If you are space constrained in your growing, it’s worth considering a fundamental point when deciding what to grow: not all vegetables are the same. They don’t all give you the same bang for your buck so to speak. First of all, it’s worth considering that some vegetables are incredibly fast growing and therefore give you a very quick return from the space you have allocated to them. This means you can very quickly start growing something else in the same space once you’ve harvested them. You can be eating white turnips for example about two months after sowing them. Radishes will be ready even quicker than that. Other vegetables are very slow growing and will monopolise a piece of ground for ages before giving a return. Garlic is sown in winter and is not ready to eat until the following summer. Purple sprouting broccoli is growing for almost a year before you get to eat it.
Secondly, different vegetables take up different amounts of space in the ground. Each carrot for example only needs 3-4cm in your soil, while the Brussels sprouts plant needs to be planted 1m away from its nearest neighbour. On top of this there is the question of ‘yield’. Some vegetables return a lot of food for the space they take up. Others really don’t. At the end of a very long growing season, a well-grown sweetcorn plant for example will only give you two cobs for all your effort. You will most likely only get 4 sweetcorn plants in a metre of growing space (since they are planted about 50cm apart). 8 corn on the cob from a metre is a pretty poor return.
Take that same metre of growing space and plant it up with beetroot and you will get about 40 beetroot (4 rows with beetroot spaced 10cm apart in the rows). Or, if you sowed the metre of space in an oriental green such as mizuna, you will get to harvest food from the plot on multiple occasions since oriental greens are what are known as “cut and come again” vegetables (that is, you cut the plant down to about 5cm and it grows back again to give a second bounty).
Equally well, it’s worth thinking about growing vegetables (or vegetable varieties) that are difficult to source in the supermarket (e.g jersualem and globe artichokes, purple sprouting broccoli, fennel, endive, chicory and oriental salads) or difficult to source fresh (e.g. peas, broad beans, French beans and runner beans). Finally, some vegetables can be considered particularly valuable because of the time of year in which we can harvest them. Any vegetable that is available to eat fresh from the garden in the tricky “hungry gap” months (Mar-May) is worth its weight in gold. Purple sprouting broccoli is an example of this, which is why we’re generally willing to allow it monopolise space in the vegetable patch almost all year around.
GROW COOK EAT is Back!
The GIY TV series GROW COOK EAT is back on RTE 1 TV on March 13that 8:30pm presented by yours truly and parter-in-crime Karen O’Donohoe, and made possible by our friends in Stop Food Waste and Bord Bia. In this second series, we share our knowledge on how to successfully plant and grow onions, pumpkins, sweetcorn, courgettes, kale, beans and chillis for all shapes and sizes of gardens and containers. Every week chef Katie Sanderson uses the freshly grown produce to create seasonal dishes which are easy to make and delicious to eat.
We’re also highlighting some serious food issues including plastic packaging and food waste, and we visit a large scale water harvesting project in a Dublin fire station, a Social Eating Programme in Educate Together National School in Tramore; and the state’s largest Brussels Sprout grower in north County Dublin.
In the first episode, we focus on a household staple – the onion. Easy to grow and very low maintenance, both red and white varieties are sown in the raised bed with Karen holding back some of the sets for container growing. Meanwhile I am entirely upstaged by my 12-year old son who gives a masterclass in keeping hens, and Karen heads home to Cork to visit one of her favourite places, Mahon Farmers' Market to meet the people committed to growing and cooking fresh and seasonal food.