Vegetables

My old wooden vegetable bed surrounds have been rotting away at quite a speed for the past year or so and I was thinking of getting rid of them and leaving a simple gap of bare earth to edge the beds when I take out the rotten wood. Then I read something written by Helen Dillon a few years back. She was writing about her own raised vegetable beds. She mentioned the wonderful idea of nailing a length of copper tape to the top of the wooden sides of these beds, with the aim of deterring slugs. Now, I have gone on and on many times about how good I find copper slug rings used both standing on the soil around tender little plants, as well as placed on top of the compost in plant pots. The rings are very effective at keeping the plants clear of slugs and snails. These pests, naturally do not like receiving the electric shock that copper, with its unusual properties, delivers as their slime touches the metal. So they tend to stay away from plants surrounded by copper protection. But blinkered thinking prevented me from seeing that tape stretched along the top of the wooden walls around a vegetable bed are yet another useful way to keep slugs at bay, and over a bigger area. As a result, for years I have wept bitter tears at the sight of so many little carrot, lettuce, spinach and bean shoots and leaves mown down within hours of emerging from underground by armies of munching slugs and snails.

My old wooden vegetable bed surrounds have been rotting away at quite a speed for the past year or so and I was thinking of getting rid of them and leaving a simple gap of bare earth to edge the beds when I take out the rotten wood. Then I read something written by Helen Dillon a few years back. She was writing about her own raised vegetable beds. She mentioned the wonderful idea of nailing a length of copper tape to the top of the wooden sides of these beds, with the aim of deterring slugs. Now, I have gone on and on many times about how good I find copper slug rings used both standing on the soil around tender little plants, as well as placed on top of the compost in plant pots. The rings are very effective at keeping the plants clear of slugs and snails. These pests, naturally do not like receiving the electric shock that copper, with its unusual properties, delivers as their slime touches the metal. So they tend to stay away from plants surrounded by copper protection. But blinkered thinking prevented me from seeing that tape stretched along the top of the wooden walls around a vegetable bed are yet another useful way to keep slugs at bay, and over a bigger area. As a result, for years I have wept bitter tears at the sight of so many little carrot, lettuce, spinach and bean shoots and leaves mown down within hours of emerging from underground by armies of munching slugs and snails.

So now the plan has changed, at least in respect of the beds in which those crops most loved by the slithery ones are going to be grown. It will be less prison break-out as break-in that I as Guv’nor will be preventing. I plant to put the tape only around the beds of the relevant seedling because copper is expensive in all its guises. Things like onions and shallots, spuds and broad beans tend not to be attacked so they will not need to be put inside the copper fences.

As an extra weapon in the war, I will place beer traps inside the new copper-strengthened perimeter fence to take care of those slugs that manage to secrete themselves within the fence. And borrowing a (probably incorrectly remembered) quote from Scarlett O Hara, as God is my witness, this year I will not go hungry.

Planting vegetable seeds is now well underway in the garden.

Sowing short rows of carrots, different lettuces, spinach, chard and beetroot, peas and even broad beans every two weeks between now and, depending on the crop, the end of May, I will hopefully ensure a succession of ripening crops later in the year. Little and often is the mantra for vegetables.

If too much is sown and germinates, use the thinings as garnish for salads and stir fries. For years, gardeners, who had little to do with the workings of the kitchen, would leave these thinings to the compost heap. They are however among the tastiest, softest, freshest greens you can eat. They are among the favourite ingredients of the best chefs. Think of Masterchef. Their dishes are littered with baby leaves, little shoots and juvenile greens and herbs.

On the subject of shoots, you could keep sprouting your mustard, cress, alalfa and legumes indoors on the windowsill and in the greenhouse. Be sure to change the water every few days. Basil is a good herb for growing in this manner. It can also be sown to be grown on into full sized plants. They will live indoors throughout the summer unless we have one of those rare hot summers where basil can be happily grown outdoors. The last one I remember was about ten years ago…

Outdoors, in the herb bed, sow the hardier herbs like coriander and parsley. For the past few years, I have been growing the flat leaf Italian parsley. I did think it tasted better than the old curly one we all grew up eating. But a while back I rediscovered just how intense that curly parsley can taste. I am growing them both this year.

Inside on the windowsill, courgettes and pumpkins are getting started with a view to being put out in a few weeks time. The same with French and runner beans. They will be the very last to go out. French and climbing beans are the most notorious weaklings when it comes to the Irish weather. It will be late May or even early June when I plant them out so they do not need to be planted indoors too soon unless I want to have a lot of triffid-like growth to deal with. Each individual winding shoot needs to be given a support to wind around as the plant gets bigger. That is a nuisance and one avoided by sowing these two a bit later.