Grow Your Own Grub With Ballymaloe

We chat to Susan Turner, Consultant Head Gardener at Ballymaloe House and Ballymaloe Cookery School. Here she gives us some advice on growing your own grub and what to be getting on with in the garden in March.

Ballymaloe House and Ballymaloe Cookery School are famed for having prolific gardens which provide much fresh seasonal produce. So who better to ask for advice on growing seasonal fruits and vegetables than Ballymaloe’s Consultant Head Gardener Susan Turner. Here Susan tells us what home growers should be doing in the garden this month to prepare for the growing season ahead.

What to plant in March…

‘March is very significant for planting potatoes, as all the early potatoes should be in the ground by St.Patrick’s Day on 17th March. in another week or two, you should be planting second earlies followed by main crop potatoes. At Ballymaloe we are currently getting soil ready for planting. We’ve been a bit delayed because of the wet weather, but we are now spreading manure, ploughing and rotating the ground.

Herb lovers can start sowing parsley indoors now because it takes about two weeks to germinate before it can be planted out. Also sow summer lettuce and other herbs indoors. At the cookery school we have about an acre under glass for a continual supply of lettuces and leaves throughout the summer. As we are planting out one lot into the soil, we immediately sow a new crop in our seed trays to get them germinating. This month I’d also recommend sowing tomatoes, chillis and peppers indoors now, ready for planting out under glass in a few weeks.  

Direct sowing can also be done in March. This is when you sow seeds directly into the ground. We do this for carrots, beetroots, spring onions and turnips in particular, but you can also sow Jerusalem artichokes by this method now. You need to find a nice spot in the garden which gets the sun and where the soil is warm, which helps germination.

This is also the time of year for sowing summer cabbages. Thinking further ahead, you can also sow red cabbages and Brussels sprouts now, for winter eating and Christmas.’

Preparing the ground for planting…

‘To prepare our ground, we use natural seaweed for fertilizer, we harvest our seaweed when there’s a northerly wind which blows it up onto the shore. We have permission from our local council to harvest it when it is washed up, but you can’t pull it off rocks. Freshly harvested seaweed should go straight onto the land where it will impart all its fantastic minerals, trace elements and nutrients into the ground.

We also use cow manure which has been collected after the cows have been indoors over winter. Our homemade compost made from veg scraps and the remains of cleaning out the chicken houses is also brilliant fertilizer. We make this one year for the next year’s use, so it’s nicely broken down. Homemade compost is amazing for activating the ground, it really gets everything going!’

No Dig Gardening…

‘In terms of gardening methods, we are currently experimenting with ‘no dig’ gardening in vegetable beds at the cookery school. This helps with weed control and doesn’t disturb the natural ecosystem of the soil. Earthworms do the work by moving through the soil under a layer of thick mulch and compost on the surface.

Personally I love digging and could dig forever! Digging is hard work but it has its bonuses, specially this time of year. It helps to uncover slug eggs which the birds eat. And digging when it’s frosty is really beneficial for soil, to kill diseases and pests which we don’t want in the garden.’

What to prune in March…

‘March is the last opportunity to prune. Raspberry canes should be cut down now, as should old stems of blackcurrants. These fruit better with a few good strong canes. If you haven’t done it yet, you should also spur-prune gooseberries, redcurrants and whitecurrants. Last chance also to prune apple and pear trees and to plant new bare root apple and pear trees into the soil.’

Wow! We were exhausted just talking to Susan about all that activity in the garden! But as you can see, if you are planning to grow your own this year, there’s lots to be getting on with this month! Stay tuned for our next blog on growing your own grub, when we will be catching up with another expert from the Good Food Ireland ranks to find out what should be happening in the garden in late spring and early summer.