Don’t worry, I’m not about to lead you astray, but merely down to the end of our (imaginary) garden, where next to the shed, strung between two old apple trees, our hammock gently sways. There, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we can escape for a precious hour now and then to read those books we haven’t got round to yet. With birdsong in our ears and a nose full of honeysuckle, what better books to read than those on gardening?
In my basket along with the biscuits and the elderflower cordial sit two gems that every gardener who is serious about growing their own should read: “Hot Beds” by Jack First and “The Polytunnel Book” by Joyce Russell. Both these books deal with techniques for season extension, a skill which is becoming increasingly important as the effects of climate change are making our seasons ever more erratic and our weather less predictable. Growing crops under cover with the help of heat generated by the composting process has been a real saver here in Wales. If we hadn’t had three hotbeds going in the polytunnel this spring, my tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, pumpkins and a host of other heat lovers would have had a hard time getting going. As it was they got on with it just fine, snug on the hotbed under a couple of layers of fleece.
This year, our hotbeds were far hotter and lasted much longer than those of the previous years and this is thanks to the excellent advice of Jack First. His is a compact little book, but it holds all the information, plans and photo’s that you could ever need to make a successful attempt at this technique. No more long, stretched seedlings on the windowsills, no more electric propagators. All you need is a very basic cold frame with a plastic cover, some fresh manure and off you go. I also enjoyed the first chapter where he shows us that hot beds are nothing new and were successfully used by the Roman gardeners of emperor Tiberius and how in the early 1900’s the French sent thousands of crates of produce over to London during the winter, all grown without fossil fuels.
Under cover growing is definitely the way to go. In a greenhouse or a polytunnel, you are far less at the mercy of the weather; you have a certain amount of control over temperature, humidity and slugs. It also means that you can still garden while it rains cats and dogs. Here in Mid West Wales, we simply couldn’t grow tomatoes, cucumbers or French beans without a tunnel or a greenhouse, believe me; I’ve tried.
“The Polytunnel Book” is simply the best book on the topic I have come across. Clear, concise yet full of useful tips on growing under plastic and a wealth of general horticultural know-how. I love the month-by-month guide and the “Fruit and veg at a glance” section, very practical and user friendly. Be prepared for your copy to be dog eared and soil stained in no time at all, as despite the beautiful photographs, this book is more at home in the potting shed or polytunnel than it is on the coffee table.
Well, by the time you are reading this, I’ll be down in Pilton, enjoying a well deserved rest at Glastonbury Festival. And which book will I be taking there? “The Power of Just Doing Stuff, of course! Mmmm, the Rolling Stones or a cuppa and a bit of Rob, hard choice…