was that I think 10 varieties was a bit much, they all tasted great but I ended up making a lot of tomato soup (I will share my easy recipe once I have some tomatoes to cook).


Peppers were the other starter plant I bought last year. Initially I planted the 4 plants in the same raised bed, inter-planted with shallots and I got a few OK-sized peppers. One of the plants appeared to be dying so it ended up on the compost pile, after this the other 3 seemed to be ‘coming back’ so I relocated them to another bed (on their own) and successfully grew peppers well into autumn. This year I am trying to grow them from seed, I am dedicating a raised bed only for peppers and I will make sure to pick out some of the flowers to concentrate the growth into fewer, larger fruits.


I have always grown courgettes successfully, although I am the only person in our family who likes to eat them. I enjoy grilling the smaller ones whole on the barbecue and using the larger ones in tomato-based sauces and in soup. I have planted both green and yellow courgettes this year (3 seeds of each) and hope to have around 4 plants in the raised bed, which will be more than sufficient for us.


Peas are something that I have never grown before. I have picked 2 varieties – mangetout & sugar snap which we all enjoy and which I plan on planting regularly throughout the season.

I was given 2 pieces of advice some years ago, which has always stuck with me – “grow what you eat” and “if you are short on space then grow crops which are expensive to buy” and both these varieties are expensive as they are flown halfway across the world!


My final sowings on Sunday were herbs, which again, are expensive to buy. I have chosen my 3 most used herbs – Basil, Coriander & Chives, both for my kitchen and the polytunnel. I have 3 ceramic pots, which I use for herbs on my breakfast bar and I have always found the pots in which shop-bought herbs are sold are too big for these, so I have made sure that these ones fit properly. I have also sown a larger pot with Basil, as I planted a shop bought pot in the polytunnel with my salad leaves last summer and it grew fantastically well for months as it was able to put down deeper roots, so I plan to plant basil among the salad this year as well.



My 2 packs of ‘Charlotte’ seed potatoes all ‘chitted’ well and I have planted them in 3 tubs. I prefer to grow potatoes in tubs as it is easier to tip them out rather than dig – less stressful on my back and less damage to the lovely potatoes.


I started by washing out my deep tubs and lining the base with some newspaper to prevent the compost from falling through the drainage holes at the bottom.


I then added a couple of inches of Miracle-Gro compost, especially formulated for root vegetables. The chitted potatoes were placed on top, making sure the shoots are pointing upwards. I then added about 8 inches of compost on top of the potatoes.


For now I am keeping the pots in the poly-tunnel to boost early growth and protect the young shoots against any frost as the evenings are still chilly.


Another bonus was my discovery that this year’s seed potatoes cost less than last year, it wasn’t much but it doesn’t happen often these days so it made me smile.


I am still waiting on the Sweet Potato tubers, which I have been assured will be with me by the end of June!


Watch this space!





April is here and it has brought the sun with it, but it is breezy so temperatures are still cool, unless you happen to be in our poly-tunnel, which is positively tropical!


I spent several hours pottering around on Sunday, I began by gently weeding around my strawberry plants which are producing lots of flowers and are starting to show signs of fruit. I then buried some small pots in the centre of my ready-planted raised beds and filled them with Guinness – being in Ireland the slugs love the stuff! I find it far more effective than beer in drawing the slugs in & at least they die happy!


The garlic & shallots are coming on brilliantly with lots of bright green shoots appearing. I added a small grouping of spring onions, which I had tossed in the top of my compost pile at the end of last year. They had started to take root among the composting stuff so I decided to give them another chance and they will ‘fill the gap’ until this year’s spring onions are ready to eat.


I have thinned out the beetroot shoots to ensure there is only 1 plant growing in each space, they grow slowly and last year the single shoots produced far better beets than the ones which I allowed to grow in pairs. The other half of this bed is currently my ‘free zone’ which has 2 leftover red onions, a celery which I re-rooted in water after using the rest for soup, a red cabbage plant which my daughter was given & 3 rooted lettuce which I bought in the supermarket & planted out after using some of the leaves for a salad – these are now more than twice their original size!


There is a saying here that the month of March “comes in like a lion and out like a lamb”, which in my 42 years experience just sums up this month perfectly.


I am soooo over winter, it has been the longest, most miserable winter ever, between our house kicking us repeatedly in the behind, the weather (cold, rainy & dismal), the dark evenings and lack of sunshine and my general daily struggles with depression which at times have left me feeling exhausted.


The past few weeks however I have felt a change, both in the weather and, more importantly, within myself. The beginning of March brought the first daffodils in our garden, which were one of the first things we planted after we moved here, to me their trumpets herald a new season beginning. I am awakening to birdsong most mornings, the days are getting longer and we have had stretches of sunshine some days, which has allowed me to throw open the windows and let the fresh spring air into our home.

I have also started to straighten out our poly tunnel and planted out the first batch of strawberry plants, 60 of which were grown from last year’s runners! These new plants are already starting to flower & I am amazed that my £12 investment last year (in 12 strawberry plants) has multiplied so well that they now need 5 of my box-beds to accommodate them all.

I was also pleasantly surprised to see that 11 of the 12 ‘sprouted’ garlic cloves I planted along the edges of one of my raised box-beds at the end of last summer have started to grow. I was convinced they had ‘died off’ but I gently weeded around them and planted the rest of the box with 18 shallot sets, which were reserved from our harvest last year. Free strawberries, garlic & shallots for our house this year!


I also have a great selection of seeds leftover from last year and I have planted a bed with beetroot which grows slowly but was much appreciated last year – delicious roasted & drizzled with balsamic vinegar).  I have decided not to bother growing cucumbers or radishes this year as nobody in our house is at all fussed about them so these crops were a waste of space. Our tomato plants last year were enormous and yielded kilo upon kilo of delicious fruit, 10 varieties was probably a few too many though.  I will need to buy some cherry tomato seeds this year as I don’t appear to have any left.


The only other purchases so far are seed potatoes, I have again gone for Charlotte potatoes, I grew these last year in large pots, which worked fantastically well, they are ‘chitting’ away merrily in my utility room and should be ready for planting in another week or so. I have also ordered some Sweet Potato tubers which should be here in about 12 weeks time – I can’t wait to try these out as we are big fans of sweet potatoes in our house!


I probably need a few more Sundays to finish setting up the extra beds needed for this year’s crops & also need to start planting out my seed crops – tomatoes, peppers, peas, beans, courgettes, salad stuff & herbs.


Watch this space!