Time to start afresh

By PAUL MCKAY [email protected]

Teacher, Paul McKay, left London to live a self-sufficient existence in the Monchique hills with his partner Martyn. He keeps an assortment of animals and grows a variety of crops in an eco-friendly way – all on a limited income.

Growing your own vegetables is a great way to take care of your own physical well-being. Not only will you be eating freshly picked vegetables, bursting with vitamins, you’ll also be getting lots of healthy exercise digging over the ground and keeping toned with all that bending over to keep the plot weed-free. If that doesn’t persuade you to get out the gardening gloves then perhaps you need tempting in other ways.

Fresh potatoes dug from your own vegetable plot make the crunchiest, crispest, tastiest chips you’re ever likely to eat – you can even use your tomatoes to make your own ketchup!

If you are new to vegetable growing, my advice is to begin small – just a few square metres of soil. Work hard at this piece of land, weeding, enriching, and sowing. Ensure you do a perfect job which will hopefully lead to a rewarding harvest. Only when you are certain that you can maintain this area effectively, think about expanding. This approach will lead to success and avoid the pitfall of taking on too much, doing nothing successfully and eventually wishing you’d never thought of it in the first place.  

January is an ideal time to sit down with pen and paper to begin planning the culinary year ahead. You need to consider what you and your family enjoy eating, can it grow here and do you have the time, land and water the crop demands.

Spuds, tatties, batatas – get planting

Potatoes need quite a bit of space, but are a reliable crop that can be planted anytime from now until the end of March. Planting later than that is possible, but you will not be able to rely on rainfall alone to meet their irrigation needs.

Dig over a piece of land fairly deeply, removing weeds and stones. Add some well rotted manure or a general purpose fertilizer. Allow a week or so for that to be rained in.

You can allow the seed potatoes (available from agricultural shops and co-operatives) to chit (grow small roots) first, by leaving them on some sand, exposed to weak light. Chitting the potatoes gives them a head start. If you wish, you can divide each potato into two or three small pieces, they may be a little weaker to begin with, but your money goes further.  

Plant the seed potatoes on a warm sunny day when the soil is moist but not too wet. Plant to a depth of about 20cm, spacing each potato about 40cm from the next.

The strong shoots should emerge from the ground within a fortnight. If after a month or so new tubers appear near the surface, cover these in soil – this is known as earthing up, which prevents the potatoes from turning green and poisonous.

Within three to four months the plants should begin dying back. This is the time to carefully dig the new potatoes up, working your way around each plant with a garden fork.

Allow the potatoes to dry on the soil for a few hours then store in a cool, dry place.