Take heart - failed crops can mean fresh opportunities

Caterpillars got your corn? Slugs scoffed your beans? Don’t worry, just shrug and start again

Caterpillars got your corn? Slugs scoffed your beans? Don’t worry, just shrug and start again

IT WAS recently pointed out to me by a savvy, twentysomething GYO-er that you really don’t get that many chances to get things right when it comes to growing your own. “It’s not like learning the guitar, for example”, said this very urban farmer. “You can’t just sit down every day and keep practising until you’ve got the hang of it. Instead, if you make a mistake or if something goes wrong, you have to wait until next year to try again.”

And while this is generally true, and is one of the odd reasons why gardening is so addictive, there’s also a plus side, because failed crops also mean fresh opportunities, and the chance to grow different vegetable varieties that may not previously have been considered. So if the caterpillars have devoured your sweet corn, or the slugs have consumed your French beans, just shrug your shoulders, assume a look of casual insouciance and start again with something different. If anyone asks, say you’re practising catch cropping (which is true, sort of).

In the walled garden, Brian and Meeda are still sowing seed of lettuce, radish, turnip, Florence fennel and beetroot, all of which are replacing earlier and already-


harvested crops. They’re also just about to start sowing their second crop of carrots (probably the variety Autumn King) as well as planting out young cabbages. GYO-ers also still have time to sow seed of broccoli raab (a quick-growing vegetable also known as rapini or cima di rapa) as well as Chinese cabbage, spinach, salad rocket, endive, oriental saladinis , spring onions, Swiss chard, kohl rabi and kale (to eat as a CCA crop).

And if you’re happy to cheat just a little, and don’t mind buying young, module-raised plants either online or from a good garden centre, you still have time to plant out lots of the overwintering brassicas, such as kale (this time to grow to full size), Brussels sprouts and cabbages.

Even leeks, if you can get your hands on young plants that are about the thickness of a pencil or more, can still (just about) be planted out in the garden, alongside hardy salad crops such as winter purslane. Potato lovers will also be pleased to know that they can try growing a second-crop of potatoes (look out for varieties Carlingford, Maris Peer and Vivaldi) although these will need protection against both blight and autumn frosts.

All of which goes to show that nature actually gives us more chances than we think to get things right. Not only that, it gives gardeners chances to explore and experiment, and to shrug off long-

held prejudices when it comes to what they think might make a tasty crop.

Kale, for example, is not a vegetable that many hold in high esteem, but when it’s stir-

fried in what Joy Larkcom calls her Glorious Garnish sauce, (oil, soya sauce and garlic), it’s exactly as she describes it – “delicious and well worth trying”.

It’s also both decorative and winter-hardy (particularly the varieties Cavolo Nero, Redbor and Red Russian). Equally, broccoli raab is relatively unknown in Ireland but a staple crop in countries such as Italy and Portugal.

The gardener/cook Sarah Raven, describes it as “an incredible plant that so many more of us should grow”. Kohl-rabi is another vegetable worth re-discovering, both for its ornamental qualities and as a tasty addition (sliced thinly) to an autumn salad.

Finally, second chances in the garden also give us licence to live a little when it comes to some of the more flamboyant vegetables. So if you’re thinking of sowing beetroot, why not try out the extravagantly pink-and-white striped Chioggia Pink for a change? Or what about Swiss chard Bright Lights, whose leaves can be cooked like spinach or eaten in a stir-fry? Its startlingly colourful stems grow in shades of raspberry, lemon and sherbet pink and are sure to light up the autumn and winter garden. Chicory is another colourful cropper that can be grown right through into autumn, and while it’s now too late to sow seed, you can easily buy young plants (look out for the brightly variegated variety known as Variegata di Castelfranco).

Of course, the flipside of second chances, as pessimists will point out, is that they also offer fresh opportunities for failure. But ignore the naysayers and listen instead to Henry Ford. “Failure”, he said, “is the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently”.

For seed of many of the above, try brownenvelopseeds.com, seedaholic.com, irishseedsavers.ie and sarahraven.com. Young vegetable plants can also be sourced from quickcrop.ie, who deliver nationwide.

WHAT TO: sow, plant and do now

Sow:Beetroot, broccoli raab, carrots, endive, kales, kohl rabi, Florence fennel, komatsuna, land cress, lettuce, mibuna, mizuna, mustards, pak choi, spring onions, Chinese cabbage, radish, rocket, spinach, Swiss Chard, turnips, winter purslane

Plant:Sprouting broccoli, chicory, French beans, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, calabrese, cauliflowers, kale, leeks, second-cropping potatoes (eg. Carlingford).

Do:Continue sowing seed and pricking out/ thinning seedlings, watering plants, weed/ hoe beds, net young brassicas, soft fruit and fruit bushes, cover carrots with Bionet, earth-up and spray non-blight resistant potatoes with Dithane to protect against blight, pinch out side and basal shoots and stake tomatoes, feed tomatoes, celeriac, celery, pumpkins, watch out for garden pests.

  • The OPW's Victorian walled kitchen garden is in the grounds of the Phoenix Park Visitor Centre, beside the Phoenix Park Café and Ashtown Castle. The gardens are open daily from 10am to 4.00pm
  • Next week Urban Farmer in Property will advise on how to avoid summer gluts
  • Fionnuala Fallon is a garden designer and writer