Celery and Celeriac

 Celery and celeriac are the same plant (Apium graveolons) with the former (var. graveolons) grown for its stalks and leaves and the latter (var. rapaceum) for its root. We regularly eat celery raw in salads and cooked in dishes such as curry, lasagne, soups, etc but have never tried growing them. Celeriac, on the other hand, is largely unknown to us - I think we've cooked them only once or twice.

Celery and celeriac are marshland plants requiring moist fertile water-retaining soil. They do not appreciate drying out so I decided to try growing them in Large Salad Planters available from Greenhouse Sensation. These planters have a built-in reservoir that feeds water and nutrients to the plants/soil using capillary feeder mats. The water/nutrient reservoirs need topping up on a, roughly, weekly basis depending on local temperatures, wind speeds, humidities and plant/foliage growth. I have used them for a number of years to grow salad leaves, jalopeno and sweet peppers, and aubergines in my polytunnel as they ensure a constant 'on-demand' supply of water and nutrients.  I use a coir-based medium which has excellent water-retaining properties. The large salad planter has a planting area of approx 100 x 50 cm.

Seeds were planted in small coir pots made out of newspaper/toilet rolls and placed in a propagator (20 ℃) with overhead lighting (light needed for germination) in late March/early April. Germination is slow (weeks) and variable. Seedlings were potted on into 7 cm pots and placed outside in early May to harden off. Both celery and celeriac would be grown outside in Salad Planters. Finally, the Salad planters were potted up with celery (left below) and celeriac (right below). Only 10 celeriac plants developed sufficiently for planting out so a few celery plants filled up the end of bed.

Celeriac plants, Greenhouse Sensation, Large Salad Planter
Celery plants, Greenhouse Sensation, Large Salad Planter

The celery was a green self-blanching variety but I don't have a record of the celery or celeriac varieties.

Six weeks later the celery had progressed nicely:

Celery Plants in Large Salad Planter
Celery Plants
And the thinnings were providing the first harvests:

Celeriac was coming on nicely but it would be a couple of months before they were ready for harvesting.

Celeriac was pest-free and harvested from September onwards:

Celery was harvested throughout the summer but did suffer from blight later in the season. Two celery plants (leaves and stalks) were dried in our dehydrater and ground to provide sufficient seasoning for the rest of the year. 

I will be growing both vegetables next year - this time I'll note down the varieties and yields

PV Generation - 15 years

The PV panels installed on my roof have now been running for 15 years; switched on 9th December 2005. Apart from an inverter failure in 2015, that took 6 months to fix, the system has been maintenance-free. Annual PV generation (kWh) is shown graphically below.

Renewable energy, photovoltaics, PV, renewables, carbon footprint
I would expect an reduction in annual electricity production with time as the efficiency of the PV panels decreases with age. This loss in efficiency has been offset by an increase in sunshine hours, especially in the summer months. More details on this in a later post.

The carbon intensity of UK grid power is about 500g/kWh. Solar PV has a carbon intensity of about 50g/kWh which includes embedded carbon intensity (i.e. mining, manufacture, installation, etc). Over the 15 year operational time period, my solar PV has generated 58,300 kWh which equates to 26 metric tonnes of CO2 mitigation (about 7 metric tonnes of carbon).   

Garden Shredders

Bob Flowerdew is dismissive of garden shredders ("shredders make materials more suited for composting but are dangerous, noisy and irksome to use"); an opinion he has oft repeated on Gardeners' Question Time (GQT) with comments like as "I cannot see the point of them".

As with everything in life, things are more nuanced and a bit more complicated than that. For a start, his garden - at around an acre - is much bigger than most people's so he has plenty of space to (i) allocate to composting, and (ii) provide material for his compost heaps. Those of us with small town gardens are more limited on both counts, especially if we want to devote most of the garden to leisure and/or growing flowers & vegetables. My garden, which is above average for an urban garden, is about 0.05 acre or 1/20th the size of Bob's!

I bought my first shredder in 2012 when I got serious about composting. Due to the lack of garden space and a requirement to compost kitchen waste (including cooked food), I went down the 'hot composting' route buying my first HotBin. In addition to my own garden waste, I was also taking in neighbours' green waste to avoid them making regular trips to the municipal waste depot. Shredding increases composting rates by coarsely chopping garden waste to increase surface area and disrupt plant cell walls to facilitate microbial breakdown of the organic matter. Shredding also reduces the volume of garden waste by about 50% to minimise pre-composting storage requirements. For example, a neighbour recently had their hedge trimmed professionally and I was able to deal with the 2 cubic metres of cuttings with ease by shredding and storing prior to adding to my composters.

There are two types of shredder for small gardens:

Impact Shredders have a rotating cutting blade through which the garden waste is hand-fed. These shredders are the cheaper, lighter but noisier of the two types.  The cutting blades cost around £20 and are reversible to double their lifespan before replacement or resharpening. These shredders are suitable for both woody (hard) and green (soft) garden waste and are my preferred choice for preparing garden waste for composting. They also make short work of stale loaves of bread! Whether for wood chipping or chopping green waste, this type of shredder is a good all-round choice.The Bosch AXT 2200 is a typical example.

Roller or Drum Shredders have ridged rollers/drums that draw the garden waste in so are easier (less tiring) to use and best for larger volumes. They are quieter but heavier and more expensive. Maintenance is lower as the cutting/crushing mechanism does not require regular replacement. This type of shredder is great for woody material such as branches but less good for soft green material which can cause the drum/rollers to jam. Buying a machine with a reverse option is a good choice. The Bosch AXT 25 TC Quiet Shredder is a typical example.

In the foreground is my new Bosch AXT Rapid 2200 shredder purchased in November 2020. In the background is the defunct machine it replaced. My first AXT 2200 was bought in 2012 and did sterling work for just over 5 years before the motor burnt out. The second machine (in the background) was bought in 2017 and lasted 35 months before developing an electrical fault with the on/off switch. These Bosch shredders come with a 2-year guarantee so I thought, that's it, I'll have to buy a replacement which I did.

Composting, green waste, shredding

What I hadn't realised was you get an extra warranty year if you register the machine which, fortunately, I had done back in 2017. I got in touch with Bosch UK and they arranged for a courier to pick up the shredder the following day. Less than a week later, I received an e-mail saying they could not fix it and would send a brand new shredder. It arrived a few days later. That is top notch service. Needless to say, I've registered the current machine and the replacement!

Pricewise, the 2012 shredder cost around £150, the 2017 machine about £180 and the 2020 unit about £200.

Is a shredder a worthwhile investment? I process about 15 cubic metres (15,000 L) of garden waste per year to produce approximately 1.5 to 2 cubic metres of finished compost. I would not be able to process these quantities without a shredder.


Vinyl Lockdown

 As the UK's second COVID-19 lockdown started on 5th November 2020, I thought I would take the opportunity of listening to my collection of LPs, mainly from the 1970s, in its entirety. By listening I do mean sitting down in a comfortable seat in front of the speakers and enjoying the music without any distractions. Today, everyone seems to listen to music either on the move or as incidental background noise whereas I prefer to spend time appreciating the music, albeit occasionally spoiling the ambience by joining in when I can remember the words!!

Many of the LP records would have been played on a Garrard SP25 MkIII turntable, Amstrad 8000 amplifier and original Wharfedale Denton speakers - a not atypical set-up for a student in the early 1970s. The turntable was upgraded (1977??) to a Lenco L830 DD and I'm pretty sure I upgraded the amp at the same time but to what I cannot recall. The Denton speakers continued to give sterling service for many years.

My current set-up is an audio-technica AT-LP120 turntable, Denon M38 amp and a pair of Wharfedale Denton II speakers as homage to my long departed originals.

Music playlist (in order played):

Bob Marley and the WailersLegend, the best of Bob Marley and the Wailers - a recent acquisition and not sure why I never bought any originals. Compilation of his best known work

Barclay James HarvestEarly Morning Onwards  - first saw in concert while at university (UEA) in Norwich in the early 1970s. Bought the LP but do not have the t-shirt. We had an excellent Student Union Social Secretary at UEA who overspent her budget considerably to get bands on campus. There were also a couple of music venues in Norwich (e.g. St Andrews Hall) plus the local teacher training college. BJH originated in Oldham not far from my home town, Eccles. Started in 1966 and still going albeit as two separate bands, each containing one original member! Wiki describes as 'progressive rock' but to me they were modern folk rock with orchestral overtones

Amazing BlondelFantasia Lindum - another band we saw in concert in Norwich & bought the LP. Difficult to categorize their music - acoustic renaissance folk is probably the best I can do. I still remember their description of the sound of a crumhorn as 'a well-tuned fart'. Surprisingly popular in mainland Europe depite their very 'Englishness'. Played a wide range of instruments including lute, theorbo, cittern, recorders, flute, crumhorn, glockenspiel, dulcimer, tabor, harpischord, mellotron and more. One of the best things to come out of Scunthorpe - no longer active

Bonzo Dog Doo Dah BandThe History of the Bonzos  (double album) - first saw in the surreal 1960s' TV comedy show 'Do Not Adjust Your Set' - a trailblazer for Monty Python's Flying Circus. Cannot better Wiki's description "combining elements of music halltrad jazz and psychedelic pop with surreal humour and avant-garde art". Had a top 5 hit with "I'm the Urban Spaceman" in 1968; co-produced by Paul McCartney

Barclay James Harvest, Barclay James Harvest and other short stories see above

Bob Dylan/The BandBefore the Flood (Live) (double album) - one of the great songwriters and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016. Funny how two of the best singer-songwriters in the past 60 years (Dylan and Leonard Cohen) might have difficulty getting jobs as singers! Born Robert Allen Zimmerman in 1941, Dylan will be 80 in 2021 and still performing/producing. Famously 'disowned' by his 'fans' when he moved from acoustic to amplified/electric guitar. One of the many protest singers in 60s America, he went on to sell over 100 million records. You do need to sit down and listen to Dylan.

Duran Duran, Notorious - Absolutely no idea how this got into my LP collection as I'm not a fan. Pleasant enough as background but not something I'd sit down to listen to. There is a sticker on the cover that says ' British Red Cross' and '£1' which doesn't ring a bell so may have been picked up third-hand at a bazaar or fete. This an example of the 'New Wave' or 'New Romantic' in the 1980s. Interestingly, the album was made/produced in Bulgaria which explains the Cyrillic language/script on the record label/sticker.

Cat Stevens, Foreigner - From my wife's LP collection, I suspect, but one we both like. Before he became Yusuf Islam.

Captain Beefheart, The Spotlight Kid - Had a cult following without real commercial success. This album is one of his more commercial offerings. Collaborated a lot with Frank Zappa. Appeared in concert at UEA during my student days. Renowned for having a 5-octave voice range.

Carole King, Rhymes & Reasons -  One of the most successful female songwriters in the second half of the 20th Century; she wrote 61 hits that charted in the UK.  Born 1942, she is still working. Beautifully crafted songs.

I'll update the post as I work my way through the collection...

Asparagus Ferns in Autumn

We have a small plot, about 1 square meter, that was planted up with 5 asparagus crowns (Eclipse) some 3 to 4 years ago. This year was their first productive crop and we enjoyed fresh asparagus from mid-April to the end of May.  I'm guessing a yield  of about 2 kg over the 6-week harvesting period; sufficient for the two of us to enjoy twice a week.

At the end of May, no more spears were cut and the ferns were allowed to develop in order to build up the crowns ready for cropping in 2021.

It is now the beginning of November and the ferns have taken on their autumnal hue. In the next week or so I shall cut back the ferns to a couple of inches, remove any weeds, feed the soil with homemade garden compost and await next year's crop.

Modern asparagus varieties are much easier to grow and do not require the specially-prepared raised bed systems of the past. A sunny level bed with good drainage is fine. A little patience is needed because it takes 3 years or so for the plants to establish themselves before you get your first crop. On the plus side your asparagus bed could be productive for the next 20 years!

In the background, you can see the sign for William Earp & Son discovered in our cellar. William Earp was a local nurseryman in the 1890s who went bankrupt. Apart from the fact our garden was once part of his nursery, we know very little else about him.

Is it worth sieving your compost?

 It depends! For years I have use my compost 'au naturel', i.e. lumpy with plenty of woody bits in. Used directly on the soil as a mulch or hole/trench filler before planting out fruit and vegetables, it will enrich your soil, improve its structure and help retain moisture during those inevitable dry periods. This is by far the best way to use compost because it retains all the good things you have nurtured during the composting process: worms, bacteria, fungi, invertebrates, soil carbon, nutrients and humic acids.

On the other hand, I have to buy in seed & potting compost which is an added expense. We have been very happy with the coir-based products bought in from Fertile Fibre, a local Herefordshire company that delivers nationwide. Peat-based products are a definite no-no here. An alternative we can also recommend is the Dalefoot range made from composted bracken and sheep's wool. While my opinion of upland sheep farming is that it is unsustainable (both financially and ecologically), Dalefoot gets my thumbs up for its work restoring degraded peatlands, an important carbon source for mitigating climate change. It is an excellent growing medium which also acts as its own slow-release fertilizer.

I have sifted small amounts of compost with a hand sieve but this is slow and hard work. A rotary sieve can handle larger amounts and easier to use. My Clarke rotary sieve arrived a few days later. Simple to put together it was sieving compost with 30 minutes. Easy to use by putting a couple of spadefuls of compost in the basket and then turning the handle in a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction or a combination of both. I'm still not sure what the purpose of the spring is as it seems to fulfill no useful function. The black handle can also unscrew during use. You can either collect the sieved compost in a container (wheelbarrow, trug, bucket) or just place the sieve on the soil where you want to apply it.

The photo below shows what can be produced in less than 10 minutes sieving. Starting material in the black trug, sieved product in the yellow trug. Material left in the sieve (about 10%) will be recycled through the next composting process.

When sieving, take care to rescue any worms and invertebrates which can be added back into the compost heap or sieved material.

The rotary sieve costs about £40 so could pay for itself very quickly. Half-an-hour sieving produced about 200L of sieved seed/potting compost with a commercial value of at least £25.

Loofahs - Update

 In a previous post, I described our first attempt at growing loofah plants. At the time (July 2nd), one of the two plants was growing with good vigour while the other had a lot of catching up to do. Since then I have discovered the vigorous plant is producing only male flowers and it is the weedier specimen that is yielding the all-important female flowers. My understanding was that every loofah plant would produce both male and female flowers in the ratio of about 10:1. I read somewhere that nutrient balance can affect the male/female dominance of the plant; high nitrogen favours male flowers while high phosphorus favours the female variety. Since both of my plants are receiving identical nutrients, it clearly is not as simple as that.

Both plants have put on considerable growth although the male specimen still gives the impression of the lushier plant. The plants are now taking over the polytunnel and have now come together despite starting on opposite sides. I have decided to just let them get on with it, whatever 'it' is.

 Some promising female flowers first appeared in late July/early August but came to nothing. However, there are now (mid-September) a number of young loofahs developing and these look more promising. Will there be enough time for them to grow to full size? Here are a couple of photos of the same loofah taken on the 6th and 10th September.

Home Composting - Prelude

I plan to do a series on home composting covering both theory and practice. The course is designed for small/town gardens, where space is at a premium, but is easily scaled up.

Hotbin compost sample

There are many reasons for producing and using your own compost: (i) adding soil nutrients, (ii) improving soil structure and drainage, (iii) increasing water retention, (iii) mulching, (iv) encouraging beneficial soil microbes/bacteria/fungi/minibeasts and, if that is not enough, (v) saving money by fewer trips to the waste recycling centre and/or the garden centre.

The science (biology/chemistry/physics) of composting is complex and not fully understood. There are no rules, merely guidelines, and all home composters are empiricists! Commercial composting operations have a wide range of appropriate materials available to blend the perfect compost heap, backed up by a bevy of instruments and analytical tests to ensure the process is optimised and the product uniform. The home composter has to make do with whatever organic matter is available; instrumentation, if any, will be limited to a compost thermometer. Composting at home is best suited to those of a phlegmatic character because not every heap will be a success. Knowing how to 'recover' a compost heap that has gone wrong is an essential skill.  

The simplest and cheapest form of composting is to dig a hole (at least 30 cm deep), fill with cooked/uncooked kitchen scraps (no meat or dairy which may attract unwanted rodents/dogs/etc), replace the soil and leave. It does require the availability of bare soil somewhere in the garden but, otherwise, is ideal if you only have small amounts of stuff to compost. Trench composting is similar but on a larger scale.

Another form of small-scale composting is Bokashi where kitchen scraps are pickled/fermented by bacteria to produce a solid soil improver (added directly to soil/wormery/compost heap) and a liquid product that can be used as a drain cleaner (neat) or plant feed (diluted).  I found this system ideal for small quantities of kitchen waste (cooked and uncooked) though quite expensive to run. My old Bokashi bins are now used to prepare comfrey tea.

Some years ago, I bought a Wormery on the understanding it was suitable for recycling cooked waste as well as other kitchen and garden waste. After only partial success, I learned the hard way it was not really meant for cooked foods. On the plus side, it produced excellent vermicompost and a liquid feed on the occasions it did work. 

Over the years I have also used many of the more common types of static compost bins whether made from old wooden pallets or recycled plastic (often free from the local Council) including a cheap plastic tumbler variety. Nowadays, I opt for a Hot Composting process followed by maturation in static bins. Further details in a future post.

Potato Harvest (Part 1)

Growing Potatoes in Raised Beds and Potato Bags

After hearing good recommendations for the Sarpo potato variety, I managed to get hold of some seed potatoes for this season (2019/20) from Marshalls. The previous year (2018/19), I was far too late ordering in the autumn and every supplier had run out. This year I bought Sarpo Una (second early) and Sarpo Axona (maincrop).

Sarpo Una Potatoes

A dual-purpose potato with pink skin, white waxy flesh, delicate flavour and good blight-resistance can be harvested in June as salad potatoes or left to mature for a bigger crop of baking potatoes.

Seed potatoes were ordered in autumn 2019, arrived sometime in February 2020 and laid out in egg cartons to chit. Planted out in late March, when the weather was warm, by dibbing a hole about 8 inches deep (20 cm) before popping the chitted potato in the hole. Soil was then drawn up and over the potatoes to form a ridge, partly for frost protection and partly to increase soil depth for a bigger crop. In mid-April, the ridge was reinforced with a topping of garden compost to a depth of about 2 inches (5 cm).

Apart from watering twice during the very dry Spring of 2020, there were no other interventions apart from removing the odd weed before the plant foliage had chance to cover the soil surface and suppress them. Some frost damage occurred in May which is unusual in this part of the world.

Around about the first week of July, the foliage started to die back. Salad potatoes could have been harvested in June but I decided to wait and see what sort of yields were possible. In the second week of July, I trimmed off all the remaining foliage and recycled it to the compost bin.

On the 15th July, Mary dug the first plant which yielded 1.15 kg (see photo).

Potato Yield Crop

This is sufficient for our immediate needs so we will leave the other potatoes in the ground and dig up as required. See comments below for further yield data as we dig them up over the next month or so.

Sarpo Axona Potatoes

A maincrop potato with pink skin, great flavour and best-in-class disease resistance. These are still growing so I will report on them later. They were ordered, delivered and chitted along with the Sarpo Una potatoes but planted out about 3 weeks later (mid-April) because the chitting process was much slower. They suffered a little frost damage in May as did the Sarpo Una.

Potatoes, growing, seed potatoes, planting, raised bed, potato bags, potato sacks

growing potatoes, Sarpo Axona, maincrop

I planted two rows in the raised bed and split the six 'spare' potatoes between 2 potato bags (filled with a mixture of coir and homegrown garden compost). Plants in the raised bed have been left to their own devices to a large extent whereas the potato bags have been regularly watered and fed with diluted comfrey tea (200:1 dilution). I will report on the yield and quality of these potatoes in a later post.


Growing Loofahs and Sunburnt Raspberries

Growing Loofah (Luffa) Plants 

In everyday parlance, loofahs are the dried fruits of a tropical/subtropical luffa vine, a member of the cucumber family. When harvested young, it is a popular vegetable especially in India, China and Vietnam. If the fruit is allowed to fully ripen on the vine, it becomes very fibrous and takes on a new life as the well-known scrubbing sponge in bathrooms and kitchens.

On a visit to the 2019 Malvern Autumn Show, we bought a packet of seeds to see if we could grow them in our polytunnel using the Quadgrow system. Two seeds were germinated in an unheated greenhouse using Dalefoot seed compost then transplanted out into the polytunnel in late April/mid-May in Quadgrow pots filled with Fertile Fibre coir (reconstituted from a 5kg block). Two out of three seeds germinated. The seedling transplanted in late April was very slow to develop and is now way behind the seedling planted out in mid-May. The photo below, taken on 1st July 2020, shows the luffa vine's vigorous growth along the polytunnel frame. A small yellow flower can be seen on the luffa; the first one to open. In the left foreground is a cucumber plant with its own yellow flowers.

Loofah (luffa) plant in polytunnel grown with Quadgrow system

Our four cucumber plants have already produced over 60 edible cucumbers by the time the first luffa flower opened! Close-ups of the luffa flower below.

We are hopeful the vigorous growing luffa will produce some fruits; less hopeful the rather weedier-looking specimen has enough time left to be productive though it is still growing. The plan is to use the dried loofah sponges as pan scrubs to replace for the ones we bought last year. 

Sunburnt Raspberries

Can raspberries get sunburn. The answer is yes!

The high UV levels and sunshine during April and May caused some fruit to get sunburnt (sunscald). It is known as White Drupelet Syndrome or Disorder. It affects those drupelets most exposed to the sun, usually on the top of the fruit or on the sunny side. Although unsightly, the fruits are still edible. 

Water Meters - Good or Bad?

Water Meter - The Case For 

Welsh Water (Dŵr Cymru) supply our potable water and take away our sewerage and waste water. For 2020/21, the cost would be £1,143.92 based on the rateable value (RV) of the property. With only two of us living here now, the option to install a water meter, and just pay for what we use, had to be considered. Fortunately, this would not be an irreversible decision because we could revert back to the RV system anytime within 2 years of having the meter installed.

We consider ourselves to be relatively frugal with our use of potable water in the house but we're a little concerned about the amount used in the garden. We use an automatic washing machine and a dishwasher though both are fairly new and, at least, A-class efficiency. We take showers rather than baths, have water-saving toilets and do not wash the car. All water companies offer a 'calculator' to estimate your water usage and this indicated our metered water bill would be about half the cost of the RV-based one. While the 'calculator' was probably reasonably accurate, humans often show a response bias when answering surveys: for example, underestimating how much they drink, overestimating how much they exercise. Hopefully, we were being honest and realistic in our responses!

Currently, Welsh Water charge £1.3689 per cubic metre (1000 litres) for potable water and £1.6531 per cubic metre for sewerage. In addition, there are daily service charges of  £0.1052 (potable) and  £0.2563 (sewerage). If I subtract the fixed annual service charge (£131.92) from my original RV-based cost of £1,143.92, I can expect to save money provided I spend less than £1012.00 on metered water/sewerage charges. This works out at 335 cubic metres per year or 28 cubic metres per month.

Water Meter - Installation and First Impressions

The meter was installed on the 18th March 2020; just before the COVID-19 lockdown. The engineer asked to see the position of the mains stopcock and then spent 15 minutes cleaning out the outside access point and fitting the water meter. Quick and easy although access to read the meter was not very convenient.


In order to establish typical usage levels (and check for leakages), I have taken meter readings at monthly intervals.

Date 18/3/20 18/4/20 18/5/20 19/6/20
Meter 00000 00008 00020 00032
Spring 2020 has been very dry so I anticipate water usage has been higher than normal (unless drier springs and summers are the 'new' normal). At the moment, installing a water meter is proving to be a money-saving option.

Making Vegetable Soups in a Vitamix Blender

Vegetable Soup in a Vitamix 5000 Blender 

Potato and carrot soup from blender

The high power Vitamix range of food blenders have been around for nearly 100 years. We bought our model 5000 around ten years ago after seeing a demonstration at the Malvern Three Counties Showground in 2009 or 2010. Certainly not the cheapest on the market but probably the best value because of their longevity (7-year warranty). They will chop, blend, and smooth virtually anything and you can make your own peanut/almond butter, houmous, nut milks, doughs, batters, sorbets and ice creams, smoothies and, the subject of this post, soups. It is, also, very easy to use and clean although a little noisy.

Cream of Courgette Soup (vegan)

This is the easiest soup to make and requires no pre-cooking. Simply pop the ingredients into the blender in the order given below and whizz up a hot soup in 7 minutes on high speed.

400g courgettes (wash and chop roughly)
50g cashew nuts
1 tbsp bouillon powder or paste
1 clove garlic
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
1 litre cold water

(i) if you prefer a thinner 'cup-of-soup' then reduce courgettes to 300g
(ii) cashew nuts give the soup its creamy texture and flavour
(iii) no need to peel or crush the garlic, just throw it all in
(iv) the garlic & herb flavour is more intense so use less than you would in conventional soup preparation
(v) bouillon adds body as well as flavour. No additional salt needed.
(vi) the high-speed blades heat the contents up to about 70 ℃ (friction)

Leek and Potato Soup (vegan)

Preparation time is a little longer but well worth the effort. It is very important to part-cook the potatoes before adding to the Vitamix otherwise the soup quickly thickens and reduces the mixing speed.

350g potatoes, peeled and chopped
250g leeks, prepared and sliced
50g cashew nuts
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp bouillon paste/powder
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
rapeseed oil for frying
1.2 litres cold water
1 tsp teriyaki sauce/soy sauce (optional)
1 tbsp pickled Jalopeno peppers (optional)

Cook potatoes in microwave oven (750W) for 5 minutes and fry the leeks in oil. Add potato and leeks to Vitamix followed by the other ingredients. Run Vitamix on high speed for 7 minutes and your hot soup is ready.

(i) use onions, spring onions or chives if you don't have leeks
(ii) 1.2 litres is the maximum volume of the Vitamix 5000
(iii) the Jalopeno peppers were grown in my polytunnel and pickled at home
(iv) other herb/spice combinations work well. For example, try frying some cumin or smoked paprika with the leeks

Spicy Roast Squash Soup (vegan)

In this recipe, I have used home-roasted squash from the freezer.

600g roast squash (partially defrosted in microwave)
half a large onion (125g)
50g cashew nuts
1 tbsp bouillon powder/paste
2 tsp cumin (ground)
1 tbsp ginger (ground)
rapeseed oil for frying
1 litre cold water

Fry the onion and spices in oil and add to squash in the blender. Add cashew nuts, bouillon and water and blend on high for 7 minutes.

(i) A thick winter soup. Reduce the amount of squash to give a thinner soup

Leftover Soup (vegan)

Soup is a great way to use up any leftovers to produce a nutritious meal or snack. Raw courgettes (whole, unpeeled), pumpkin, squash or marrows (peeled and deseeded) make great bases for Vitamix soups; however, if you roast them you can get a richer flavour and they freeze well for later use. Roots and tubers (potatoes, carrots, parsnips, sweet potato, etc) need to be part-cooked - microwaving 400g for 5 minutes on full power is sufficient. Include stock (cube, powder, paste or home-made) and cashew nuts and you have the soup base which you can flavour however you want. Smoked paprika, cumin, chillies, garlic and mixed herbs are my preferred flavourings. This recipe was made from those sad vegetables you always find when clearing out the salad drawer in the fridge.

2 floppy sticks of celery (chopped)
2 bendy carrots (washed, topped and tailed)
2 pliable parsnips (peeled)
1 winter onion from the garden
50g cashew nuts
1tbsp Knorr's vegetable bouillon paste
1 clove garlic, au naturelle
Jalopeno peppers (pickled), to taste
1 litre of cold water

Fry onions and celery in a little oil. Microwave (750W) carrots and parsnips for 5 minutes. Put everything in the blender for 7 minutes on high power.
Garlic and pickled jalopeno peppers for flavouring




Return of the Nematodes - Slug and Snail Control

Slugs & Snails

After the dry and sunny Spring 2020, the Met Office promised a day of drizzle at the beginning of meteorological summer. Ideal weather for applying slug nematodes in the Kitchen Garden. This biological treatment is my main line of defence against most gardener’s worst nightmare. Fortunately, the packet of NemaslugTM had arrived the week before and was chilling out in the fridge.

Snails also have voracious appetites for tender greens and we certainly get our fair share in the garden. NemaslugTM does not control snails. Fortunately, snails are easier to spot in the garden so just keep a wary eye out for them and collect for disposal. They do, apparently, have a homing instinct so throwing them into next door's garden provides only temporary relief and they are likely to be very hungry when they get back! Any snails we find usually end up in our hot composters where they enjoy a brief period of warmth before they are converted to soil nutrients. Other 'slug treatments' are discussed later.

NemaslugTM is administered as an aqueous dispersion, preferably to damp soil, and then watered in. So before and/or after rain is a good choice but a steady all-day drizzle is best. My first lot of nematodes were applied in mid-April, as soon as the soil was sufficiently warm (>5oC), and about a week before I start planting out those tender green vegetable plants that slugs love to devour. This first treatment coincided with a very dry spell so extra effort was needed to prewet the soil before application and then watering-in the nematodes afterwards.

This second application was going to be a doddle even though it would mean getting wet - at least it was warm rain. Under the cover of the polytunnel, I set out my basic kit:

Nemaslug preparation

  1. Trug, 20-25 litre capacity, to prepare the nematode stock solution

  2. Watering can (5-litre) with very coarse rose - I drilled larger holes in my rose to ensure the nematode dispersion did not clog it

  3. Hosepipe with trigger gun - set to ‘centre’ to give a forceful spray, without too much splashing, in order to efficiently mix the diluted nematode stock solution

  4. Measuring jug - I use a one-litre plastic milk bottle with the top few centimetres cut off and marked at 0.5-litre - for subsampling the stock solution

  5. Stick for stirring the nematode stock solution prior to sampling

The 100 m2 pack of NemaslugTM is just sufficient for my Kitchen Garden. The instructions tell you to disperse all the nematodes in 10 litres of water, leave for 10 minutes, mix well and then dilute 0.5 litre of this stock solution to 5 litres in a watering can (treats up to 5 m2). I prefer to make the initial stock solution up to 20 litres so that each 0.5-litre subsample made up to 5 litres will treat 2.5 m2 of soil. I find this suits the sizes of my individual veg/fruit plots better. I have tried the hose-end feeder but it is more difficult to control in my small Kitchen Garden with its numerous raised beds - it is better suited to treating larger areas.

Hose end feeder spray

Alternative Slug & Snail Controls

Every gardener has their favourite tried-and-tested method for dealing with slugs. I’ve lost count of the slug treatments I have tried over the years. I try to garden organically so metaldehyde slug pellets are a definite no-no especially since we are trying to encourage beneficial birds, insects, mammals and amphibians into the garden. Basically, protecting your plants against a slug onslaught comes down to either (i) bumping off the little, and not so little, blighters, or (ii) erecting a barrier to make the slug think twice about whether there are easier pickings elsewhere. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is doing field trials on various control options and it is worthwhile checking in periodically to see the results.

  • NemaslugTM is the most expensive but also the most effective control in my kitchen garden. It may be less effective on clay soils. Each application gives about 6-weeks protection and there are no dead bodies to clear up afterwards. I use two applications to cover the period from mid-April to mid-July by which time the plants are big enough and sturdy enough to survive a slug attack. Nematodes do their work underground so you might want to consider additional defences to combat slugs that live above ground. I only treat the Kitchen Garden with nematodes so unwelcome visitors from other parts of the garden are always possible.

  • My next favourite anti-slug device is the  ‘hosta halo’. A remarkably effective barrier that can be used on its own or in conjunction with other treatments such as NemaslugTM. I am always amazed at how well these work and they are effective for snails as well. After the initial outlay, these are very cost-effective; many of our 'haloes' are over 10 years old. However, I suggest you do not provide 'leaf bridges' for our mollusc friends as shown in the picture below. They can be used for vegetables and flowers; just remember to remove them before the plant gets too big otherwise they will be on show for the whole growing season.

    hosta halo anti slug device
  •  I always keep a spray bottle of Grazer's Slugs and Snails treatment (calcium-based deterrent) and a bottle of Bayer Organic SlugBait (iron phosphate slugkiller). These should always be used sparingly.

  • Slug traps baited with cheap beer, lager or alternative attractants work extremely well placed on soil, paths and in the greenhouse. There are plenty of homemade variants or you can go for a commercial option like I did. Be warned though that the resultant 'slug soup' is a little disgusting and needs to be changed regularly. I've heard suggestions slug traps might actually attract slugs into the garden and make the problem worse - presumably only if they consume all your plants on the way to the slug trap.

  • I have never found eggshells, coffee grounds, copper tape, salt or similar physical barriers to be particularly effective. This year, I tried sheep wool pellets for the first time. I had not yet applied nematodes but I can report that there was no obvious slug damage. However, the local bird population (mainly sparrows and blackbirds) disturbed the protective 'wool mats' that form around the plants, possibly using it as a source of nesting material.

  • One option is to only grow plants that slugs do not regard as their food source but this is quite limiting to the kitchen gardener. You could also try planting a sacrificial crop of, for example, lettuce hoping they will eat this rather than your crops. However, this assumes the slug spends time studying the menu before deciding to go with its favourite anyway. Slugs are night-time eaters and prefer warm moist conditions - water your plants in the early morning.

  • There are still plenty of alternatives should none of the above options work. Some are rather extreme (electrified slug fences, keeping ducks) and others less so. You'll find plenty of options by 'googling' it.

Best Slug/Snail Joke

I entered my pet snail into a race and removed its shell to make it faster...

Unfortunately, it only made it more sluggish.

Additions to The Aviary

Things have progressed in the Aviary and there are some newcomers - also some jockeying for position. (link to previous article on the Aviary

We now have added: blue tit, woodpecker, robin and lesser black backed gull. The latter are pests in Hereford. They nest on chimney tops and fly round aggressively if they have young nearby. Also extremely noisy even in the middle of the night.

Some of the birds are roughly life sized eg sparrow, woodpecker, magpie but some definitely not to scale. The robin in the book was rather small so I adjusted the sparrow pattern and stitched in some of the colour instead of using felt.

We have been enjoying the presence of swifts recently since they arrived here on 4th May. I won’t be attempting a knitted version though. Up to 20 have been seen in the evening sky on these warm days.

Updated Knitted Aviary

It’s a small world...

Last year one of my birthday presents (!) was a digital microscope. I’ve always enjoyed using them since my days at the John Innes Institute in the 1970s when I used one to look at the stages of pollen development in anthers - particularly tobacco and Datura - part of our work on pollen culture.

DM4 Digital Microscope

The one I bought is a DM4. It has a 4.3” screen and a rechargeable battery so can be taken anywhere. Unfortunately it didn’t come with any instructions so to start I thought I would give you the benefit of my trial and error. It works like this:

DM4 Digital Microscope Instructions

Switch on: long press on ON button on right hand side.
Set time and other microscope features: short press MENU, then use arrows and OK button.

When you switch on it is in video setting.
To change to camera: long press on MENU
To review photos/videos: another long press on MENU
Press again to come back to video.
When in appropriate setting then press OK to record or take photo.
To stamp date & time on photo: in video setting press MENU (see photo) and select Time Stamp.

It is very easy once you’ve got the hang of it.
The cost was about 40. Well worth it I think and something children would enjoy using.

Today (2nd June 2020) I went round the garden looking for tiny flowers. Here are the results with one or two surprises.


This is a real favourite and self seeds all over the garden. It’s easy to pull out where you don’t want it.

Forget Me Not Plant
Forget Me Not Flower
Forget Me Not Stem

BORAGE - Borago officinalis

This also self seeded from last year’s plants. They are annuals.

Borage Plant
Borage middle of flower
Middle of the flower; the blue anthers were a surprise
Borage Glandular Hairs
The glandular hairs on the sepal are very obvious

MOTHERWORT - Leonurus cardiaca

According to Culpepper this plant takes melancholy vapours from the heart and makes women joyful mothers of children. Not a very exciting plant to do all that but obviously worth cultivating. The tiny pink flowers don’t show up much on the plant but close up they are very exotic.

Motherwort plant
Motherwort Flower Closeup
Flower closeup


This is a pretty plant which seeds around and produces edible fruit which are quite small.

Alpine Strawberry Plant
Alpine Strawberry Flower
Centre of flower with unexpected visitor

PROCUMBENT PEARLWORT - Sagina procumbens

We have two Sarracenia plants growing in a pot on the patio. Yesterday I realised there was something else growing at the base of each plant which must have been in the original pots when I bought them. An unusual feature is that it doesn’t have any petals, and a surprising number of very small seeds.

Procumbent Pearlwort
Procumbent Pearlwort under magnifying glass
The leaves have a tiny bristle only visible under the microscope
Procumbent Pearlwort Closeup

BLACK ELDER - Sambucus nigra - ‘Black Lace’

A really beautiful tree especially when in bloom as it is at the moment.

Black Elder Plant
Black Elder Magnified
The anthers have released the pollen

LADY’S MANTLE - Alchemilla mollis

A lovely acid green which looks great and lasts well in a vase.

Ladys Mantle Plant
Lady's Mantle Plant Magnified


This enjoys living in the Paradise Garden. There are two big clumps of it.

Thyme Plant
Thyme Plant Closeup
Flower closeup

MOON DAISY - Leucanthemum

This grows at the end of the Secret Garden in part shade. It shows up well at dusk. A member of the Asteraceae with a complex flower head. Ray florets on the outside and little disc florets in the middle. There was another surprise little visitor, about 1mm long - possibly a thrip.

Moon Daisy Plant
Moon Daisy Disc Florets
Disc florets

HAIRY TARE - Vicia hirsuta

Another wild flower that appeared in the garden. The flowers are very tiny and look white until magnified. Distinguished from the other tares as it only has 2 seeds in the pod.

Vicia Hirsuta Plant
Vicia Hirsuta Magnified
Flowers closeup

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