Monthly Archives: March 2011

Book Review: Vegetable, Fruit and Herb Growing in Small Spaces by John Harrison (Kindle Edition, 2010)



Description; You don’t need an allotment or even a garden to grow your own..
This book covers all you need to know to successfully grow in containers, window boxes or even hanging baskets. If you do have a small garden, it tells you how to get the most from it.


This simple, straightforward guide, written in plain English with black and white illustrations, is not designed for the coffee table. It’s a manual to help those who really want to provide something for the table by their own efforts.

This book is a good reference for the beginner. It is nicely divided into chapters about fruit, vegetable, herbs, tools etc. However it is only useful as an initial reference and it is not the practical ‘how to’ guide I was expecting it to be. There are definitely a lot of really useful tips for many of the foods described, drawing on the author’s extensive experience growing his own. However, when faced with a packet of seeds/ a fresh cutting this is not the correct place to search for step by step instructions for turning them into dinner.

On the upside the writing style is really easy to read, not alienating at all. I enjoyed every minute and read the whole thing cover to cover, so to speak. It is available in Kindle format which is really nice and it was cheap, less than £5 on Amazon. If you buy it on the author’s website it is a little bit more expensive but you get it signed and he will give you free seeds with it. If I didn’t have a Kindle I would definitely choose to buy it from his website. The book doesn’t contain any photos but it doesn’t really need any. There are illustrations where necessary and these come out crisp on the Kindle version.

Maybe it is my fault that I was a bit disappointed by the lack of instructions, maybe I misunderstood the product description. I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed that John didn’t include just a little bit more detail about each crop so as to make this into a really good reference. All that said it is definitely a really good place to start if, like me, you have no idea where to begin, what you can grow in pots or you just want some inspiration. I am planning to read it again as I enjoyed it thoroughly and it is not too long. This time I am definitely going to take notes and make myself a growing ‘wish list’.

Info (as of March 21st 2011): Paperback on Amazon £3.89; Kindle Edition on Amazon £3.70; Paperback from John’s website, signed, with £5 voucher (for Harrod Horticulture Online) and £10 worth of free seeds £5.99; John’s website


Back in Action!


Great news; we’re in England now and even though we don’t know where we will be living for the next while (somewhere in London) we are settled just about enough that we decided to get on with planting seeds. It’s sort of hard to know what we should get going seeing as we don’t know where we will be living. Nonetheless we are going to take our chances and hopefully we will have somewhere to put our lovely vegetables by the time they are getting big! The only thing we cant really get started is any sort of root/ ground vegetables like beetroot. I really want to try to grow beetroot this year and March is the time we should get sowing, but we will have to be patient as we don’t fancy having to lug anything as heavy as a big container of damp soil to our new apartment when we do find it. On the upside, the beetroot seeds are actually still in shipping so we wouldn’t have been able to plant them yet anyway!


We went to a small gardening centre near where we are staying this morning. The very helpful man working there advised us that we should use normal multi purpose compost mixed with something called vermiculite for planting our seeds. I have just gotten around to investigating it and vermiculites is a mineral. Weird. Well when you buy it for gardening it is all dried out and looks like pellets. We were advised to mix it through the compost, using no specific ratio, and break it all down. You should be able to see bits of vermiculite in the end product. We had 12 small pots to fill to we used 12 pots of compost with 3 pots of vermiculite. This looked ok so hopefully it will be good for our seeds.

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Strawberries- Cambridge Favourite

We were lucky that we also managed to pick up 3 small ‘Cambridge Favourite’ strawberry plants in the same garden centre, only £1 each! We didn’t have much success growing strawberries from seed in Kunming. I think it is more usual to grow them from runners so now we have got 3 to get us going and in the future hopefully we will be able to cut runners off them and propagate more plants. Each plant was in a really small pot, maybe 2” diameter, so we used some multi purpose compost to transplant them into bigger, about 5” pots. Adam is a bit nervous about leaving them outside but I think that because they are native (as far as I know) they should be fine in a nice sunny spot. So, for now, they are up against a nice warm wall outside. We really think everybody (in this part of the world) should have strawberries in their gardens, they grow really easily and if you buy the fruit in the supermarket it is not only really expensive but it also doesn’t taste that good. I suppose there are a few problems with growing it yourself, like birds eating all the fruit or the fruit all maturing in the same instant. I think we will be happy enough to make some jam or freeze the fruit if possible if we do end up with too much at once.

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We don’t actually know what variety of tomato seeds we have as they are from China and it either doesn’t say or we can’t read it. Either way we are using the same seeds we had so much success with in Kunming. We did 4 seeds, each in an individual small pot. The last time around we planted 5 seeds and they all took. Some were stronger than the others but all of them we strong enough to make good plants. Fingers crossed we have so much luck this time. In KM we didn’t really have the space or soil to actually grow 5 plants so we ended up favouring the two strongest ones and abandoning the others. Here in England I think we will find it easier to either find the space or give them away. If we do have enough room in our new flat it will be great as both Adam and I are pretty obsessed with tomatoes and will definitely not have any problem finding a use for them… tomato salad, casseroles, pasta sauce, tomatoes relish, eaten raw by themselves… They are supposed to be small ones, that is all I know. Having a look at the Dobies seeds website I would guess they might be ‘Gardener’s Delight’.

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Courgette and French Beans- Black Beauty and Blue Lake

According to the back of the seed packets neither of these are supposed to be planted quite so early in the year. But we are impatient gardeners and we also think we can just try again if they really don’t work this early. So we planted two of each seed, each in an individual small pot. I was surprised to see that firstly, courgette seeds are really big and secondly, bean seeds are actually just dried beans. Is there any magic to this? I am beginning to think that maybe I don’t need to pay for half my seeds from now one. The tomato seeds also look a lot like somebody just dried the seeds from inside a tomato. The courgette and bean seeds have to go into the soil upright I think. One thing we were not clear about for the tomato, courgette or beans is how deep the seeds should go. I pushed each of them down almost to the first joint on my finger, maybe 20mm. I hope that is ok.

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Basil- Sweet Genovese

We didn’t have much success with basil in China but we are pretty determined to grow some so we decided to give it another go. Just to be on the safe side we planted 4 pots of it, if we have too much it won’t be difficult to give away I am sure, or make lots of yummy pesto with it. The instructions suggest planting a lot of seeds into a small pot and then transplanting them. I am not sure if there is any advantage of this other than saving space. In order to save ourselves the hassle of transplanting, seeing as we have enough borrowed pots to keep us going, we planted the seeds straight into their final pots. The 3 slightly smaller ones got 4 seeds each and the bigger one got 5 seeds. The seeds were just placed on top of the soil and then another fine layer scattered over the top of them. I believe they can rot if they get too damp, but they should be moist. I am not really sure exactly how I am expected to water them with such specific requirements. We’ll see if this batch are any stronger than our failed crop a few months ago.

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Cuttings- Rosemary and Bay

The final thing we did this afternoon was had another go at getting some rosemary and bay cuttings going. We cut them about 3” long, cut the end diagonally and removed the leaves from the lower half of the cutting.

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We then dipped them into rooting powder, which might be old and not work any more but we gave it a go. In the middle we were thinking the bay leaves seemed a bit big so we cut the leaves in half and it seems, according to book we checked later, that is the advised method. It also seems, according to that book, that we should have cut the end straight across (not at an angle) and just under a leaf ‘knuckle’. Woops, we cut them just over a ‘knuckle’.

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We did make really cute little ‘incubators’ for them out of used plastic bottles though, so maybe they will be so happy and warm in there that they won’t even notice the mistakes we made!

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Here is our awesome collection of seeds and cuttings all finished and inside a sort of shed with a glass door. Hopefully it will be warm enough in here for them. See how clever we have been and planted everything into slightly different pots so we can easily see what is what! The best thing is that we managed to get all this done, including going to the garden shop, in only 3 hours! I am quite pleased with that because much as I love the idea of growing our own food I really don’t want to get tied up every single weekend for hours labouring over it. Is that a bit lazy of me? I don’t really think so!


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