Lettuce Celebrate!

By Mary Tynan

I, like many, was prompted to spend more time in the garden when we were plunged into lockdown in March 2020. Thankfully we had fantastic weather and had completed all our usual outdoor jobs, grass and hedge cutting, external painting and general maintenance by the end of April. Jobs that usually take our entire summer to complete.

With time on my hands, I decided I would grow some vegetable. Becoming an avid Monty Don fan, I would look forward to Friday evenings to listen to his advice and if you are familiar with the programme, his “jobs for the weekend”. That year I enjoyed a very limited amount of home grown products such as lettuce, peas, carrots and lots of different herbs. As 2020 was coming to a close, I decided to be super organised for 2021 and had garlic and onions in the ground.

With this newfound interest, I decided my crop production was going to radically increase for 2021. Thinking big, I began to research polytunnels but unfortunately there was none to be had in Ireland or were far too expensive. A friend told me they had got a polycarbonate tunnel from Denmark. It seemed ridiculous but I began looking in to this option and it arrived flat packed in my yard two weeks later all the way from Denmark.

Thankfully my husband was on hand to help out here…well if I am honest, he did it all. My role was to organise the parts and hand them over as required. Three weekends later, the tunnel was intact held together with 800 screws. A visit to our local garden centre saw the purchase of a variety of seeds, green beans, peas, lettuce, leeks, broccoli, cucumbers, beetroot, carrots, parsnips, spinach, spring onions, green peppers and not forgetting Christmas, some brussels sprouts. Friends gave me tomato plants and some strawberry plants. Using the seeds from a bought red pepper, I grew some of those.

The Successes….
Beetroot, washed peeled, grated and combined with grated carrot, olive oil and apple cider vinegar was a huge success and loved by all the family. A huge crop of peas and beans were picked, blanched and frozen for use in stir fries at a later stage. I grew far too much lettuce and just couldn’t give enough of it away. In the future, I will reduce the amount I sow and stagger the planting. The spinach was great in the tunnel except for when the weather got very warm and it “bolted”. I am still enjoying the leeks, particularly in my leek and potato soup. I sowed four cucumber plants and what can I say….I could have supplied our local supermarket all summer. Garlic and onions a huge success and strawberries were in abundance.

The Failures….
I had four different varieties of tomato plants and sowed them in grow bags as recommended by friends. While there were lots of tomatoes, many of them were not edible. I was accused of overwatering, under watering, over feeding, under feeding so at this point I am none the wiser. I will try again next year and maybe look back at Monty Don’s episode on Tomato plants.

My broccoli was another issue!! It didn’t head. I grew plants both in the tunnel and also outdoors. Those in the tunnel probably bolted due to the heat so I will avoid planting indoors next year. As for my outdoor crop, I have decided they did not get enough water or maybe nutrients so I will be more careful next year.

The Brussel sprouts were a near failure. Having sown them from seeds, I was really proud of them. Beautiful healthy green leaves. Then disaster struck in the form of caterpillars. It was like an army had moved in overnight and they almost wiped out my entire crop within a few days. I raced to the garden centre and was given some organic spray that contained eucalyptus. They loved it!! In desperation I telephoned GIY Headquarters in Waterford for advice….. I didn’t have Monty Don’s phone number. They suggested I wash the plants everyday using a hose. It worked and I quickly covered them with netting. I plan to be ahead of the caterpillars next year and will have the netting in place from day one. Thankfully the brussel sprouts survived and I am looking forward to enjoying them shortly with my turkey and ham.

In addition to my vegetables, I planted lots more flowers. I had one small patch of grass and decided I would experiment with some wild flowers. A farmer friend suggested I sow some phacelia to enhance the soil and they are also well known for attracting bees and other beneficial insects. At the height of the summer they looked spectacular and bees came from far and wide. It was truly amazing.

As the year is coming to an end and I reflect on my experience in the garden over the past year, I realise how rewarding it has been. The physical workout from digging, watering etc would easily beat a trip to the Gym. The emotional effects, excitement at watching what you have planted thrive, the happiness in sharing your crops with others, the whole calming effect and of course the benefits of eating your own organically grown products.

I have just one more job to do and that is to sow the onions which will happen over the Christmas period. I will then hang up the gardening gloves for a few months before it all begins again. I thoroughly enjoyed my garden experience and spending time with family and friends sitting outside. I must say for us, it has been one of the positive things to emerge from the pandemic.

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