Hedging is not just about money

One of the likely issues we will have later this year due to coronavirus is a shortage of fresh produce. This is absolutely not the same as OMG WE ARE ALL GOING TO STARVE! For starters, a fair proportion of the population doesn’t eat fresh produce at all. In general, young males living in cities don’t, and the very existence of my older self is living proof that it doesn’t kill you. Indeed, the very existence of urban food deserts shows that you can live perfectly OK without fresh produce, though perhaps you shouldn’t do it for more than 10 years once you have reached 30, for your general health. so once again, I am saying things may not taste as good as normal by the Autumn. We are not going to starve by Autumn. There are just some lines you won’t find in the produce aisle that you usually do.

We should tip our hats to the fact that society has managed to keep the wheels running despite the lockdown in terms of the essentials. The Chinese managed it, the Italians have managed it, we are managing it, I hear you can even buy bogroll again πŸ˜‰ This is not an existential challenge. But we are going to face shortages of fresh produce in the Autumn, and we import a lot from Spain, which is not having a great time of things. The price is likely to go up and the quality will be down.

But you can do something about it, particularly as you may have more time on your hands. Now (in the UK) is a good time to start. Last month would have been better, but you start where you find yourself.

Now I am the first to admit that this isn’t really my area of expertise. I am writing it because I am closer to an ordinary punter, but I have observed Mrs Ermine, for whom this has been a passion from childhood.

Hit the tasty and the exotic first, particularly if you don’t have a garden

We will be fine on staples I should imagine. There will be shortages of some basics, because we import more than half our food, and we featherbed our aristocracy to ruin our soil1 or play silly buggers on our hills. Tim Lang summarises the issues of how we got here, a combination of our early industrialisation and imperial past, we grow about half our food.

but if you turn some of those issues on their head, we will probably be OK, because we can probably pay more on the global market than poorer people. T’ain’t pretty, but it’s the way of the world. But you can fight back and make Autumn taste a little bit better, if that matters to you. If it doesn’t, then I am sure Nando’s and your local kebab shop can keep the show on the road. About a quarter of London’s food by value is eaten outside the home- there have been reports written before the current crisis promoting the kitchenless city. NYC has already got there in part 2.

Probably the easiest win for the space-challenged are herbs – a little goes a long way, they are usually cut and come again, they don’t need huge amounts of water, you can use a window box. But they do generally want sun. They make things taste a lot better, and fresh always beats dried. You can grow these from seed, but for a window box get ’em from a supermarket, given garden centres aren’t open. Compost is a problem, some supermarkets carry it. It’s not essential, my younger self never realised you were meant to use compost. I used earth from the garden. Sure, things work better if you have compost, but use what you have to hand. The young Ermine was perhaps unwittingly channelling Masanobu Fukuoka’s natural way of farming ahead of time. There’s too much dogma in gardening. The will to life of most things is strong. If you want to optimise yields and germination rates, sure you have to work harder. But seed is cheap, in most cases JFDI and see what happens.

If you have a small space, then eschew staples. There’s no point in trying to grow a field of wheat in your back garden. Similarly a bag of Maris Piper or King Edward spuds is cheap. Don’t bother. If you are going to grow potatoes, grow fancy ones with a distinctive taste –Β  something like Pink Firs. You can also grow potatoes in compost in containers on a patio.

We didn’t cover ourselves with glory with tomatoes, they went out too early too fast, but will still happen

Look at what’s expensive, and favour that. Favour the vertical over the low and spreading. We3 favour tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, though we also do beans and lettuce. Grow from seed, it’s cheap and lets you succession sow so you don’t end up with more than you can use at any one time

Stagger your planting, because you stagger your eating in the usual way of things

Even as a young man where I made ‘as small as possible garden’ a requirement for my first house, I grew tomatoes in the back garden, and bought sanitised chicken shit to try and get an edge. I had not yet discovered the magic of the small plastic greenhouse (or bush tomatoes πŸ˜‰ ) because tomatoes you grow yourself actually taste of something, unlike most of what’s bought in the shops, which is forced to grow too fast. If you don’t have a greenhouse then the secret to outside tomatoes is get them in really early – dear xGF’s Dad performed me a service saying I should start growing from seed in late February, rather than reading the back of the packet. You bring seeds on inside the house if you don’t have a greenhouse, you don’t usually get frost inside the house!Β  If you can grow the buggers up against a south-facing wall, all to the good.

Tomatoes come from South America, and it just ain’t natural to grow them in latitudes as high as the UK. My hit rate in terms of red tomatoes I got to eat went up no end following his wisdom, compared to following the advice on the packet, which meant I got a lot of green ones and blight-ravaged stuff in October. And he came from Lancashire which was way up north from Suffolk so the spring gets there later. Push your luck, I say πŸ˜‰

hardening off seedlings outside

Diversify

Talking to people round these parts, some are hesitant to sow cucumbers at this stage because they are worried about the date of the last frost. You can see in that map that the urban heat island effect favours city dwellers on that front. Mrs Ermine has no truck with that sort of thing anyway – seed is cheap, and you have to be prepared to lose some troops if it’s a particularly cold year…

Grow different things, and different varieties. Take notes of what works and what doesn’t.

So if you can, grow something. Use containers or windowboxes. It will be the fresh stuff that we will be short of, due to a lack of manpower and harvest time due to the lockdown. There’s something a little bit funny about the CLAΒ  which is basically the interests of the landed gentry favouring a land army at the same time as the Landworkers’ Alliance but there we go, strange bedfellows and all that.

It’s worth a go. You won’t starve if you can’t do it, but on the other hand you may learn something new, you can do it at home, and your food will definitely taste better. What’s not to like?

Oddly enough at the time of writing some seed companies are so swamped off their feet with online orders that they are queuing punters

Sutton’s are queuing

or have temporarily stopped taking orders

and Fothergill’s can’t cope

although big fish like Thompson & Morgan still seem to be running.

There’s not point me giving detailed suggestions, Google is your friend, and the RHS is a good source. Make sure you take advice from UK sources, because of the Gulf Stream Britain is warmer than its latitude would suggest, and the buffering of the sea also reduces temperature variations. However, we have lower light levels than the temperature would normally indicate, so you can’t extrapolate information from say American websites of zones with similar temperature profiles without making allowances for these differences.

 


  1. How do we do that? We exempt agricultural land from inheritance tax because the aristocracy spun us a sob story of you don’t want to take the land from our yeoman farmer sons and daughters in the post-war period when their ownership of everything was challenged by the sacrifices made by the proles in the trenches and then the cities. Those deserving sons and daughters to the manor born generally hire contract farmers at the lowest cost to sweat the asset so they can pass it down to their children – land is a capital asset enabling the tax-free transmission of dynastic wealth rather than one of the factors of production. Having to actually grow something on it is a pesky distraction to its real purpose as a means of intergenerational capital preservation. These contract farmers drench the soil in chemicals to maximise yields at the expense of sustainability, the soil used effectively as blotting paper for agrochemicals rather than part of the cycle of life, agrochemicals destroy the microbial life that did this job for the last 10000 years. As a result, in Autumn the dust blows off the field in arable areas like Suffolk and our water is high in nitrates. And the mineral content of our fruit and veg has been dropping since the Second World War which is not good for us as eaters, the diversity of the microbes processed the mineral content but trace elements aren’t contained in the agrochemicals in a bioavailable way. I have seen what happens when a farm eschewing chemical fertilisers and pesticides starts over on industrially farmed agricultural land. Although New Scientist are correct in saying that the claims that there are only a hundred harvests left in UK soils are not substantiated,Β  that’s because modern farming is closer to hydroponics with the soil used as a holding medium, rather than an active part in the system. There were no earthworms in the soil the first year afterwards – there aren’t a hundred natural harvests left in British soils. There are hardly any, though regeneration is still possible from the unfarmed boundaries, which s presumably where the worms that did show up in successive years came from. 
  2. Kitchen-less apartments is an easy headline to write. In the early 1980s the young Ermine lived in place without a kitchen, it’s called a bedsit. It did have a Baby Belling two ring device sat atop an ‘oven’ which was basically a pie heater rather than something you roast a chicken in, the 3kW limit of a 13A socket means there’s a limit to what you can do. You could just as well have written the headline toiletless flat, because the bog was shared, it was a HMO conversion of what was originally a pleasant townhouse in leafy Ealing into a crummy dive of bedsits. That didn’t mean there was a hole in the ground with straw and a bucket, however. 
  3. Who am I kidding. We don’t, that should read Mrs Ermine favours. Note that we do have a greenhouse, we bought it secondhand on Ebay, dismantled it and rebuilt it here. That’s not an option now, although you can be creative with found materials. A south facing window works a treat in the early seedling stage. 

40 thoughts on “Hedging is not just about money”

  1. In the week before lock down I was like a man possessed acquiring materials for building growing cold frames and raised beds, we hope to have all of our salad from the garden this year. Potatoes in the ground. Lots of seeds becoming pea and broad beans and carrots etc.

    I now have calluses on my hands and a sore back from working the land but a sense of satisfaction.

    I am sure food will still be available in the shops but food you grow yourself tastes better and it looks like we are in for a long staycation this year which I have to admit I dont mind.

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      1. There’s a touch of “I’ll believe it when I see it” about this but, the crowd on Pistonheads are starting to voice opinions a little closer to the way some of us frequenting your blog think – https://www.pistonheads.com/gassing/topic.asp?h=0&f=205&t=1863586. That forum tends to have a very diverse mix of contributors, seemingly spanning all walks of life. Now, it could just be the sort of discussion that tends to take root at times like this, and after the current crisis is over it’ll be back to a massive bout of willy waving about who’s got the most impressive garage, but it does feel like this is a little different to me.

        I guess it’s what happens when a) your job is unlikely to exist for much longer (and the prospect of ANY comparable job might be questionable), and b) you have an awful lot more time on your hands to think about how your life’s been going up to now. Most of us (I was the same) when we’re working long hours, even when we’re doing a job we really like and getting decently remunerated for it, tend to keep going without seriously stopping and asking whether there’s an alternative.

        It’s the Dave Allen sketch about life revolving around the clock really isn’t it ? In hindsight, I was very fortunate in 2001 when the IT world (among others) went into shock and started cancelling projects and contracts – it caused me to stop and ask “the question”. The answer was to be found in the fact that a) the mortgage was paid off, b) IR35 meant an increase in taxation should I continue to work all 12 months each year, c) there are often considerable costs attached to just going to work which don’t exist when you quit, d) you have time to realise just how much expensive (and unnecessary) sh*t there is in your life (and just how much it costs additionally in recurring servicing/maintenance/insurance/upgrades !)

        I note the terrestrial TV channels have been showing one or two old films recently. I wish they’d re-show the 1951 version of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” instead of that 2008 revamp they’ve had on twice recently.

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      2. We used to gather herring boxes from the beach, knock the bottoms out, and pin polythene over the gap. They made excellent cold frames. We did wash the salt off first.

        When one finally decayed we’d throw it on a garden fire and use the ash. Being frugal is all part of the fun of gardening.

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    1. I feel pretty much the same – my hands at the end of a day planting out (or even re-potting stuff in the greenhouse) feel like sandpaper. I’ve usually had to rub some hand creme into them and avoid touching anything else for a good ten minutes or so whilst continuing to work the stuff in. The creme’s in a small but very old jar with one of those labels that makes you think “Good God, how long ago did they change the company logo – they haven’t sold it in that style for years !” Never mind, it still does a fine job and you don’t need that much of it either. It’s been sod’s law recently that the phone will ring during that time though …

      “Hello” (crash)
      “‘You alright ?”
      (slight delay and distant sounds of fumbling and muttering)
      “Yes, yes, swine phone (in an Inspector Clouseau voice :-)) – ahem, just finished planting stuff outside for the day, been using that creme stuff on my hands again – I could’ve made a start on the window frames without needing sandpaper before I put that on. Anyway, I’d only just started, then you rang, picked up and the receiver shot out of my hand like it was a wet bar of soap. Anyway, what’ve you been up to today ?” … πŸ˜‰

      Bugger, got to wipe the phone down now …

      I accept that a sizeable chunk of the country probably view the current lockdown as a total and utter (but sadly necessary) pain in the arse, and are probably struggling to occupy themselves whilst effectively cooped up in a property they otherwise spend not many daylight hours in. For me, self isolation and social distancing have been near enough a normal way of life for over a decade now. Some people, particularly those who don’t understand I actually quite like solitude (I understand entirely what Alfred Wainwright meant as regards taking in surroundings better on your own), think I’ve combined the two recently coined terms and have developed a (bad in their eyes) case of social isolation instead.

      I remember talking to a friend in the building trade a few years ago and him observing “oh people don’t want gardens these days – they’ve got far too busy lives to be messing with gardens”. Now that a hell of a lot of people have an unfamiliar amount of free time on their hands I wonder how many are changing their minds on that one ? As another friend of mine memorably said: “take time to smell the roses once in a while – you’re a long time dead”. I later discovered his wife had an appointment at the doctors on the day the twin towers came down – and had been diagnosed with cancer. Quite.

      With spending so much time out in the garden recently, the birds are getting very tame – there’s one particular blackbird that’s almost always in close attendance when I’m digging – it’s clearly totally unaware of the two metre (even two feet on occasions !) rule πŸ™‚

      Whilst a well known news reader has observed that London has the feel of a disused film set, I’m left wondering about all the miles of ascents and empty ridges of all those Lakeland fells I frequented for over a dozen years or so, the sounds of free flowing streams, days of fine cloudless blue skies … and no-one there to enjoy any of it 😦

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  2. Our most productive apple tree has a cycle of good crop/bad crop. So weather permitting we’ll get a good crop. We can trade much of that with our neighbours, leaving stuff on their doorsteps as if they were newly discovered Indians in the New World.

    More seriously, for the beginner it’s a good idea to ask the neighbours which crops do well in the local soil. For instance we’ve found that beans thrive but not peas. But, but, but … you say. Never mind “same family”: facts are chiels that winna ding.

    Also, oh beginner, diversify. If you put everything to pink fir apples and tomatoes the blight could cost you the lot.

    Also, heed ye the Ermine – herbs improve life out of all proportion to the cost of seeds and the tiny areas they occupy. I particularly recommend tarragon and chervil. If you’re going to give beans a good go, grow summer savoury and winter savoury.

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    1. The single 20+ year old apple tree in my back garden produced a truly astounding amount of fruit (cookers) last year – it kept me in crumbles, etc for about the last six months, and that’s whilst acknowledging the considerable number that dropped off and went to waste unfortunately. This year I’ve rigged up the underside of the tree with netting to catch them before that happens. Even if they end up mildly bruised against the trunk you can still use them. I like to finely chop them and add them to my variation of a Jamie Oliver breakfast pancake recipe. As he’d probably say “adapt it to whatever you’ve got to hand and have fun with it”. For me, it’s flour, cottage cheese and an egg, then add whatever takes your fancy: could be some sweet corn, finely sliced ham, or an apple that was otherwise going to go to waste. I agree with him about a dollop of chili sauce in the morning though πŸ™‚

      Funny, isn’t it, around these parts a couple of years or so ago, people were leaving wheelbarrows loaded with apples that had dropped off the trees in their gardens for anyone to help themselves to. Wonder if that’ll be repeated this year …

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    2. I have a (cooking) apple tree and a pear tree in the garden – both have to be at least 20 years old (most likely a good deal older still). Anyway, for quite a while it’s been the case that if the apple does well one year, the pear does not much. Another year and it’s been the other way around for some reason. I can’t recall a year when the pair of them together have been on top form. I doubt it has anything to do with pruning since they have only been pruned very infrequently, so they have developed into larger trees than they ideally should have done.

      There’s a huge number of flowers all over the pear at the moment so I’m hopeful it’ll be a good year. Sadly, since it wasn’t me that planted it (or the apple tree for that matter), I can’t identify the variety – someone chose well because the fruits from past years have been great.

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  3. Wise advice, I remember being very impressed with your leeks the last time I saw your garden. In the UK a glasshouse is likely to be more productive per square m than garden so I would always go for one however small your plot. We inherited ours when we moved in and at least 50% of the panes were broken. I replaced them with 3mm thick twin wall polycarbonate that’s designed to fit in place of the glass with the advantages that you can cut it with a Stanley knife and it gives some small, but useful insulation. It’s also more resilient to getting whacked with balls and toys etc.

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  4. If anyone is considering growing your own, then I would earnestly recommend ‘simplify gardening’ https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuy0z9uUkJGkuOT2eWDGY2g. IMHO one of the best on the web.

    And to avoid back breaking labour – check out Charles Dowding ‘no dig gardening’ https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCB1J6siDdmhwah7q0O2WJBg/featured.

    The latter I have followed for some years at my own allotment with very good results.

    And as a tip, if you like peas, try Hursts Greenshaft and sow 4x as many as you first thought of, they are so delicious that only 1 in 4 ever make it home, the rest eaten in-situ!

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  5. I don’t know what sort of cucumber seeds Mrs E sows, but for a productive all-female variety (the only types worth growing IMHO) such as ‘Femspot’ or ‘Carmen’ they’re certainly not cheap ! Some vendors on the internet are profiteering this year and want Β£6 or so for just 4 or 5 seeds. And considering you could probably buy 15 cucumbers for that cash, at least in ‘normal’ times, you need to be quite confident in your ability to grow them all to fruition.

    And it’s better to start them off a bit later because they’ll grow and flower much more quickly if they’re not checked at all – a single cold night in early May could stop them in their tracks for several weeks, if it doesn’t kill them off completely.

    So yes, it’s still far too early to sow cucumbers πŸ˜‰

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    1. She grows marketmore ones, which at 99p for 20 seeds are dear but not shockingly expensive. They result in shortarsed cucumbers about half the length of the ones in Tesco with a more gnarly hide but seem to taste okay, and don’t seem to cause any undue trouble. Although they were set back somewhat last year ISTR.

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      1. Β£6 for 4 or 5 seeds ! I’ve heard of profiteering but bloody hell that sounds ridiculous. I was very fortunate (in hindsight given the current state of things) to get all the seeds I’m likely to need for the next three years back in January. I ordered 29 packets covering everything from the usual greenhouse stuff (tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, chilies) through main vegetables (carrots, broccoli, kale, sweet corn, various beans and peas, etc) to a comprehensive selection of herbs. Total cost ? A mere Β£26.93 for the whole lot from a reputable supplier. As I say, that was back in January.

        The one thing I regret is not being quicker off the mark to replace the French Tarragon that was unforgivably allowed to expire late last year – the Russian version certainly grows vigorously enough (even now only into April) but it really isn’t a substitute for decent French stuff – had to try it but what they say seems to be true.

        Going back to cucumbers again – the line from my order ? 110 seeds (yes, one hundred and ten) for 79p. I have four of them growing in my greenhouse now (what the hell, I can roll the dice with that many to play with can’t I ?) So far, so good they’ve germinated and seem to be doing fine but I’m keeping a close eye on temperature given it’s still very early.

        I much prefer the short ones too as I never manage to use a whole long variety (similar to those most often found in the supermarkets) before a big chunk of it starts going off.

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  6. And another thing. If you are far enough south for them to ripen, grow some sweetcorn. We’ve never had any problem with pests or disease (perhaps because there are no commercial maize crops anywhere near us?). Then when you fancy corn-on-the-cob: cut one off, walk it smartly to the microwave, and cook it immediately. You’ll find it far superior to any you can buy, whether at the market or in a restaurant. With sweetcorn freshness is all.

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      1. Extremists would put the microwave on an extension cord and carry it down the garden so that the time of transfer is even shorter.

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      2. We were extremists – though we used one of those camping gas stoves. And butter…

        The best way to have sweetcorn is to start in the noonday sun, and get a pan of boiling water ready on a camping stove. Crucially, do not add salt.

        Then send a small child up to the corn to harvest a couple of cobs, and get them to run, not walk, the 100 yards back. Get parent to take cobs, trim all the stringy stuff and leaves, boil for a couple of minutes and definitely less than five (depends on size and how windy it is giving the stove a hard time). Fish out insert fork into either end, add butter and salt and hand to child. And watch the amazing smile – because this is SWEETcorn and they have never understood why it was called sweetcorn.

        You gotta go big or go home

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    1. I’m up in North Yorkshire and managed to grow sweet corn fairly well in previous years. Whilst I think this “dash from garden to kitchen with a freshly pulled cob” borders the levels of obsession that sees helicopters being chartered to get a grouse from the Highlands to a London dinner plate, I do agree they taste infinitely better than anything that’s gone via a supermarket. Sorry to the supermarkets for that – they’re doing a cracking job given the current circumstances but preserving the taste of sweet corn’s a tough one really isn’t it ?

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      1. I object! The grouse to London business is plain bollocks because, just like any other game (or indeed beef or lamb) the grouse ought to be hanged anyway. Whereas sweetcorn is cheap enough that you can do controlled trials. We have. Immediacy wins by miles. Or however long your extension cord is.

        P.S. you don’t need a microwave or a camping stove. Just walk a pan of boiling water down the garden with you.

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      2. > ought to be hanged anyway

        Yep, and that’s for about two weeks ISTR. They could send it down to the Great Wen on a horse and cart.

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      3. dearieme: Sorry, re-reading my post above quite possibly left the wrong impression – my apologies if that was the case. Amazing, isn’t it – I read it back for typos before posting and only now do I realise it doesn’t quite say what I wanted it to. I too think that the grouse business is lunacy not least for the ridiculous expense it seems to entail and, of course, the two require completely different treatment/preparation.

        I am merely agreeing with the views already expressed that sweet corn doesn’t get much better than straight from your own plot to cooked and served in a few minutes despite the best efforts of science and supermarkets.

        It was the hysteria regarding speed at all costs I was (perhaps poorly) equating.

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  7. Rhubarb. That’s about my only home crop. The prices that supermarkets charge for something that grows like a weed is outrageous!

    I have tried other things in the past but the reward/effort ratio was far too low for my liking.

    But also, there may be a local nursery that is happy to take a phone/email order and deliver. That might help keep them in business, especially at this crucial time of year.

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    1. Ah yes, don’t forget rhubarb – a few years ago I had to split the sizeable clump in my plot and didn’t have enough space for all of it so one or two neighbours were chuffed to get something for nothing more costly than five minutes exercise with a wheelbarrow πŸ™‚

      Since then it’s been a reliable producer of wonderfully sweet dark pink coloured stems which despite their slender cross-section still manage to shove the assortment of old buckets and wide rimmed plastic planters off the soil (even when loaded down with a brick on top of them !)

      My parents, for some unaccountable reason, seem to prefer growing theirs out in the open/uncovered which leads to a massive explosion of stuff hard enough to take on an Aussie quick, topped off with bloody huge leaves the size of those old metal dustbin lids we used to have about 30-40 years ago. I’m not keen on the taste of the stuff grown like that but it does have one timely redeeming feature. Since the leaves are reputedly good for cleaning things, if the bogroll lunacy was to happen again (a run on bogroll for God’s sake, I’ve heard it all now …) you’d have another alternative to the six inch squares of newspaper (most of which I concur with Blackadder on) that were supposedly being used 80 years ago …

      As an aside, about the current lockdown, someone on Pistonheads (car forum, usually as good a source as any for 1st world “problems”) observed that comparisons with the shenanigans 80 years ago are ridiculous, no really, they are. I mean, back then people were yanked from their jobs (unless “reserved”), given a uniform and sent hundred or thousands of miles away to spend quite possibly years getting shot at with a terrifying array of weaponry, some of which doubtless I’ve probably still not heard of. Having probably had minimal training on how to avoid the opposition succeeding in their aims, they then (hopefully) came home again (assuming the Luftwaffe hadn’t made it disappear in the meantime) and spent God knows how long trying to get over the accumulated shock of it all.

      All we’re being asked to do is stay the f**k at home unless we’re down to the last tin of beans and a bit of cauliflower that won’t “go another day”, and not add to the workload of some seriously overstretched people with really important skills right now, and yet there are still people that can’t manage to do even that ! I give up – they wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in the real world as it existed 80 years ago.

      Around here, admittedly it’s usually a fairly quiet area anyway, but it’s difficult to observe that much difference over the last couple of weeks. Personally, I can usually manage to avoid needing to go out food shopping any more frequently than once every three weeks. I’m taking this current crisis as something of a kick in the butt to get back to what I used to do successfully as much as 15-16 years ago – growing as much food on a well prepared vegetable plot as possible (and enjoy making full and inventive use of the produce), and make the greenhouse somewhere I want to spend a good chunk of time too. It’s a pity Test Match Special’s probably not going to be around (much ?) this summer, but at least we’ve still got Ken Bruce to help get through the mornings.

      I remember years ago, a friend of my father’s telling him he was on the Atlantic convoys during the war. I still can’t imagine what it must have been like: not much more than a kid, scared half to death about being torpedoed from seemingly nowhere thousands of miles from land. As a friend of mine once said when we were discussing the lives of generations now long gone, “we don’t know we’re born”.

      Sorry, better put the soap box back under the stairs (this has gone way off topic – apologies) …

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  8. TImely post which reminded me about the mini-greenhouse I had on my Amazon wishlist which has just been purchased! Never really been successful at growing anything edible but now might be the time!

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    1. Get your seeds ordered ASAP given the delays! Those mini GHs are really versatile – we still have ours though it’s well over 10 years old now. It’s useful to stage the process of hardening off seedlings – S facing window, then repotted and into mini GH (or the main GH) then onto black plastic and then into the ground.

      I used to grow tomatoes in it – worked well most years, although it being only about chest high meant there were limitations to what I could do πŸ˜‰

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      1. One option is to use garden fleece as an ‘in-situ’ greenhouse. Use short lengths of canes with cane toppers (or old yoghurt posts) to keep the fleece off the plants.

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      2. During this February I made considerable use of south facing windows in my place for starting off seed trays/propagators – anything to get an early crop of as much as would sensibly grow. This wasn’t foresight of what was coming, but simply a desire to get back to what I used to enjoy doing in years long gone by and used to do well at the time. It’s turning out to be inspired/bloody lucky by the feel of it – just wish I could “time” stock markets that fortuitously πŸ™‚ On the other hand, if things go REALLY pear-shaped with the world, maybe it won’t matter any more … !

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  9. A word of caution about sweetcorn. Never, ever mix varieties on your plot. As they are wind pollinated pollen from one variety can fertilize the other variety. I once grew a supersweet maincrop corn and the tiny ‘chinese stir fry’ variety in its vicinity. The result was two totally wasted crops!

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    1. Hmm, I’ve never tried growing more than one variety of sweet corn at a time so thanks for the heads up about that one.

      Anyone remember the Jamie at Home series ? The reason I ask is that it was the gardener I particularly remember about the series, a guy called Brian Skilton I believe. I rather enjoyed the banter between him and Jamie about what grows at certain times, how easy/difficult it is, what it needs, etc. I haven’t seen it for a while – think it was done around 2007/08, ha ! Just around the time of another global cock-up. There’s something of a pattern developing here or is it just coincidence … πŸ˜‰

      I also rather liked this last week’s Gardener’s World and Adam Frost’s reference to his old boss, the gone before his time, Geoff Hamilton. I have a book of his I’ve been meaning to read (“no time like the present” has never been more apt I guess) which is rather more than the usual “showy” gardening books. I think the book in question starts off, not with plants, layouts, what to buy, etc but with the engine room of the entire garden – the compost heap. It’s an area I’ve paid scant attention to in the past and acknowledge, given possible difficulty obtaining it, I really need to be making better use of my garden’s natural abilities to make the stuff, essentially, for free ! Now there’s a REAL army of willing volunteers if you’ve ever taken a look into the contents of one in action πŸ™‚

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      1. Our compost heap had a little helper this winter, who turned the compost for us without any effort on our part. Presumably it was a rat though I suppose it could have been a mole or hedgehog. But my money is on a rat.

        I wonder whether it’s worth “seeding” a compost heap with fragments of meat or cheese to encourage this delightful co-operation between man and nature?

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      2. The compost heap we made about the end of March has spent four days over 55C and is on its way back there after the first turn. Hot composting gets you there faster and kills off the weed seeds. But you gotta turn it yourself and not rely on dearieme’s little helpers. We should be able to use this in a couple of months

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    1. Agreed – and black plastic weed-control matting is your friend there. Mrs Ermine puts courgettes (and other curcubits like squash) in the gaps, lets ’em spread out and reduced weeding over a widish area. And the sun warms the black plastic which seems to be all to the good for the produce. Then you can roll up the balck plastic mesh and get to use it next year!

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    2. Quite agree – I tend to stick to a couple of plants though because, as you suggest, they take up a bit of space when they get properly going and they continue to produce fast growing courgettes that need removing every few days (unless you actively want them larger). I think courgettes tend to get overlooked a little (the same with aubergines too really). I think it’s often “bad memories” from childhood, possibly caused by a less than stellar meal with them in. I know my father’s not keen on spinach for pretty much that reason. The stereotypically overcooked cabbage did it for a lot of us from school days, didn’t it ? Maybe the French are better at “selling” the benefits of courgettes and aubergines.

      Anyway, if you get a variety where the courgettes are the same colour as the rest of the plant you can easily find yourself wondering if someone’s nipped round with a bicycle pump in the dead of night ! Where the hell did that monster come from ? I’ve never seen the appeal of marrows the size of RAF ordnance.

      With that in mind, this year I’ve gone for golden zucchinis which are bright yellow and almost impossible to miss under all that foliage. Nothing wrong with other varieties but I’ve been caught off guard with courgettes once too often πŸ™‚

      Dead easy to grow them – started a couple off in the greenhouse a few short weeks back and they’ve been re-potted with a span across the leaves of around a foot already ! Should get them in the ground shortly as it’s started warming up noticeably around here.

      I think this area (coastal edge of North York Moors) is singularly blessed with the weather. It doesn’t get quite the same temperature swings of places further inland, nor do we get the huge amounts of rain that lands on Lancashire/Cumbria (certainly nowhere near as often anyway). I imagine Ermine felt similarly about the weather in Suffolk … ?

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      1. Agree on the golden ones. If they get marrow-sized we just enjoy them stuffed with lamb mince and herbs.

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  10. Thank you Ermine for the pep talk! Neglected veg. beds now sorted! The garden was a mess because next door had contractors in to do the boundary fence and we asked them to do the opposite side at the same time as it was heavy work. Well, I did manage to save my daffodils, but only just.

    The first year I retired, I managed to get an allotment – the derelict corner one that no-one wanted! Actually found the hard work cleaning it up enjoyable, and bought a load of cheap seeds from Lidl and some seed potatoes. Ended up with a massive crop and fed all the neighbours too! But it is a hard taskmaster in the summer especially if you want to go away for a week or two. And I don’t like giant slugs (especially when they ruin the mid season potatoes after the early ones had been so good!). And cat excrement in the soil, and the guy doing target practice against the fence with his air rifle…….

    So it’s back to the garden. I’m usually happy to let the birds have the soft fruit (they are so entertaining!) but maybe not this year. I bet they beat me to it again as they eat it before it’s ripe. πŸ˜„

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    1. Birds and soft fruit … (sigh) got to love ’em really. A few years ago, I made a similar mistake to Monty Don, who had blackbirds get in his greenhouse and helped themselves to a generous portion of grapes straight from the vine by the sounds of it.

      Anyway, I left a load of blueberry shrubs uncovered with predictable results – that season must’ve produced the healthiest blackbirds for miles around ! … πŸ™‚ Maybe the one that accompanies me around the garden visiting areas I’ve recently been digging is one of the decendents that’s come back to express appreciation …

      It’s especially funny watching a crow or similar going a few rounds with a nicely softening apple that’s landed on the deck. The one I saw towards the end of last season seemed to be getting a touch peeved with it before finally jamming it’s beak in and around it and just managing to gain enough height in time to clear my 7ft tall cypress hedge and disappearing into the woods opposite with it ! I had that line from Dambusters running through my mind: “… and don’t exceed 63,000lbs otherwise we shan’t get off !” …

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  11. It’s the squirrels that annoy me: we never get a single hazelnut off our tree. But there was one year that we received compensation: the squirrels buried walnuts in our flowerpots. We ate them before they could recover them.

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  12. With regards to the sweetcorn (yes grow in rows and columns) – every morning go and bash them lightly with a bamboo stick (other sticks are available), this will help with the pollen transfer. Just so happens as I am retiring this year and planning to sell up next year I have been busy filling in the vegetable beds with grass, what a interesting choice that has turned out to be. The James Grieve apple tree is glorious in pollen at the moment, the other two just starting to bud (word of warning – put vaseline all around the base of the tree bark – you will thank me later). Hoverflies have been abundant this year, and I will get to see my blackcurrant bush with fruit on it, normally I come back after working away at the weekend and the birds have stripped it. Got some wild strawberries growing wild! in the garden as well, now they are the tastiest you will ever. And regards to the cost of seeds – yes I would expect to pay a lot of money for true F1 Hybrids, but then you are paying for plants running true.

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  13. Oops – just noticed I should caveat this above, “word of warning – put vaseline all around the base of the tree bark – you will thank me later” – don’t put it directly on the bark – attach it to a band or cloth or something, or even use wax strips/duct tape. This will stop the black ants harvesting aphids (they can’t climb the bark)

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