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Retreating to Peace: A Peace series Novella
Playing with Plant Pots
Sow, Grow Eat
Free on Kindle UK:
Postcards from Peace: A Peace Series Collection.
Retreating to Peace: A Peace series Novella
Playing with Plant Pots
Sow, Grow Eat
Postcards from Peace: A Peace Series Collection.
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.
You couldn’t make that up, not really.
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.
It’s definitely summer; the rain has been coming down in sheets and for days. On the allotment, the tomatoes that I planted out are having something of a sulk. However, the gladioli that were sunk, are starting to shoot through. I still have fifty or so to sink, so that’s an action point.
And the other plot blooms are starting to kick off as well. For me, summer on the allotment is framed by the bloom and blossom of roses. There are well over a dozen bushes on the plot, and these have been developing over the course of years. Roses do not grow on quickly, they take time to establish. As such, I’ve had mine for some time, and summer always feel incomplete when they aren’t abundant. Abundant they will be if there is enough rain, heat and light to keep them going. Over the last week, there’s certainly been a lot of rain, which was prefaced by really quite glorious warmth and sunshine.
As you can see, I have harvested the first bouquet of the year. Compared to this time last year, this is really quite something. There was a distinct lack of roses last year, so I am somewhat buoyed to have bouquet of this size and quality. I don’t actually know what any of these are called; these are all lost label roses. There are those who have a small, neat bush-rose quality, as well as those that are sprawling, scrambler type roses. I know one of them is called Golden Showers, as these features in the middle of the plot by William Shakespeare 2000.
I’m not a stickler for perfection. All of these roses are unique, and I tend to cut them once they’ve been on the bush for a few days. Some rose bushes do tend to be more abundant than others, and I guess regular cutting is a bit like dead-heading. Beyond that, I don’t fuss over my roses. It really has been a case of plug in play. Don’t be fooled though. As pretty as these things are, they have the most vicious thorns known to man, with some main stems as thick as your thumb. There were a couple of bushes that had been storm-damaged with main-stems snapped off. These were tidied up and staked with canes.
From time to time, I do think how much these rose bouquets might be worth in terms of pounds and pence. In terms of universal force and beauty, they are of course priceless; there is no value to how much they colour soul or demonstrate the power of the universe. These are home-grown, in the middle of the England; they’ve not been flown in or coddled to an inch of their lives. These don’t have air miles, so are unlikely cost half a kidney, I guess.
One of the biggest day-dreams that I have, is that if I ever get married, I’d like to take my allotment roses as bouquet. That does depend on A) getting married, and B) the event being in summer, well up to October. I guess a girl can dream!
I might have got a bit wet whilst going to harvest the roses…
I’ve dried off now; I really did get a bit soggy. There’s a book waiting to be read, and the tail-end of Poldark Season 4 to watch. Writing still feels a little distant right now, but the pens are tingling. So you never know!
There has been a change in the universal energies! I’ve been getting my hands dirty on the plot as the month of May gives way to June. It’s all change on a few fronts, so I’ve made some attempt to return to my happy place. It really is a happy place, I feel different, so I’m trying to go with it. There are now nineteen tomato plants in situ on the allotment. Most of these are home sown and grown. Fourteen of them, are mine with a fair few shop bought. I’ve bought another six today, to fill things out a little more. If there is one thing that gets grown this year, its most likely going to be tomatoes.
From what I remember, I’ve sown red, yellow and black tomatoes. I didn’t label them, so it’s all very tomato roulette when plugging them in. There are two shop varieties which are yellow, with no idea what the ones I’ve bought today are. All of the plants have been sunk into raised beds, each with its varying soil level. It has, after all, been nearly two years since I did any ‘meaningful’ growing on the allotment. Over the course of two days, tomatoes have been transplanted, watered and fed. This week, the temperatures have increased and growing has accelerated. The crucial thing to maintain now is to make sure that these are watered regularly.
Tomatoes will grow quickly, given the right conditions. When nourished, they will crop abundantly. I’d quite like a few tomatoes, if I’m honest. Such a number, might actually yield some! Watering should keep me going to the allotment; should keep me focused and attentive in making the plot productive. The fact that I want to go there, do things and enjoy doing so, is incredibly important.
The allotment is gaining momentum, but there are still plants at home. At home, there is a small but select group of chillies. All of these are now in their final pots, with the last few potted up. There are ten pots altogether, with Cayennes and habaneros to be looked after. I’m trying to decide, if like with the tomatoes, I want to find some more partially mature chilli plants. The are a little spindly and wiry looking; however, once they’ve been fed and watered properly. they will hopefully start to fill out a little and gain some height as well.
Cayenne chillies will hit a stride as they get comfortable. I’ve experienced Habaneros as being slower growing; nothing unusual given the heat difference between these and cayennes. There have been chocolate habaneros before, but not many. There may only be a three or four plants, so we shall what these amount to.
The days have become longer, the sun is shining-mostly!- and there is a chance for some downtime. Downtime makes for a cracking opportunity to catch up on reading. From the graphics above, you can see that there is something of a diverse range on offer. There are the two gardening books, one romance novella, a two novels and series of short stories.
With June and July, the growing season becomes apace. If you have more courgettes than you know what to do with, or really want to know about Aloo gobi-that’s spuds and cauliflower, then those are for you.
Retreating to Peace and Postcards from Peace are my contributions to the Peace Novella Series. A stable of different authors awaits if you fancy having a look at the rest of the series. With RTP, Devan Coultrie arrives in Montana with something of a broken heart. There is follow up in Postcards as we get another look into his life.
Fragments is a great big of six inter-related stories as it considers what happens when we lose the people- and animals-that shape our worlds. Kangana sees Gorbind-he appears in Fragments-have a no straight forward romance. There are also snatches of Birmingham, with Lucifer from the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery making an appearance.
Over the last few days, I’ve been checking the heated prop for seedlings. There’s a mixture of cayenne, cucumbers and tomatoes in there, so quite a variation in potential germination. This does mean that I end up fishing things out every now and again as I see green leaves. I don’t have many tomatoes just yet. I think I have a handful of wiry, somewhat leggy seedlings. The one above, looks reasonably happy and healthy for the time being. It has been named Tom by the baby sister.
Sowing seeds in pellets is useful; I don’t make a mess with compost and run the risk of Mama F’s wrath over muddy floors. However, they do have a tendency to dry out in the heated prop. I’m not sure if that’s down to the pellets themselves or the ageing heated prop. It’s certainly been cranky this year.
I am also feeling very protective of seedlings, with there being a regular window-sill shuffle. As the weather changes, tomatoes and chillies do have a tendency to curl up and keel over.
In other news, it’s happy belated birthday to Sow, Grow and Eat: From Plot to Kitchen. I’d quite forgotten, but this book-the green one-is now three years old. This was the second of the gardening books. Well, it is part GYO and part cook-book. A third, is a work in progress. It sits on my desk, waiting for my to have the mind-space to finish it. It has been on my mind lately, and I daresay there will be an attempt at some point to get it together. Sat here typing, I am eyeballing the cook book folder, wondering what energy and focus I need to commit my thoughts to paper. The pens, sit near by, poised to pounce. I wait for the tipping point, the mojo to dive straight once more.
As mentioned above, the book is part GYO, part cook-book. There are recipes inside for jams, jellies and preserves made using plot produce as well as the home-brew that has been made. It does rather go well alongside the yellow one.
I spent this morning, having something of botanical, therapeutic adventure. It’s book release day; I didn’t want to stay inside and sit on my hands. A few days ago, whilst walking through the greenery around Sarehole Mill, I decided to plan a trip to Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Despite the fact that I’m a born and bred Brummie, I’ve never actually spent any time there, enjoying it. I remember going to a wedding reception, by the Arid Glasshouse and making a mental note to come back. It’s taken me few years, but I made it!
There wasn’t a concrete plan, not really. I had a thermos of tea, some lunch and a pair of walking boots. A class of kids-Year 2 from a local school-were also wandering around, so I made sure I was well off their radar. Their teachers, have my empathy. Not my school kids, not my trip. I carried on.
As I sit here and type, I’m actually creaking. Who knew, that such a gentle, aimless and ambling walk could have an impact?
Anyway. Using the map from the entrance desk, I did amble and quite aimlessly. Everything is labelled clearly, the information is presented concisely for everything. Better, in my mind, than most museums. I could spot Camellias-Dad has two in the garden-so I didn’t feel completely clueless. There were daffodils in dots and splodges, all very timely as we kick off with spring.
Whilst not a huge site, Birmingham Botanical Garden is best savoured slowly. It didn’t take long for me to take a walk around. So I made the conscious decision to sit, stare and take tea a couple of times. Least of all when three pea hens and a peacock were in the vicinity. Taking that one picture, the peacock more or less posed and looked me in the eye as though I was crazy. Even the pea hens shuffled around as though indifferent. I had hoped that the peacock might shake a tail feather to give everyone a display, but alas no joy. To sit, stare and sip tea was part of the deal for today’s adventure. To be completely immersed in greenery, to take stock and just absorb everything has been crucial this week.
A special mention, goes to Alison Levey, who made me smile today. A couple of days ago, she posted an image of a Magnolia. I happened to read the name as Lionel Messi. Yes, the footballer. I forget now, the proper name of this plant. It struck a cord today, whilst I was adventuring. In walking through the memory garden, I saw a sign in the boughs of a pink Magnolia. I read it as Lionel Messi. In the image above, the white magnolia does cover the pink footballing one in the fore-ground; it genuinely made me giggle and out aloud.
I nearly missed this, but on the way out, I found the Japanese Garden. I’m glad I did too. This is a pocket of serenity, that I might have otherwise missed had the universe not nudged me to head out of one of the glasshouses. This garden is tucked away, and there is just something about it; even the air is different.
Carefully observing, I was wandered in, and there were three red camellias sat in water feature. Whether they were put there, or landed there through serendipity I don’t know. There is a sign, that details how in Buddhism and Shinto, fallen blossoms are a sign of the transience of life. That really did strike me; life is too short, to sit back and not smell the Magnolia. I edged in and I found this one. A Saucer Magnolia. Something was ringing, and for three seconds I had no idea where the sound was coming from. Then I realised it was the chime sat in the middle, caught by the breeze.
There was just something about that moment that felt almost ephemeral. I don’t have any other words to describe it.
I’m glad that I went, even if the gardens are half asleep. I want to go back and see the rose garden in full bloom. I do think, that when the whole thing wakes up, it will be even better.
It’s that time of the year again. I’m thinking about what tomatoes to grow. At the moment, I have a handful of chillies, growing very slowly and pretty much left to their own devices. They are relatively happy, so it’s logical to think of the next phase of sowing.
There are tonnes and tonnes of tomato varieties out there, and I’ve certainly collected a few varieties to have them in my seedbox. These have all been road tested in different forms over the years, so choosing the annual crop is actually quite challenging.
I’ve gravitated away from the dwarf, bushy varieties that produce cherry type tomatoes. This was, in the first instance, about sowing something different. Cherry tomatoes are certainly a good starting point; they are easy growing, abundant and offer a tasty harvest. As a salad tomato, they do serve a purpose and are quite effective plate fillers. I grew a variety called Minibel for a long time, and I suspect I will try another cherry tomato in the future at some point.
Seeds have been located, and wait to be sorted in my seed box. There are standard seeds such as Gardener’s delight and money maker; varieties that have been part of the GYO armada for many, many years. There are also heritage varieties; tomatoes that for one reason another, we don’t find in supermarkets, that are older in origin. I find these varieties really interesting, particularly when it comes to the Beefsteak types. In my experience, these are slow-growing and the crop is quite small. The plant puts so much power into a handful of whopper fruits, you need quite plants to have a substantial harvest.
Heritage tomatoes also open your world up to different shapes, sizes and colours of tomato. My favourite non-red tomato, has to be yellow stuffer. This, when combined with sweet yellow peppers, makes a fantastic chutney. You won’t find yellow tomatoes very often in the supermarket or fruit and veg markets, so growing your own is rather magical. I need to get some more yellow stuffer seeds, I rather fancy making that chutney again! We shall see if yellow brandy wine, yellow pear and cream sausage are in anyway comparable.
There are two varieties that I know I will definitely have on my list. These would be Marmande and Roma. I have found that Marmande is a brilliant cropper; it is wonderfully abundant. Roma is a plum tomato, really very resilient and also a good cropper. In sorting out seeds, I did stumble across tomatillo seeds as well. I’ve been meaning to sow these, as an experiment to see if they would actually work. I’m rather intrigued as to how this small piece of Mexico might take off in the middle of England.
You might ask, how many different plants does any one allotment need. All of the tomatoes that are grown will get used. Be it in chutney, salads or used in the base of Indian dishes. Growing different varieties, having lots of plants does make for an interesting experiment, and any extras do got to good home.
At some point this week, I will take the plunge and sow tomato seeds. As with all the seedlings, I will be keeping an eye on them in case we have a cold snap. In comparison to the chillies, tomatoes do tend to be more resilient and less susceptible to keeling over-she says, crossing her fingers- but do need monitoring anyway. They do grow quickly and will need potting up as they develop. It will be late May before anything is planted outside to they will need to be hardened off in time.
I do tend to grow tomatoes outdoors, with no cover. I did try to cultivate them in a polytunnel, but found that they became leafy and didn’t crop that well. With being outdoors, plants are exposed to pollinators and the winds. There is a lower level of maintenance too. You do get cordon/indeterminate tomato varieties, those that need shoots removing. I have defoliate plants when there has been a lot of foliage to help ventilation. Having too much foliage can also be a product of what you feed and water the plans with as well. So make sure to see what is in the make up of any fertiliser if you are using it.
The sun’s been out today; everything feels very much hopeful, and full of potential. I’ve seen potential, having fished out half a dozen baby chilli’s from the heated propagator. I was wondering when these would come through, it had been some time since the seeds had been sown. I wasn’t feeling particularly hopeful as the pellets had repeatedly dried out and there was some sense of frustration. I had sown chocolate habaneros on one side of the prop with cayennes on the other. It would appear that only half of the prop is working. The hababeros have not germinated, the pellets have dried out. Some part of me suspects that the blessed box may be on it’s last legs. I hope that it hangs on a little while, I have tomatoes to sow in a month or so. I will be keeping an eye on the habaneros, perhaps sow another batch.
The job now is to nurture the seedlings, see if they start to become more robust. The mild weather is meant to stick around for the next week or so. If there is a cold snap, these are still quite vulnerable to a chill.
And with all that potential at hand.
I went to the plot today.
There was much to be gained, after a fortnight of turbulence in the real life. I planned to get some grounding, lose the tinge of drama and stress that I’ve accumulated and experienced and also lose myself within the pleasure of being on the plot. With a playlist and headphones at hand, I popped on my wellies, grabbed my hoody. I was walked down by my Mum, who wanted to tackle her own plot.
(Note to self; find wireless headphones. You’ll end up chopping the wire with your secateurs).
My plan, at first, was to pull up grass. At first, I did; much of what I put my hand to, did come up and away. Then it was a case of covering things up.
The first half of the plot has a dozen raised beds. I have built each one by hand-I remember the blisters-and most of them are in some form of shape. They are however low on dirt; they sink every year and will need to be filled back up again. For now, I am covering them, to contain and protect. The top of the plot, is nearly seventy per cent covered, the poly tunnel is there too in a sorry state of disrepair. This will either be recovered and form a brassisca cage, or recovered to once again be a hot house. If you ask my mum, it will probably be a cabbage cage. I quite fancy a chilli factory, to be honest.
Five raised beds were tidied and covered, there are still many more to look at. There is grass everywhere, most of it dead, so easy to get out of the way. It felt good to be back on the plot, to have impetus and to also be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. If the raised beds are tidied, I can then think about the spaces in between. These can be turned into paths or even patches of flowers if I think about sinking bulbs, corns and gladioli. It would be nice to have flowers back on the plot, the roses could do some TLC but are starting to form leaf buds.Still a bit early, to even contemplate sunflowers, so all in good time.
A rather unexpected but not surprising side effect of going to the plot, is the spark to write. I have an idea, for Devan III, it needs some beefing up though. I plan to go to the plot tomorrow, there is more work to be done; maybe the other plot will come together too.
And yes, I creak all over. In a good way…..
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