Plants Bants: Kale, the superhero of the veggie garden

You know on Halloween, just before you’d go out trick or treatin’, your Ma would serve you up a steaming plate of colcannon which you’d eat reluctantly in the wishes of finding some cash hidden inside? No? Then you’re not bleedin’ Irish.

Colcannon on Halloween is a distinctly Irish tradition for a distinctly Irish holiday. Plates piled high with potatoes mashed with onions, kale and butter has pretty much given kale a bad name (though whoever thought of it was a genius because it’s a seriously hearty nutritional winter dish and absolutely delicious). Most Irish people only know kale as “curly kale” or in it’s sloppy colcannon form and it was always a decidedly unglamorous food but in recent years, kale is making a serious comeback as a super food. You can’t enter any health food café or shops without encountering kale smoothies, kale crisps, kale salads, raw kale, kale is the current trendiest veggie going. Now, if you find yourself a bit turned off the idea of this super healthy veggie by the memories of mashed kale goop on Halloween, I’m here to change your mind.

Kale is hands down my favourite leafy vegetable to grow! In fact, I’m considering donning some spandex and fashioning myself a curly kale cape and swooping into people’s gardens and guerilla planting some kale. Fiona Kelly Kaley: The Curly Avenger. 

A member of the brassica family, kale grows supremely well in our temperate climate and is very easy to grow from seed. A large, leafy vegetable, kale is a welcome addition to any vegetable garden. Its beautiful broad leaves bring rich shades of colour to any garden and there are so many varieties to try which all have distinct flavours. Kale is packed full of Vitamins A and C, calcium, iron and antioxidants and is pretty much the best veggie you can add to your diet. So, if you’re looking for tips on growing this super food in your garden look no further, I’m here to champion this humble hero of the brassica bed.


Kale Varieties:

Now, most people think of kale and just think of the curly green variety we were subjected to as nippers but there are many varieties of kale to try in your garden.

My favourites are Russian Red Kale & Cavolo Nero. This year I’m growing three different varieties of kale and currently have 18 plants which is definitely overkill but kale is ready to harvest later in the season than most other leafy veggies and it’s always nice to visit the plot in October and have plenty to still harvest.
Red Kale and Cavolo Nero taste distinctly different to green kale too so it’s nice to have a variety of flavours.

Sowing Kale:

Most people sow kale indoors and transplant it outside but I urge you to sow kale outdoors if you’re in Ireland, it will germinate in most soil, though rich, fertile soil is best as with all brassicas. I always sow my kale outdoors between May and June for an Autumn crop. Plus, sowing outdoors means less of the tricky transplanting business. Space your rows about 45cm apart and sow your kale and thin it out as it grows. Kale grows to be quite a large bushy plant so ensure you space the plants out enough to give them room to grow.

Transplanting Kale

If you have started your kale indoors, then it is essential to water your soil well before planting and give the plants plenty of water when you plant them, in fact, drench them in, create a puddle around your kale, it will love you for it. Space your plants 45cm apart.

Caring for Kale

Kale requires little care but it is very tasty so everything loves to eat it, slugs, pigeons, humans, more pigeons so it needs some protection.

Protecting your kale from slugs when they are young plants is essential. Beer traps are great for keeping slugs away from your plants and I’ve had great success with these. This year, I’ve also mulched my young kale plants with coffee grounds as a fertiliser and slug repellent and I have had zero problems with slugs on my kale this year. None. It’s a miracle. Coffee is just the gift that keeps on giving really.
Netting your kale is also essential to keep the birds from demolishing it (although eating kale is a pretty holy experience in itself the last thing you want is hole-y leaves).

Harvesting Kale

Kale is usually ready to harvest about three months after planting. Kale is a great cut and come again crop, simply pick the leaves from the top of the plant as needed.

I have a recipe here for kale and apple soup if you’d like to try something a bit different with your crops (it’s yummy, trust me). My Mam also has a super recipe for kale gnocchi so I’ll ask her can I share it with you guys during harvest season. I do urge you, if you are Irish, rekindle a love for colcannon, it’s really a great dish and if you’re not Irish, give it a try, it’s a carby-gloopy-buttery-tangy-kale-slop and it’s glorious.

Now, I’m off to get my sewing machine out, this Curly Kale Cape won’t make itself.



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Why Food Mattered with GIY at Bloom

There’s something strange afoot in Ireland the past week. The temperature’s soarin’, the sun’s a blarin’, the skin’s a burnin’, the shorts are shortenin’, the freckles are spreadin’, the barbecues burnin’, the beer gardens hoppin’ and the thunder’s a clappin’; somewhere there’s probably maids a milkin’, pipers pipin’ and lords a leapin’ and there were definitely plenty of bloomers a Bloomin’ in the Phoenix Park.

(Not even mildly apologetic for a nod to Christmas in June)

The June bank holiday weekend is one of the highlights of my year as Bloom In The Park takes place in the Phoenix Park in Dublin. Bloom is a festival run by Bord Bia, celebrating horticulture, gardening and food, and is in my humble opinion, the best festival this island has to offer. Celebrating it’s tenth birthday, this year saw the highest amount of visitors to Bloom to date with 115,000 people enjoying the festival over the five days. The past few years, Bloom visitors have been gifted with weather of cold, wet nonsense and brrrrrrrr, but this year mother nature decided to bestow this years festival goers with the gift of golden sunshine. I’m not quite sure just how many not-so-wise-men I witnessed with sunburned necks over the weekend but I’m going to hazard a guess at about two hundred.

The biggest draw at Bloom every year is usually the show gardens, which once again, rendered me into a state of awe and wonder. The craft village made my attempts at knitting, drawing and sewing look like that of a club fisted buffoon and the food was so good I’m terrified to wear my skinny jeans for at least a month. There’s so much I could write about here and I do intend to do a post about my favourite show gardens, but for now I’d like to take the opportunity to share my best thing about Bloom 2016.



This year, I was invited by the lovely people of GIY to speak at their cool as a cucumber Food Matters tent about seasonal container growing (whoever thought to offer me a microphone and free reign to talk about growing food was a very brave individual). GIY are a non-profit social enterprise based in Waterford that educate and support people to grow healthy, organic food.  I’ve long been a huge fan of GIY and I very recently became a contributor to their fab quarterly GROW magazine.

GIY have some brilliant campaigns aimed at encouraging and educating people to grow in schools and workplaces. The awesome Cully & Sully’s Give Peas a Chance stand was the epitome of my dream office space and it was really heartening to see so many young growers over at the Sow & Grow  area.

This year at their new Food Matters tent, there were some amazing talks and discussions about food and growing; there were discussions on everything from the effects of hospital food on patients to advice on setting up a school garden. I was a particular fan of a brilliant talk on growing communities through food, which I found to be really inspiring.

My own little Food Matters workshops were very much focused on growing food in small spaces as limited space is one of the main factors holding people back from trying their hands at growing. I’ve long been one of those annoying people who tries to get everybody to follow suit and take up the same hobby as myself, I’m pretty sure my friends are sick of hearing about all my babies (plants) at home (the allotment); but I genuinely believe that gardening is a universally enjoyable and rewarding thing to do. You don’t need a huge garden or allotment to do this, you’d be amazed what food you can grow in containers.


You really don’t need a huge amount of space to grow a herb garden


What amazed me when speaking to people over the weekend was their sheer willingness to learn. It seems that everyone wants to grow food but not everybody knows how to start. Whether they lack time, space or resources, the desire is there to grow. I personally believe that this is built into us as natural foragers and hunter gatherers, it is in our nature to want to provide ourselves with sustenance.What struck me most, however, was the amount of people who said they lacked the confidence to grow their own food. Here’s a little secret: growing food doesn’t have to be difficult, you don’t need to be an expert, and it requires very little scientific knowledge. All it requires is a small amount of enthusiasm, some soil, seeds and water. Don’t worry about pests until you have to, don’t worry about diseases until you have to, don’t worry about spacing and weeding and thinning out until you have to, because I guarantee you, when your first crop begins to grow, these tasks won’t seem like a chore. You’ll be so chuffed with yourself at growing something that you’ll enjoy tending to it.

To everyone who lacks the confidence to grow your own food, this is my message to you: a few years ago, I barely even ate vegetables, never mind knew how to grow them, and if I can go from turning my nose up at asparagus to growing a hugely successful crop of same, then you can too.  In fact, my own gardening and food growing experiences have given me more confidence and have opened up whole new paths to me that I never knew I wanted to walk down in the first place. I have found it the single most empowering thing I have done and tell people time and time again, that the first packet of seeds I ever bought is the most important thing I ever bought.

That is why I jumped at the chance to be involved with GIY at Bloom. They are really giving people the skills, education and confidence to grow food themselves. If I can pass on the small bit of knowledge I have gained over the past few years to others who wish to get growing, I feel that I am giving someone the best gift, one that they will keep on enjoying for years.

I am going to be writing over the coming days about some of the things myself and the lovely  Karen from GIY spoke about, mostly how to grow food in tins, buckets and wooden boxes, drilling holes in stuff (because who doesn’t love drilling holes in stuff?), why strawberries are like something straight out of a sic-fi movie, a super tongue twister that’ll have you growing lettuce like a pro and the absolute goldmine of organic fertiliser that sits in your bin.


To everyone who came along, thank you so much and for putting me on the spot with some brilliant questions, now stop reading this and go out and plant some seeds.

Sincere thanks to the amazing people of GIY for all their kind hospitality, support and belly-laughs throughout the weekend, I had a ball. In particular to Michael, Karen, Shona, Lucy, Claire, Eimear & Jim and a special shout out to chief volunteer Amanda who blew me away with her positive attitude!

And serious thanks to Bord Bia for the tickets so I could finally visit Bloom as a spectator and spend a whole day simply enjoying the festival with a crépe in one hand and a beer in the other. 


The Payoff

Here’s how it is. You get up early when all your mates are in bed. You can’t go to the pub because you need to prune your hedges. You spend your winters out in the cold and your rainy days out in the rain. You dig and you plant and you weed and you water. You rake and you hoe and you deadhead and harvest. You battle with slugs and aphids and birds. You haul on your wellies and gillets and gloves. You spend the day in the rain again. You work and you toil and you baby your soil. You bruise and you bleed and you sting and you ache.

You leave work early to tend to the plot. You haven’t had clean fingernails in a month. You’ve ruined all your clothes and your shoes and your hair. You sweat and you freeze and you itch and you sneeze. You sow and you pick and you weed and you sow and you pick and you weed and you sow. You water, you water, you water again.

You can’t sit at home without feeling guilty, you can’t buy fruit in a shop anymore. You can’t  go away for more than a week. You can’t have a hangover because there’s work to be done. You can’t plan a picnic if the weather is good. You can’t wear skirts because your legs are all bruised. You paint your nails and they’re ruined in an hour. You’ll never have an even tan.

You annoy all your mates with talk about plants. You can’t go anywhere without buying seeds. You notice flowers in everyone’s gardens. You take photos of spiders and worms. You learn basic latin against your own will.

You panic when it’s windy in case the plants suffer. You panic when it’s sunny in case there’s a drought. You panic at the sight of frost. You panic when it rains too hard. You meltdown when there’s snow in March, you rain-dance when there’s drizzle in May.

You become “that girl who grows her own food, let’s ask her lots of questions about pruning roses”. You have to pretend you know what you’re doing. You spend more time with plants than with people.

You dig and you weed and you thin out and you sow and you water and you rake and you prune and you grow……..and you’re exhausted all the time.

Then something happens in the midst of it all.

You bring home a batch of fresh food from the garden, you cook some stewed rhubarb with fresh chocolate mint. You have a cup of lemon balm tea. You know you’re the luckiest woman in the world!



Gettin’ Diggy With It

On your mark ready set let’s go,
Garden pro, I know you know
I go psycho when the spring time hit,
Just can’t sit,
Got to get diggy with it, thats it.

It’s finally spring time, the temperature is rising, the mornings are brighter, there’s a grand old stretch of an evening, the winter coats are stored away, the first potatoes are in the ground and I’ve spent days upon days digging my soil. The plot, which is usually a disaster in March, looks weed free and ready for another rich gardening season.

Spring is the season of hope. The daffodils and crocuses announce the end of a very long and bleak winter which seemed to stretch on for longer than usual. The storms have eased, the frost is thawing and the garden gives birth to colour anew.

Most importantly maybe, Spring is the season of the shovel. Gardeners everywhere are spending hours, days, weeks, turning over their soil, raking it to a fine tilth, preparing it for the life it will soon sustain.


Feast your eyes on my glorious Rhubarb!

This March marks the beginning of year four on my allotment and I have spent a huge amount of time getting diggy with it in the past week. I whack on my earphones, get a cup of tea and dig and rake in time to the beat – apologies to anyone who may have seen me using my rake as a microphone, I can often be found dancing around the plot like a woman possessed. My arms and back ache, my ribs are tender, my legs feel like they’ve run 20 miles, my hands are bruised, splintered and ragged. I’m developing my annual gardening guns, hours of raking have toned up my biceps and my shoulders; sure who needs a gym when you have an allotment. Raking six large raised beds to a fine tilth is more resistance training than any gym could provide. I’m feeling healthy and happy again after a laborious winter of discontent.


The soil in my beds took two full days to dig and rake but boy does it look and feel good now.

On St. Patrick’s Day, I did what any proper Irish food gardener should do and planted up my early potatoes. This year, I’m growing a blight resistant variety named “Orla”, of which, I have heard nothing but high praise. As such, the new season has begun, I am buying seeds, mocking up planting arrangements and spending outrageous amounts of time in local gardening centres and hardware stores. The ground is still a little cold for this time of year so I am waiting an extra week or two to plant my onions and carrots so in the mean time I am sprucing up my plot and sprucing up this site. I thought it was fitting to redesign my blog, a new look for a new season, like the fresh lick of paint I am giving my  shed (I began painting it yesterday and it looks a bit like a wendy house so I’m reconsidering my options before I finish painting it and become the rock chick gardener girl with the fairy tale princess shed and destroy my street cred I’ve been working so hard to maintain).


I’m not quite sure about the candy pink shed….

Two 0f the six beds are freshly painted bright blue and the rest will be done next week. Then, it will be time to sow, sow, sow and before I know it, the plot will be lush and green and productive once more.

I’ve begun posting a lot of photos on my Instagram account so give it an old follow if you fancy seeing more regular posts about my daily progress on the plot. It’s great to be back, it’s great to be gardening, it’s great to feel like I have a purpose, and it’s great to once again, be gettin’ diggy with it.

Na na na na na na na nana
Na na na na nana…….


The canvas awaits

Turn, Turn, Turn

Hello, and Happy New Year from Fiona Grows Food.

It has been a bit of a strange few months, hence the lack of blog posts, many apologies to my regular readers. I’ve been pretty busy in work (Christmas is silly season in retail), busy partying, busy living, busy having a bit of an existential crisis. I’m not trying to sound melodramatic, I’ve literally been busy questioning my life choices, and in turn, questioning whether I even wanted to continue gardening anymore. As such, my allotment and the blog have gone to the wall a bit. In fact the past few months, I could have realistically renamed my blog Fiona Drinks Booze with the caption “scene missing” and it would have been a more accurate reflection of my lifestyle.

However, last Friday, something wonderful happened. It was the 2nd of January and I woke up, still nursing a bit of a sore head from New Year’s Eve and decided to get some fresh air, clear the cobwebs a bit and see what state of disarray my poor garden had fallen into over the weeks of winter neglect. I hauled myself out to the plot, expecting the worst horrors that a neglected allotment had to offer. On arrival, however, that feeling came over me, that “I love this place” feeling that I only get in the garden. That complete happiness.

It was cold, wet and grey, there wasn’t a soul to be seen on site, aside from a hare who was fast asleep beside my shed who ran thundering past when I woke him. I remembered just how good the garden made me feel, there’s a sense of peace there, a sense of belonging.

Needlessly to say, the plot was looking a bit anarchic. There were – somehow, despite the cold months- weeds everywhere. There was a huge pile of muck and debris in one corner where my old compost heap had been which I tore apart in a rage in November, on my last visit to the plot in 2014.

The bloody state of the place!!

The bloody state of the place!!

The terrifying fennel, this thing was bigger than my head

The terrifying fennel, this thing was bigger than my head

There were last year’s unharvested vegetables: some sad looking brussel sprouts, a patch of limp leeks, a monstrous florence fennel, the world’s most overgrown sage plant, a bamboo wigwam chocked with the dead foliage of broad beans, bare arsed raspberry canes towering like seven foot tall harbingers of death over everything. Mud. Mud everywhere. More weeds. I sighed, put on my wellies, my trusty fingerless gloves, then I got my hands dirty.

You see, the past few months, I’ve been finding it difficult to get to the plot for varying reasons, work, social commitments, but also, a lack of motivation to get out in the cold depths of winter. I’d lost that thing that makes me obsess over seeds, soil and spades. It was gone. I had no desire to garden at all. I was bereft. But the moment I plunged my hands into soil last Friday, it all came flooding back, I was back in touch with my garden again, with myself.

I spent the day moving around my plot with a natural gardener’s kinesis, pulling up unwanted plants, turning over the soil in the beds, smelling handfuls of muck, talking to worms (yes I do that), building a new compost bin, stopping every now and then to smell the salty sea air, to feel the rain on my face.

I was refreshed, full of excitement at the potential of a whole new garden year. A clean slate, a chance to do better, to do greater. A chance to grow. Consequently, the planning has begun.

I often think January is the best month of the year for a gardener. There is next to no planting or harvesting, there is little in the way of work in the garden, apart from cleaning up the ravages of winter and preparing for a new year. There is simply hope. I spend the long, dark evenings dreaming up what weird and wonderful plants I can grow in the following months. Thus, the lists have begun. I have about 12 lists as of today. What to grow, where to grow it, how to grow it, when to grow it, where to get it, how to get the soil ready for it. The year stretches out before me like a blank canvas waiting to be painted and the garden is my brush.

The canvas awaits

The canvas awaits

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about seasons and time. Maybe my waning interest in the garden lately was simply a matter of seasonal affective disorder, maybe when my garden dies in winter, my desire to be there dies along with it. Thankfully, the seasons change and the garden changes with them, as does the gardener.

I am waiting with great excitement for this season to change, for the days to get longer, for the grand stretch in the evenings, for the spring sun to warm my soil and give light to life on the plot. Until then, it’s lists and seed hoarding and planning for me.

On a final note, as I stood on the plot the other day listening to the radio, this song came on which make me snort with laughter, talk about appropriate timing. I sang it while I thought of Summer, and of all the hopeful things to come in 2015.

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October has landed with a bang. Literally. Having had a glorious summer and a beautiful, warm, September, the weather here in Dublin is finally catching up with the calendar. Last night saw a bad storm with gale force winds and driving rain, knocking trees over, downing power lines, dislodging slates from rooftops and causing a bit of a commuter’s-hell-on-earth this morning. There was flooding, lots of flooding, not quite Noah’s Ark level of flooding, but enough flooding to create holes in the road and for the trains to be cancelled. I even have a friend whose car was crushed by a tree.

I have fears about the structural integrity of my shed and polytunnel, but due to other commitments, I can’t even check the damage until the weekend. *cue the tense music from countdown*

All that being said, I absolutely love this time of year. I love the smell of Autumn, I love the falling leaves, the colours, I love the fresh weather, the impending festive season, and of course, I love Halloween.

With harvest season drawing to a close and the long winter months stretched out ahead of us, us gardening folk can forget that this time of year is one of the most crucial in the garden. It’s time to get dirty, really, really dirty. It’s time to pull up all the dying plants, it’s time to compost, to mulch, to leaf mould, to manure. As my Dad eloquently put it yesterday, having spent a day wheelbarrowing manure in his own garden, “It was the sh*ttiest day of gardening all year”.

I haven’t had the best of luck this year with the garden, truth be told, a combination of bad weather, a bad experience and some bad motivation led to a bit of a lazy gardening year. I need to get my bum in gear and quickly if I want to get ahead of myself for next year. I am going to plant some over wintering alliums this weekend, garlic, winter onions and shallots benefit from being planted now, just before the cold weather really kicks in and hopefully I’ll plant some other veggies too, any suggestions are very welcome.

I also have great plans for a leaf mould mountain this year, having never made leaf mould before. So, if you see me walking around with great black sacks, stuffing them with leaves, I haven’t gone crazy, leaf mould is a great soil improver. I’ll just find it hard to resist kicking through the leaves, is there any better feeling then kicking a pile of leaves in autumn. No, the answer is no, and if you disagree, you are wrong.

I have a very busy few weeks of gardening ahead so I’ll be ploughing away as much as I can (see what I did there? I’m hilarious).

Quick FionaGrowsFood news round up:

I’ve been doing some volunteer work at a local garden project which I really love and which I am planning to continue for the foreseeable future.

In other news, FionaGrowsFood was also announced as a finalist in the Irish Blog Awards which took place last week, and although I didn’t win, I am honoured to have even been nominated so thank you to my readers and friends who nominated me, your continued support means the world to me. Huge congratulations to the winners, especially David over at Beyond The Wild Garden, his is my favourite Irish blog and I’m delighted for him, very much deserved.

Oh and in one last update, I have a super-secret, super-exciting trip coming up in a few weeks to somewhere super-awesome and will be flooding my blog with pictures and stories so keep an eye out. I’m super, SUPER, MEGA, SUPER, AWESOME, EXCITED.     SUPER.

2014-09-13 13.04.37

Beautiful Autumn Blues

It’s been a very busy few weeks in the garden. It’s mid September and harvest season is drawing to a close. My raised beds are beginning to look very empty, the polytunnel is bare and my perennials are beginning to wither away for the winter.

Strangely enough, even with the plot looking worse for wear, it’s a great time of year in the garden. The weather is good, there’s always something to harvest and all the plans for next year begin to form. On Saturday, the weather was surprisingly hot for this time of year, it seems we’re having an Indian summer. It hasn’t rained in a few weeks, which shows on the plot, my soil is dry and cracked and very difficult to cultivate. That being said, I’m not complaining, I’m enjoying the nice weather while it lasts.

2014-09-06 13.32.17
A few weeks ago, I harvested my red and white onions and I’ve had them drying in the polytunnel. I didn’t have a huge amount of success with my onions this year, most of my red onions didn’t bulk up, no doubt because of the very dry summer. However, I did get a lovely crop of Stuttgarter Giant onions. I’ve had another rhubarb rich year, it just thrives in my soil and is no doubt my most prolific crop. Every time I visit the plot lately, I have peas to harvest too, it’s just a shame I never get them home as I have a tendency to eat them while on the plot, they’re just too irresistible.

2014-09-13 14.18.55
With growing season all but winding to a close, I’m beginning to clean up the plot (and believe me, it needs it) and plan for next year. It won’t be long before I’m covering up the raised beds for winter. I do plan on planting some over wintering crops like purple sprouting broccoli (a personal favourite), winter cabbages and garlic. It’s also the time of year to begin planting spring bulbs, this year I hope to plant a full array of spring flowers to begin next year with a splash of colour. For now, I’ll just have to be content with the beautiful Autumn blues of my herb garden.

2014-09-13 14.37.05

I’ll also be beginning to collect fallen leaves to make a leaf mold to use on the plot next year. A gardeners work is never done, in fact, I dont think I’ve ever had such a long to do list for the garden. In part this is due to a busy summer during which, I didn’t exactly neglect the plot but I didn’t get to put in as much time as I would have liked.

The past few weeks I’ve put in more work on the plot than all year and it is beginning to pay off, though there is still a huge amount of work to do. The messy corner is still a disaster and the whole section outside my polytunnel lies empty.

2014-09-13 13.48.23

We had a harvest day on site a few weeks ago so I’ll be writing about that tomorrow. Until then, happy growing and happy harvesting.