Widgets Blog - Emma the Gardener

Plant Nutter's Book Club: The Lost Art of Potato Breeding

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The Lost Art of Potato Breeding

It’s the middle of April, and it’s time to open up the discussion for the Plant Nutter’s Book Club’s second book – the Lost Art of Potato Breeding, by Rebsie Fairholm. I confess that I haven’t finished reading it yet, but hope to do so in the next couple of days. So… while I’m catching up, what did you all think? Are you all converts to the cause of backyard potato breeding?

You will have noticed that I haven’t had a vote for our next title, and in fact I’m going to put the Plant Nutter’s Book Club on hold for the summer, while we’re all toiling away in our gardens or allotments, or jetting off to sunnier climes. If there’s enough interest I will start up again in the autumn; in the meantime I will keep an eye out for interesting plant books, and if you find a good one you can let me know in the comments :)

Posted in Blog on Apr 15, 2014 ·

Last modified on Apr 13, 2014

Tags: books & carnival.

Book Review: Gardening Myths and Misconceptions

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Professor Walsh: So, the Slayer.

Buffy: Yeah, that’s me.

Professor Walsh: We thought you were a myth.

Buffy: Well, you were myth-taken.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, A New Man

Gardening myths and misconceptions

Anyone who has an interest in organic vegetable gardening, or No Dig techniques, is likely to have a book by Charles Dowding on their shelf – he is considered to be an expert on those subjects. His latest book, just published by Green Books, is a bit different. In Gardening Myths and Misconceptions he’s doesn’t aim to tell you how to garden, but rather identifies pieces of gardening lore that we could perhaps do without.

It’s a topic I’ve touched on here before. Although some of the traditional gardening ‘wisdom’ handed down (possibly through generations) is helpful, some needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. There aren’t many gardening axioms that are appropriate for all gardens, at all times.

In his introduction, Dowding affirms himself to be a person with a questioning nature, and most of the advice in the book to be based on his own years of experience. He would like to free us all to garden in our own way, less stifled by the rules that are handed down.

The book is then divided into chapters that cover different aspects of gardening, and the myths and misconceptions that pertain to them. Chapter 2 is on sowing and planting and, among other things, reminds us that not all seeds need to be sown in spring. There’s also a section on transplanting root vegetables.

Chapter 3 is on watering, and recaps some scientific evidence that putting shards in the bottom of your containers and that watering in the middle of the day doesn’t burn plant leaves.

Moving through vegetable garden planning and design (chapter 4) to annual vegetables (chapter 5), Dowding tells us that – according to his own experiments – grafted vegetable plants (e.g. tomatoes) aren’t actually worth the extra investment in terms of the resulting increase in yields (something that flies in the face of anecdotal evidence – I haven’t heard anyone else say anything less than positive about them, but they are the latest thing and so very new).

Chapter 6 covers trees, shrubs and perennial vegetables, and there are some interesting snippets here about whether perennial vegetables can be as productive as conventional annual and biennial ones. Dowding recommends ditching the forcing pots for an easier life, a sentiment unlikely to go down well with anyone who has invested money in one of those lovely Victorian-style terracotta forcing pots.

Chapter 7 (manuring and fertilizing) admits that making liquid feeds is a lot less smelly if you don’t drown your source plants (something I have been saying for years) and is followed by a chapter on making and using compost.

Chapter 9 is on soil structure and care (one of Dowding’s specialities) and chapter 10 talks about pests, diseases and weeds.

Reading the book brought to mind the Telegraph’s recent article that tried to divide the gardening world into “young hort” gardeners, into recycling, guerrilla gardening and unusual edibles and “trad hort” gardeners – stuck in a world of double-digging, spraying the roses for black spot and splashing out on fancy compost bins. The suggestion has caused outrage in the less traditional, but not young gardeners, (including me!) who identified more with “young hort”. I am declaring us “young at hort” and moving on.

Gardeners firmly in the “young at hort” camp, who have been keeping pace with developments in horticulture may not find much new information in this book. “Trad hort” gardeners may not wish to be convinced that their way of doing things is unnecessarily hard work. The audience for this book would therefore seem to be the middle ground. Gardeners, perhaps new gardeners, taught in the traditional horticultural style but who have an inkling that there might be a better way. It’s a nicely produced book, a small hardback with an attractive cover design, and would make a nice gift. But for whom? I’m sure you know better than I. As I’m sure Mr Dowding would agree, we need to trust our own judgment more :)

Gardening Myths and Misconceptions
by Charles Dowding
Hardback, 96 pages, RRP £9.99
ISBN 9780857842046
Publisher: Green Books

Disclosure: I was provided with a review copy by the publisher, but my words are my own.

Posted in Blog on Apr 7, 2014 ·

Tag: books

The Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs Tour

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On the fence

It’s only a month until the publication of Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs, and in true plant hunter style I am donning my pith helmet and setting off on an adventure, exploring the digital world oin my virtual book tour.

I don’t have to go too far today, as I’m hosting a special edition of the Alternative Kitchen Garden Show, including a reading from the book. Here’s the tentative schedule for the rest of the tour, which will shape up as the month continues (shout if you’d like to fill an empty slot):

I’m also tweeting and updating the Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs Facebook page with related content.

You can preview the book over at Smashwords, and it’s available to pre-order on NOOK.

If you’re writing about the book, you can find cover images and photos of me that you can link to or download on the book homepage.

Posted in Blog on Apr 1, 2014 ·

Last modified on Apr 15, 2014

Tags: books & unusual.

Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs is available for preview!

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It’s World Book Day, which seems an opportune moment to announce that my new book, Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs has been accepted by Smashwords, and is now available to preview! The official publication date is 1st May 2014.

Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs tells the story of some unusual edible plants and the people who choose to grow them. It’s a guide book to the world of unusual edible plants, whether they are old or new, rarely grown or from somewhere far flung. It looks at the history of plant hunters moving these plants around the world, and tells the stories of modern day enthusiasts, showcasing some of the unusual plants you may encounter as you being your own journey into this intriguing world.

It has been a long time in the making, and I’m thrilled to bits that it will soon be published and available for you to read.

Smashwords distribute the book in various formats, including ePub and Kindle. There’s a PDF version if you don’t have an e-reader, and you can also read online at the Smashwords site. They have a system they call the ‘Meatgrinder’ to transform Word files into ebooks, which has been an interesting experience. There were some quirks that only showed up in one format or another; hopefully now all the odd page breaks and badly-rendered accents have disappeared. Over the next few days it should make its way out on pre-order to Apple, Barnes and Nobel, Sony and other places I probably don’t know about yet! Keep an eye out for it in your favourite ebook store (which doesn’t yet include Amazon, but you can order a Kindle version via Smashwords). During the pre-order period you can get your hands on a copy for $2.99; once the book is published I will be raising the price to $3.99 (still a bargain!).

So hop on over to Smashwords to check the book out, and get your copy hot off the virtual presses on 1st May! In the meantime, I am adding related content to the book’s Facebook page and Twitter. If you’re not a fan of either than you can keep an eye on my linklog.

I’m planning on doing a proper press release in due course, but if you’re a member of the press and you’d like to talk to me about the book (or you’re a blogger and you’d like to host me during my virtual book tour then drop my PR monkey an email.

Posted in Blog on Mar 6, 2014 ·

Last modified on Mar 6, 2014

Tags: books & unusual.

Plant Nutter's Book Club: March 2014

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The Lost Art of Potato Breeding

It’s March, and so the Plant Nutter’s (Virtual) Book Club has started a new book – The Lost Art of Potato Breeding, by Rebsie Fairholm. If you haven’t had a chance to join in the discussion on Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden, there’s still time to do that, and if you still need to get your hands on this month’s book you can order a copy directly from the publishing company, Skylight Press, or via Amazon UK and

You can use the comments on this post to record your thoughts about the book as you read it, if you like – the main discussion will open up on 15th April. In the meantime, you can also suggest a title for our next book, which we’ll start reading on 1st May. How about Saffron by Sally Francis, the history of saffron cultivation in England, complete with recipes? Or The Lotus Quest by Mark Griffiths? Or something by the man himself, Charles Darwin?

If your suggestion didn’t get picked in the last vote, feel free to suggest it again! The voting was really, really close :) Just leave a comment with your suggestion(s), and I’ll add them to the vote at the beginning of April.

In the meantime, happy reading!

Posted in Blog on Mar 2, 2014 ·

Tag: books

Smashwords author interview

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PR Monkey

Work on Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs is going well – it now has a foreword, and the whole book is in the same font! I am hoping to be able to transform it into a readable ebook very shortly now; the official publication date is set for 1st May 2014.

In the meantime, my PR Monkey has been beavering away, and has conjured up an author interview for my Smashwords profile. Head over and see what you think. If there’s a question you’d like me to answer then submit it as a comment below, and PR Monkey will see what he can do!

Posted in Blog on Mar 1, 2014 ·

Tag: books

Virtual book tour: Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs

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PR Monkey

I am busy updating the manuscript for Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs, and am making good progress. I am anticipating having it all ready to be published at the beginning of May 2014, and at that point I would like to embark on a virtual book tour.

What’s a virtual book tour?
Publishers with marketing budgets often send their authors off on book tours when their new book is published. It’s a chance to do signings in book stores, give talks or readings and meet some of your audience – who may well then buy a copy of your book.

A virtual book tour is exactly like that, but it doesn’t involve me leaving the house or lugging a crate of books around the country (which would be tricky with an ebook, anyway). Instead of frequenting book shops and church halls, I will popping around blogs and websites and spreading the word about my new book and how wonderful it is.

Which is where you come in. If you have a blog or website, you could host an event for me. On a given day on the tour you could post an interview with me, or host a chat. You could review the book. I can record a reading from the book or write a guest blog for you. If you’re a foodie you could put together a special recipe post, so that people have something to sustain them at the book launch party :)

Of course, you might have a better idea – something that would fit with both the book (which is about unusual edible plants and the people who grow them) and your blog audience.

If you’d like to book a place on my virtual tour, send an email to my PR Monkey with your blog/website address and an idea (if you have one) of the event you’d like to host.

Thank you :)

Posted in Blog on Feb 25, 2014 ·

Tag: books

Forthcoming ebook

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Exotic edibles

When I started writing a book about the wide variety of unusual edible plants, and the people who choose to grow them, back in 2010, I never thought the project would take so long to come to fruition. Two years ago, when I picked up the manuscript with the intention of finally publishing it, I didn’t realise that a serious upheaval was about to ensure it had to be put to one side yet again.

Now I am determined it will see the light of day. I have started going through the finished manuscript, making the final corrections and any updates required after two years in mothballs. I’m finding it really interesting to go back and read it, having largely forgotten what I wrote! I intend to self-publish it as an ebook, and have applied for my own set of ISBNs.

In the UK, the allocation of ISBNs (which are required for books and ebooks if you want them to be widely distributed, but not if you’re going to handle sales yourself) is handled by the Nielsen UK ISBN Agency. You cannot buy a single ISBN, they are sold in blocks – with the smallest block being 10.

If you are applying for your first batch of ISBNs then there is a registration fee; if you need further batches in future this no longer applies. With VAT, the 2014 price to register as a new publisher and receive 10 ISBNs is £132. (Note that ISBNs are not transferable; they will always be assigned to the publisher name you’ve chosen.)

To apply you will need to have a publisher name (you can use your own, or choose a trading name) and to know some details about the first book you’re going to publish. For ebooks it’s relatively simple as some details (e.g. page sizes and the number of pages) aren’t relevant; you just need to have chosen the book title. You also need to supply the title page and verso for the book – essentially just draft statements of the title, author and publisher details. They don’t have to be the final versions, and the application form gives examples you can copy. Oh, and you need to give an estimated publication date. Nielsen will enter all of these details into their book database for you when they process your application.

Once you’ve submitted your form, your ISBNs will be sent out (by email or post) within 10 working days.

My intention at the moment is to publish the book via Smashwords. In theory, if I supply a correctly-formatted Word document they will do the rest and turn it into the main ebook formats. I estimated that I could have all of this done by the beginning of May. I will keep you posted.

In the meantime, you can find more details about the book on the Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs page.

Posted in Blog on Feb 22, 2014 ·

Tag: books

Plant Nutter's Book Club: February 2014

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Monkey reading Buffalo Bird Woman's Garden

Have you finished reading Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden? What did you think? Readers have left a few comments on the introductory book post, but now it’s time for a proper discussion.

I’ve heard from several of you that you were thoroughly enjoying reading the book. I didn’t find it that engaging, but I was struck by the amount of work that went in to maintaining a Hidatsa garden (more of a smallholding, really) and processing the resulting harvest. At several points the book makes reference to work being carried out communally, with other members of the tribe coming to help with some aspect, and being ‘paid’ with a share of the harvest and a good meal.

I was also intrigued by the apparent monotony of the Hidatsa diet – it seems to have been based mainly on ‘messes’ of corn and/ or beans and squash. Very little was mentioned about the green vegetables or herbs they may have gathered, rather than grown, to liven things up a bit.

Clearly expert gardeners, the Hidatsa women knew that there were two different types of squash flowers – one that bore fruit, and one that didn’t, but don’t seem to have made the connection to male and female flowers. They made no effort to keep their squash lines breeding ‘true’, but the corn varieties were kept distinct by growing them some distance apart.

And it was fascinating to read that “Young men didn’t smoke much, believing it would damage their lungs and make them poor runners. Tobacco was grown by old men.”

How about you, what did you think of the book? What did you find most striking? Please post your thoughts in the comments. If you’re struggling for something to say, try pondering these questions:

What did you most enjoy about the book?
What did you least enjoy?
Do you feel the book has relevance to gardening today?
Is there something from the book that you can take away, into your own garden?
Did you learn something new about the plants in the book?

The comments will stay open for 6 weeks (it’s an anti-spam thing), so if you’re still finishing the book there’s time for you to join in the discussion later.

And the results of the vote are in – we’re going to be reading The Lost Art of Potato Breeding in March! You can source a copy directly from Rebsie Fairholm’s publishing company, Skylight Press, or via Amazon UK and

We start reading on 1st March 2014 :)

Posted in Blog on Feb 15, 2014 ·

Tag: books

Plant Nutter's Book Club: February 2014 vote

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How are you getting on with Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden? We’ve had some early comments from readers on the introductory book post, but I’ll open up a proper discussion on 15th February. Before that, it’s time to choose which book you’d like to read next, in March.

My original suggestions were:

Around the World in 80 Plants, by Stephen Barstow. Stephen’s book is about perennial vegetables for a temperate climate, and should prove very interesting – but it’s not published in the UK until 7th March and won’t be available in the US until later in the year, I think.

The Moss Grower’s Handbook, by Michael Fletcher, is available online as a free PDF download. First published in 1991, it’s about forming and maintaining a collection of living bryophytes, based around Michael’s work in his greenhouse in Reading.

Alys has suggested The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. It’s about botanical obsession and crime, which you might find timely, given the recent theft of an endangered waterlily from Kew Gardens. This book was published in 2000, and is available in paperback and Kindle forms. You should be able to find a secondhand copy, or possibly borrow it from the library.

Another free, online book is Stephen Nottingham’s Beetroot, published in 2005 and available to read online. If you’ve ever wanted to know everything there is to know about beetroot, now is the time!

And I added Rebsie Fairholm’s The Lost Art of Potato Breeding to the list, which is a newly published paperback. Breeding your own potato variety might not have been on your To Do list for this year, but it will certainly be on next year’s if you read this book!

The Plant Nutter’s have spoken, a new book has been chosen :)

If you missed it, I did a quick preview of The Lost Art of Potato Breeding, Rebsie Fairholm’s very new book. You can order a copy directly from Rebsie’s publishing company, Skylight Press, or via Amazon UK and

Posted in Blog on Feb 1, 2014 ·

Last modified on Feb 15, 2014

Tag: books

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