Grow Your Own Food in 2024


I know we’re all sick and tired of the rain, but I’ve just come back from a trip to Canada and a Climate Farm School at Spannocchia, a 2,000 acre estate in Tuscany. Ironically, everywhere I went, the predominant topic of conversation was also rain but actually the lack of it.

On a visit to Trails End Ranch near Nanton, less than an hour from Calgary in the province of Alberta and close to the Rocky Mountains, we met a trailblazing couple Tyler and Rachel Herbert who are raising grass fed cattle on the prairie lands they share with both brown and grizzly bears, elk, bison, wolves, coyotes, whitetail, deer and the occasional cougar.
Their beef has a loyal following of devotees, who are grateful for the sustainable, humane and environmentally friendly way they rear their red and black Angus cattle. They are lone voices in mostly huge feedlot territory where thousands of cattle are reared in pens.
From the farm shop on the farm and online, they sell quarter, half and whole animals to restaurants and discerning customers all over Canada who crave the flavour of their grass fed meat, but it’s not easy. Prior to the snow, which now covers the prairies, they hadn’t had rain for over five months so didn’t manage to save any of their own hay this Summer nor did their neighbours. Consequently, the price of a bale of pesticide free hay is €230 this year as opposed €120 last year. They need five bales a day to feed their hundred cattle throughout the winter, the difference between profit and loss.
Needless to say, they are fearful for the future, particularly of family farms and have no idea what’s ahead. It’s even more alarming when we learn that Canada is warming at twice the global average. Here in Ireland on the other hand, because of the constant rain, many farmers are struggling to harvest some of last year’s crops while others are unable to get seeds planted for future harvests.
We are sleepwalking into a food security crisis and unlikely though it may seem, we will see food shortages sooner than we think.
So, let’s get proactive in our own space, start a conversation with your family and friends about growing some of your own food. You’d be astonished just how much could be grown in a small space – consider joining a community garden e.g., Community Roots  
Fresh herbs, grow despite you and almost favour poor soil. (Forget basil, it’s out of season,  hails from sunnier climes and hates the Irish Winter).
If you’ve never grown a thing in your life, a fun thing to do is to buy a bunch of scallions, Use some of the green tops, plant the rest individually into soil, a raised bed, barrel or pot, they’ll continue to grow and you can go on snipping the juicy tops every time you need a little green onion for scrambled eggs, an omelette or frittata…
For Christmas, how about giving packets of seeds as a pressie, maybe a digging fork and trowel or even a wheelbarrow plus a How to get Started, gardening book.
For example, Klaus Laitenberger’s books ‘The Self-Sufficient Garden’, ‘Vegetables for the Irish Garden’ and ‘Fruit and Vegetables for the Polytunnel and Greenhouse’ are brilliant for Irish conditions as are the GIY Books, written by Mick Kelly and his team of passionate Grow it Yourselfers, maybe even ‘Grow, Cook, Nourish’…
It’s hard to beat the feeling of satisfaction and joy one gets from harvesting some of your own homegrown produce. You’ll want everyone to know you grew it and won’t want to waste a scrap. You’ll relish and appreciate every delicious morsel so much more than picking it off a supermarket shelf, plus you’re unlikely to spray it with toxic chemicals that you know will damage both the precious soil and your family’s health.
Share with your neighbours, and if you have a glut, have fun, making chutney and pickles or just freeze the surplus for another occasion.
We’ve still got lots of root vegetables and kale in the garden to see us through the winter months. Check out your local shop and Farmers’ Market.
How about making some yummy presents for Christmas hampers…

Sunchoke Soup with Chorizo Crumbs

Sunchoke is the US name for Jerusalem artichokes, a sadly neglected winter vegetable. They look like knobbly potatoes and are a nuisance to peel, but if they are very fresh you can sometimes get away with just giving them a good scrub. Not only are they a smashing vegetable but they are also delicious in soups and gratins and are high in inulin. They are a real gem from the gardener’s point of view because the foliage grows into a hedge and provides shelter and cover for both compost heaps and pheasants! Despite their name, apparently, they have no connection to Jerusalem, their name is an aberration of girasol, the French word for artichoke because the flavour is reminiscent of artichoke hearts.

Serves 8-10

50g butter

560g onions, peeled and chopped

1.15kg Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed, peeled and chopped

salt and freshly ground pepper

1.1 litres light chicken stock 

600ml creamy milk approx.


Chorizo Crumbs (see recipe)

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan, add the onions and artichokes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, cover and sweat gently for 10 minutes approx.  Add the stock and cook until the vegetables are soft. Liquidise and return to the heat. Thin to the required flavour and consistency with creamy milk and adjust the seasoning.

Serve in soup bowls or in a soup tureen. Garnish with chorizo crumbs.


This soup may need more stock depending on thickness required.

Chorizo Crumbs

Chorizo Crumbs are delicious used in so many ways.  We like to scatter them over potato, celeriac, Jerusalem artichoke or watercress soup.  They are particularly good sprinkled over cauliflower or macaroni cheese.  Keep in a box for several weeks and scatter when and where you fancy!

Makes 175g

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

125g chorizo, peeled and cut into 5mm dice

100g coarse breadcrumbs

Put the oil into a cool pan, add the diced chorizo.  Toss on a low heat until the oil starts to run and the chorizo begins to crisp.  Careful it’s easy to burn the chorizo, the oil should be BARELY warm.  Drain through a metal sieve, save the oil and return to the pan.

Increase the heat, add coarse breadcrumbs and toss in the chorizo oil until crisp and golden.  Drain and add to the chorizo.

Parsnip or Jerusalem Artichoke Crisps

We serve these delicious crisps on warm salads, as a garnish for roast pheasant or Guinea fowl and as a topping for Parsnip or root vegetable soup.  Also a welcome school lunch snack.

* Delicious crisps may be made from other vegetables apart from the much loved potato.  Celeriac, beetroot, leek and even carrots are also good.

Serves 6 – 8

1 large parsnip or 3-4 Jerusalem artichokes

sunflower oil


Heat good quality oil in a deep fryer to 150°C/300°F.

Notice the lower frying temperature because of the high sugar content in root vegetables. 

Scrub and peel the parsnips.  Either slice into wafer thin rounds or peel off long slivers lengthways with a swivel top peeler.   Allow to dry out on kitchen paper.

Drop a few at a time into the hot oil, they colour and crisp up very quickly.  Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle lightly with salt.

Kale Crisps

Suddenly Kale is the coolest thing, it’s all over the place, on restaurant menus, in Farmers’ Markets, even on supermarket shelves – kale crisps are the snack of the moment. I’m not complaining. I love kale and it’s super nutritious, we grow four varieties here at the school – Red Russian, Asparagus Kale, Curly Kale and Raggedy Jack.  We find curly kale best for this recipe.

Makes lots

250g curly kale

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

salt, a little sugar

Preheat the oven to 150°C/Gas Mark 2.

Strip the leaves off the kale stalks, tear in large bite sized bits, approximately 5 x 5cm and put in a bowl.  Sprinkle with extra virgin olive oil, a little salt and sugar, toss and spread out in a single layer on two baking trays. 

Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes or so until crisp.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool and crisp further.  Enjoy. 

Angels Hair (Carrot Jam)

An enchanting name for carrot jam.  Sophie Grigson shared this recipe when she taught a course at the Ballymaloe Cookery School in 1993.  I’m loving Sophie’s new book ‘A Curious Absence of Chickens: A journal of life, food and recipes from Puglia’.

600g carrots

500g caster sugar

zest of 2 large lemon, cut into strips

freshly squeezed juice of 2 large lemon

6 cardamom pods, split

Trim and scrape the carrots.  Grate on a medium sized grater.  Put into a pan with the sugar, lemon zest and juice and the cardamom pods.  Heat gently until the sugar dissolves, then boil hard until the mixture is very thick. 

Place into a warmed, sterilised jar and seal tightly. 

Serve on scones, wee buns or with goat’s cheese.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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