Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Super Simple Shellfish Soups - Bisque and/or Moule Mariner.

There are a few very simple dishes that always work well.
Bisque and Moule mariner are two, and by making and freezing shellfish stock, you always have this at hand - it's simple, tasty and straight forward.

Making the shellfish stock is easy, and also gives you more value for money - and another helpful addition to the garden.

Whenever I have finished with the shells, I put them in the ash grate of a fire.
This way they toast or bake dry. I then break them up coarsely and spread them on the garden pathways. I hope that like egg shells the sharp, broken shell helps in the struggle against slugs and snails, besides, it's a form of recycling and can't do any harm.
The shellfish stock serves as a basis for two fish soups I like to do. The first is the simplest, and a classic Belgian staple - also very popular in the Zeeuws region of the Netherlands, served on the street every year outside De Mug - one of my favorite pubs in one of my favorite towns in the world.

There are several variations on Moule Mariner, but this one works for me and is pretty true to its Belgian origins but might be better described as a Mussel Bisque with more depth, using shellfish stock.
Quite often the soup in Belgium has additional kick added to it by adding a dash of Pernod, but I just add fennel bulb for that same aniseed flavour.

Perfect served with freshly made soda bread

1 Kilo Mussels
750 ml Shellfish stock*. (See footnote)
3 sticks celery, finely sliced
1 bulb fennel, finely sliced
1 leek, finely sliced.
1 Onion, finely diced.
2 Cloves Garlic finely sliced.
250 ml dry white wine
Parsley to garnish

In a heavy based pot, add a knob of butter and heat until foaming.
Add the sliced veg until softened.
Add the wine and mussels, steaming the mussels for 5 minutes - or until open.
Remove the mussels and set aside, add the shellfish stock and bring to the boil.
Return the mussels to the pot and heat up.
Serve in large bowls with a dash of cream and garnish with parsley - serve with soda bread, warm and delicious.

Bisque is just a richer version without the aniseed flavours and contains more meat in the soup.
The mushrooms add richness. Rather than the aniseed flavour of fennel, this gets a kick from cayenne pepper.
Its more a winter/autumn soup than the Moule Mariner.
You can vary it to your own taste of course, one version pictured here was served with lobster shell for decoration and sliced, raw Oca to decorate and to add a citrus style zing to it.

The Oca really works for this recipe, its tart, sharp apple/citrus flavour cuts the richness giving a very nice tang to the meal.
The other photo has cream and lardon croutons.

Knob butter
Handful button mushrooms.
One onion, finely chopped
One leek, finely sliced
Two good stems chopped celery sticks
One chopped carrot
1 litre shellfish stock*. (See footnote)
teaspoon salt
1/2 (half) teaspoon cayenne pepper
120 ml dry white wine
225 g cooked lobster, prawn, crab or other crustacean meat
1.Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat.
Add the mushrooms, onion, celery, and carrot. Cook and stir until tender, about 10 minutes.
Stir in the shellfish stock, and season with salt and cayenne pepper.
Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes.

2.Pour the vegetable and broth mixture into the container of a blender,
and add half the crustacean meat.
Cover, and process until smooth.

3. Return to the saucepan, and stir in the cream, white wine, and remaining crustacean meat.
Cook over low heat, stirring frequently until thickened, about 30 minutes.

Very simple and straight forward. Take any shellfish remains, crab claws, lobster, prawn etc and break up.
Cover with cold water, add some salt, pepper, bay leaves, a small onion, small carrot and some celery.
Bring to the boil, simmer for an hour and a half. Allow to cool and strain off liquid.
Shells can be put in the ash drawer of a fire, dried out, broken up and spread on garden paths or veg beds to deter snails and slugs as eggshells are.


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Monday, April 25, 2011

Super Simple Soda bread

Soda bread, about as Irish as it gets. No messing around with yeast or waiting to rise etc.
This is a very simple, easy to follow recipe.
With blackberry jam or curd and a mug of tea, it is the flavour of Connemara.
450g (1lb) plain white flour, or wholemeal if you want a brown loaf.
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baxitartar
1 teaspoon bread soda or bicarbonate of soda (2 if you dont have baxitartar)
400ml (14fl oz) buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 230ºc / Gas Mark 9.

Sift all the dry ingredients into a large, wide bowl, and make a well in the centre.
Pour in the milk and mix using the fingers of one hand, stiff and oustretched like a claw, stir from the centre to the edge of the bowl in circles.
If you dont like using your hands, try a wooden spoon
The dough should be softish, but not too wet and sticky.
When it all comes together, turn out on to a well-floured work surface.

Wash and dry your hands. Pat the dough into a tidy shape and flip over gently, then pat it into a round about 4cm (1 and 1/2 inches) thick.
Gently transfer to a lightly greased and lightly floured baking tray or tin.
You can cut a deep cross into the loaf and prick the centre of each quarter to let the fairies out, or do a deeply pierced cross pattern with a fork as I do, because thats how I saw it done.
The reason that you make a cross in the top of the loaf before you bake it is to allow the heat to get through to the centre of the bread and cook the middle.

Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 200ºc/Gas Mark 6 and bake for a further 30 minutes or until cooked. If you are in doubt tap the bottom of the bread: it should sound hollow.
Rub the surface with a knob of butter or a few tablespoons of buttermilk while warm - this softens the crust.
Cool on a wire rack.

Soda bread is best eaten on the day it is made.

For a very nice traditional fruity version add to the above recipe:
Reduce the buttermilk to 350ml (12fl oz)
1 tablespoon sugar
100g (4oz) sultanas or raisins
A couple of tablespoons of either molasis, treacle, maple syrup, honey or golden syrup
1 egg

As always, thanks for visiting, and please feel free to leave a comment


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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Luscious Lobster Ravioli

The recipe I developed to stretch lobster also works well with crab as a much cheaper alternative, or prawn tails, and is just as delicious.
Also, save any shells left over as the basis of a bisque, further stretching your Euro.
As a poster Lá an Lúbáin at politicalworld.org called it, Gliomach Sínte, stretched lobster
There is an illustrated guide on how to humanely kill a lobster at the end of the post so reader discretion is advised.

Quite simply, the whole concept of a kitchen garden is to deal with what you have at hand, and what is available.

Lobster, an utterly delicious food, but ridiculously expensive. Lobster, for me, is a very welcome gift from local fishermen, and it normally comes around Easter or Christmas. 
So, with a little imagination, two small lobsters can go a long way - and produce a rich, warm meal rather than a salad.

The thing is, we have been conditioned to serve the food on the shell with a salad and a light sauce, and that is perfect if you can afford it - but if your feeding more than 4 a half lobster each, then it gets very pricey very quick.
This recipe is loosely based on Lobster Newburg - which is quite apt in my case. Lobster Newburg was invented by Ben Wenberg, a Ships Officer.
He demonstrated the dish to New York restaurant manager Charles Delmonico in about 1876.
After refinements by the famous chief Charles Ranhofer - author of the Epicurean - the creation was sold in the restaurant as Lobster à la Wenberg and became very popular. 

An argument between Wenberg and Charles Delmonico caused the dish to be removed from the menu.
To satisfy patrons’ continued requests for it, the name was changed into an anagram - Lobster Newburg.
Lobster Newburg is related to the better known Lobster Thermidor, but Thermidor only appeared in the 1890's.
It could not be simpler, you do not need a pasta machine you might use 6 times a year, all you need is a rolling pin. 
2 cups flour 
2 large eggs, whole 
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 
1/2 tsp. sea salt 
3 tablespoons water 

Put all the ingredients in a food processor and process for 30 seconds.
Check consistency and add a small amount of flour is pasta is too wet, or a small amount of water if pasta is too dry. Whizz for another 30 seconds to incorporate any additions.

Turn dough out onto a pastry board, large chopping board or work surface sprinkled lightly with flour and knead by hand for a minute or two, until smooth.

Place the dough under a bowl to rest for 20 minutes before rolling, or refrigerate, tightly wrapped in plastic and stored in a plastic bag if not using right away.
Use within a few hours for best results.

Roll pasta out. Fold dough over and roll through again, gradually making the pasta thinner as it becomes smoother; dust lightly with flour as needed, but not too much.
It helps to brush off excess flour with a pastry brush.
When pasta is thin enough it is ready for use in making ravioli.
Use the pasta sheets as soon as they are rolled; dry pasta sheets don't seal as well at the edges as fresh sheets, causing the ravioli to separate when cooking.

If your pasta sheets have dried out, brush the edges with an egg wash or water (where the pasta is crimped together).

For this recipe you will need at least two sheets of pasta. The first one made can be draped over the back of a chair on a clean dishcloth, the second - base layer, can be left on the board - but make sure the board is well floured. You do not want this sticking when you lift.

This pasta dough is also great for fresh lasagne sheets.

2 lobsters (1 1/2 to 2 pounds each)
3 tablespoons olive oil
250 ml (1 teacup) white wine
125 ml (1/2 teacup) sherry or Madeira
500 ml (2 teacups) heavy cream
cracked pepper
pinch of cayenne
pinch of nutmeg
Beurre Manie (uncooked roux - See footnote 1)

For Ravioli parcel
Cooked Lobster tail meat
Freshly chopped chives 
Pinch of paprika 

I love to add a good tablespoon of chopped tarragon to the sauce, it really adds to the flavour.
Recently I also added mussels and cooked them in the sauce, they look fantastic, their dark shells surrounding the ravioli parcels.
1- kill the lobster** (See footnote 2)
2- Turn the lobster around and cut the tail and body in half long ways.
Cut the tail into sections.
3- Remove the claws and reserve.
4- Along the center of the lobster are three kinds of viscera, the dark green are the stomach and intestine that can be scraped out and discarded.
The yellow green and red coral are the tomalley and the roe which are delicious and may be left in.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy based pan.
Sear all the lobster tail meat pieces until bright red.
Remove lobster tail meat from pan - at this point you can start to de-glaze the pan (see further on) and cook any extra shellfish.
Mix the cooked lobster tail with the chopped chives and paprika, and place on the ravioli sheet, about a tablespoon per parcel.

If you want extra zing, a little chili or a squeeze of lemon juice can be added.
Again, be sure that the surface under the base pasta sheet is well dusted with flour and will not stick to the work surface.

Then apply a light eggwash beween the food clusters and drape over the second sheet.
Press down between the food parcels, then using a glass or a cookie cutter cut carefully around them.
Crimp the edges with a fork to seal.
5 minutes before the sauce is ready, drop the ravioli parcels in boiling water. They will float to the surface when cooked.

If you are in any way nervous about the parcels splitting, you can also use a steamer or fish kettle, although this will make the pasta a little dry, but it's still nice

While preparing the lobster ravioli packages, put the white wine on the pan to deglaze.
Reduce by half

If you have mussels, cockles or other shell fish, you can also add these to the wine during the reduction process to cook.
I now always use mussels as it adds to the presentation

When the wine is reduced remove and put aside any extra cooked shellfish.
Add cream, Madeira/Sherry and seasonings, add the lobster claw meat to the pot and cook until the meat is cooked through, about 8 minutes.

Whisk in beurre manie a little at a time until sauce begins to thicken.
Simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes.
Return any extra shellfish 5 minutes from the end of cooking, the same time as you start to cook the ravioli parcels.
Adjust seasonings and serve sauce over cooked ravioli, surrounded by the extra cooked shellfish.
This meal is very rich, and very adaptable. If you don't like the idea of making ravioli parcels, use the fresh pasta to make tagliatelle instead, and serve all the lobster meat over the pasta as a sauce, this will stretch the lobster meat even further. 

Best advice from Spectabilis of politicalworld.org
Beurre manié sounds fancy but its easy to have in store. Put a couple of ounces of butter in a bowl and melt it in the microwave or in a pot.
Then add the same volume of flour, stir well and cook again until it bubbles.
If you let it cool and store it in the fridge. It keeps for ages.
It will make a lump-free sauce in a minute - just flake into any boiling liquid- milk, stock wine or whatever - and whisk.

This is the most humane way to kill a lobster.
This is a living creature, and deserves to be dispatched as quickly as possible to reduce stress.

The main thing is to be quick, clean and confident - don't mess about. 

This job is one that is best left to a 10 inch chefs' knife, and one with a good deal of heft.
Make sure the rubber bands around the claws stay on during this process, as you don't want to be dodging the claws while cutting up the lobster. 
Also, I would advise that you place a dishcloth under the animal for extra grip if at all nervous abour slipping.
To kill the animal as quickly as possible, you are going to cleave the brain in half.
You must first cut it in half down the center of the head part of the body. 
You will find a crease in the shell that will give you guide and purchase.
In one movement pierce the shell to the cutting board and cleave forward between the eyes to finish the cut.
This kills the lobster as quickly and painlessly as possible.

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Soil testing, ideal vegetable pH levels and veg patch pH adjustment

As I may have mentioned before, the kitchen garden I set up is in a challenging environment, and soil acidity - particularly near pine trees in waterlogged soil, is a worry.

The first thing to do is a Ph test of the soil.
As most readers know, 95% of the time I will always advise to buy in local Irish outlets, but I got a great deal on ebay for the kit I got.
Preston Bisset Nursaries in England do a great deal on a kit I got via their ebay shop, but you can also order them direct - tell Jacqueline and Peter I sent you.
A Westminster test kit will give you approx. 30 tests - more than enough for 2-3 years for me.
It only cost £5.95 + £2.25 postage.
That is a real bargain, its very easy and simple to use, giving accurate results.
I looked at electronic soil testers, but for the affordable ones the reviews were poor, so it is this kit I would recommend.

Alteration of soil pH should ideally be done about a month prior to planting.

To lower your soil pH, then you will need to add agricultural sulphur.
To increase your soil pH, then you will need to add agricultural lime.

Lime and sulphur are available at garden centres and packs will have directions for use.

Another idea I will be testing this year is ashes. I tested some old ash from a turf and wood stove, and found it to be very alkeli, so that will be used as a soil adjuster as well as providing bulk to try and raise a few beds.

It's important to get this right when you set up. I should have done this last year when I started, but in western Conemara it is a fairly safe assumption to say the soil is acidic.

The veg patch I have laid out is roughly in the "People Love Bunches Of Roses" format for crop rotation and planning - and that is the way I laid out this ideal pH guide, group by group.
As the garden develops, and new crops are introduced, I will update the list in future.

Ideal pH of 4.5 - 6.0.  Soils with a pH lower than 6.5 are best-suited for raising potatoes; the ideal soil pH for potatoes is 5 to 6. In fact, potatoes are one of the few vegetable crops that can tolerate and thrive in more acidic soils — soils in the 4.8 to 6.0 pH range.
Potatoes may not do well in soils with a pH higher than 7, because if the pH level is high, many of the nutrients that potatoes require to grow will not be available.

Beans 6.0 - 7.5
Pea 6.0 - 7.5

Water Cress 5.0 - 8.0
Cauliflower 5.5 - 7.5
Turnip 5.5 - 7.0
Broccoli 6.0 - 7.0
Brussel Sprouts 6.0 - 7.5
Cabbage 6.0 - 7.5
Chinese Cabbage 6.0 - 7.5
Kale 6.0 - 7.5
Kohlrabi 6.0 - 7.5
Spinach 6.0 - 7.5
Mustard 6.0 - 7.5

Shallot 5.5 - 7.0
Garlic 5.5 - 7.5  
Onion 6.0 - 7.0
Leek 6.0 - 8.0 

Jeruselem Artichoke 4.5 - 7.0
Chicory 5.0 - 6.5
Carrot 5.5 - 7.0  
Beetroot 6.0 - 7.5
Parsnip 5.5 - 7.5 
Oca 5.5 to 7.5
Radish 6.0 - 7.0

Tomato 5.5 - 7.5
Cucumber/Gherkin 5.5 - 7.5 
Lettuce 6.0 - 7.0 
Celery 6.0 - 7.0
Cress 6.0 - 7.0
Horseradish 6.0 - 7.0

Rhubarb 5.5 - 7.0
Gooseberry 5.5-7.0
Acid Soil: Apples, Macadamia, Nectarine,Blackberry, Blueberry,Strawberry,Watermelon
Slightly Acid to Neutral Soil: Grapes, Peach, Pears, Apricot
Neutral to Alkaline Soil: Cherry, Plum, Almond 

Quinoa, 6.0 - 8.5
Acid Soil: Oats
Slightly Acid to Neutral Soil: Barley

Pumpkin, squash 5.5 - 7.5
Asparagus 6.0 - 8.0
Mushroom 6.5 - 7.5 

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Seakale, germination and care - as well as something a little historical

Grandad's 1941 Dept of Ag leaflet's - cost 2s 6d !
Solid advice to kitchen gardners, still valid and helping the family 70 years later.
Thats value.
Sea Kale is a perennial green, hardy and reliable once established, and that's the trick.
My initial batch had a very poor germination rate,this is because the seed is contained in a cork like husk that allows the plant to propagate with the tides in nature.

After some research I found that removing the outer seed casing help's and speed's up germination.
Put the seeds in a bowl of water for a few days,then using a very sharp knife, like a craft knife or scalpel, very carefully and gently take off the outer husk. It's a little like a tiny avocado
Seakale seed, de-husked and ready for pots
Apparently germination usually takes place in 3 to 5 weeks at 15°c but -as I found -can be slow and irregular.
I have already planted out 4, 3 failed but the fourth is doing well under a cloche for now.
As the plant is perennial, and lasts many years, the main aim I have in the first year is to establish at least four plants to make a start.
Paper pots ready to take seed
A new tool I got myself this year came in handy. From Seedaholic in Mayo I got a Nether Wallop paper potter.
Now, I have made my own in the past, but that was all flour glue and lacked uniformity.
The paper potter saves time and bother, recycles newspapers and gives good, uniform starter pots.
It's a very simple, clever and cute addiion to the seed box.

The pots will not disintegrate until planted, even if soaking because their walls are several layers thick so will only bio-degrade after they are put into the ground.
Using the system means there is no root disturbance or damage because the paper pot goes straight in the ground will rot down and the roots will grow through it.

It also looks and feels good and could not be simpler to use. It's a once off investment and well worth it.

As for the seakale, I really look forward to getting it established and growing well, with a bit of luck.

The Fresh, creamy-white stalks of sea kale are a seasonal delicacy at the deadest time of year.
They were harvested from sandy beaches in Victorian times when it was a popular vegetable.
Collectors covered the stalks with sand to keep out the light and develop a delicate flavour.
But over time, wild supplies became so over picked and endangered that it was made illegal to harvest from the beach.

Seakale can be forced like chicory or endive to maintain delicacy to a similar height to rhubarb.
Unlike rhubarb, the frill of leaves at the top can also be eaten.
It can be eaten raw or cooked with melted butter. The Victorians cooked it with a white sauce and served kind of like asparagus.  So here's hoping this batch will do better!
fly leaf advert from 1941 manual

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Potato planting, Lazy Beds and 100 posts!

According to my blog control panel thingy,
this is post 100!!

This is a blog after all about an Irish Kitchen Garden, so I think there is one particular vegetable that is associated with us as a nation - the potato.

Before writing about growing them, I want to touch on the potato in Irish history.

On April 2nd 2011 with many other descendants I attended a commemoration for the 100th anniversary of the 1911 census. The commemoration took place in Shannadonnell.
It was at the house of my Great Great Grandfather, Tom Joyce, who lived through the famine.
The homestead consists of a few ruins, and in the surrounding gardens you can see the old traces of lazybeds.
At the commemoration a poem. Peace by Patrick Kavanagh, was read out, and bought to mind a couplet in another poem.
The Wayfarer by Padraig Pierce, his last poem, written on the eve of his execution in Easter 1916.
Some quiet hill where mountainy man hath sown,
And soon would reap; near to the gates of heaven;
This refers to the potato ridges, the remains of which can still be seen, that reach up into the hills of Connemara. My father always felt it was a specific reference to Shannadonnel which is by mountain track close to Rosmuc, where Pierce had a cottage.

It makes one think - has a nation ever been so blighted or shaped by a single crop?
And that one hundred years, one week and two days later, I am sitting in Connemara filling out a new census form for a new Government, and planting potato's in the same way as Tom would have done.

As a nation, when Tom was a young man, we faced our darkest days from the summer of 1845. The Irish potato famine was not simply a natural disaster. It was a product of social causes that still had resonance in 1916, as it does today.
Like the current financial crisis, when the right conditions arose, despite clear warnings, a weak and distant government failed to deal with the problem in a realistic way, believing their own hubris.
Between 1801 and 1845 there had been 114 commissions and 61 special committees dealing with Ireland who - without exception -  prophesied disaster.
Like today the root cause of the disaster was the failure by the political caste and the reluctance to admit and fix the problems of Laissaiz-Faire, the prototype of modern market economics, which at the time was regarded as the only viable economic system.
The inadequacy of relief efforts by the government worsened the horrors of the potato famine.

Initially, the Government believed (as they do today) that the free market would end the problem.
In 1846, in a victory for advocates of free trade, Britain repealed the Corn Laws, which protected domestic grain producers from foreign competition. The repeal of the Corn Laws failed to end the crisis as the Irish lacked sufficient money to purchase foreign grain.

About half of Ireland's population depended on potatoes for subsistence. The result of this was The Great famine, the most severe in the history of European agriculture, from 1845-1848.

Irish peasants subsisted on a diet consisting largely of potatoes.
A "blight of unusual character" devastated Ireland's potato crop, the basic staple in the Irish diet. After potatoes were dug from the ground, they began to turn into a slimy, decaying, blackish "mass of rottenness."
"Famine fever"--cholera, dysentery, scurvy, typhus, and infestations of lice soon spread through the Irish countryside. Observers reported seeing children crying with pain and looking "like skeletons, their features sharpened with hunger and their limbs wasted, so that there was little left but bones." Masses of bodies were buried without coffins, a few inches below the soil.
Over the next ten years, about a million died from disease and starvation, another 2 million left for Britain, Canada, and the United States. Within five years, the Irish population was reduced by 25%.
The 45/48 famine was known as the great famine, or An Gort Mhor. The failure of one commodity, the primary food crop, led to starvation and disease.
Other commodity crops such as grain were exported in large quantities to service debts due to absent politician's - a tiny percentage of the population.
We see the same thing today where our tax's are spent to bail out the bank's and speculators.

A hundred years before, in 1740/1741, there was another famine – the Year of the Slaughter.
10% of the Irish population are estimated to have died.
However – the government at the time took pragmatic action, docks were closed and food exports reduced and curtailed to alleviate the famine and a greater disaster than might have been was averted.
The 1740/41 famine, for example, did not result in the mass death and emigration of the 1848 famine.
So we have already seen when the accepted economic model collapses due to reluctance to change from ill-advised economic concepts and political distance, then people on this Island suffer shortage's and emigration - Tout ca change tout c'est la meme chose - Despite the last election, the current Government still pursues the failed policies of the last lot - Ave! Duci novo, similis duci seneci 

Anyway, on with the guide on how to grow potato's the traditional way - using lazybeds.
These are the traditional way of growing potato's, giving the advantage of providing more heat and drainage to the crop, First thing is seed potato's, and best advice is always to buy certified seed.
You can get these in any decent garden centre.
If you are developing a garden or keeping unusual varieties as I am, you can also save your own seed.
You can also take a chance and use potato's that have run to seed, but these may be more susceptible or even carry blight spores.

Now, if you are starting out, you can put the seed into the ground, it will grow, but there are two simple way's  to improve yield - Chitting and Splitting (say that fast after a few pints)

To ensure a good crop you should ‘chit’ your potatoes before planting them. This simply means getting them to produce nice little sprouts – just like they do when you’ve kept them in the cupboard for too long.
Chitting potatoes is rally good for producing good crops of early varieties and can also make a difference to maincrop harvests.
Set your seed potatoes out in egg boxes or trays with the ‘rose end’ facing up. (The rose end is the end with the most ‘eyes’ in it.) Place them in a light, frost-free room – the greenhouse or spare room is fine – and leave them be for a few weeks. It takes about four to six weeks for potatoes to sprout shoots, by which time you’ll be ready to plant them out.

You can increase your seed stock by cutting them carefully. If the seed potatoes are small to medium sized, plant the whole potato.
If they are large sized, you can cut them in half, or quarter them. Each section should have two or three 'growth eyes'.
Top left, Axona - certified seed.
Bottom left, Mr. Littles Yetholm Gypsy - home saved seed.
Bottom right, Orla - certified seed.
Top right, Mona Lisa - shop rejects.

Cutting seed should be done in a warm room. After cutting, leave the cut sets for at least one night to let the cut surface dries and forms a callus before planting them out.

I hope all readers do not have the same problems as I do. The ground which I am planting has not been cultivated for 30 years, and that needs a lot of reclaiming.
Even if you have only grass on a plot it is well worth giving it a close cut or strim before starting on the lazybed.
The first thing I had to do was clear the ground of rushes and briar's. Then it was draining. Gardening in Connemara can be very tough, especially when opening up new ground.
The soil is poor and waterlogged. This was partially caused when Galway coco 'improved' the road and managed to block loads of old gluts along the road.
This was quite a bit of work, but with the chillington hoe, a spade and a drag, I got through it and ended up feeling positively Dutch! Once the drain was in, I went over the ground again, clearing briar and rush.
Connemara canal!!

The drain was further extended to provide better water flow.
Once you have the ground cleared/strimmed/mowed it is time to set up the beds.

The beds I grow are 3 feet wide as is traditional. Normally the gap between ridges is 1 foot, but I go for 18 inches. So, using lines you lay out the bed.
Next is the base, this suppresses weeds beneath the spuds and provides nutrients.
I use a mix of seaweed and farmyard manure, but compost or pelleted chicken manure can also be used.
Lay out the fertilizer as evenly as possible along the planned lazy beds.

If, like me this year, you are laying out beds on virgin grassland, I would urge you to apply supernemo's to the area. This is because you will have a lot of wireworms, cutworm's and other pests in the ground that will devastate a crop.
I know from experience that last year, on virgin grassland, the potato beds treated with supernemo did very well. The Kerr Pinks sown in a different bed and not treated were destroyed and I did not find nemasys at all as effective as supernemo.

If you are in a wet area, it is also well worth treating the area with nemaslug. Snails will burrow into potato's and destroy them as well.

It is best to leave the manure or seaweed on the ground for a few days before setting the seeds.
The next step is laying out the seed. With the three foot lazy bed system, it is basically a 1 foot/30cm elongated grid. The seed potato's are layed out 1 foot/30cm apart.
Starting from the edge inwards it is 6 - 8 inches in to the first set, then 1 foot to the second, one foot to the third and 6 - 8 inches to the other side of the lazy bed.
Along the length of the lazy bed, the next row is 1 foot along.
lazybed potato spacing
The next step is, using a spade or chillington hoe, cut into the soil along the edge of the lazybed. Then move your line out to the other side of the drainage channel. I use a gap of 18 inches/45cm, but traditionally it was 12 inches/30cm.
Cut along this line as well, and turn in the sod, breaking it up gently and covering the tubers. Trim and whack in the sides as best you can to give the lazybed shape and form.
Cut out and lift in sod, break up.
Repeat on other side of ridge
cover up and tidy the sides

Repeat the process
You will have spare space at the end of the bed to grow something else. My Dad would stick cabbages at the end of each lazy bed.
From my research, it seems that horseradish is a good companion plant for potato, so I will propagate my plant in the ridges this year. So, here are 3 of 5 planned ridges.
And this was what it was like before.
So, even without rotavators and powertools, you can create even from the roughest ground a space for food.

Some might ask why go to the bother when good spuds are cheap and available, especially if space is limited - and it is a valid question.
My answer is threefold.
Firstly, I like to grow my own, and new spuds straight from the ground are delicious.

Secondly, I feel it is important to keep heritage varieties going, so I have taken on board Mr Littles Yetholm Gypsy's. Mine are possibly the only seedbank of the type in Ireland.
It's not just the name that I liked, it's a bit of history. The type comes from the Border Village of Yetholm in Scotland. It was the Gypsy capital of the borders. Local farmers - the Little Brothers - developed it.
It is unusual because it is the only potato to show red, white and blue skin. A boiling potato, the flavour is a mealy and quite delicious.

Thirdly, for me, it gives me a rewarding way of opening up new ground. Rather than just drain and turn the soil for its resulting field of mud, this way I open up the ground, clear it, drain it and have a reward at the end.
Part of my local rights is being able to collect beach sand to mold the potato's later in the year.
This will also improve the condition of the soil after the crop is harvested, and with relatively little more work, the space will be developed into bed's next year as part of a crop rotation program.

Anyway, if you found the blog of use I welcome any comments you might have - please feel free to do so.

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