Gardening in autumn

I love gardening in Autumn. For me its the absolutely best time. Weeds are slow growing, grass can be cut back and stays cut back, ground is there to be prepared and you’re not having to deal with seedlings being munched by pests of various sorts.

I like having fires too, and on my allotment they are only allowed in late autumn through to the early spring. I have a problem with couch grass and bind weed on my allotment, and short of massive barrels of rainwater to sak them in until they turn into slime, I like to be able to burn them.

I particularly like that moment when, because I use a fire steel and striker, the spark finally catches and turns to a flame as you blow on to the ember, its visceral and in a small way, very exciting. Its an experience that human kind has shared for millenia now, and there are too few of those moments.

Autumn is also a time for planting and rearranging, as well as pruning and cultivating. Garlic and other over wintered things should be going in, and I’m also in the process of moving my strawberry plants to a new home, I swear that this time they wont be so over grown, not that they seem to be bothered by that – they are still fruiting!

By the way, if you’re thinking about growing garlic, make sure you do, its brilliant to grow, I reccomend Solent Wight as a great variety. I’m also trying out the idea of perennial garlic, having left some underperforming plants in the ground this summer rather than pulling them – I want to see if they will grow into self seeded clusters – I’ll keep you posted -if I remember.

This autumn has been one of the busiest I remember, we were away last week, and I started this week with a to-do list as long as my arm, but I still deliberately take time to get out in the garden, its pure therapy. Manual labour is a vital part of my personal rhythm, and if your life doesnt incporporate it in some way, I suggest you consider it. There’s a lot to be gained from hands on involvement in the earth, interaction with the elements, participation in creation.

There’s no better time than now.


catching up

Having just packed my mum off after having her here for a few days – I plunged into a day full of meetings today, ah – restful 😉

One of those meetings involved a bit of a trek out of town, which I did on my bike, however due to a slight navigation error I took a bit of a detour, on foot, round a ploughed field. Sigh.

And having just committed to a full day of interviewing on Thursday, I find myself with only Tuesday and Wednesday to get all the work done that I need to before the weekend, I’ll be travelling down to Wales on Friday.

Doesnt sound like a lot of time to get a lot of stuff done, but its amazing what can happen in a short amount of time. One things is for sure, I’ll not be on the allotment this week, happily though I was there for a few hours on Saturday, which was superb. I threw myself with alacrity into sorting out my herb bed, which was looking a bit neglected and weedy, a good session with the hand fork sorted it out though, an unfortunate side effect was the rather large and painful blister in the centre of my right hand, which swelled up to such a degree that I couldnt come close to closing my fist this morning – that makes cycling a touch difficult I may point out.

I took measures. I now have a scab instead – infinitely preferable.

Really I shouldnt be blogging right now, I should be working, grasping at the straws of time before it disappears altogether, but what can I say? I’m a fool to myself.

See you at the weekend maybe… I’ll try to get a blog in before then, might even try to make it about something, instead of just a few hundred words about nothing.

Spring is coming

I was outside this afternoon and I could feel the changing season, in the air, in the soil. I’m not the only one who can feel it, the rhubarb is waking from its winter slumber, some greedy blighters are forcing it already! I’ve seen loads of crocus and other bulbs showing their faces too.

For those of us who try to grow things, that doesnt leave us much time to plant things like Shallots or Garlic, which need cold weather to function properly – the further north you are the more time you should have, but March and April will be here before you know it. They should all have been in the ground by now, but hey ho – time gets away from you.

As a kind of ritualistic acceptance of the changing season, I am going to embark on a good clean of my trusty Teva sandals – I’ve had them for years, I wear them for about 7 – 8 months a year, nearly everyday (for the rest of the year, I wear army boots – which are much older but are in perfect condition). My feet have good circulation. My sandals smell. If I cant get the suckers good and clean before spring, then it may be the year of new sandals.

I was lucky enough to see a flock of wintering waxwings the other day – beautiful birds, the sight of them reassured me that it is still winter, and there is still time to get that planting finished – just not much.

Back outside at last

It’s been a long time coming, but this afternoon, at long last I was back out on our allotment again.  Except to drop off compost I have not spent any time on the allotment since the Autumn, and it shows, I mean it really shows.

Most of the plots which are under cultivation have been freshly dug, or are at least looking tidy, mine on the other hand looks like a disaster, broken glass on my cold frame and in my greenhouse, overgrown beds, long grass everywhere, and plenty of unpromising looking mud.

But its all grist to the mill, today I put two of the beds back to rights (more or less) ready to be raked and cultivated a bit more, before they can be planted. Lots of work to do all over the plot, but I’m glad to say that in the couple of places where I placed sheets of damp proofing plast last year, in an attempt to sheet mulch them, the ground beneath the plastic is now nice and clear, and ready for cultivation.

Everywhere needs a good tidy and sort out, which it will only really get in part, I dont really want it to be too tidy if I’m honest. I like there to be room for creatures to hide and flourish, and I love the variety of bees, beetles, butterflies and bugs that pootle around there in the summer months.

And most of all I like to sit down after some work, and enjoy a hot drink. I had to relearn the art of making fire when wood is damp and newspaper in short supply, but it didnt take long.

If you dont have a garden or access to an allotment, then try and find some other outdoor space that you can spend time in, and if possible, grow things in, it is pure therapy, it helps to reharmonise you with nature, and nothing is quite as relaxing as knowing you have accomplished a job.

That’s right folks, its the first Kelly Kettle picture of the year from me, fear not, there are bound to be more. If you’re wondering, the plastic tub is what I like to think of as my tinder box, containing cotton wool, and home made char cloth. Marvellous.


new monasticism network

Maybe its the new year, or perhaps just the nagging thought in the back of my mind that there was something I had been meaning to do… but I just got round to joining the online ‘New Monasticism Network‘ which – although perhaps not quite my usual medium – will I am sure prove to be both very interesting and very useful.

If you are interested in new monasticism, want to network with others who are similarly interested, or seeking information about what on earth people mean by ‘new monastic’ (there are a lot of ideas out there) then I reccomend you join in, because in my limited experience of such things, the more people join in, the better it is likely to get.

And as if that wasnt enough, they are even kind enough to publicise my book, and even the rather dodgy video I made for it on my allotment (back when the book went by a different name!!!)

Review: The Alternative Kitchen Garden, an A – Z

The Alternative Kitchen Garden, an A – Z by Emma Cooper.

I have a lot of gardening books, and I have looked at lot of other gardening books – but I have never seen one quite like this.

Most gardening books are basically either manuals, scientific text books, or encyclopaedias, but despite a title which might lead one to think that Emma Cooper’s book falls into the latter category – in fact it needs a separate category altogether.

This charming and easy to read book is in reality a manifesto – or perhaps its a kind of love-letter. Emma has used the conceit of an A-Z as a handy way of organising some of her thoughts, taking us through a series of plants and horticultural terminology according to their rank in the alphabet.  Now if you are looking for a book which works as a kind of exhaustive garden dictionary, then this is the wrong book – it isnt intended for that purpose. Rather it pulls together an almost random group of plants or ideas under a letter heading; P for instance is for Parsley; Peas; Peat; Peppers; Permaculture; PH; Phosphorus and Potatoes, while N is for Nasturtiums; Native; Nectarine;  Nettles and Nitrogen.  It then provides a short essay on each subject, and each one is delivered in Emma’s trademark accessible and knowledgeable style. She is a very ‘friendly’ writer, her work is easy to engage with and despite her wealth of knowledge you dont ever feel as if she is talking down to you.

I really like the book, as I say, it’s easy to read and it’s interesting, but that isnt really waht sets it apare. Most importantly Emma manages to exude a love for the subject – and this is what I mean by calling it a manifesto. Really this is a book which tells us to love our gardens, our window boxes or allotments – whatever we have to grow things in.It is a book which has mud under its fingernails.

Emma is a kind of garden evangelist, spreading the good news of growing things.

I think you can spot that I really like this book – but that’s not to say I dont have any criticisms, I was not sure about at least one piece of her advice, that Comfrey can be taken internally. Everything I have ever read before warns against it, and I’m not inclined to take her advice on that (sorry!)

The other negative aspect I think is the design, I think the wrong fonts have been used, which is a shame because it detracts slightly from the appeal of the book – however this is a very subjective thing, and I am a bit nerdy about fonts and suchlike. In any case, that side of things is down to the publisher not the author, I just dont think they’ve called it quite right.

The pictures throughout the book are great, and I love the fact that this is not a coffee table book, rather its the kind of book which can go with you out into the garden or wherever you go to think about growing things.

So in sum then – buy this book if you love gardens. Buy this book for people who need to love gardens. Dont buy this book if you want a full A-Z of plants and whatnot, there are plenty of other books out there for that purpose, this is a much more interesting and unusual text. This is a delightful and inspirational manifesto of gardening lore, with lots of good ideas and helpful information, and I’m looking forward to more from Emma.

The Alternative Kitchen Garden, an A-Z by Emma Cooper is published by Permanent Publications. RRP £14.95 ISBN: 9781856230469

Emma Cooper’s blog and podcast are available here.

it’s getting difficult to breath in here

I have the enormous privelige of having a small room to work in – it’s also the guest room, and general repository for things which dont have a more suitable home – Kel’s huge gym ball for instance. It’s a little chaotic at times, but in the main its a great place to work,and I like it very much.

However, its currently getting a bit tricky to breath in here – not only have I got four demi-john’s of country wine plurping away and pumping out massive amounts of carbon dioxide, but I have just bought half a dozen new bulbs of garlic for autumn planting – and they smell really strong.

I suppose that’s just a good reason for me to get on and do some garlic planting really.

In terms of wine by the way, we’ve got two lots of bramble wine, and two of elderberry wine on the go, I’m thinking of going for some rosehip wine too, although I have been put off by the rather disappointing results of rosehip tea…

Oh and while I think to mention it – look out for a review of Emma Cooper’s marvellous ‘The Alternative Kitchen Garden – an A- Z’ coming soon, you can rest assured it’s positive, get an order in for Christmas presents.