The writing journey started with this blog. Recording my journey on the allotment was about learning from mistakes, about sharing the experiences with others and generally to keep developing myself.
This was a learning curve. How to write a book, taking the photos. Making a start on something, where I had no idea where it might go.
The first book was Playing with Plant Pots; Tales from the Allotment. Or, The Yellow one! This has bits pulled together about what I had grown on the allotment and then recipes based upon that produce.
The second is Sow, Grow and Eat. Whilst there is still some allotment and growing information in there. This concentrates on jams, jellies, preserves and chutneys. I mean, when you have that many courgettes. You have to work out what to do with them!
These books were written to demystify gardening, debunk some myths. Above all, they aren’t perfect. These are books to start gently with the gardening and to have a support hand guiding you. That, and you can also eat what you grow.
We’re currently in that funny window that is the twelve days of Christmas. As such, my heart and stomach are both full, and my brain at bit fuzzy.
Other than books, and writing, I’ve had another thought on my mind.
Chillies. The sowing, growing and cultivation thereof.
When seed sowing, I would traditionally start chillies from seeds around about Boxing Day. I am….two days over. I’ve yet to get fresh dirt under my fingernails, but you might. Thought I should share some ideas, and there’s a fair bit about chillies on the blog that you can look at to also support you.
So let me get this out of my system, before I forget or The Muse has a strop and walks off.
(The Muse has plans for the next for few days when it comes to writing, so we’re going to let him do his gardening thing whilst we have his attention. Every now and again, he goes into full bounce mode and I end up writing like a woman possessed. It’s an interesting experience.)
Chillies. What do you fancy?
There are what I call the standard ones, the cayennes, and there are super hots and habaneros. In my experience, the hotter, more potent that chillies are, the more difficult they are to grow. There are, therefore, things to keep in mind.
I’ve always sown chillies in pellets, in warm, moist compost. That is then put into heated propagator. This is the bottom heat that chilli seeds benefit from. However, what I have observed is that how long the seed case takes to crack will depend on the scoville rating of the chilli. That is to say, how hot they are. You can also, sow in a small pot, cover with a food bag and put some where hot, and light. Here in England, at this time of year, those two things are fairly thin on the grown. Hence using a heated prop. Don’t leave your compost outside. Bring in a bit, and keep it warm. You won’t need much. But that feeling of bare feet on cold kitchen tiles? If you don’t like it, what makes you think a seed will?
I have the impatience of a saint, when it comes germination. I wait, and I wait. But it annoys me, as its never quick enough. Alas, patience has to be germinated in the same way as a seedling. It takes time.
(Gardening has the most beautiful spiral curriculum; teaches you things other hobbies don’t. Gardening and mental health, for example, is a whole other blog post. Another time, maybe. The Muse is on one.)
Compost has to warm up, to reach the appropriate temperature. Also, don’t make the compost too damp. This will water log the seed, and it will rot.
Chilli seeds can either be as cheap as chips with a cayenne, or half a kidney with super hots, more specific. Being diligent, pays dividends. Or in our case, pays in chillies. Take a look at what interests you. I loved growing super hots and habaneros.
Tried -and failed-to grow the dorset naga. But why grow pointless stuff? Think about it. As much as I love experiments-I do, I love them, do them all the time; but think about the end, the equity at the end of it.
Grow the chilli that you are going to use, the chilli that is going to be meaningful and have the desired outcome.
Germination is going to take time, and not all your chilli seeds are going to germinate. Take the wins, learn from the losses. The hotter the chilli, the longer you are going to be pacing the floor.
Once you do have seedlings, remove them from a heated propagator (If you have used one) There is every danger now, that the seedlings are going to be thin, wiry and likely to keel over. They are ‘leggy; as they search for light, and are heliotropic. They are growing towards heat and light. This is both exhilarating and down right scary; you may end up with fewer seedlings still.
Proper chilli heads, would remove, possibly pot on-from pellet to pot-and place under heat lamps. I don’t do that, but I have coddled them. Placed a plastic food bag over the top of a pot, secured with an elastic band to do the window sill shuffle in the pursuit of the warmest place in the house.
Then, you wait. You watch. You observe the seedling do it’s thing. To send out a proper set of leaves, for the stem to thicken as it starts to anchor itself. Once that proper set of leaves appear, take away the cover. Be vigilant and mindful still. A passing breeze may fell the thing yet.
Hence the coddling.
Your chillies, if sown now, are going to be around for a while. Until at least May, and when the night temperature is 10 degrees or above. Between now and then, cultivation is the name of the game. A long growing period, if managed effectively will lead to a good fruiting period.
In May, the chances of frost-here in Birmingham, UK, disappear. I’ve taken my chances before and put chillies in the poly-when I had one-but they’ve lived mostly in a conservatory.
For now, sow the seeds. Keep your fingers crossed.
Oh, and step away from the tomatoes and aubergines for now.
There was an article, about the rise of female allotment holders. There was an exploration, across gender lines, as to why more women are taking up allotment plots in the time of COVID, as well as how there are fewer men on allotments.
I’ve read it a few times, in order to process my own thoughts and feelings.
Needless to say, there are thoughts and feelings.
I remember when I first got an allotment. I was told to give it up.
I didn’t. I refused to.
I’ve had mostly a positive experience. I was adopted, supported and encouraged my all of the allotment neighbours. Advice as given, solicited, absorbed; at no point were there any denigrating comments about women on the allotments. The allotment sight, is a welcoming place. There is genuine camaraderie; with no distinction made in relation to gender. I have more often than not, talked to the older stalwarts to gain insight.
Stalwarts, who have been men and women. There was no gender-based monopoly.
So seeing that article, ticked me off.
I’ve yet to have off-spring, so there’s no empty nest-ism. I don’t garden, due to a lack of progeny. If and when the off-spring arrive, they’ll no doubt know where a tomato comes from.
There were a whole host of assumptions, stereotypes, socio-economic, gender-politic bits that I was questioning my own identity! I channelled into reflecting why I have an allotment, why do I garden?
Gardening, and indeed allotmenteering, has occurred in parallel to training to be a person-centred counsellor. The Carl Rogers story about potatoes, for instance, is very important to me. I started off, carrying out pseudo-scientific experiments; to see what happened when a seed was sown. This continued, with physical exercise, an impact upon mental health and to alleviate stress and anxiety. There a many more reasons.
Without my allotment, I wouldn’t have written two gardening books. I am most certainly not an insta-star! We live in world that now has social media within it’s fabric. I mean, I’m writing a blog post….
…I did start with a book though, I’m a book worm. I used it, in tandem with connecting with the gardening community. A community not only here in the Sceptred Isle of The United Kingdom, but also far beyond.
Allotments have become relevant, over the last few years. Least of all because of COVID. There has been movement, in wanting to reduce carbon foot prints, in wanting to know to where food comes from; in wanting to grown your own, to eat well. There’s a whole amalgam as to why there is an change in allotment holders. Least of all, that the older, more season-ed gentleman has dug up his last parsnip due to natural causes. A younger generation, will no doubt enter the fray. I daresay, that there are men on allotments, and the lens through which we see them, is different compared to what is the traditional view of an allotment holder. We start to question, who is on the allotment, for purpose, and a whole other judgemental debate that really isn’t necessary.
I can garden, because I can. Because I enjoy it. Not because of socio-economic, gender-politic factors. I garden as I feel potential, creativity and enjoyment; it has a lovely impact upon my mental health.
Five years, ago, about tea-time, I pressed publish. My book was out there. The first book, that I would write. I didn’t know what was about to happen.
No, it wasn’t perfect. No, I didn’t know, at that point, what I should have done, or how.
But man, was I about to learn.
I have continued to do so, too. Over the course of five years, I’ve learned a great deal, and will hopefully continue to learn. Learning, is never over; as teacher, as counsellor, I know that is true. The journey has been pretty interesting so far.
This blog, was the basis for the first book. Without this blog, without the support of the gardening world, both here in Britain and beyond, the book, probably would still be a pipe dream, Worse still, it would probably be a page of inky jottings that were going nowhere fast.
This book, has moved. It has flown to the US. As a paperback, it was stocked in an Indie bookstore; it was on a bookstand! In fact, a few of the books were. At least 3, of what is growing-oh, there’s an unintended pun-catalogue.
A few of the books. The yellow book, paved the way for the rest. There was green book, what with the chutney making. A blue book-not the content, but the cover-that was based upon a grief model. I made a foray into writing contemporary romance.
All because of this blog, because I carried out an experiment with chilli plants.
Today, I am proud. I am happy, to acknowledge that the yellow book, paved a way. Oh, there’s another reference. I get butterflies-not intentional-when the book is downloaded; when someone orders a paperback copy. When someone, decides to take risk, and engage with something that I have written. It’s magic, but altogether nerve wracking
That yellow book is special, it placed me on an interesting, ever developing journey. It is also a little bit of my soul.
Well, hello, everyone. It’s been a while. In fact, it’s been a very long while.
Over the last few days, the blog has been on my mind a great deal.
The last time that I checked in, I had been spending a great deal of time of the allotment. The weather was good; Britain was not only in the grip of a pandemic, but also a heatwave. I was able to go to the plot, and do a fair bit. I had dug over the beds, and even sown seeds.
Then life became busy, with my counselling practice and teaching. It has been a very fast, very busy ten weeks and my feet have bare touched the ground.
So, this week, I am playing catch up. I am also trying to have a rest, by shifting down a gear. I am trying to get some semblance of balance. I did have a fair dose of allotment guilt; a lot of sadness, actually. I popped down to the plot, to see how the plot had changed and to cut some roses. This, in itself, was a very grounding process. I even found some tomatoes. This was much needed. A bit of pottering, smelling the roses, to become grounded.
Social distancing still exists, and quite rightly so. And when not able to go the plot-there has been that much rain, when the sun isn’t shining. I’ve been otherwise occupied, beyond working and counselling.
Yes, at the beginning of lockdown, I learned how to knit socks. I started with flat needles, and have since graduated to circular needles. These, I do believe, make the process, easier. It is also a lovely opportunity to relax, experience mindfulness. To ground myself, and do something that isn’t energetically demanding; is wonderfully calming and therapeutic. As such, I now have four pairs of needles with as many cast on socks. As you can see, this are not boring socks. Colourful and comfy, I’m really very proud of my creations. I have enough wool now, to be really quite busy. It is really quite easy, to be seduced by pretty yarn. And the socks are all mine; there is no one to inflict them upon.
Talking of creations. There is a new writing project on the desk. All being well, that will be released next year. This has already spent a year in the pipeline, and is very different to what I’ve already written. A series of short stories, all inspired by the City of Birmingham. You’ll have to watch this space, for further details.
At this moment in time, there is a lot of seed sowing. The current situation, has inspired, challenged, encouraged people to start gardening. This might be growing your own food, sorting out the dahlias, or just rejuvenating your green space.
Gardening, has certainly struck a cord with people.
As such, I’ve been thinking about this blog. About how I started just over a decade ago, with containers in Dad’s garden. I started gardening, growing food through a combination of sheer fluke and curiosity. Everything was an experiment.
It was also to help mental health at the time. I’d just come to the end of my initial teacher training, and was unlikely to be employed by the end of Summer. There was sadness, anxiety and uncertainty that experimenting with seed sowing could be alleviating.
Ten and bit years later, the change in the universe is global.
I started with cherry tomatoes, chilli plants. I found runner beans and even a Butternut squash plant that I called Gladys. We have Kevin the aubergine too.
That was an interesting summer, in 2009. We had a heatwave, and this led to a bumper crop of cayenne chillies.
I remember going to Wilkos, to Poundland, to get my supplies.
At this moment in time, that is impossible. There are DIY stores, but I’m not for one moment, encouraging non-essential travel. There are also online outlets, who are doing their best to support customers. Again, I advise caution, as businesses do the best that they can.
For my part, I have an allotment, that I can access sparingly to tidy up. I’ve yet to sow anything.
That doesn’t mean that I can’t offer support; especially with all the content on the blog. I wrote it, for that very job! To help others, perhaps share my mistakes so others would avoid them.
(There are also two books on the side bar, but that is not an advert.)
Gardening has the potential to bring great joy, stability, focus and so many other things. I know that it means a great deal to me. All being well, you may find something on the blog that also helps.
Four years ago, around about tea time, I pressed publish. What I was publishing, self-publishing that is, what Playing with Plant Pots: Tales from the Allotment.
I was bringing to a close, work that I had been doing over the summer. At the start of that summer, I had decided to write a book. I had no idea, what to do or how. The plan, all very vague, was to build on what I had written for the blog. What I wanted to do, was to share via another platform, everything that I put on the blog.
I felt, more keenly than anything, that was I was about to do, was useful. That what I had learned, experienced and recorded would be valuable to others. I also like books. I am and always will be, a bookworm. Books are magical, they serve an infinite number of purposes and have an infinite number of effects.
What I was also doing, was taking my first tentative steps toward being an author, being a writer. That’s something that I’m still trying to get my ahead around. I’ve yet to put that on my CV; I feel like an impostor. It has taken me ten years to feel like a fully fledged teacher, I have no qualms about saying that’s what I do. Declaring myself a writer, an author, is just as hard as saying I’m a newly qualified and registered Counsellor.
Plant Pot tales was published via Kindle. The whole world of Indie publishing is still very new to me, it’s an ongoing process to learn and process things. Plant Pot tales was a my gateway in, a baptism of fire. Without this book, I wouldn’t have written and published another five. After Plant Pot tales, there was Sow, Grow and eat. I had learned a fair few significant lessons before taking the plunge with that one. Plant pot tales stands for so much, I’ve never fully appreciated it til now.
One of the best moments, was being sat there whilst Mama F told me her recipes. Most of what has been grown on the allotment has passed through her kitchen. I had to convert her conversation into a set of standardised instructions that could be replicated. Instructions that were both reliable and valid across time, location and population. In a word, these were recipes that could accessible, uncomplicated and bring some form of enjoyment to those using them. This was not supposed to be an onerous, over-complicated book to bamboozle people. There is nothing so off-putting as being over-complicated.
What I will never forget, is standing in the kitchen whilst flicking through the pages. It was the pictures that got me. I’d taken them all, used them on here for a blogging. I was developing an archive of images to support what I was writing. I don’t for one minute think that it’s a run of the mill gardening book. It’s part reference, part cook-book and that’s deliberate. I didn’t want to write a book that was the same as all the others; the same as all the ‘proper’ ones.
Not writing anything ‘proper’ or within expected norms, is a theme that carries on with all the other books. A theme, that does make it difficult to spread the word, promote and share the books. That is however, another story.
Plant pot tales has also travelled. It travelled to the US, where it was sold in a book store. Yes, a proper book store with shelves, people and everything. My book, was on a shelf. In a book store.
Us humans might not have enjoyed the recent heatwave, but the chillies certainly have.
This year has been a big year for me, when it comes to my chilli plants. For one, I actually have some! After such a long time away from meaningful growing. I did sow and grow some plants. There are less than a dozen, but these are tall, bushy and as you can see abundant!
It would appear that this is the most successful season for chillies; far exceeding the six that I managed to grow in the hot, heady days of 2009. That was the year I started experimenting with seeds and started my GYO journey. I’ve not had much success since then when it comes to good cropping chillies.
With the warm weather, I’ve been picking chillies twice a week. The most that I’ve picked has been about a dozen. If you think about it, that many would cost you about a quid in the supermarket. These are the most complex variety; this are rather straight forward cayennnes. It’s a big deal for me, to have an abundant crop and to be able to enjoy the fruits. My sister’s been given some, her mother-in-law too; Mama F’s using them as they come for bits and pieces in the kitchen.
Above all, this experience has been rather revitalising. I’ve really enjoyed fussing over my chilli plants and making sure that they are looked after. Especially as there are only tomatoes and soft fruit on the plot. I need to develop a better routine for the plot, to get more of the soft fruit harvested.
There is a joy in having vibrant, happy chilli plants. I do hope they keep going for a while. I’ve never over-wintered them, and the latest I get a crop is September. I will continue to nurture them; they’ve certainly nurtured me.