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Vegetable Garden

Thinning Vegetables ~ Now’s the Time

June 23, 2014

If you’re new to growing vegetables this year you might have noticed that your veg have grown quickly over the past few weeks thanks to some rain, glorious sunshine and a lovely long stretch in the days. They may be growing so fast in fact that they’re falling over themselves reaching for light and space. If this is the case you will have to start ‘thinning’ your seedlings (if you haven’t done so already), which effectively means pulling some of the plants out of the soil to allow space for the others to grow.

Time to Thin Your Vegetables

Beetroot Plants Waiting to be Thinned

I personally found this a very difficult process when we began growing our own food here at home. I didn’t want to have to make the decision over which plant would be pulled out and which allowed to grow on, after all I had been carefully minding all my seedlings up until that point. All I can say is that the decision-making process gets easier with time as you will quickly see the benefits of giving your vegetables the space to develop properly.

Thinning Beetroot ~ Now's the Time

Baby beetroot leaves ~ delicious lightly steamed or sautéed in butter & garlic

Once thinned the vegetables will have the space to grow, they’ll have better access to soil nutrients and they’ll stand a better chance of withstanding diseases thanks to the increase in air circulation between them.

Depending upon which vegetables you’re about to thin, you can tackle the process in a couple of ways:

Thinning Vegetables ~ Now's the Time

Baby Beetroot ‘Thinnings’

A) Remove the very small and weak seedlings which will allow the larger, stronger ones to grow on.

B) Remove the large seedlings (or baby vegetables by this stage) and eat them, giving the smaller seedlings space to grow.

I’ve found A) most effective with carrot and parsnip seedlings and B) better with cabbage, swede, beetroot and chard. That said, if the carrots are more than a fingernail length (any smaller and they’re too fiddly to bother with) they are delicious washed and added to salads.

Some seedlings can be pulled and replanted elsewhere – lettuce, cabbage, kale, spinach and chard respond will do this. However, root vegetables don’t generally like being disturbed so it’s usually not worth trying to replant beetroot, carrots and parsnips. That said, there are always exceptions, so if sending your seedlings off to the compost heap is a problem, try replanting them and see what happens. Learning by doing is the best way to remember. (Note: never compost carrot thinnings as they can attract the carrot root fly.)

If you’d like to find out more about thinning vegetables, Gardeners World have some fact sheets for plants that you might find helpful.

Was it just me or have you ever had to get over the dilemma about selecting which seedlings stay and which go?


Vegetable Garden

Wednesday Wigglers ~ Carrot Root Fly

October 23, 2013

Whether you’re a gardener or not it’s likely you’ll have heard about carrot root fly, the curse of many a grower.

Although I’m aware of many cases where people have suffered this pesky little pest and read up on all the tips on how to avoid it, during the years I’ve been growing food myself I’ve never seen the damage the grubs cause until now.

The images below were taken in Callan community garden which saw its first infestation this year.

Carrot Root Fly Damage

Carrot Root Fly Damage – spot the larvae

No wonder people give up growing carrots and parsnips…. arrrghh! It’s heartbreaking to patiently wait for your carrots to grow only to pull them and find them all eaten, black and maggoty.

There are however, ways of tricking the fly and/or learning to accept that this pest exists and work around its life-cycle without resorting to the use of chemicals.

But first of all a few facts about carrot root fly…

It’s a small fly that lays its eggs in the soil around the carrots (but can also be around parsnips, parsley and celery that are all related to carrots). The eggs hatch about a week later and the maggots begin to feed on the seedlings or roots. It takes around three months for the larvae to develop into mature adults.

The carrot root fly generally has two egg laying cycles – April to May and July to August though there can be three depending upon the weather.

The insect can survive through the winter in the soil in its pupal stage. The maggots can survive through the winter months on carrots left in the ground if the flies lay their eggs for a third cycle.

Carrot root fly infected foliage

Carrot root fly infected foliage

Eight tips to prevent carrot root fly destroying your crops…

1.  Check your roots to see if they’ve been infected. The first sign (but not always) might be a discolouration of the leaves where they show a red or purplish tinge. Pull the carrots (or other roots) out of the ground immediately you notice an infestation. The infected roots can be fed to animals but unless you have a very hot compost heap, avoid adding the infected carrots to it.

2. Look out for resistant varieties of seeds that will be clearly labelled such as Fly Away, Carrot Maestro and Flyfree. Note that resistant is just that, these seeds aren’t guaranteed to deter the fly if it takes a fancy to your seedlings.

3. The adult fly has a very strong sense of smell! Avoid sowing the seeds too thickly which will result in you having to thin most of them out, attracting the fly as soon as the foliage is bruised. When you do thin the carrots, try and do so on a dry still evening when the fly isn’t as active and again, harvest them in the evenings where possible.

Carrot Root Fly Larvae

Carrot Root Fly Larvae

cloche4. Create a barrier around the bed, preferably using a very fine mesh or even plastic or cling film that the carrot root fly can’t get through. It should be at least 70 cm (over 2 ft high).

Alternatively plant the seeds into high raised beds or containers, again 70 cm high or over, or cover them with a cloche like the example here.

5. Carrot root fly doesn’t like the smell of onion leaves but to be very effective you’d need to sow a row or two of carrots between several rows of onions – three or four to one.

6. Grow undercover. The carrots grown outside in Callan were all infected by carrot root fly whereas all the carrots grown in the polytunnel remained untouched.

7. Crop rotation. Move crops around on a three or four-year rotation.

8. Garden Organic have an excellent tip about mulching around the carrots with a thick layer of grass clippings. Not only will it prevent the carrot root fly from laying her eggs in the soil, predators will hide and eat the larvae once they hatch.

Given that carrot root fly is so prolific, it’s likely that all varieties of carrots available in shops not labelled organic or chemical free will have been sprayed with pesticides to prevent it. Remember that next time you munch on a carrot straight out of the fridge without scrubbing it…

Have you any tips for preventing carrot root fly or have you given up growing carrots and roots altogether?

Food & Drink, Lifestyle

Sunday Snap – Four vegetable birthday cake surprise

September 15, 2013

Dee's Cake

This really is a snap given there were people waiting to eat it! Today I’m sharing a lovely birthday cake surprise made by Mr G. The Carrot Cake is a Good Housekeeping recipe and the Beetroot and Courgette Cake as well as the Green Tomato Buns can be found on the blog.

(Just to put the size of this cake into perspective, here’s the carrot cake part of of it having just been presented to me.)

Dee's Birthday Cake

Vegetable Garden

14 Vegetables to Grow In A Small Garden

May 11, 2013


Vegetables for a small garden

14 Vegetables to Grow in a Small Garden

“I don’t have much space, what are the best vegetables to grow outside in my small garden?”

This has been one of the most often asked questions which is encouraging as one of the first pieces of advice is start small! Why? Because you’re less likely to give up growing your own if you don’t take on too much at once.

You’ve installed a couple of raised beds, you’ve cleared a space for some veggies somewhere bright and sunny in your garden, or you’re even planning on planting vegetables among your flower borders or in containers; now you’re wondering what you might grow in your small vegetable garden that will give you the most return for your efforts. The following might help you take the next steps to growing vegetables in a small garden. Continue Reading…

Vegetable Garden

Growing Vegetables Under a Cloche

February 25, 2013

Photo Credit: Mr H of Subsistence Pattern Food Garden

If you want to get ahead of the game and start sowing early vegetable crops, a very effective way of doing this is to plant seeds or seedlings under a cloche.

This is something that growers in colder parts of the world such as Mr H. in North Idaho of Subsistence Pattern Food Garden has had to do by necessity if he wishes to grow his own food for more than a few brief months of the year (he’s self-sufficient for 365 days of the year incidentally).

In Ireland early peas, carrots and lettuce can all be sown outside under cloches in late February and this handy piece of vegetable gardening kit can be quite useful if you don’t have a greenhouse, polytunnel or windowsills to start seedlings off inside. A cloche can also be placed over potato or other frost tender plants if a late frost threatens and will prevent their leaves being burnt.

Fleece ClocheCloches come in all shapes, sizes and materials including glass, fleece or plastic or you can make your own and are most often used to give your crops an early start or a late finish.  They’re placed over the soil or crops, protecting them from frost, rain and wind.

Bell Cloches (Photo Credit Nutley’s Kitchen Garden)

It’s recommended that cloches have end pieces to prevent them from becoming wind tunnels – in the case of fleece or sheet plastic the ends can be gathered up and pegged down.  Remember to ventilate them too as the weather gets warmer – temperatures can get very high, very quickly. By covering your plants you’ve effectively made a mini greenhouse or polytunnel for them. The hoops on the long horizontal cloches can be made from metal, flexitube or wood.

It’s important to remember to water plants when under a cloche and that the leaves don’t touch the structure (just as in cold, in warm weather they may burn too).

To make your own mini cloches, cut the bottoms off clear plastic bottles remove the lids and push the top part into the soil over the seedling.

These bottles have the added bonus of protecting delicate small plants from slugs, birds and mice are another great way of recycling.


Do you use cloches to enable you to start sowing vegetables earlier or protect the plants from frost or do you wait for the weather to warm up?

Food & Drink

Festive vegetable recipes

December 7, 2011

cranberry sauce recipeWe’ve been cooking this Christmas day menu for several years as we love every scrap of it! The vegetables (except the cranberries) will have been growing or stored from the garden which reduces the grocery bill considerably too.

All the recipes were taken from a selection of Good Food and Good Housekeeping magazines that have long since been recycled. There’s usually only the five of us sitting down for dinner but we love heating up the leftovers for the following day or two, which is why we cook so much.

Traditionally Christmas eve in our house is all about preparing the food for the big meal the following day. It’s the day we bake the ham so the stove is usually on for hours and the whole family gets involved baking, chopping, peeling, rinsing, stirring, decorating and tasting.

You can find the recipes for the vegetable dishes below if you’d like to try something different and I’ll post the meaty ones separately for the non vegetarians (the sprout recipe is here).

Christmas Dinner Menu


Creamy Lemon, Pancetta & Rosemary Turkey
Sausage Nut Stuffing Cake
Brussels Sprouts in Pine Nut Butter
Roast Honey Glazed
Carrots and Parsnips
Steamed Rainbow Swiss Chard
Pigs in Blankets
Bacon Wrapped Prunes
Creamy Leeks
Roast Potatoes
Cranberry Sauce
Bread Sauce

* * * * * * * * * *

Creamy Baked Leek Recipe

(Serves 3 – 4)

2 large leeks
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
salt & pepper
1 tsp fresh thyme
60g grated Parmesan
2 tbsp cream

Chop the green leaves off the leeks and cut the white stem into rounds and rinse well. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and add the leeks, thyme, butter and salt allowing them to sweat, stirring frequently. Add half the Parmesan cheese and the cream. If it looks dry add a little water. Place into an oven proof dish, sprinkle over the remaining Parmesan and bake for 15 minutes until browned on top.

Roast Honey Glazed Carrots and Parsnips

(Serves 8)

800g each of carrots and parsnips
4 tbsp runny honey
2 tbsp chopped lemon thyme (if you can get it)
zest & juice of 1 lemon<
75g butter, chopped
600ml hot turkey stock

Roughly chop the carrots and parsnips, place in a large pan of boiling water and cook for 3-4 mins. Drain well. Put the honey, thyme, lemon zest and juice into a large bowl. Season and mix well, then add to the carrots and parsnips. Mix to coat. Put into a large, lightly greased ovenproof dish. Stir butter into the hot stock, pour it over the vegetables and cover with greased foil. Bake for 1 hr, removing the foil 15 mins before the end of the cooking time until tender and golden.

Not vegetable or meat but delicious….

Bread Sauce Recipe

(Serves 8-10)
600ml milk

50g butter
1 onion
6 cloves
6 peppercorns
2 garlic cloves
1 bay leaf
3 thyme sprigs
100g white breadcrumbs
4 tbsp single cream or mascarpone
pinch nutmeg, freshly grated

Simmer the milk, butter, onion, cloves, peppercorns, garlic and herbs in a pan for 20 mins. Strain and return the liquid to the pan. Add the breadcrumbs and simmer for 3-4 mins. Stir in the cream or mascarpone. Add nutmeg, season and serve. (This can be made up to 3 days ahead and reheated.)