Category Archives: Book Reviews

August Summary

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August was a nice busy month. Early in the month we harvested another big crop of basil leaves and got to making some pesto. There was no real recipe involved; it was done by eye and feel. Pine nuts were put into a measuring jug and bashed up somewhat with the end of the rolling pin. Lots of torn up basil was added and a tonne of grated parmesan (about the same amount as the pine nuts) thrown on top. Finally it was topped up with olive oil and blitzed using the hand blender, because that is the only blender we have. We added a little more oil until the consistency seemed correct then ate some with pasta and popped the rest in a jar in the fridge with some olive oil over the top of it. Yum yum! The only shame was that the pesto in the fridge went mouldy before we got back to eating it. Supermarket pesto has a much longer shelf life, that was a real waste. I have now been tipped off by an Italian friend that we can freeze it in ice cube trays to prolong its life next time.

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I did plenty of reading in August and absolutely devoured You Grow Girl by Gayla Trail (a birthday gift from my very generous brother). I love her blog and found the book thoroughly enjoyable and very inspiring. The tone was just right for me and the illustrations were really cute. It is definitely a good book for every girl who has even a flicker of interest in growing plants. I immediately wanted to get outside and get to work with all the veggies. By now the vegetables had mostly recovered from the trauma of the move, some tomatoes were taking on a red hue, more and more flowers on the beans were slowly turning into tiny little French bean pods, and we were starting to get some courgettes too. Most the herbs were also in flower, which means we accidentally missed the harvest season for them. whoops!

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By mid-August the problem of no compost was becoming more significant. How do two urban gardeners, with no car, acquire a sack of compost in the middle of a city? Well, there is an answer to this conundrum. We took the bus to a large B&Q a couple of kilometres from our flat. We surveyed the shop and bought some seeds, containers, a lavender plant and a few other bits. Then later the same afternoon we borrowed a sack truck from our building. This is one of those two wheeled trolley used for moving heavy objects around. We wheeled it to the bus and headed off to B&Q again. Surprisingly enough the security guard seemed unfazed by us bringing our own trolley and was happy to let us bring it inside the shop. As we now had the truck with us we decided to take two bags of compost, two of the biggest bags in the shop; 120litres each! This was probably a mad folly, but the effort of taking a sack truck all the way to the shop was just too much to be repeated at regular intervals. So we staggered back to the bus stop, carefully lifted 240litres of compost plus truck on to the bus and headed off home!

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Armed with new supplies of soil and pots we immediately got out to the terrace to see what could be done. The strawberries have been sending off runners for months so Adam got to work potting most the runners in any containers he could find; small pots, finished butter tubs, half plastic bottles, re-cycled supermarket packaging. 

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IMG_1781By now the courgettes were suffering from an attack of powdery mildew so we started a routine of spraying the leaves twice a day with a mixture of milk and water. This seemed to work after a few days and we continued to get a few fruits, although they took longer to ripen than before.

 

I had intended to plant potatoes at the end of August in the hope of having some fresh new potatoes by Christmas. It turns out that it is extremely difficult to buy seed potatoes at this time of year and after a week trawling the internet I finally got desperate and decided to have a go at IMG_1810chitting my own potatoes. We had recently bought some new potatoes, of unspecified name, from the supermarket so I chose a few which were past their best and lined them up in an egg tray. I added a chopped shallot as I remember reading once that onion fumes can encourage potatoes to sprout. I put them in a dark place until I read that I should put them in a sunny place so they were moved! They are still chitting away and have a few sprouts.

Finally, in the last days of the month, we finalised the cleaning of the garden. There were some pots on the terrace when we moved in, mostly with dying plants in them and a few fake olive trees. On close inspection one of the very brown shrubs turned out to be a rosemary bush. It was in bad shape but I transplanted it to a larger pot and added plenty of compost to help it recover. There were some troughs with no plants in them so I added fresh compost to these and sowed turnip, beetroot and pak choi. Hopefully we will get some autumn crops from them. There were some pieces of broken pots in the bottom of them which I left in place as the troughs have no drainage holes. Fingers crossed that they get sufficient drainage. In addition to those somewhat appropriate crops for Autumn sowing I decided to chance a pot with two peas in it and a pot full of chives. Who knows, maybe they will work! I also filled up two indoor troughs with compost and sowed sprouting peas, rocket, radish and spinach on an inside windowsill.

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I feel all set for the Autumn now and the garden is looking lovely and tidy too!

Emma

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Book Review: 101 Facts you Should Know About Food by John Farndon (2007)

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Facts About Food

I read this book a short while ago. I really took my time reading it because the chapters are short and packed full of information. I found it really gripping. The reason I took my time was only so that I could absorb the information between readings!

I realise the book is a few years old so my only concern would be that it might be somewhat out of date by now. In my opinion, even if some of the ‘facts’ are not 100% accurate anymore it is still a brilliant book to read. The information was quite shocking in many cases and it really got me thinking about the whole food industry.

The Author is based in London but I don’t think this is a book exclusively for UK readers. Many of the facts refer to other countries. In this global economy, what is happening in one country is becoming more and more relevant to everybody else.

I recommend this book for people, like me, who don’t know where to start with all the books on the market about food, supermarkets, farming etc. It is a really good summary and all the references are cited so you can easily figure out what to read next.

While looking for an image of the cover of this book I found it available to read online here. If you are using a Kindle, like us, you can easily download this pdf and either convert it to Kindle format or read it as a pdf. It is really great so see so much valuable information available for free.

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

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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.

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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 http://www.allotment.org.uk/