January Gardening Newsletter 2024
Dear Fellow Gardeners,
This year was certainly one of the more difficult years in the vegetable garden with enough rain to put off any new aspiring vegetable gardener. The good news is that every bad year is usually followed by a great year so hopefully 2024 will be an amazing year in the garden. All gardening jobs, especially hoeing and weeding are so much easier and more pleasant if we can do them in the sun.
After moving to Newport in Co. Mayo this autumn, I decided to travel a bit less for work, do fewer organic inspections and spend more time with my family and in the garden.
Our dream is to start a garden of a thousand edible plants which will also be a place where we can run gardening courses. We are still looking for a suitable piece of land we could buy in Mayo.
Planning your vegetable garden
Make yourself comfortable with a nice fire and reflect on the past year. Try to remember what crops or even what varieties have done well. Try to remember which sowing and planting dates were the best in your garden. Sometimes we can’t remember the varieties or the sowing dates for many crops. So the first thing is to buy a nice diary and record all the essential cropping information the next year.
I still remember clearly my little notebook I had when I trained with Michael Newton in his bio-dynamic market garden in Scotland over 30 years ago. I referred to it for over 5 years until I could finally memorise them.
A diary will provide you with the most valuable information you can ever get: you’ll be able to identify what does best in your very own garden. If something does well you’ll know how to repeat it the following year and if something fails you know you’ll have to change something. The most likely changes you’ll have to make is changing the variety, the sowing date (probably sow later) or the soil preparation/feeding technique.
Planning can be quite simple. You can set it up in a table format – either handwritten or on the computer. That’s the way I do it:
If you can use excel on the computer, it will allow you to sort your plan and will sort the data as a sowing plan.
Plant a tea herb garden
You can create the nicest tea herb garden if you have about 3 to 4 m² of garden space available. If not you can grow them all in pots. I’m not really a fan of the pre-packed herbal tea bags, so please even if you don’t like herbal teas yet, give this one a go. This recipe is fabulous.
You need the following herbs plants:
1 Lemon balm
1 Lemon verbena
1 Green or Bronze Fennel
1 Golden Marjoram or Oregano
1 Sage (Purple or Green)
1 Moroccan Mint (grown in a large pot and not in the herb garden!)
3 Lemon or Orange Thyme
These make up the basic mixture but you can add other tea herbs according to your taste:
All those herbs are so easily grown. Apart from keeping them weed free and the occasional pruning there is very little else to do.
Many of them are HERBACEOUS PERENNIALS. This simply means that they live for many years and all the leaves die back in winter before they start to grow again in early spring. This is how they protect themselves from the cold. Examples of herbaceous perennials are lemon balm, mint, fennel, and other culinary herbs such as chives and bergamot. Herbaceous perennials should be pruned back at to ground level in late winter. I also sometimes prune them to ground level in summer when they look a bit tired. New fresh shoots will appear soon after. EVERGREEN PERENNIALS include thyme, sage and other culinary herbs such as rosemary.
How to make a herbal tea?
Making your own herbal tea is so easy – you simply harvest shoots of the various herbs until you have a large handful, squeeze it in your hands to release the essential oils and then put them into a teapot, pour boiling water over it and wait for 3-5 minutes.
A pamphlet for Jerusalem artichoke
I have grown and researched this wonderful vegetable for many years. I even suggested to my wife that my next book will be called: “Jerusalem artichokes – the most forgotton and misnamed vegetable”. You can expect her reply – “who on Earth would want to read about Jerusalem artichokes?” I had to agree but I can still share some of writing I did.
The aim of this booklet is to promote this ancient, half-forgotten vegetable and also to campaign to re-name it as “Sunroot”, because as you will read later, it has been falsely or mistakenly named Jerusalem artichokes. To avoid initial confusion I will still refer to it as Jerusalem artichoke.
Jerusalem artichokes have been grown in Europe since 1605. Their popularity has waxed and waned throughout the last few centuries. Generally in times of food shortages or potato failures, it has gained in popularity. However, when the crisis reverted, people quickly went back to the potato.
I am surprised that it has never become a staple crop. In one way it doesn’t make sense as it is a much hardier crop than the potato and can withstand frosts, it doesn’t suffer from any of the many troubles the potato encounters and it yields even higher than the potato. Could it be the knobbly shape of the tubers or the effects it causes due to its high inulin content which gives it the nickname “fartichoke”?
However, with new findings of its health and environmental benefits, Jerusalem artichoke is set to become an important food crop throughout many parts of the world. Due to its low glycemic index (GI) score, it is an ideal food for diabetics. It contains no cholesterol, plenty of iron, potassium, fibers and antioxidants and most importantly inulin. There is an increasing worldwide demand for inulin as a healthy sugar substitute and also as a prebiotic.
More and more research points to its health benefits and I’m sure that within a few years the poor neglected “Sunroots” will at least become an important health food.
I know the next question – how do they taste? A simple answer – delicious! They can be cooked just like potatoes and can even be eaten raw.
Growing Jerusalem artichokes
The Jerusalem artichoke is definitely one of the easiest and most highly productive vegetables to grow. It is grown for its edible tubers which have the appearance of a knobbly potato. It can also be grown as a livestock feed both for the tubers and foliage. Some people grow them as an ornamental plant, especially the more flowering types.
There are a number of varieties available in Europe, but unfortunately none of them are well known or easily available. Over the last few years I have collected 20 varieties. Unlike the potato it appears to be completely free of any diseases. The Jerusalem artichoke is extremely high yielding and can grow in relatively poor soil. We achieved yields of up to 100 t/ha (10kg/m²) in Ireland. In appearance the plant is very similar to the sunflower and is sometimes called “tuberous sunflower’.
Photo: Jerusalem artichokes grown in Co. Kilkenny
I am surprised why not more people grow this amazing vegetable especially given the fact that it is very nutritious and highly beneficial for people suffering from diabetes. In Germany it is commonly known as the “Diabetiker-Kartoffel” (diabetes potato). It’s also very delicious and can be used in various ways in the kitchen. It can be eaten raw – grated in a salad or cooked, boiled, roasted or blended in a soup.
However, when you eat them initially they may cause wind and bloating. Thus it is important to slowly ease yourself into eating them.
Jerusalem artichoke is also one of the best prebiotic foods and encourages all the good bacteria in the lower gut. The rumbling in your stomach and other side-effects are the result of the feeding of all the good bacteria – a good sign!
Jerusalem artichokes are still an under-utilised crop but due it’s highly beneficial medicinal uses it is quickly gaining in popularity in many countries throughout the world.
Jerusalem artichokes make an ideal crop for a permaculture garden as they can be grown as a perennial and can live up to 30 years. In fact, it is one of the very few vegetable crops that can survive in the wild without the care of a gardener.
This booklet aims to revive and popularise an ancient vegetable that deserves more attention.
Picture: Jerusalem artichoke tubers
- The naming of Jerusalem artichoke
The name ‘Jerusalem artichoke’ is very misleading as it has nothing to do with Jerusalem and is not an artichoke. It was simply a false interpretation from the Italian name “Girasola articiocco” – the sunflower artichoke. Girasola means ‘turning to the sun’. Jerusalem artichoke flowers are identical to small sunflowers and they also turn towards the sun. When the Jerusalem artichoke was brought into England in 1617 the name ‘Girasola’ changed into ‘Jerusalem’ and for some reason this mispronunciation of the word has stayed until today. In a book published in 1620 by Tobias Venner, an English doctor, Girasole was translated into “Jerusalem” and for some reason this has stuck until today. English chefs made a delicious Jerusalem artichoke soup and it was aptly named “Palestine Soup” even if it was unknown in Palestine and the recipe is still available (see px)
On the continent, it is mostly called Topinambur (German) or Topinambour (French). But unfortunately even this name is a misnomer and has nothing to do with this wonderful crop.
This mistake originated in France when several members of a Brazilian tribe called the ‘Tupinambas’ or ‘Topinamboux’ were brought to Paris in 1613 as a curiosity. This was around the same time as the Jerusalem artichoke was introduced. Since then, the French, Germans, Romanians, Russians and Spanish call the “Sunroots” by its wrong name – Topinambour.
A separate account reported of a visit from the same Brazilian Tupinamba tribe to the Vatican in 1615 and this coincided when a sample of a Jerusalem artichoke tuber was on display there at the same time.
In America, Jerusalem artichokes are often known as “sunchokes”. This name was created in the 1960’s by a Frieda Caplan, a Californian vegetable wholesaler to popularise this vegetable. I’m not sure why such an unappetising name was chosen, but it seems to have stuck in America.
Other names for this delicious vegetable include tuberous sunflowers, woodland sunflower, earth truffle and earth apple.
The Native Americans called them sunroots which is definitely the best name for this wonderful vegetable. The Cheyenne name is “hohinon” (meaning: brought back by the scouts) and the Pawnee name is “kisu-sit” (meaning: tapering, long). The Cree Indians called the plant ‘askipaw’ and the Huron Indians of eastern North America called the plant ‘skibwan’ (raw thing).
Agri-Culture – Reconnecting People, Land and Nature by Prof.Jules Pretty.
I have read this book many years ago and still keep dipping into it. Prof. Pretty’s argument is that agri-culture has changed into agri-business. The culture has been taken out of agriculture. He explores the social and environmental costs of this ‘divorce’ of farming and culture with case-studies and scientific analysis. He gives a great balance between story telling and analysis. He also attempts the massive task on calculating the external costs of agriculture (cost of degraded soil, water pollution through run-off, pesticide damage etc).