Archive for 2012

Sunset? Never!

sunsetSTILL haven’t got to the plot. STILL suffering full-time builders. And it’s STILL ‘going to be ready by Christmas’.


I’m going to see the worst on Saturday. It won’t be pretty. There will be acres and acres of chest-high weed and for 10 minutes I’ll feel like a lazy, thumping failure.

But then I’ll pick myself up, get digging and clear it again. Because when you’re a vegetable gardener, that’s what you do.

Posted on 1st November 2012
Under: Winter | 4 Comments »

Service interrupted by Works

New roomI’ve not been near a growing vegetable for four weeks. Apologies. Reason: See pic.

There are works at Soilman Towers, and they’ve been distracting me. By way of illustration, consider the lunch I ‘enjoyed’ not 10 mins ago. It consisted of microwaved/reheated Chinese takeaway noodles eaten off a paper plate with a plastic fork, accompanied by the whine of an angle-grinder. This is my new life.

It won’t last much longer – in theory, another three or four weeks. But ominously, the builders said those dread words “ready in time for Christmas”.

Which means we’re FUCKED.

Posted on 29th September 2012
Under: Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

Why the internet is shit, part 2,399

“Odi et amo. Quare id faciam fortasse requiris.
Nescio, sed fieri sentio, et excrucior.”

This was written 2000 years ago, about a woman. (“I love [her] and hate [her]. How is that possible, you may ask? I don’t know, but I feel it all the same – and it’s agony”). It describes pretty perfectly my own feelings about the internet.

The web is a wonderful thing. It’s changed everything about… well, everything. I live within it, and am informed and entertained via it, every hour of every day. I really wonder how I lived without it.

But you know, it’s also a teeming, seething cauldron of shite.

SEO agencies: Smell the sulphur

I am bombarded – some days, multiple times – by people offering to pay me for contributed ‘editorial’, or links, or adverts. Some of it is deeply creepy and dishonest; companies even offering to write their stealth ads in my house style to make them seem like ‘real’ endorsements by me.

I’m pretty much aghast at this stuff. I’m stunned that corporations are willing to be so brazenly, disgracefully mendacious. You realise that the web is absolutely stuffed with paid-for advertising masquerading as something else. And I do mean STUFFED; you cannot trust a single word or link online.

Most of it is driven by SEO, of course. SEO agencies know that the most powerful Google fuel is backlinks, so they trawl their clients’ marketplace looking for sites demonstrating the appropriate keywords. Then they try to place links on those sites – openly, or hidden within paid-for ‘posts’ meant to look like genuine site editorial.

Ultimately, therefore, this is mostly search engines’ (and therefore Google’s) fault. In the form the web has evolved, and as it currently works, Search drives commerce to an astonishing degree. Search engine algorithms basically corrupt the web by forcing commerce to devise dishonest and devious means to attract custom, and tempting small (and large) publishers into corrupt collusion.

It stinks to high heaven.

Odi, definitely odi.

Posted on 8th September 2012
Under: Rants, Web nerdery | 9 Comments »

Onions in, stress out

drying onionsI’ve got the relieved feeling that comes at this time of year when I’m gathering a harvest. After five months of non-stop rain, it’s a miracle that anything’s done well.

And some things have. These onions, for example. I wouldn’t have put any money on a good outcome in May. But they toughed out the shit weather and put on some solid growth.

Ditto the infamous sweetcorn. I would have sworn – and almost did – that it was going to be an outright failure. The cobs aren’t terribly sweet, it’s true. But I have lots of them and they’re a good size. Who’d-a-thunk it?

I’ve been growing veg for quite a while now, and I’ll freely admit to utter bafflement as to cause/effect/reason. Most of the time, it’s a fucking mystery.

But for me, I think that’s part of the attraction. Watching a tiny seed grow into something 100s of times the size is magical. The whole process is utterly mysterious and quasi-religious.

So when some things work and others don’t – and I haven’t a clue why – it’s a humbling reminder of how primitive, pre-literate mankind must have felt most of the time. Correction: All of the time.

In matters of life and death, that must have been terrifying. For me, in gardening, it’s a mystical experience in the 21st century.

Posted on 18th August 2012
Under: Alliums | 7 Comments »


sweetcorn, potatoes, squashesCame back from a holiday fortnight in the USA to find my vegetable plot bulging with produce. The rain has brought massive crops of everything, including weeds.

My, but you Americans live well. We toured New England, Montreal, Toronto and Niagara then drove down to Cape Cod for a few days. It was all beautiful and affecting (I saw a real, live groundhog! Up close!). Haven’t enjoyed myself as much in years.

As usual, I felt profoundly grateful to be a citizen of the 51st state (or as we might prefer to see it – winks – the 1st state) and privileged to have a historical, biological and political connection with our cousins across the pond.

I’m never embarrassed to say: God bless America (and, er, Canada).

Posted on 15th August 2012
Under: Cucurbits, Potatoes, Sweetcorn | 12 Comments »

Duck à la cauliflower

cauliflowersTime for some nauseating smugness and self-congratulation.

As ever (gotta LOVE that hubris), my cauliflowers have been a triumph. The weather’s helped; wet ‘n’ windy suits brassicas very well.

The fridge is stuffed with cauliflowers and I’m trying to dream up ever madder recipes for them. ‘Duck à la choux-fleur’ wasn’t too successful, but cauliflower cheese soup was. Recipe:

  • Boil softened onion and cauliflower florets (lots of ’em) in chicken stock for 30 mins
  • Liquidise
  • Add grated cheese (strong cheddar) and melt it

Simple, but dead nice.

Posted on 27th July 2012
Under: Brassicas | 7 Comments »

Yellow beetroot: I was wrong. SO wrong.

Well, well. Blow me. I was wrong about the cylindrical yellow beetroot.

Turns out they’re delicious. Better than red beetroot – sweeter and softer, plus bigger and easier/faster to grow. Incredible.

So they’re brilliant and I heartily recommend you grow them. Just one problem: I can’t for the life of me remember what the fuck they’re called. Or which company sells them. Or in fact any useful detail whatsoever.

Still. A crop that’s great to eat AND absurdly easy to grow. That’s a first in the Soilman Allotment Experience.

I’ll be jiggered. Stone the crows. Fuck my boots (etc).

Postscript: I think – I THINK – they must be these. At least, they definitely look like this.

Posted on 19th July 2012
Under: Roots | 7 Comments »

The Works

I’m planning Works.

God willing, Aug/Sept will see the start of major building works at Soilman Towers. A single-storey extension will, theoretically, double our downstairs living area and magically transform our lives into ambrosial, dreamy perma-bliss.

Well, that’s the plan.

In reality, of course, it will be Purest Hell. Having no kitchen and choking on builder’s dust for 6-10 weeks will not be amusing.

The prospect of the actual works, though, isn’t the worst bit. The worst bit is the state-sanctioned extortion of the building ‘industry’. With the exception of our excellent architect, everyone is on the take, take, take. From the structural engineer (£1,000 for a 10-min visit and ‘plans’ which he hand-drew in no more than 5 mins) to Thames Water (£343 for an ‘application to build within 3m of a sewer’ – aka daylight robbery/blackmail bribery) to the ‘Environmental Assessment’ insisted on by the council (£200 for a grubby rent-a-moron to peer into a dying fern and declare it a natural habitat for bees).

Next to the professionals and public officials you encounter, the actual builders look honest. I swear to God.

I’d never encountered this before. I knew, of course, what to expect – in theory. Seeing the outrageous official scams actually play out in front of my eyes, though, has been a depressing shock. Al Capone would learn a thing or two.

No wonder no fucker can build anything in this country. If you doubt me, try it some time.

Posted on 10th July 2012
Under: Rants | 8 Comments »

Blue hydrangeas. Sort of.

hydrangeaI love blue hydrangeas. They’re gorgeous… er, when they’re blue.

But keeping them blue is a bugger. I have neutral soil, so it’s extra hard. But even if you grow them in a pot of ericaceous compost, you have to shovel in absurd quantities of aluminium sulphate – regularly – to stop them reverting to pink.

I’m failing with this one. There’s been so much rain [ 2012, passim] that the colorant is leached out of the pot almost as fast as I can pour it in.

Anyone got any tips for keeping ’em reliably blue?

PS I’m beginning to fear the corn will fail this year. It’s SO fucking cold and wet that it’s put on pathetic growth. I can’t see it having time to fully grow, flower and form ears before the frosts.

Posted on 8th July 2012
Under: Flowers, Rain | 2 Comments »

Still raining

They’re running out of rain metaphors and adjectives on the radio.

They’ve done ‘torrential’ to death. Now they’re casting around for something more sensational. ‘Stair rods’ and ‘monsoon-like’ are undergoing a renaissance. ‘Record-breaking’ is a favourite.

As I write, great swathes of northern England are under flood warnings. By tonight, many Yorkshire folks will be floating on their sofas.

It’s all so grim I feel the urge to make light of it. But people have already lost their lives, and I fear there will be more by the weekend.

If you’re in the flood zone, stay safe.

Posted on 6th July 2012
Under: Rain | 7 Comments »