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.

October 19

The invasion marches on

I have lived in my present house for 20 years now. When we first moved in there was a pretty white flower that was tucked around the edges of the garden in shady parts. I left it for about three years until one day I realised that it was all over garden and had spread incredibly. In fact, it was taking over.

The plant was Allium triquetrum, also known as Snowbell, three-cornered leek or onion weed. I came to call it something much ruder!  It has taken me 15 years to get rid of it and I am now at the point where I might find one or two in planting that I haven’t changed since I moved into the house.  Imagine my horror when I discovered that at the bottom end of the wildlife garden (see how I got this here) the two beds are overrun with it. I know it is because the first leaves start to come through in October and continue to about April/May when the plant flowers.  I started to dig it up but realised once I had filled three compost bags with the blighters from one small corner that I needed to think about this problem.

I recently read Beyond the War on Invasive Species: A Permaculture  Approach to Ecosystem Regeneration by Tao Orion. It is not a ‘light’ read but the basis of the book is that using multiple applications of weedkiller at regular intervals is surely not the way to remove invasive species and regenerate land.  Permaculture offers a different way based on its ethics and principles and we should be taking a slightly longer and more considered view. I don’t know if I would agree if Japanese Knotweed were damaging my  house but in this instance, I can afford to take a different view. Tao Orion offers 4 phases to dealing with an invasive species: Turn on the macroscope, complete a site assessment, make a plan and then implement it.

What follows is my plan for dealing with the plant over the next 5 or more years.

Phase 1 – Turn on the macroscope

Here we need to stop looking at the plant and consider the ecosystem it finds its self in and try to develop a deeper understanding of why the plant is there. Orion suggests doing this over the course of a year.

The allium is growing in a couple of beds that contain trees – mostly cherry and hazel but some euonymus, holly, an apple tree and a hawthorn. The cherry trees have suckered because the original ones have been pruned and on a quick count I found 12 suckers in a bed that is probably not much more than 2m by 3m. They are all more than 3m tall.

The bed is in deep shade because of all the trees plus an overgrown hedge about 4m away that has not been cut for 3 or 4 years and is now blocking out the evening sun.  Hazels have been planted or suckered around the outside of the bed and clipped to keep them under control. This has caused them to grow like a hedge so the whole area is very enclosed with very little light coming in.  When I weeded the bed on a windy day, very little wind came through the bed due to the proliferation of trees so it is not only dark but has very little air movement.

The soil is sandy and very, very dry. There is little humus on the top of the soil – even the ivy is struggling to grow there.

I have now cut the hedge but need to observe the beds over the course of the next year and look at the light and how much rain enters the beds.  I have on old rain gauge so I will stick that in the bed in the middle and see how much falls in there. I have another rain gauge which I can put in a different part of the garden that is more open to see how much falls on the plot to compare it with.

Phase 2 – Site assessment

This phase demands that we find out about the site in more detail, its geology and history, how the watershed works and take photos of it during different seasons.  It is time to study the species and find out more about it and what its function is.

Exmouth is the start of the Jurassic Coast and has the earliest geology of the coast. The cliffs which are about a mile away are from the Triassic Period – 250-200 million years ago. The soil is very stony – often round water-shaped pebbles. During the triassic period the climate was like that of the Sahara Desert today. Seasonal flash floods swept large quantities of sediment into the valleys and the plains fringing the deserts and both the red mudstone and the pebble beds found in east Devon are classic examples of  deposition.  We don’t have the mudstone but we do have the pebbles.

Jumping forward a lot, the allotment site has been a set of allotments since the first world war and although there is little written about it, prior to that it was part of the land that was agricultural in its use.

Allium triquetrum it a native in the Mediterranean basin – south-west Europe, North western Africa, Madeira and the Canary Islands where it grows in meadows, woodland clearings, riversides and roadside verges.  It appears in disturbed forest and shrubland and is an early incomer where land has been sprayed or cleared. It is tolerant of many conditions, including some salt, making it common in coastal areas.

The plant has both male and female parts and so you only need one!  The bulbs produced are deposited on the soil where the roots pull them underground, deeper and deeper. The seed can be dispersed by wind and sometimes by ants.  I must admit to not having noticed seeds so will look for those next year.

Every part of the plant is edible. The leaves, flowers and bulbs and can be eaten raw or cooked and it is particularly useful because it is just starting to come out (in October) when things like chives and spring onions are finishing.

Phase 3 – Make a plan Year 1

  1. The edges (of beds) are very important in permaculture. They are the space where two elements come together – the very shady, dry bed of trees and the lighter, damper path. It is often here where invasive species settle and there are certainly more of the allium around the edges of the bed.  So, first thing I will do is create a buffer all around the beds by hand weeding these edges about 50 cm into the bed. Later in the year, I will cut all the flowers off the rest of the plants that are left.
  2. Plant other things around the edge of the bed that will tolerate the conditions. I need to investigate plants that will do well here but those that I have some experience of growing in dry shade are Libertia Grandiflora, Liriope muscari, hellebores, cyclamen, ferns and epimediums.  These would also increase the diversity of plants on the site.
  3. The rest  of the alliums I will leave and observe closely across the year to see what they do, how much there is and where they appear most. I will photograph these and make notes at least once a month to build up a knowledge bank about the plant.
  4. If I were inclined, I would start to eat the things but I am not!  However, for those who like to forage for their foods, this is a real possibility. I also saw some for sale for 4 euros so if I were an entrepreneur, I would dig them up and start to sell them.  Again, I am not.
  5.  Thin out the cherries, removing the suckering ones to let in more light and prune the cherries that are left. This should let in more light and possibly rain.
  6. Investigate why there appears to be no humus on the bed. Find out what happens when leaves fall. Where do they end up? Why does there appear to be no humus on a bed under trees?
  7. With knowledge gained from 2021 observations, plan the next year’s work with the plant.

Have you ever had to deal with this plant or another invasive species? How did you do it?

September 5

When your vegetables have offspring!

I love fennel and this year has been a particularly good year for it on plots 11 and 24.  I grew two types; Rondo and Doux de Florence.  They both did well, fattening up before bolting – something which I struggle with here on sandy soil but they have very different habits.

As Rondo matures, it tends to get wider and wider, becoming like its name suggests rounder. The scales (I’m not quite sure what you all each overlap of fennel) get thicker and are quite juicy when eaten raw or cooked.













Doux de Florence seems to get taller as it matures and bolted. Maybe I should have eaten this type of fennel when it was younger and smaller.  The bulbs that were left all bolted at the same time which means we need to eat quite a bit of fennel NOW!

The Doux de Florence did also do one other thing.  Just before they bolted, offspring appeared attached at the base of the bulbs at the sides first and then all around. I haven’t ever seen this before so when I pulled each bulb there were actually three or four fennel which could be snapped off and eaten too.

I don’t usually grow tomatoes outdoors because of blight. I grow them in the polytunnel but this year, I put four plants an a small patch of land behind the green house as I thought this would protect them a little bit. They have grown into large plants with a few tomatoes – something to do with the compost I put on the ground before planting.  The best have been Sungold, probably as they are small and much more likely to ripen. I’ll repeat this next year but only with cherry type tomatoes.

What is doing well on your plot?

November 5

The last and first harvest of Autumn

It has been over two months since I last wrote a post on this blog. Time has flown by. I thought when I retired I would have a lot more time and yet this doesn’t seem to have happened. How did I manage to work?

Anyway, back to the vegetables. The weather has finally broken with gales and much-longed for rain.  I went down to the allotments to check on the polytunnel and then couldn’t leave it without picking almost the last of the tomatoes and the very last of the cucumbers.

I haven’t watered these since the beginning of September in order to prevent splitting which always seems to happen at this time of year. The plants have done remarkably well, a little droopy on some of the hotter days but recovered overnight. It does make me wonder if I need to water them as much as I do during the hotter months.

The cucumbers have been one of the stars of this year.  I have had one grafted plant of Mini Munch and it has produced 19 kgs of cucumbers. I debated buying two plants but thank goodness I didn’t. I haven’t ever kept records of how much I grow before – too busy working- so I can’t categorically say that it is a lot for one plant but it did feel like a lot when we were eating them. I have now pulled the plant out as well as the aubergine plants to make way for some winter crops of salads and garlic.

But as ever there are things to look forward to.

Last year I grew one decent sized celariac of the type Giant Prague. This year I have 12   I put that down to the very thick layer of home made and bought compost I put on the bed before planting them out. I watered them as much as the other vegetables so they didn’t get any special treatment in that sense.  I am looking forward to these as chips and mashed up with potato on cold winter nights.

The squash haven’t done too badly considering the weather.  The green ones are Crown Prince which are my all time favourite but we eat last because they keep better than the butternut squash. The orangy ones are Hunter which have been developed for the UK and the yellowy ones behind the Crown Prince are Waltham. They are not quite ripe but will not ripen any more on the plant so I have picked them. These should last us until next spring.

Although I have been picking chard throughout the summer, it seems to come into its own at this time of year and through the winter. I add it to almost everything and I am hoping that I have grown enough for us to have some all through the winter.

And looking good, apart from the slug nibbles, are the Cavalo Nero or Black Tuscan kale. I net it against the pigeons that sit in the trees surrounding my plot. This year has been a terrible year for the little white fly that love to live on brassica leaves. They were everywhere and it is quite hard to wash them off. As I walked past the beds of brassicas, clouds of them would ascend although the colder weather does seem to have killed off many of them.

As ever, this post is part of the Harvest Monday blog posts hosted on the wonderful blog Happy Acres.

August 19

It’s a tomatotastic harvest!


It has been a fantastic year for tomatoes. We have had kilos of them and they are still going strong although they have slowed down a little as the weather is  slightly cooler. The new tomatoes I grew this year have been a mixed bunch and the only one I will keep is Rosella – the small dark red tomato at the bottom of the picture on the left-hand side. It is sharp but sweet which is just how I like my tomatoes. I won’t grow Yellow Pear and Zlatava (large orange one at the bottom) again.

The aubergines, cucumbers and courgettes continue to be prolific and I am off to buy a second freezer tomorrow as we just can’t fit it all in to the one we have. I am going for a chest freezer this time so that I can just pile it all in and work our way through it during the winter.

The climbing French beans have been a little difficult this year. I sowed them in May, June and July. The May bunch were covered in black fly and never recovered. The June batch produced beans but were not prolific. The July batch have been very prolific. They obviously did not like the early heat and I probably didn’t water them quite enough at the right time. The photos are the May and July sowings and you can see why the last lot are more prolific..

The beans were a packet of mixed climbing beans. Once I had sown them in July I threw the packet away so I don’t know which sort they are but are yellow, green and purple and taste fine.  We ate them in a pasta dish with broccoli, artichokes and home made pesto.

I do prefer these to the dwarf French beans not for taste reasons but because I find the beans on the dwarf plants tend to touch the soil and get muddy and then the plant flops over.


The new harvest for this week is cabbage.  I am not really ready for red cabbage thinking of it as more of an autumn vegetable but the red cabbage is ready to be picked.

The cabbage is a pointed type, Kalibos, and is good in salads but this one is quite large –  over 2.5kgs – so that will be many salads.  The only thing I could find to show the scale when I took a picture  was a peg which is at the bottom of the stalk on the chair.

And finally, to celebrate National Allotments Week we held an Open Day which had lots of tea and cake but also included a tour around the plots.  I don’t often walk around the plots – I think there are over 300 – as I normally need to get on with the work so it was a real treat. The image that will stay with me is the dahlias grown for shows protected by umbrellas . They were enormous and fantastic.

I have started to sow autumn and winter seeds and am undertaking a small trial. I hardly ever direct sow: carrots and parsnips being about the only things. I find the plants get off to a better start in a warm, protective environment. I sow in three main ways: into a tray and then transplant seedlings, into cells and into soil blocks.  I have sown several types of seed in these three ways and will see which method produces the plants that take off best once planted.

As ever, this post is hosted by Dave at Happy Acres 






August 9

A new trial

As we move into the start of the autumn, I know – it is only half way through August but the weather has changed, I usually start to sow seed for late autumn/winter.  I thought I would do a small trial about methods of sowing because I have changed how I sow and I am not sure that it is any better.  Time to look more closely.

I have sown a variety of seed in three different ways:

  1. into trays for potting on
  2. into cells where the seeds stay until there is space to plant out
  3. into soil blocks until there is space to plant out.

One thing I have done is change my sowing medium. This year I have been using Sylvan compost or ‘growing medium’ as they call it. The conclusion I have come to is that there is not enough ‘food’ in this medium to sustain seeds for the length of time that I need to keep them. It’s a shame because the germination rate is good. So, I have gone for a general compost with a bit of sylvan compost mixed in.

I have sown the following seeds. They should give a good indication for a much wider range of vegetables at this time of year:

  1. spinach: medania
  2. rocket: Jekka McVicar rocket that was free with a gardening magazine
  3. choy sum: this is quite old seed so it might not germinate well
  4. april: a good basic cabbage for early next year
  5. red frills: a mustard for salads over winter
  6. beetroot – boldor: a yellow beetroot. I didn’t sow this for transplanting as this would not suit the vegetable.
  7. Treviso and pallo rossa: chicories for early next year

Sowing in trays and cells is very common. Fewer people use soil blocks.  They are made with a trusty soil blocker. I bought mine about 18 years ago from Organic Gardening and makes 4 blocks 5cm by 5cm. I do like the look of the larger block which this block fits into but I reckon you would only need it for tomatoes and squash so it is probably not worth getting.

Mix compost with water to make a wet mud pie

Push the soil blocker down and compress the compost into the blocker

Press the lever down to release the blocks

Voila! Blocks with a depression to sow into

And here they all are on in the greenhouse.  The soil blocks are covered in black plastic until the seeds germinate and then it is removed: the seeds are not covered in compost. Those in the trays and cells are covered in a light layer of compost.  


The disadvantage of the soil blocks are the time it takes when sowing to make the block but that time may be made up if seeds because the seedlings don’t need to be potted on.  The advantages are that the compost contains more water than the other two methods which may mean faster germination and I find them the easiest to get out of the tray to plant.

The advantages of the cells are that they are very quick to sow and stay there until planting so no further work needed. The disadvantage is that I find them really difficult to get out of the cells and often split them or break the roots.

The disadvantage of sowing into trays is that there is more work to transplant them before planting out but I do think that the transplanting seems to benefit the seedlings, making them stronger and providing fresh compost and space to grow into.

The cells and blocks are very economical with seeds. I put two seeds into each cell or block where as I tend to end up with a few seedlings left over when sowing into trays.

What I am interested in knowing is what is the quickest method for sowing and planting out that leads to the strongest seedlings that take off as soon as they are in the soil.  I will keep you updated.

Have you undertaken any trials this year?  What happened?

Seed sowing trial update 1

Seed sowing trial update 2



April 16

A harvest and some new things

It has been a strange spring. It felt like it had started in February but then March brought several falls of snow which is unusual on the south west coast of the UK. However, this week we have better news: some sunshine!

Well, maybe not tomorrow but the rest of the week looks good. So what have we been harvesting?

First, the rhubarb. It is enormous probably due to all the rain we have had. And then there are the radishes. These grew whilst we were away and are now ready to eat. Delicious.

The sprouting broccoli, White Eye, has been fantastic. It stays together and if cut regularly is as good to eat as asparagus when dipped in a little bit of mayo. I only grew 2 of these plants this year but I think 6 would be better next year. The rhubarb we ate in a crumble, one of our favourite puddings.

Things are starting to grow on the allotment and I am starting to plant some of the seedlings outside albeit with a fleece covering. So, a little trip around the plot.

In the autumn, I mulch with compost, both homemade and bought and manure if I have any. This means that when it is time for planting, I can just plant straight away – after removing a few weeds that have grown over winter. Today, I planted out more Douce Provence peas in a ring of netting with some fleece outside the mesh.









I have seen peas grown like this at Rosemoor , the RHS garden in North Devon. I am not quite sure why they grow them like this and picking might not be too easy. What if they all collapse and grow together in the middle of the mesh? I will find out.

The first and second photos show the difference between broad beans planted in the polytunnel and outside, the indoor ones being much bigger and with flowers that are open and ready for bees.  Under the fleece is beetroot and onions. I will leave the fleece on for the next couple of weeks, taking it off during the day when it is warm.  As well as keeping the plants a little more protected from the weather, it also keeps the slugs off for a little longer.

The Wildlife allotment is next to one of mine so I do get many visiting plants. This year the forget-me-nots and primroses are prolific and I have left some to flower. They do brighten the plot up at this time of year.


I am a member of the Undug – no dig Facebook group, a very friendly and useful group to belong to. There does seem to be a myth that no-dig means no weeds for some of the newer members. Unfortunately it doesn’t.  It is just like any other method of gardening. Get the weeds young before they seed and you will reduce them over time. Let them get away and they will!

I ran out of time tonight to get all of these out but I will be back early tomorrow morning to remove them. They are just starting to flower and before I know it, they will have gone to seed.

My thanks to Dave at Our Happy Acres for hosting the Harvest Monday posts. It is a really good idea.  I love to see the way other people grow their veg and some of the more unusual veg (to me) that people grow.

What are you harvesting this week?




February 18

Ready to go!

I always end up chomping at the bit around this time of year. I want to get going but it is often just a little bit too early. However, as usual I am going to sow some radishes in the polytunnel and sow some broad beans, peas and onion seeds in the greenhouse. First however, I have washed the greenhouse and polytunnel. I have learnt from experience that it is easier to do this before I sow my seeds.

Nothing in the garden pleases me more at this time of year than seeing seeds sprouting. I have some peas in a gutter for the polytunnel and the others are old pea seeds sown thickly for pea shoots.

My big task this year is to investigate and build a system that will water the polytunnel for as long as possible so that I can go away over the summer. My allotment neighbours will change this year and I won’t know anyone well enough to ask them to water. It is a fairly onerous task!  I am considering a water butt timed kit from Greenhouse Sensation and a self-build drip system made out of PVC piping.

I am also going to do a trial based on onions. I am going to plant some sets and some grown from seed to see if there is any difference in growing and storing. I will use red onions as they seem to bolt more easily than white and I never seem to grow them to a normal size.

October 9

The badgers beat me!

imageThe weather has been warm, if a little windy, so time on the plots has been pleasant. Last week the Badgers beat me to the final cobs of corn. We had eaten most of the primary cobs, only the secondary ones were left, but next year I am going to grow them in the fruit cage! They cause havoc by knocking the plants down and then chewing the cobs. In fact the first year they did this, I thought we had been visited by vandals but an older, wiser person on the plots put me straight.

There is a cost to no dig because you need so much material to mulch with and it all needs to have been rotting down for a year or so before you use it. The cost can be financial , buying in compost, or it can be effort. I have gone for the effort cost and collected about 25 bags of seaweed early one morning and spread it on two of the beds.


I will cover these beds so that weeds don’t grow and then see what they are like in the spring. I have also started collecting leaves by driving round the neighbourhood and jumping out with my rake and bags when I see some.  Ahh! The things we do for our vegetables.