GROWING FOOD: A No-nonsense Beginner’s Guide (part three)


Having grown food in pots and trays, we’re now ready to step outdoors and have a go in the garden. While it may seem a little late in the season to write this belated post, in many ways it’s just the right time, for reasons that will become clear. I’m keeping this post simple because (a) we’re using the same principles we used before (just in the garden this time), (b) it is a subject all too often mired in over-complexity and the occasional nonsense.


Similar to the first part of this series, you first need to decide if you really want to do this. Tending a vegetable patch, even a small one, can and will be difficult at times, not to mention that the further away your patch is from home, such as in an allotment, the harder will it be for you to keep up the routine of looking after it, especially once the initial excitement and novelty of this new hobby has waned. Don’t just imagine your vegetable patch in all its glory, also think of the rain, the snails and slugs, the blackflies, the weeds, and all the less appealing things that fair-weather gardeners conveniently forget about.


If you are determined, then you need to find or make your patch. When deciding, ask yourself the following:

– Is the patch accessible and practical for bringing in tools or even storing them? Is it perhaps even too accessible and prone to litter or vandalism?

– Does it receive adequate daylight and rain? Is it prone to flooding? Is it suitably sheltered from strong winds?

– Is it pest free? Do cats regularly use it as a toilet? Do foxes pass through it?

 Be honest with yourself, this patch needs to be built on common sense and reality, and not on well-meaning hippy ideals.


While the temptation to turn over the entire garden may be calling, building it up slowly over time is a better option, and one you will be glad you chose further down the line. As with every other part of growing food, start small, safe and neat.

To begin with, build a raised bed. You can either buy some in garden centers, or else build one by nailing three or more wooden planks into whatever shape you want. Keep it small – perhaps one or two square meters – you can always build more later. There are many advantages to using a raised bed filled with fresh compost, for a start you will be isolating the patch from the garden soil which might be contaminated with lead (if living in a city) or cat poo (among others), the bed will also give you a clear delineation for your veg patch, so you know exactly where you are drawing the line as to the space you are using. Building the bed as well as filling it with compost might cost you anything from £10 to £100, depending what resources you have access to, but at this stage a little investment is a good thing, testing your resolve and helping you decide to take the step.


At this stage it is important to still just think of this as a hobby, don’t place too many expectations on your shoulders, just enjoy yourself. As always, keep your equipment simple to begin with, a little trowel and fork for managing the soil, and any fancy things your friends and family might throw at you.

Starting late in the planting season (such as in August) can be an ideal time for beginners, as it would encourage you to plant simple and hardy things you can learn the basics from. Radishes are always a good start, as are chard and lettuce. Use a crop planner from a gardening book or off the internet (see an example here), or look on the back of seed packets to get an idea of what you can plant and when, but do keep it simple to begin with. In the first year you best want to focus on vegetables that grow reasonably fast. Come late autumn you can experiment with over-wintering crops such as onions and garlic. Whichever book or guide you choose to follow, don’t get bogged down in the details, just follow the basics and learn from mistakes.


Even if you find you are loving your new veg patch, proceed with caution, get to know the ins and outs of gardening and wait till a few challenges have tested you (bad weather, garden pests, weeds, etc.) before you decide to expand or upgrade. When gardening goes well you can feel on top of the world, but when things go wrong it can be severely demoralising. Remember, what’s the rush? Think of it as a course you will progress through over a number of years, getting better slowly but surely; let the activity slowly become part of your daily routine, to the point you barely notice it, as opposed to forcing yourself everyday to do more than you are either willing to or have the time for. Be in it for the long run.

This series of posts was created as a response to some of the frankly moronic ways in which food growing is sometimes taught, especially by the clan of organic perma-clowns who put their own agenda before their students’ needs. This series has aimed to keep track of the basics, helping any keen beginners realise that the skills are there to be learnt, simply and reasonably cheaply. You will know you are on the right track when you find that saving eggshells to use as a slug repellent and pollinating flowers to make your own seeds becomes as normal a part of your routine as brushing your teeth. And even if you eventually end up converting your whole garden to growing all sorts of fancy fruit and vegetables, you will all the more be able to think back to your first raised bed and your first precious crop of radishes, with the satisfaction of having learnt something new and mastered a noble skill. Along the way you will make many mistakes, these will both teach and test you; as hard as it can get, take comfort in the fact that you are making mistakes because you are gardening – you are the real deal, in the thick of it, which is more than some people can claim. Mastering the basics, of course, is just the beginning. As you carry on you can gradually start learning about the more advanced principles, such as crop rotation, making your own compost, and so on. Just take it one step at a time, give yourself credit for what you do achieve, and have fun.



Rain. Rain. Rain, rain, rain, rain. Rain, rain, rain, rain. Rain, rain, rain, rain. Sunshine . . . oh no, it’s rain. Rain. Rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain. Rainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrain. Rain…

 …did I mention rain?

Been a while since I wrote a post, having recently graduated things have been a little hectic. But in my absence it’s pretty much just been rain. And more rain. If our Spring was crap, this summer so far has been rubbish! Seems like all the rain we didn’t have over autumn and winter has been falling in the last couple of months, and although the weather has finally warmed up a bit, things in the garden are still growing ever so slowly. Naturally, the hardy crops that are radishes, turnips and beetroots are doing well, impervious to the weather, but the tomato plants, planted out over six weeks ago, are still tiny, apart from those in the greenhouse, and the same goes for the runner beans which are clearly struggling, and the cucumbers and pumpkins which are clearly dying. Meanwhile the pigeons have devoured the kale. The broad beans and peas came to an abrupt end after finally giving a decent crop, and the onions, shallots and garlic are mostly ready to harvest, and we best do so before they rot in the wet soil. Following from my previous post, in spite of the bad weather, we have managed to make the most of it, but it’s still been crap for what’s meant to be summer, even by UK standards.

I never used to check the weather report until I started getting involved with gardening, but five-day forecasts, such those on the BBC website, are about as useful as a chocolate teapot, as the forecast for any given day will change frequently, from sunny to grey, and raining, and back to sunny again, until the day arrives and we find they still got it wrong. Weather forecasts are bound to feature great margins of error (probably more so than any other industry would tolerate), but five-day forecasts are usually so inaccurate and changeable that the weather boffins may as well just say “we don’t know” and save everyone the trouble, although those words are almost taboo in the world of science – many people with PhDs (and many more without) these days would rather talk utter nonsense for an hour than admit they don’t know something.

On the plus side, the hosepipe ban has been lifted (hooray), not that many people knew or cared about it in the first place – my housemates it seems are incapable of turning off a tap properly, let alone deal with water conservation. The ban did, however, motivate me to improve our rainwater recycling system, which now has two large barrels which can be filled in the space of just one or two days of rain.

Also as a bonus the garden is (over)watering itself at the moment, which is handy (when it’s not killing the plants) as I’ve started a new job which requires me to be out of London on some weekends. This is fortunate, as the people who offered to help out over the summer have (unsurprisingly) yet to turn up; seemingly deciding that making a hollow commitment was the same as keeping it. Maybe it’s the rain, in which case I hope these non-helpers have finally had an epiphany and realized that gardening is an outdoor activity, and also that gardens, unlike their laptops and Ipods, do not come with a standby mode. Being mainly student-run, it’s only natural that most of our volunteers go away for the summer, and I don’t hold that against them. What I do mind is someone who says they will help and then don’t – a simple ‘no’ from the start would be much more helpful, letting me know exactly where they stand, as opposed to giving me false assurances.

Sadly, someone in the past few weeks has been accessing the garden with a key and yet been unable to show the mental skill to lock the gate properly behind them. This is both deplorable and depressing, considering that said person is (a) most likely a university student, (b) happy to access the garden but not to help out, (c) putting the whole project at risk through their inherent sloppiness. With projects like community gardens, all it takes is one careless or selfish cretin to ruin it for everyone else, failing to water the garden when they said they would, treating the garden as a free food market (putting aside their high morals just long enough to help themselves), and unable to tell when a gate is locked (here’s a clue: slide the bolt into the adjacent slot before locking the padlock).

I have found over the past year that those who talk the most about organic perma-culture are often the very same who never help in the garden, and yet some still expect to have access to it, wanting the privileges without the responsibilities. They have all the books, attend all the lectures and protests, sign every petition, and give it a lot of lip . . . but they have yet to plant a single seed. All the gear and no idea. And then to add insult to injury, they leave the gate unlocked. They may be a minority, but like I said, all it takes is one cretin to ruin everything.

What I admire about the people who helped out over the past year (and who will run the garden next year), is that most of them did so simply out of interest, coming when they could, making no false promises, and just keen to learn or to enjoy the outdoors, taking a break from their studies. This is much preferable to the sanctimonious “I only buy organic” types who generally only turn up for lunch and when the sun is shinning. It is ironic that it is the former group who will hopefully ensure the garden continues next year and learn much in the process, while the latter will just keep on talking, and talking, and talking, their elephant talk as ceaseless as the rain.

GARDEN NOTES: A Crappy Spring and the Myth of Seasons

Well, after such a warm-ish winter I guess one had to get payback. Spring so far in the UK has not been so much of a BOING as a PLOP; it’s still quite cold and the recent rain has been beyond excessive, reaching the level of being just boring. Even on the occasional sunny day the air has still been cold and the nights positively chilly. This is more than just an annoyance. For weeks now I’ve been waiting to transplant our tomato plants into the beds, and while the broad bean plants are growing fast, the lack of bees mean they are not being pollinated, leaving the beanless flowers to fade in the wet. The peas we planted last month have been growing ridiculously slowly, and I’m also concerned about the garlic and onions getting too much water, hoping they don’t start rotting in the soil. On the plus side we have planted the spinach and beetroot (albeit they too are not growing much), and we’ve planted some chili and tomato plants under small plastic greenhouses. The radishes are growing fairly impervious to the weather (good old radish, the short angry hard man of the garden world), as well as the potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes we are growing in sacks and tyres, and the rhubarb is still giving good. We’ve also received our new water barrel to connect to the shed roof to collect more rainwater – admittedly this has not been particularly necessary lately, but London is still officially in a drought. The rain unfortunately is probably only going to encourage Mr-A-Hole-who-washes-his-car-with-a-hosepipe-during-a-ban to only do so all the more, even if the recent downpour has not come even close to refilling the region’s water supplies.

I am of course unfairly comparing this spring to the spring of last year, which felt like summer while this year’s is one of the coldest on record. As I mentioned in the very first post I did for this blog, we should avoid falling into the trap of thinking there is any such thing as a normal season. In any case, where do these ‘normal’ seasons come from? Can anyone remember a season in any recent year that was consistently normal?

To some extent the notion of normal seasons comes through selective memory. I used to think that my childhood winters were always snow-covered, but the truth is I probably only remember those few days in winter when it did snow, as I associate them with happy memories of throwing snowballs and making snowmen, while the non-snowy days have naturally faded from memory. Similarly, when I think back to particularly good summers, I tend to remember just the two or three weeks of decent weather that year, perhaps backed-up with the memory of a sunny barbecue. All in all, I wonder how much of our perception of normal seasons is based on nostalgia, including scenes from classic movies or chapters from Enid Blyton books (I mean the Famous Five, not Noddy, that would be weird).

Ah, you might say, but what about seasonal averages? Once again, it is not unreasonable to suggest that normal seasons only exist on paper, based on averages. If in a ten year period you have five unusually cold winters and five unusually warm winters, these may average out as a ten year period of normal winters (though I would hope the clever weather boffins at the top take these things into account), that’s the nature of averages. The last four winters in the UK, for example, have all been way off the seasonal averages (either too hot or too cold), at what point should we stop thinking of these as abnormal occurrences?

Then again, we shouldn’t blame the experts, the weather people themselves just work with the stats, it’s their job to work out averages – it’s our fault for then interpreting these averages as equating some mythical ‘normal’ season. This is all very fine for trivial conversation which we Brits are so good at, the problem comes when parts of the economy starts relying on the seasonal weather remaining ‘normal’. The real crime of perpetrating the myth of seasons is when we create unreasonable expectations, such as expecting good harvests each year based on this ‘normal’ seasonal weather. The UK weather is like the modern-day economy, in that both are volatile and changeable but also full of people who think they can predict them. And of course a bad harvest these days is no big problem, but for the unfortunate farmers who go bankrupt. While in the past a bad harvest meant a winter of hunger or possibly famine, now it simply means having to import more food from elsewhere. How lucky we are! But the downside is that this safety measure has made us increasingly careless about the food we grow in this country and our understanding of the seasons.

I don’t know anything about farming, so I can’t comment on that, but as far as growing food in gardens goes we ought to just accept that the UK weather is volatile and always has been. Normal seasons are a myth! At the risk of sounding naive, let’s just be grateful for what we get each year, rather than complain about what we should get based on seasonal averages.

GROWING FOOD: A No-nonsense Beginner’s Guide (part two)

In the last sections we went through the basic preparations, mainly involving not getting ripped-off and looking after herb plants. Now we will look at growing food in pots, as a practice run for bigger projects.


This may seem like a bit of a childish activity, but if you’ve never grown food before this is a good way to start, as it is both instructive and rewarding. Cress is one of the easiest and cheapest things to grow, and you’ll be enjoying what you grow within ten days. Buy a small packet of cress seeds, sprinkle some of them onto a wet paper towel in a small tray or shallow container. Cover loosely with paper or card, or place in a dark place for the first day or two. After just 24 hours you’ll see the seeds already begin to germinate, after two days, once you can tell apart root and stem uncover or move them to a well-lit spot, making sure to keep the paper towel moist. After a week or two they will be fully grown and ready to pick to add to salads, soups or sandwiches. You can then keep growing more of it. Have several small trays growing cress in a rotation so you can harvest some every two or three days. Try the same with mustard seeds. Maintaining several trays growing in rotation is like managing a tiny garden, so it’s good preparation for the real thing.


Right, enough of the warm-up, let’s get planting. You’ll need a small bag of soil, suitable for growing food; a few pots for planting, either genuine or using recycled rubbish; and some seeds. What seeds to get? We want something cheap and cheerful, and all the better if you can get them straight from a vegetable.

Edible things you can grow in pots include radishes, nasturtium, basil (and other herbs from seed), tomatoes, carrots, garlic, lettuce, chard and spinach, amongst others. Unless the seed packet says otherwise, just poke a shallow hole in the soil, pop a seed in and cover lightly. Remember to water it gently at first so as not to wash off the top layer of soil and the seed! Radish seeds are cheap to buy, they grow reliably and fairly quickly and don’t require a large pot (a trusty Pot Noodle will do). The garlic and leafy plants can start off in something small and later be repotted into a bigger pot (or an old ice cream tub?) to give the roots more space; use old garlic cloves from your cupboard that have started sprouting. Tomatoes will probably require the most time and effort to grow, and are best repotted into a genuine pot to give it maximum space and support to develop. Furthermore, unless kept outdoors, you will probably need to pollinate the tomato flowers by hand, or have a few bees around for dinner (most modern tomato varieties can be pollinated using their own pollen, but they still need help with the actual pollination).

As mentioned in the last post, START SMALL. If you get too enthusiastic from the very start and have ten pots growing at once you may find you don’t have the time, energy or space to look after them all. So just try one or two to start with and take it from there, letting it gradually become part of your routine. Over time lookup information on the plants and try growing other small vegetables in pots. You’re not trying to live off the land yet, so be bold and experimental. Make mistakes, watch them die, get over it, and start again. Learn from this, take your time and enjoy yourself.

Admittedly, these babies are not going to see you through the winter, end world hunger or even win any prizes at your local flower and produce show. Does it matter? No. Why? Because at least you are doing, which is a lot more than some people can claim. Even if in one year of your busy life you only manage to grow one radish and a basil plant, it’s still better than just talking about it. The added advantage is that you can grow food in pots just about anywhere that receives adequate daylight, so you don’t even need a garden. If you have kids, you get to teach them something very valuable about food – a small lesson, but one that will hopefully stay with them. Unlike tending to a whole garden, it costs virtually nothing both in terms of time and money. So give it a try, grow a radish, it will take pride of place on your dinner plate.

In the next part we’ll finally start looking at the garden!

GROWING FOOD: A No-nonsense Beginner’s Guide (part one)

A Common Ground member recently told me she attended a talk about setting up an organic garden (which is more than I’ve ever done), and admitted that after being fed endless information about perma-culture, soil acidity and all sorts of other yadda-yadda, she came out of it more put off than motivated. So top prize to those organic perma-clowns for running that particular talk – yet another monumental failure in education!

I can’t be too critical of gardening experts, me being an ignorant amateur who accidentally ended up running an organic garden. But in my short time experimenting with growing food – with reasonable success – I have stuck with this simple rule: Growing food is about growing food, pure and simple. It’s not about crop rotation, it’s not about sustainability, it’s not about bla bla bla – these are all just additional extras. When you get a child to plant their first radish, chickpea or even cress, you certainly don’t start telling them about soil acidity or the embryonic dormancy phase of seeds (unless you’re aiming to put them off gardening for life). Simply put, a good way to start learning to grow food is to JUST PLANT SOMETHING AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS.

Still, here is a more specific guide for getting prepared. Apologies to anyone who thinks the next section is too simplistic, but I’ve seen people in London who barely know what a vegetable is, and so this guide is designed to give anyone a chance to have a go, no matter how little experience they have.


This may seem an odd one to start with, but what I mean is ask yourself: Why do you want to grow food? Is it to learn a new skill? To save money? To save the planet? To impress a girl or guy? Or is it just for fun? Those are all good reasons – except the second one. If you want to grow food to save money, then think again. As I mentioned in a recent post, when you tally in the cost and effort, growing food at home rarely comes out cheaper than market prices. If you want to save money, you can probably find a dozen other luxuries you can cut down on (booze, ciggies, magazines, petrol, crappy electronic gadgets with a fruit logo on the back, etc.).

Next, ask yourself: Do you really have the time and dedication to try this, or is it a passing whim that will die down after a week? A good test is to wait a week and see if you still want to do it. I’m not trying to be flippant, I’m just trying to save you time, money and effort. Some people get very excited about the idea of planting something and later eating it, but they are not so keen on the long bit in between which inconveniently constitutes 99% the food growing process, watching that little plant grow oh-so-slowly yet still requiring water, light and associated TLC.


One of the frustrating things about getting started with growing food is dealing with the initial expenses and preparation. Gardening books generally come with an equipment list as long as the Nile, the total cost of which would bankrupt Rupert Murdoch. Not only can this expense be both daunting and a strain on one’s finances, but it can also make the beginner think twice about starting up; after all, why buy all that equipment if you’re not even sure you’re going to keep this up for more than a few days? There is also the annoying inconvenience that gardening in most cases tends to require a garden, something that not everyone in the UK is blessed with.

Here are a few ways to keep costs down when getting started:

1) Don’t use the garden (yet).

There’s plenty of things you can grow indoors in little pots to begin with. These will serve as a good test both of your resolve and skills, as well as give you a leisurely start to this hobby without already having to stress about things like weeds or the weather.

2) Don’t buy gardening books.

Just tell your friends and relatives you are going to try to grow food and they will probably get you all the books you need for Christmas or your birthday (probably grateful of the fact they know what to get you). In fact, be prepared for at least one of your relatives to keep giving you gardening books for the rest of your life (there’s always one); if you are lucky they might even get you some gardening equipment, which would be a bonus. In the meantime, for information use the internet, support your local library or visit your local community garden.

3) Avoid gardening shops.

Gardening shops are ideal for experienced gardeners who know what they are after, and huge gardening centers do offer a great selection of equipment, plants, seeds, etc., but their prices can be deceptively expensive. As for the small, supposedly specialized gardening shops you sometimes come across in random places (or very middle-class shopping districts), they are often the worst offenders when it comes to ripping people off; I know it’s good to support independent businesses, but some of them do just take the piss. So, without having been paid to say this, go to a shop like Wilkinson’s where you will generally find the gardening basics you need at cheap prices. You can make all your early mistakes with that stuff before deciding to upgrade. There are of course benefits to buying the right equipment, first of all it does test your resolve a little bit, but without driving you out onto the streets; secondly tools and equipment do require some level of quality. This doesn’t mean you should buy a ridiculously over-priced and over-engineered spade that was designed by NASA scientists (I only exaggerate slightly), but neither should you buy a £1.99 excuse for a spade made of a metal so bendy it makes cream cheese look like solid steel. There is a balance to be struck.

4) Recycle rubbish.

I bet your bin is full of small plastic containers that came with the food you bought (instant noodle pots, yoghurt pots, ready salad boxes, etc.), so why buy a set of plant pots when you can reuse those? Poke a few holes at a bottom of an empty Pot Noodle and behold! You now have a plant pot.

5) Save your principles for later.

Controversial one. You will make mistakes at the beginning (such as over-watering or under-watering), that’s a given, so would you rather make mistakes with a cheap packet of seeds and soil and a recycled Pot Noodle (total cost £2), or with an expensive packet of organic-super-plus-luxury seeds and mightier-than-though fair-trade soil and a terracotta pot made by your local artisan (total cost £20+)? IDEALLY, we want to work our way toward growing food organically, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do so gradually. Just do make sure the soil you buy is suitable for food growing (check on the packet).


Before trying to grow a plant from seed, it helps to check if you can keep an existing one alive. Buy one or two herb plants, something simple, sturdy and pest free like rosemary or sage. DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT buy it from a supermarket, no matter how cheap it is, as most supermarket herb plants are artificially boosted and designed to die soon after you get it home (shame on them). This is a case where you can afford to visit a garden centre, you should find decent herb plants there for about £3, give or take. Find a good spot for it at home, depending on the plant, either indoors or outdoors. Ask at the shop for advice, or check the net. Keep the plant alive and healthy, use its leaves for your dishes or to make herbal tea, learning not to overuse it. If aphids attack then learn how to deal with them.

That’ll do for now. Enjoy the plant and learn from it. If it dies, it dies; you’ll learn from that too. Next we’ll look at actually planting things.

BOING!!! Spring in the Air!

Been very busy lately with writing my dissertation and exam revisions, but of course like Bruce Wayne’s batphone when the garden calls it cannot be ignored. As a result, what with the nice weather we’ve had lately, I’m possibly one of the few final year university students in the country to have a tan.

We’ve been sowing seeds in trays over the past few weeks, in the hope of transplanting them in late April. BUT that (CENSORED) of a mouse Jerry has been digging into the seed-sowing trays, eating the peas, pumpkin and cucumber seeds. I have recently installed hanging trays in the shed in the hope that Jerry can’t get to them, and laid yet more traps to catch him once and for all. Failing that I am thinking of taking out a contract with a hit-mouse, or perhaps hiring some mousenaries to hunt him down (the jokes just keep getting worse).

To prepare for planting we have been mulching the empty beds using plastic sheets, especially covering last year’s fallow bed after turning the soil over, which will resume service this month, leaving last year’s beetroot bed to lie fallow this year.

In preparation for sowing we also completely rebuilt the old garden hot-box for seedlings, making it sturdier than ever, in the hope of freeing up shelf-space in the shed. To be extra flash we added a frontal window to the box so that it would make the most of the morning sunlight. Foam pipe insulators were added help seal the edges of the perspex lid, but can be removed to provide extra ventilation.

Although it has been getting sunnier lately it the weather remains quite cold. But still, it is good to see the winter come to an end. We did some good work over the winter, especially taking satisfaction in doing some proper manual work with hammer and nails, repairing the compost bins, the shed door and the beds, and rebuilding the hot box. Speaking for myself, these are the kind of jobs that you just feel like staring at once you are done, taking pride in the fact you have built something with your own hands.

But now is Spring and a time for planting! We so far have beetroot, peas and tomato plants growing in pots, ready to transplant in the near future. We have also sown some carrots, cauliflowers and peppers, and resown some more pumpkin and cucumber seeds (hopefully Jerry-proofed). Because we use soil made on-site from compost, we noticed that the resulting soil is not quite suitable for sowing. The large chicken wire sifter we usually use produces soil that is suitable for the garden beds, but still too lumpy for the delicate little seeds we were sowing in tiny trays. Fellow CG member Leonardo tried sifting the soil in a pasta strainer, but it proved too laborious. Inspired by his attempt, we finally resolved the problem by leaving some soil to dry in the shed and then sifting it through a straw hat we had in the shed. It produces a fine powdery soil that is perfect for the sowing trays.

I have to confess that in spite of taking on a second undergraduate degree and agreeing in my final year to run a community garden, I am actually a rather lazy person at heart. Today being Easter Sunday, opening the garden as usual, I was expecting it to be a solo effort, and I was fully prepared to sit by the rocket stove for four hours drinking nettle tea and eating hot-cross buns with jam. Luckily the unexpected arrival of three CG members encouraged me to get off my ass and organize doing some work. And so today we sifted some more soil, drew up a watering rota, did a little weeding, replanted the yarrow and marshmallow plants in the ‘med bed’ and sowed more seeds in trays – leeks, artichoke, and “Japanese huh?” . . . I should explain. Over the past few weeks, workers at a nearby Japanese restaurant have been kindly donating some of their organic vegetable waste for our compost bin (thank you very much – どうもありがとう!). Earlier this week one of them came by with more compost, as well as a small tray of seeds for me. She mentioned the Japanese name of the edible plant the seeds came from, which I repeated to myself three times in order to memorize it and then promptly forgot. And so today I sowed some of these seeds in a tray, and for the time being have decided to call them “Japanese, huh?” until such a time I can identify it.

With that kind of attention to detail, it’s a miracle that anything grows here, but all in all we seem to be doing quite well. Thank God it’s Spring.

Happy Easter!

WATER SHORTAGE: Everybody say hosepipe ban!

Things are starting to bloom in the garden, although planting has yet to start proper. The rhubarb, onions, garlic, broad beans and spring cabbage are growing fast, and it also turns out that with the cabbage last autumn I accidentally planted some calabrese, which has started to give those delicious little trees! All this time I thought it was more cabbage, luckily though, calabrese/broccoli leaves are edible too – though it’s usually best not to find out these things in retrospect. On that note, I’d like to mention that contrary to what many believe, rhubarb stalks are edible raw (and delicious if you don’t find them too tangy), just remember that the leaves are poisonous, both raw and cooked, causing nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and possibly death . . . best not chew on those then.

I’m having some more trouble with Jerry mouse, but more about that at a later time…

Today several water companies in the UK have imposed a hosepipe ban, due to the severe drought we’re going through. It’s no joke, either. As I mentioned in the last post, I’ve been doing a lot of commuting on foot in the past year, and that has in part been made possible by the fact that it has hardly rained at all. Sure, we’ve had the occasional heavy showers, but what we’ve lacked is a prolonged period of rain, long enough to make us Brits properly moan about the weather – an important part of what makes us British.

Ever since Dinwiddy House kindly installed a tap on the garden grounds I’ve been meaning to buy a new connector to attach the hose to it . . . but I won’t bother now, not for a time at least. I have ordered a second water butt to connect to our current water barrel collecting rain running off the shed roof. The ban will not be a huge problem for us, the garden is small enough to water with a watering can, and even if that proves slower and more laborious it only helps remind us that running water is a luxury we don’t half take for granted.

The ban has got lots of people talking and moaning about it, with particular ire directed toward the water companies. It’s with good reason too – some water companies lose up to a quarter of their water through leaking pipes, and yes, the filthy-rich bastards should be doing more (i.e.: spending more) to fix this problem. BUT, it’s just a guess, BUT I am willing to bet that another quarter of our water is easily lost through general misuse and wastage by us common folk (including me). There are people with the annoying habit of flushing the toilet both before and after using it. Then there’s those who use a full cycle on their washing machines to clean just one or two items of clothing. And ban or no ban, I’m sure there will still be some prized a-holes who will resolutely use thousands of litres of water to wash their ugly, over-priced cars, when a bucket and sponge would do just as well. These are extreme examples, if still common, but most of us have little bad habits when it comes to using tap water. We love blaming the people at the top, but the truth is we are all to blame. And then, of course, come the excuses: “Don’t you know how busy I am?!” “I have three kids!” “It’s my right!” etc.

The trouble is water is a finite resource, and when it starts running low Mother Nature doesn’t give a rat’s ass about people’s excuses, reasons or rights. The water just starts running low. That’s when we really start to learn. Yes there is still plenty of water around, but the real problem is treating it fast enough to meet demand. I’ve been in a few forays in the woods in the past year where I have had to drink stream water. To make the water safe to drink I had to boil it first, which takes a surprising amount of effort to make up the 2-3 litres needed on a daily basis. At times like these I learnt to appreciate the value of water and tried not to waste a single drop of anything I had already sterilised.

Fixing pipes and reducing wastage aside, several solutions are being suggested for dealing with growing water shortages: higher bills, water meters, transporting water via pipelines, desalinization plants, etc. All these would probably help, but with the global population continuing to grow, water wastage ever-increasing, and a weakening infrastructure of water distribution based on profit instead of efficiency, water shortages are probably only going to get worse over the next few decades.

So today is a very good day to start learning to do with less.

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