Archive for August, 2009

Seasonal nausea: Coming soon

Sweetcorn Corn is outrageously good this year. I’ve had two good-sized ears on nearly every plant (average is 1.5 most seasons).

Wife and I are scoffing two cobs apiece every night. I swear I’ll turn yellow any minute.

I don’t mind gluts (exception: courgettes), because it helps me eat seasonally. When I’m thoroughly sick of a prolific vegetable it’s easier to go without in the ‘off’ seasons; the relief of not eating the bloody thing lasts for months.

So it’s OK if I DO go yellow, or start vomiting at the sight of corn.

This is What Eating Seasonally Is All About.

Posted on 25th August 2009
Under: Gluts, Summer, Sweetcorn | 14 Comments »

Do not adjust your computer: This IS a pumpkin

Green pumpkin

No, dear reader, you’re not seeing things. You read right: this is, indeed, a pumpkin.

Granted, the characteristics generally definitive of a pumpkin (spherical, orange, ‘pumpkin-ey’ etc) are, unusually, absent. But it says ‘Pumpkin’ on the seed packet I sowed, so it MUST be true.

Just two questions:

  • Anyone ever seen a green, peanut-shaped pumpkin?
  • Er… have I been had?

Posted on 22nd August 2009
Under: Cucurbits | 10 Comments »

Writing meme

Another pictureless post. What’s getting into me?

Simon at Freelance Unbound has tagged me to do a writing meme. And why not? I should be weeding or harvesting, or something else useful, and this gives me a splendid opportunity to procrastinate.

So here goes:

Which words do you use too much in your writing?

“Shit”, “fuck” etc. Profanity springs far, far too easily to my keyboard (and my lips). But I’m afraid I forgive myself. It just doesn’t seem as heinous to me as the world around me insists it is. It’s just syllables; sound and fury signifying nothing. 

Which words do you consider overused in stuff you read?

“However” (usually redundant), “very” (always redundant)

What’s your favourite piece of writing by you?

None of it. I am dissatisfied with everything I write. The feeling intensifies with perspective. Anything I wrote more than about a month ago makes me cringe.

What blog post do you wish you’d written?

Clay Shirky’s inspired post about newspapers and the internet. For me, an epiphanic moment of total clarity.

Regrets, do you have a few? Is there anything you wish you hadn’t written?

I’ve written endless shite to pay bills. Regrets? No, none (none professional, anyway). We’ve all got to live, and nothing I’ve written has been damaging or hurtful in any significant way. I’d be happy with that epitaph.

How has your writing made a difference?

It hasn’t – at least, not as far as I’m aware. And I challenge the implication that it should have. I’m a writer, not a fucking artist.

Name three favourite words

“Luckless”, “hapless”, “egregious”

And three words you’re not so keen on

“Proactive”, “progressive” (as used by politicians and Guardianistas), “implement”

Do you have a writing mentor, role model or inspiration?

Bill Bryson is a writer’s writer. Beautiful sentence construction and comic timing. The late lamented James Herriot was a favourite of my childhood. Shamelessly hokey, of course, but (like Anthony Hopkins) I like hokey. And his dialogue is brilliantly rendered. You can hear his characters’ tone and idiom.

What’s your writing ambition?

I like the Hippocratic Oath: Primum non nocere. Second, pay the bills.

Plug alert! List any work you would like to tell your readers about:

Humanities grads (or indeed anybody without a real science background) must, must, must read “Bad Science” and get familiar with Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science website. You’ll never know how much embarrassing shit you’re writing/thinking/talking until you do.

Tag time:

Here are my nominations for pro or semi-pro writers to take part:


Fluffy Muppet


Matt Appleby

Posted on 20th August 2009
Under: Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

How to make the UK self-sufficient in food?

There’s an interesting incipient thread at Fluffy Muppet’s site about the UK’s food self-sufficiency – or lack of it. Topical, too, because of the government’s Future Food ‘strategy’.

Essentially, the question is: How could the UK produce enough food to feed itself? Is this even remotely realistic? What’s the least damaging, least scary set of changes necessary to achieve it that stands even the slightest chance of being politically acceptable?

So here’s my challenge.

I’d really be interested to hear from proper scientists (or others), with proper knowledge of the subject, who could suggest real, evidence-based solutions to this problem.

Do you know anything about it? Do you know anyone who does? I’d love to hear from you or them here.

Only one reminder for this thought experiment, based on the above rubric: Your solution must be vaguely politically acceptable (which rules out ‘solutions’ like Shoot Half The Population).

To kick you off, here are a few thought-provokers:

  • The total area of rural land lost to urban use between 1945-1990 was 705,000 hectares – an area the size of Greater London, Berkshire, Herefordshire and Oxfordshire combined.
  • The loss of agricultural land to development is continuing with about 15,000 hectares developed from 1996 – 2004 (Department for Communities and Local Government, 2007)
  • The government plans to build 4 400 000 homes by the year 2016
  • The average age of UK farmers is 54
  • Full-time farmers earn an estimated average £13,300 a year. 25 years ago the figure was more than £26,000 at today’s prices


So… we have fewer, older farmers earning less than ever on a diminishing hectarage of farmland. You don’t have to like farmers, or the ways many of them farm (I don’t) to see that this is, er, a strange way of improving the quantity and quality of our food.

And what’s the role of supermarkets in all this? And their customers (ie us?)


Posted on 19th August 2009
Under: Uncategorized | 17 Comments »

Massacre by night: Slugs eat the lot

Overwintering cauliflowers ruined by slug

Bastard, bastard, bastard.

These were my overwintering cauliflowers.  I left them on the patio floor, by mistake, for just one night. Too late to sow any more, so no Spring cauliflowers next year.

Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit.

The fat, smug, belching sonofabitch you see in this picture has departed this life. Naturally, I tortured it first.

Posted on 15th August 2009
Under: Brassicas, Pests | 9 Comments »

Journalists? Tossers, the lot of us them

I got an email the other day:

The Independent on Sunday are looking to do a piece for National Allotment Week, and we’re interested in doing a few case studies on individuals who are willing to be photographed and interviewed about their allotment. If you or anyone you know if [sic] may be interested, it would be great if you could let me know, and pass on any contact details. Thanks a lot.
Rudy Cow

(Name changed to save writer’s blushes)

Emails like this turn up from time to time, and I’m flattered. Nice if someone notices what I say here.

But here’s the thing: I don’t need or want publicity. Honestly. I’ve seen my photo and byline in lights for 20 years. I don’t give the tiniest shit.

And I don’t want or need exposure or traffic: I do what I do on my allotment and on this blog because I love it, and because I genuinely want to help others. I don’t make (nor intend to make, nor could I make) a penny from it. Hard to believe, I know, but it’s God’s honest truth (Nurse! The straitjacket!).

So it was in a spirit of helpfulness (I didn’t want to do this) that I replied thus:

Rudy hi
Happy to do it provided you only use the name ‘Soilman’, and not my real name or precise location. No problem with photos. You can ring me on such-and-such number.

Guess what? I never got a reply.

So here’s my comment on the matter.

First, to Rudy Cow (you know who you are): When you approach a total stranger for help, and they bother to reply (even more so if they come back with any kind of assistance), it’s the barest, tiniest act of courtesy to write back. Even if it’s just ‘thanks, but no thanks’.

To everyone else in the ‘veggie community’: If Rudy (email me privately to check real name) or anyone else from the Independent on Sunday approaches you asking to appear in any kind of vegetable growing piece, I suggest you say “No”. Or – better yet – “Fuck Off”.

To journalists everywhere: Angling for free content from contribs or punters? Try charm. If you can’t manage that, at least be polite. Or get the fuck out of my face.

Posted on 13th August 2009
Under: Rants | 9 Comments »

Why Ratte potatoes are excellent

Ratte potatoAt this time of year, I’d normally be ranting about courgettes: how many I’ve got, how quickly they turn into marrows, how I can’t get rid of them etc etc.

(See? I almost went off on one there).

But I’m not going to inflict that upon you (not today, anyway). Instead, I want to sing the praises of the Ratte potato.

Granted, it’s French. But that’s a small black mark against a spud that is truly excellent in every other way. Its yield is prodigious (albeit with small-ish tubers in a dry Spring), it tolerates a bit of blight, tastes absolutely delicious and is very versatile in cookery. As a salad potato, it beats Charlotte hands down.

In short, Ratte gets the Soilman Mark of Full Approval. For what that’s worth.

If you’re looking to try a new early (they grow fine as second earlies – ready in mid to late June), you could do worse than this one.

Posted on 10th August 2009
Under: Potatoes | 5 Comments »

Onions, douze points. Garlic, nul points

Onions drying after harvestProbably my best ever crop of onions. They’re nearly all big and sound; only had to eat two in a hurry (they had a bit of mildew and wouldn’t store).

The garlic, on the other hand, has been my worst ever crop. A total rust disaster.

Tiny garlic bulbsThese are the biggest bulbs I could harvest – only a dozen from two 15ft rows. I’m a bit gutted, but it’s hardly a surprise. The garlic has been getting more and more badly affected by rust every year.

So, albeit with a heavy heart, I’m making a Big Decision: I’m giving up on garlic. I’m a big believer in the WC Fields axiom: “If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Then give up. No point making a damn fool of yourself.”

Posted on 6th August 2009
Under: Alliums | 12 Comments »

Back to a land of plenty

Week of growth

Say you missed me. Life was meaningless without me. You’ve white-knuckled your way through my absence, gagging for your hit of Soilman magic… right?


Hey-ho. Too bad, because I’m back from my Spanish holiday and I’m full of beans. Don’t give the tiniest shit what anyone thinks, and am ready to crow about my allotment successes. Sickening, innit?

Here’s the week’s worth of veg that grew while I was away. A few torpedo marrows, but lots of good ones. Plus some sensational corn, carrots and beet. It’s turning into a terrific allotment year.

Posted on 2nd August 2009
Under: Cucurbits, Flowers, Roots, Summer, Sweetcorn | 13 Comments »