Posts tagged ‘vegetables’

September 22, 2012

Kitero’s arrival and the cabbage that was loved

by Ciaran Burke

Amelie walked with her dad, or rather she ran ahead and he followed. Fueled by the curiosity and enthusiasm that only a young child can possess, running along the grass path and past the stone-walls she entered the vegetable patch. Calendula flowers made her exclaim, then she saw the heads of cabbage, firm pale green globes cradled by large firm leaves. It was love at first sight, she bent down to hug the cabbage and then the lucky brassica received a kiss to its crown. Her Dad laughed, she giggled with delight, then she buzzed off to chase a white butterfly.

Calendula flowers

Snail eating some oat meal. Oats or bran is ideal for cleaning their digestive systems. The process takes about five to seven days.

Our visitors, a lively family, a lovely family, came to eat snails. Our petit gris, collected from the garden and reared in the shed, fed with bran to purge their digestive sytems. The kids preferred to eat Hanna’s delicious almond ring biscuits but us adults enjoyed l’escargot, the snails cooked in a white wine and tarragon sauce. Before they left, Amelie and her brother Gael brought us a gift, a new resident for our garden, Kitero.

Hanna’s almond rings baked according to her granny’s recipe from Finland. they proved to be a much bigger hit with the kids than my snails!

Kitero came from Knock. He arrived in a box and dressed in a fine red Kimono. His socks filled with sand and a beaming smile on his round green face. His hat and gloves on, ready for the cold, because Kitero is always on duty, in all weather, Kitero our scarecrow.

Kitero watches over our cabbage

We made him a home, he sits happily on the wooden edge of a raised bed, where he watches over our cabbages, including the kissed one. Kitero’s job is an important one, wood pidgeons love cabbages even more than Amelie. Where as she was happy to place a gentle kiss and give a firm hug, pidgeons would rather eat their leaves.

The feathered ones are not the only winged visitors to like our cabbage. Cabbage white butterflies, flutter around them looking for places to lay their eggs. When they do, usually on the underside of the leaves, caterpillars will soon emerge, hungry ones that will munch holes in the leaves. Unfortunately Kitero does not scare caterpillars, actually I am not sure if he would scare a bird, he looks too friendly. When I find groups of yellow eggs on any brassica leaves, including the relatives of cabbage such as Brussels Sprouts and Kale, I squash them. Those that I miss emerge as larvae, they get squashed. Some people do not like to squash them, instead they favour re-location of the pests, but I have no qualms about delivering a deadly squueze to a few caterpillars that I find on my cabbage leaves.

Caterpillars on brussel sprouts- Pieris brassicae, the larva stage of cabbage white butterfly

Cabbage is a widely grown vegetable and it likes the cool climate of the west of Ireland. It is hardy and reliable. Easy to grow in well prepared soil. Many people turn up their noses at cabbage, perhaps too many childhood dinners of over cooked and mushy leaves. I went through a phase of rejection but I have a renewed love of the green globes. Not that I have kissed a cabbage lately, nor given one a hug, but cooked with love to produce a tender dish kissed with the flavour of caraway and honey, cabbage is a vegetable I readily embrace again.

Sautéd Cabbage with Caraway Seed and Honey – Recipe


  • Half cup of finely chopped onion
  • 4 cups of chopped cabbage
  • One tea spoon of caraway seeds
  • Table spoon of honey
  • Oil for frying


  1. Sauté the onion in oil until soft
  2. Add the caraway seeds and stir for a couple of minutes
  3. Add the chopped cabbage and stirfry until the cabbage becomes tender but not soft (ten minutes)
  4. Stir in the honey and serve

Serves four as side dishes. One variation that an American visitor shared with us a while ago is to use dried chillis instead of caraway, both recipes are delicious! If you have tired of boiled cabbage this could make you fall in love with cabbage again!

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June 23, 2012

Growing a stir fry- Pak-choi

by Ciaran Burke

Pak-choi stems

Quick, easy, healthy and tasty, stir frying retains the goodness of your freshly harvested vegetables and with the addition of chili, garlic and spices you have a quickly prepared and flavoursome meal. This year in the garden we have grown pak-choi. It is a cabbage relative, Brassica rapa Chinensis Group with distinct wide white midribs which widen towards the base to give the plant a wide rounded bottom. The stalks and leaves are both used. They are easily grown and can be eaten raw or cooked.

Pak-choi stems

Growing Pak Choi

Soil type and situation

Fertile moisture retentive soil in an open sunny situation. As with all brassica family crops they dislike acid soil conditions so lime the soil to achieve a pH of 6.5.

Sowing and growing

Sow directly into soil. Early crops tend to bolt and bolting often happens if pants dry out. We often sow in modules or seed trays in the tunnel  and transplant into outdoor beds without any problems. Pak-choi can be used as cut and come again crops where you cut the leaves away as you need them or you can allow them to form heads.

BOLTING: this is where  vegetables produce flowers prematurely and go to seed before forming heads or completing their vegetative growth phase. It is often caused by dry conditions, sowing too early in the year or by transplanting of certain types.

Pak-choi can be sown repeatedly throughout the summer to ensure a supply. last sowings can be made outdoors about 6 weeks before the last frost.

Space plants about 15cm apart. When sowing in rows you will need to thin seedlings. Thinned seedlings can be used in salads.


Pak-choi can be used at any stage, seedling leaves mature heads or even flowering stems.

When using the leaves only treat as a Cut and Come Again (CCA). Cut leaves when they are between 4-13cm high, often first cut can be made within 3 weeks of sowing. CCA treated plants can remain productive over many weeks or even months, especially when grown in tunnels.

For heads they can take at least 6 weeks depending on the season. Cut across the base of the plant and they often re-shoot, otherwise you can pull up the whole plant.

When cooking, trim off the leaves from the wide midrib. Cook the midribs first then add the leaves at the end as the leaves cook very quickly.

Pak-choi leaves

March 26, 2012

Planting Potatoes in Plastic Bags

by Ciaran Burke

Harvesting New Potatoes

Early potato tubers are usually chitted before being planted outside. This involves placing the tubers in a well lit, frost free place. The shoots develop from the eyes of the tuber and will then be planted outside when the soil has warmed to 6° Celcius.

Early varieties take between 75 – 90 days to mature. Harvesting can start in early summer. Irish people use St Patrick’s Day, 17th March, as the date by which you must have the early potatoes planted.

Not everyone has space for planting potatoes, in fact not everyone has a garden. However, just about everyone can enjoy harvesting a few of their home grown potatoes in summer using old plastic compost bags for planting. To obtain an earlier crop, tubers can be planted in a tunnel or glasshouse. Tubs or barrels can also be used. I decided to re-use a couple of old plastic compost bags. Here is what I did:

Step 1: I turned the bags inside out to reveal their dark side which attracts more heat, and looks nicer. I rolled down the bag so as to allow light for the shoots when they grow. Into the base of the bags I made a number of slits to allow drainage.



Step 2: From our compost heap I got a wheel barrow of lovely dark compost.  A 10cm (4 inches) layer was shoveled into the bags and then firmed with my hands.



Step 3: The tubers I placed on the compost and then covered with a further 10cm (4 inches) of the good stuff, and firmed. Then the compost was watered.



Aftercare: When the stems grow to 15cm (6inches), more compost will be added, to a depth of 10cm (4 inches). As the plants grow the sides of the bags are unrolled to allow for greater depth. I will continue to add more compost as the stems grow until it is 5cm (2 inches) below the top of the bag. The potatoes will need to be well watered. They need a weekly feed of liquid seaweed fertilizer to promote growth. When the plants start to flower the crop will be ready to harvest.  As a true Irish man I can’t wait to cook the first potatoes; steamed and then eaten with melted butter and some chopped chives from the garden, yum!

  • There is nothing quite like your own compost from the garden when growing vegetables. Learn about making compost on my other blog Ciaran’s Gardening Blog and download an information sheet on Home Garden Composting.
  • Listen to a podcast of “In The Garden with Ciaran Burke” – Episode 13
  • WATCH THE YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THE NEW GROWTH PROJECT HORTICULTURE COURSE. This is a free training course that we are running in our own garden in Co. Mayo, Ireland. For more info: THE GARDEN SCHOOL Each week we make a video of what the students are doing on the course.

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July 29, 2011


by Ciaran Burke


I have been in Finland for the last couple of weeks with my wife Hanna, a native of this beautiful tree filled land. Finland is the most forested country in the EU. Approximately 74% of the country is covered in forest. One gets the impression that even the biggest towns and cities are living areas carved from the forests, trees are never far away. The green gold of Finland provides an important source of income, but the forests are more than resources to be harvested and sold.

Driving through the country, large pines and birches tower either side of the road. The roads are like veins and arteries carrying civilization, through a forested body; it is in this arboreal body in which the Finnish soul resides.

In European folklores, the woods are scary places; big bad wolves attack innocent girls on their way to visit their grand mothers. In Finland however the forests are considered a place of beauty, where most people spend their summer holidays, surrounded by the beauty. In summer as you drive along one of the arterial routes of civilization, you are sure to see people walking to the forests with empty buckets in search for berries or coming from the woods with baskets of mushrooms. Gathering food from the forest floor is a national pass time, or in some cases an obsession.

The two most numerous berry types are lingon berry and wild blueberry, bilberry, or froachan as we call it in Ireland. Both are species of Vaccinium, the former, V. vitis-idea and the latter V. myrtillus. Finns may love their forests, but they are intensely proud of their berries too. Ask them and most will tell you that the Finnish blueberries are the best. Families often have their own preferred places for picking; this information is not shared with others.

Last week we were in Hanko, the southern most tip of Finland. Here the forest is chiefly composed of tall pines. We got a report that the blue berries were plentiful, we went for a walk to see. As often happens in this wooded land, a short stroll became a berry picking expedition. The hot and high afternoon sun filtered through the open pines to dapple light patterns on the sandy forest floor. Mosses and lichens made a soft bed for heathers and blueberries to grow in the shade. We picked a litre of berries and returned home.


Early the next morning we visited the market in Hanko. Here in a car park in the town, adjacent to a filling station, wild blue berries were piled high on a table. The berry sellers were Asian women, Burmese refugees. They pick them in the woods and sell the in the market, their produce marked clearly that they are Suomi, Finnish. Farmers sold vegetables, there were stalls for locally caught fish too. The vegetables stalls sold potatoes measured in kappa’s. A kappa is a wooden box, a 5 litre box is a full kappa, a 2 litre is half. These are traditional measurements used for selling potatoes, converted to metric measurements, the boxes complete with official stamps. Most fruits and vegetables are sold by volume and not by weight at the Finnish markets. French beans, green and yellow are measured in litre and half litre measuring cups.



We purchased an additional litre of blue berries and potatoes and vegetables for dinner; then we cycled home to make some jam.


In a saucepan I cooked the berries with a small amount of water until the fruit had become soft, a wonderful fruity fragrance filled the kitchen. After about ten minutes of slowly cooking the fruit I gradually added 500g of sugar, made from Finnish grown sugar beet, unlike Ireland they saved their sugar beet industry from EU eradication. When all the sugar was added and dissolved, I turned up the heat and the jam boiled hard. I continued cooking the jam, stirring occasionally until the jam was not running off the wooden spoon.


The messiest part of jam making is always when I fill the jars. The jars were heated in the oven so as to sterilize them; they were first washed, then dried and placed in a cold oven. I heat the oven to 100 degrees Celsius and the jars remain in the oven until I am ready to fill them.


Later when the filled jars had cooled and the jam was set, we ate Finnish oven pancake over which we spooned this delicious wild blue berry jam. We ate it with home made buns, on bread, and spooned straight from the jar. There is nothing quite like home made jam, wild blue berry jam made with berries from the woodland, delicious!

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