Growing your own food is a beautiful thing – and as Amanda Kavanagh's experience shows – not always easy. Thankfully, the GIY community is a generous bunch, and there's lots of well-explained help available, if you know the best places to look.
Right now, most suppliers are overwhelmed and are operating a stop-start policy on taking new orders, but their websites are always a mine of information, whether it's product listings, categorisations or blogs. It's worth checking in every couple of days to Brown Envelope Seeds, who sell certified organic vegetable seeds produced in West Cork, and Irish Seed Savers, a registered charity who focus on preserving varieties that are suitable for Ireland's unique growing conditions.
Madeline McKeever and Holly Cairns of Brown Envelope Seeds
Both handily list on their websites what to plant in each month, making it virtually idiot-proof to order. Depending on the size of your growing patch and the number of seeds in the pack, you might want to share envelopes with a socially distant pal – or Spuddy Buddy – for more variety.
Andrew from QuickCrop.ie writes witty, weekly ezines that are both a pleasure to read and really useful. He's always a step or two ahead, so reading them is a form of passive research. It's one of the few ezines I'm glad I signed up for.
While I have pilfered a number of Dr. D.G. Hessayon's informative Expert series books from my mother's house – including The Fruit Expert and The Vegetable & Herb Expert – and have been gifted some beautifully bound tomes, there are two specific books that I return to again and again.
The first is The Great Vegetable Plot by Sarah Raven, which I managed to get secondhand and (gasp!) signed, after it was recommended to me by Lesley Tumulty, Image Interiors & Living's brilliant allotment columnist.
Sarah's approach is common sense; make a list of what you love to eat and "let taste decide", grow the "unbuyables" and also look to grow productive and versatile mainstays. She stresses that some fruit and veg store better than others, so while onions, leeks and cabbage from the shop might not pass a blindfold test, others like tomatoes and peas will, so try to prioritise these. Sarah goes into real depth on growing an A-Z of vegetables and provides a calendar of jobs to do, with detailed photography by Jonathan Buckley.
Secondly, The Irish Gardener's Handbook by Michael Brenock is a great pocket book that encourages organic methods with simple instructions. The boon of this book is that it is uniquely Irish, and notes the huge variations of climate and soil in Ireland, and how this affects particular plants. Each plant profile comes with fact file details on best time to sow, latest time to plant, soil prep, spacing, depth, plus pests and diseases.
Lastly, don't forget the people in your life who love to garden. A phone call to a loved one for a chat and to pick their brain on a gardening conundrum can save you hours of research or months and years of trial and error. There can be years of well-worn wisdom behind a pithy "don't bother with a lean-to greenhouse" comment, but remember generosity goes both ways, and make sure you think of them at harvest time especially.
Ultimately, the goal of GIY is not to become a productivity-based mini-farm, instead focus more on connecting with the landscape, connecting with people and sharing whatever spoils that may occur.
Featured image: Markus Spiske via Unsplash
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