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Dorset on the Vegetable Plot with Joe Hashman

PUBLISHED: 12:45 22 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:35 20 February 2013

Dorset on the Vegetable Plot with Joe Hashman

Dorset on the Vegetable Plot with Joe Hashman

Joe Hashman reveals how he turned an overgrown plot into a productive allotment and gives some top tips for growing fruit and veg in Dorset.

Joe Hashman reveals how he turned an overgrown plot into a productive allotment and gives some top tips for growing fruit and veg in Dorset.


In 2001, a combination of life-changing events redirected the course of my life and led me along a path into the wonderful world of gardening.
Everything came to a head for me shortly after the 9/11 atrocity. As a self-employed investigative journalist, I worked abroad in difficult, often dangerous, conditions. The British press was cranking up the rhetoric about terrorist threats to homeland security at that time. Like many folk, I was dazed and confused by the worldwide craziness and, upon returning home to Shaftesbury, decided enough was enough. I felt a compelling need to step off the professional treadmill, take stock and stay close to the people and places which I loved the most. Part of my self-administered therapy included bringing an overgrown allotment plot back from the wilderness and into productive cultivation.

Folk who do gardening all have a story to tell. Some are born into it. They have a family lineage which goes back generations and ties them to the land. Others, like me, come to it in different ways. What unites us all is a fascination and passion for the mysteries and pleasures of natural magic, being outdoors and in amongst it.

The brilliant thing about gardening is that anyone can do it. If you bear in mind the fact that plants have evolved to grow, then thats a good start. All you have to do is work out what your chosen crops need to succeed and try to deliver as near-perfect conditions as possible. Thats a huge part of the fun; reading books, chatting to others whove tried it, watching the weather, building a relationship with your local environment the soil, climate and seasonal changes.

You dont even need a garden. Salads can happily be raised in pots on a window sill, and try sprouted seeds of mung bean, sunflower, radish and lentils on damp paper in a dish. Containers on a patio or courtyard will raise handsome crops of practically anything that can be grown in garden soil. Imagine runner beans climbing up a sunny wall or lolling foliage revealing tempting glimpses of a delicious courgette, not to mention tomatoes, chillis and (if youre really brave) aubergines.

Then theres Garden Share, which is when folk who cant work their plot let others have a go and the produce is shared. There are also community gardens, which might be an orchard, formal green space or a millennium green. I know for a fact that these projects are always desperate for willing volunteers to step forward and make their mark. Gardening is not always about one person battling against the elements, fighting pests and diseases, and toiling a lonesome furrow under a big sky. Often as not, its about neighbourliness, friendship, working together and community.

Im always encouraging people to dig up their lawns and tend fruit and veg there instead. A frightening amount of perfectly good growing land is tied up under a green baize of close-cropped lawn and is crying out to be reclaimed and brought back into the grow-your-own fold. Why not? Youd save on your grocery bill, help the environment (think food miles, packaging and processing) and benefit your personal health and well-being.

In 2001 I had been on a council waiting list for two years and was lucky with the timing. Allotment gardening back then was still seen as the quirky preserve of old-timers, odd-balls and alternative nutters like me. Today, of course, renting a plot is like having a pocketful of gold dust, but Id still advise applying. The wait may be a long one, but fads and fashions change and an opportunity might come your way sooner than you think.

I remember the feeling of pride and joy when I first harvested broad beans. After spending two months clearing and digging, my mates mum told me to get on and plant something. That was the first week of December. I dutifully popped in some broad beans. Watching them emerge was amazing. They rested as small shoots over the New Year but come springtime they were off again, growing like the clappers. The flowers in early summer were beautiful; I watched bees at work and the pods form. In June, me and my mate cropped the lot. We ate fresh, then frozen, beans for months. The rest is all now just history.

Im a compulsive note-taker and diary-keeper. My third book, On The Plot With Dirty Nails, is based on the weekly gardening and wildlife articles Ive written since 2004, under the pseudonym of Dirty Nails. Its tried and tested practical stuff, in words and instructional pictures, that will hold the hand of a beginner yet still inform and (hopefully) inspire those who have already earned their gardening badge.



MY TOP TEN FOR A FRUITFUL PLOT


Apples
Whatever size of garden, specialist breeding techniques mean theres an apple for you. Type M27 will suit containers, and M25 will become a large garden tree, with plenty of options in between. Warrior, Golden Ball and Profit are Dorset varieties.


Autumn Raspberries
This sumptuous fruit practically grows itself. Joan J is my variety of choice. It fruits from late July until the October frosts. Husbandry is easy just cut everything down in February and mulch thickly with fallen leaves.


Beetroot
For earthy sweetness beets are hard to beat! Sow Detroit from spring until mid-summer, then Cylindra through to early August. Enjoy the leaves as greens and the roots cooked or raw (grated is best, with sultanas) when the size of a golf ball.


Broad Beans
Sow 5cm deep at 12cm intervals in parallel rows 20cm apart. Try autumn-sown Aquadulce or Witkiem in spring. Eat leaves, whole pods when small or beans in mid-summer.


Carrots
In pots of peat-free compost try Amsterdam Forcing all through the summer months. Use tweezers to place seeds at 1cm intervals and barely cover. Keep moist but not wet. Pull when young and sweet.


Potatoes
Dorset folk call them tiddies; these are prone to disease but thrive in rich garden soil, 15cm deep and 38cm apart. Alternatively, bung a couple in an old compost bag. Either way, keep covering greenery until flowers appear, then lift and enjoy.



Purple Sprouting Broccoli
This needs a full year from seed to harvest, and protection from pigeons and rabbits. The unopened flower buds are welcome in the late spring hungry gap when little else is available fresh, so sow in March and work hard for the future. Try Purple Sprouting Late.


Salads
Including lettuce, rocket and oriental leaves. Easy to nurture in pots or a veg patch with fertile soil, moisture and sunlight. Sow often, pick young and never buy that supermarket rubbish again!


Sprouted Seeds
Drench and drain seeds of beans, pulses, radishes, sunflowers daily for a week. Keep indoors and enjoy as a superfood sandwich filling.


Swede
Needs fertile well-drained soil. I sow Marian seeds 2cm deep on 1 May and thin them out in stages until theres about 20cm between each plant. Swede is a vastly under-rated winter staple in my opinion. Perfect mashed with carrots and potatoes, salt and plenty of pepper.



On the Plot with Dirty Nails by Joe Hashman is published by Spring Hill, an imprint of How to Books Ltd at 12.99 or order at
www.howtobooks.co.uk or call 01476 541080

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