Book Review: The Alternative Kitchen Garden


I was lucky enough to 'score' a copy of this book when Emma Cooper, the author, offered some copies for review.

Confession time - I have an insane number of books about fruit and vegetable gardening. I could probably build a shed from them alone. So what possible value-added could there be to yet another book appearing on my shelves?

Well, I've come up with three added values from Emma's book:

1 - it's a personal account by a non-professional. I'm increasingly disturbed by the professionalisation of two areas of life - growing and cooking. We have famous gardeners growing food and famous chefs cooking it, and yet we seem to buy ever more food in supermarkets and bung it in microwaves to eat as we watch other food being grown and eaten. Most of us are capable of growing some of our own food, and cooking it from scratch without the intervention of specialists, and the more we share the experience of amateurs, the more likely we are to become brave, competent and willing to do it.

2 - it's alphabetical. This may not mean much to you, unless you too are a committed grower, but I really do get fed up with 'how-to' books that don't have a good index. I grab half-a-dozen of them, trying to find out, say, if my apple tree has canker. Some have only 'apples' listed. One has canker, but when I turn to the page, it's citrus, not apple. The others don't list it at all and I have to browse the pages, trying to guess if it's mentioned in 'pests and diseases', 'autumn tasks', 'spring tasks' or 'fruit: growing and harvesting'. It's sometimes just wonderful to have a book that gives you a straightforward overview of a simple subject. To be fair, Emma doesn't mention canker in her book either, but it's not a 'how to' so much as a 'how Emma did' and that's fine by me.

3 - it's honest. I just love it when a writer tells the truth - especially if their truth resonates with mine. Emma describes her blueberry-growing failures and it made me grin, because I'd had exactly the same experience after being blithely assured by any number of TV experts that blueberries were 'easy'. Hmph. It gives me confidence in the rest of a writer's output if they are willing to be truthful about the bad as well as the good of their horticultural experience.

So I commend this book to you. The Alternative Kitchen Garden has travelled around the house with me for a fortnight now, and while each section is short, they also pack a jolly punch and contain ideas that provoke thought as well as smiles.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Wednesday, September 15, 2010 1 Comments

What you find when you take over a new allotment

This weekend’s delightful discovery? Well, too many to mention, and if you aren’t detecting the irony yet, watch out, it’s coming.

Discovery #1

The huge white grape vine that fills the voodoo shed and covers about an eighth of our new plot on an arbour of wires is not even ours. It has been ‘borrowed’ from our eastern neighbour who has planted the parent by their boundary fence. So that’s gone now. If I want a vine I’ll plant my own, not make a large part of my allotment hostage to a neighbour’s whims. I’m sure said neighbours are lovely but if they decide to cut down their vine, I can’t stop them and ‘our’ vine would die as a result.

Discovery #2

The huge corrugated iron ‘thing’ on our western boundary belongs to the neighbour on that side (phew, what a relief!) as do the two elderberry trees (damn, I wanted to get rid of one of them) – so some good and some bad here: we’ll let that neighbour harvest all the elderberries this year but from spring, we’ll be cutting back the tree canopy on our side so that we can use the ground underneath. We won’t be able to grow anything there, because of the elder roots, but it should be possible to site compost bins there and if the foliage isn’t allowed to overhang them, we should get relatively hot compost for a lot of the year.

Discovery #3

Two more posts that were supporting honeysuckle. We’ve taken out the honeysuckle and where it had been planted, we will site our new raspberry bed. At present I admit that it looks like we’ve been digging a grave, but trust me, it’s a summer raspberry bed. I’m thinking of an autumn bed too, further up the plot, so that we can have a long lovely season of raspberries, but for now we spent a hot and horrible day ripping out brambles and nettle roots and digging halfway to the Jurassic fossil layer to get those damn posts out!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Tuesday, September 7, 2010 2 Comments

Empty bed syndrome

It’s like empty nest syndrome, but annual. Actually I think I just invented it. It’s that feeling you get when you have to accept that a raised bed, that has been filled with some glorious summer crop, is now dead. Deceased. Fallow. An ex-bed.

It’s the moment when you pull on your gloves and prepare to rip out whatever it was that filled your plate all summer and turn the soil in that bed, ready for the next crop.

I hate it. I am so sentimental that I tend to do bed emptying on days when OH is not around, so that I can be a bit silly about taking plants out ‘gently’ if they’ve been really productive, and leaving them to rest in the sun for an hour or so, as a little holiday, before putting them in the compost bin.

Yes, I am a bit insane like that.

So tomorrow is empty bed day for the sweetcorn, and I’m aiming to get to the plot early in the morning so the corn plants can have a day’s rest in the sun before they enter their last darkness in the evening. Also, that way I get to do the taking out bit and don’t have to be there at the end of the day when OH will merrily bash the woody sweetcorn stalks with a mallet to encourage them to decompose quicker. It always seems a bit like bludgeoning an old friend to death.

While the bed is empty I shall dig in some well-matured compost (possibly containing the remnants of previous sweetcorn plants, which is a bit cannibalistic) because I shall use that bed to plant out some seedling radicchio in a few weeks’ time.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Friday, September 3, 2010 1 Comments

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