August 10

Composting Masterclass by Tony O’Neill

I can’t remember why I bought this book and I wish I could because it is not an easy read and I can’t see why I would need to know most of the information in this book to make compost. Spreadsheets so that you get the right ratios of carbon to nitrogen, weight and moisture percentages etc. It is almost too much. I’m not sure what I was expecting though.

I did like the explanations of the different methods of composting, many of which I have on the go – cold composting, vermiculture and composting tree shreddings but haven’t tried bokashi composting. I also liked his idea that composting is not just a managed decomposition of organic materials for the benefits of the soil but that it is a farming of micro-organisms. That puts a whole new spin on it. The other tip I picked up is that I need to get a thermometer to stick into my compost bins to see what sort of temperatures they are reaching.

I think I wanted things to do and I see that O’Neill has published a workbook to go alongside this book almost as if this is the theory which I think is a bit of a swizz. The workbook should be included in this book if it is a masterclass. I was also expecting it to link to videos of examples on his plots to exemplify what he talks about. But no. Perhaps that is my book to write!

One for the compost heap.

August 2

Gardening book club – Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver is a name appearing all over the place at the moment due to winning the Pulitzer Prize and the Women’s Fiction Prize with her most recent novel, Demon Copperhead. We chose Animal, Vegetable, Miracle as it describes a year in her family’s life where they chose to eat only locally produced food, much of which they grew themselves as they have land. The book is divided up into gluts of veg by month so July was courgettes (!), May was asparagus etc. but we were all particularly taken with her description of making mozeralla – apparantly it is quick and easy, you stretch it across your kitchen as part of the process and you stick it in the microwave to finish it off – and so a couple of the group might give it a try. We await the results.

There were foods that they had to do without and we did discuss what we would have to give up if we were to eat in this way. Kingsolver was pragmatic and so they did buy tea and coffee and we also wondered how far away is local – a 70 mile radius in their situation which is rural Appalachia in the US. We considered lemons, spices, red wine, chocolate but in actual fact apart from chocolate, we can grow more than we realised: ginger, tumeric, lemon grass, pepper corns etc although many of these are growing on the edge of their preferred conditions and often an indoor space is needed.

Eating your own food often means preserving gluts so that you have something to eat during the winter. None of us were wild about spending long hours in the summer slaving over a hot stove, although if the weather is like this August we might be glad of something to do other than be out in the rain. This way of living does take time and commitment and that might not be possible for all. We wondered how working people might find it, but in fact Kingsolver and her husband both worked during the year that they did this. She mentions in the book that it is about a mindset and prioritising this way of living. She probably didn’t watch much TV in the evenings.

Somehow, the kit you need to preserve foods came up: pressure cookers, dehydrators and fruit juicers. It turns out that you can get a dehydrator and fruit press from the Library of Things in Exmouth. You pay a small fee to join and then can borrow the items. What a wonderful idea.

Dotted throughout the book are snippets written by Kingsolver’s husband about the science of whatever she was talking about and her elder daughter’s point of view and recipes to match the gluts. These really enhanced the message being given in a book that was written in 2008 but still so relevant today.

Our next meeting is on the 19th of September 2023 in the community room on HL plots at 7pm and we are reading The Botanist’s Daughter by Kayte Nunn.