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March in the GIY Garden

The rise of carbs such as rice, pasta and cous cous has seen sales of potatoes decline by 20% in the last decade.  In fact Bord Bia reports that sales of the spud could fall by as much as 40% in the next decade if the trend continues unchecked.  The spud’s reputation has taken a hammering of late – it is deemed a little old fashioned, fattening and a hassle to cook.  
Take a deeper look beneath the headlines however and you find a product that’s far more than just a carbohydrate.  Take away the copious quantities of fat that we often add through cooking (or post-cooking) of potatoes and you have an exceptionally healthful low-calorie, high-fibre food that’s also a great source of potassium, vitamin B6 and vitamin C. It is also generally speaking an entirely unprocessed food and let’s be honest, the same simply can’t be said for pasta.
To top it all, at a time when more of us are committed to supporting local foods, the potato is a genuinely home-grown product, and by buying it we support a huge local industry of growers and packers (whereas sweet potatoes are generally imported from the US).  Thankfully, the potato is one of the few remaining vegetables where Irish people generally won’t tolerate a foreign import equivalent and that’s good for the environment too. 
Few of us are lucky enough to be able to grow enough spuds to be self-sufficient and that’s fine – it’s good to grow some of them ourselves AND support local growers at times of the year when we don’t have our own.   I like to think that GIYers can act as the ultimate spud ambassador - as growers we get to understand this wonder-crop a little better and at a time when the number of potato varieties is reducing sharply (with Irish tastes increasingly consolidating around Roosters), we get to try lots of different varieties and sample the flavours.  
So in March we celebrate St Patrick’s Day in our house with the ritual of sowing our early potatoes.  I don’t buy the idea that spuds are old-hat or that their best days are behind them – in fact I think it’s only a matter of time before contemporary Ireland falls in love with them all over again.  After all they are a healthy, local, seasonal super-food – so what’s not to love?

Things to do this Month

To Do
Continue to prepare ground – there is still time to prepare a plot to grow veg this year. Fork or rake over existing beds, breaking up large clods of earth. Cover new seedlings with fleece if a frost is due.  Start your daily slug patrols and lay beer traps. Don’t let new-season weeds take over – get on top of them with weekly hoeing.  
Indoors:  lettuce, aubergine, peppers, cucumbers, celery, celeriac, sweet corn, basil, leeks, summer cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, parsley, courgette, French beans.  Sow outdoors or under cover: broad beans, red cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, spinach, kale, Brussels sprouts, onions, leeks, turnip, peas, radishes, early lettuce, asparagus.  Plant your first early seed potatoes, as soon as weather conditions allow. 
This month you could be enjoying (from the ground and from storage) onions, leeks, parsnips, potatoes, some varieties of lettuce, mint, sprouting broccoli, kale, rhubarb, chard, the first of the spring cauliflowers and cabbage, and spinach (perpetual, spinach beet).  
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