Book Review: Do Grow by Alice Holden August 18 2013

You may already have heard of the Do Lectures; inspiring talks from people who are changing the world. There is a great selection of videos available online at including a fab talk from Colin Tudge explaining how we can easily grow enough food for everyone and another by Peter Segger talking about soil.

The lecture that Alice Holden gave on organic farming has evolved into a book, one of 5 released this year under the Do Books brand, and Do Grow gives guidance on how to get started growing your own food.

The author offers advice on how to keep a plot healthy and productive as well as reminding us of the benefit that physical, repetitive work can have on our bodies and minds. Alice has spent her life working on growing spaces of varying sizes, from kitchen gardens to commercial farms, so she is perfectly placed to share her wisdom and help us to grow our own whatever time and space limitations may be holding us back. She guides the reader through the importance of working with nature, breaking down the barriers between us and where our food is produced.

With the beautiful photos and illustrations, the book will inspire the reader to get straight on and grow. It’s packed full of useful instructions, focusing on just 10 groups of crops featured in order of “value for space, ease of growth and intensity of flavour when fresh”. Information is provided on sowing, planting, harvesting, propagating and cooking, covering the whole journey from plot to plate, and is crowded with Alice’s stories of the farms she’s worked on and the people she’s got to know.  

Do Grow is perfect for a beginner or someone who has been growing veg for a while but wants to learn a bit more about organic gardening. One of my favourite things about this book is the fairly small size. It fit nicely in my handbag and meant I could easily carry it around and read it on the go in the laundrette, on the bus, whenever I had 10 minutes to spare.

Do Grow is available to buy from What You Sow, and if you use the code “GOODREADS” at the checkout you can have 20% off Do Grow, or indeed any of our other books. 


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What You Sow summer reads August 05 2013

Here at What You Sow HQ I’ve been using the wonderful weather as an opportunity not only to work on gardening and craft projects but also to sit in the sun and do some reading. As the summer shows only the slightest signs of abating, and many will have holidays planned, I thought now might be a good time to think about some timely, sunny and green reading for the next few months. So I asked @jonathas to contribute a few suggestions of summer reads for you to explore.

The first recommendation is Melissa Harrison’s cracking debut novel, ‘Clay’, which is a perfect read for the green fingered and the environmentally aware. Charting a year in the life of a small London park and the ways in which the lives of a small group of characters develop over that time, it’s terribly moving and full of beautiful and inspiring descriptions of nature. The book is centred around the relationship between TC, a young boy who seeks solace in the wildlife around him and Josef, a Polish migrant who has left behind his life as a farmer to work in one of South London’s neglected high streets. Beautifully written and very affecting, the book is guaranteed to make you want to get out into a green space and learn the names of the trees that surround you in your daily life.

Another book that crackles with evocative descriptions of nature is Evie Wyld’s terrific ‘All The Birds, Singing’, which somehow failed to get onto the Booker Prize shortlist week. Like Clay, the wildlife in this book is a far cry from the pastoral idyll; set partly in an Australian outback which crackles with danger and partly on a remote Scottish Island, this book is mysterious and inventive, lit up by lyrical prose but containing scenes that provoke sharp intakes of breath. Like Clay, it’s only available at hardback at the moment, but it’s absolutely worth the investment. 

In paperback, Tan Twan Eng’s ‘The Garden of Evening Mists’ delivers on a promise of evoking a calmer picture of the natural world. Though set in turbulent times (the book tells the story of a Japanese gardener exiled in Malaysia during the violent Malayan Conflict after WWII), it is really the story of how through discipline and artistry the act of gardening can impose order and create a profound contentment and reconciliation with the past, as well as express a multitude of complex emotions. Rich in metaphor and stately in tone, the book also explores the cultural impact of tea, tattooing and zen Buddhism.

A novel as clear and clean as the ringing of a bell, Deborah Levy’s touch on the marvellous ‘Swimming Home’ is a little less green fingered; but the book still contains plenty of beautiful images, such as the comparison of a naked girl in water to a bear swimming, and a lovely description of a centipede examined clambering out of a bucket. The book concerns a middle class family’s holiday in France being interrupted by the arrival of the enigmatic, cinematic Kitty Finch, who places all kinds of strain on the family dynamic. Deborah Levy wrote a similarly wonderful collection of stories this year too, Black Vodka. Both are worth checking out.

And if the above all sound a bit rich in metaphor and literary styling, I couldn’t recommend a nicer summer book than Rebecca Harrington’s hilarious ‘Penelope’, a delightful university novel starring the eponymous heroine, who arrives at her first year at Harvard with little idea how to navigate campus, conversations, or make a spreadsheet for her ‘counting people’ class. If you’re a film-fan and loved the dry whimsy of Whit Stillman’s ‘Damsels in Distress’,the slightly sillier ‘Pitch Perfect’ or Greta Gerwig’s latest, ‘Frances Ha’, you’ll love this.

Hope you’re feeling inspired to read one of Jonathan’s recommendations! Grab a copy from your local independent bookstore if you can. And leave a comment or send me a tweet to tell me what you’re reading. 


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Book Review: Abundance by Alys Fowler June 24 2013

Abundance is the latest offering from Urban Gardening expert and sustainable living guru Alys Fowler. The author of two of my favourite gardening books, The Thrifty Gardener and The Thrifty Forager, Alys is back to teach us how to store and preserve the garden produce we’ve grown ourselves using the techniques of drying, pickling, fermenting, bottling and freezing. Narrowing the gap between growing your own and eating your own, Alys’s book speaks to a whole generation of gardeners who never inherited the skills that came naturally to our grandparents.

The title evokes that wonderful feeling of plenty and the book certainly delivers, leaving you with the immediate desire to pick some vegetables and make them into something special. It reflects a sort of borrowed nostalgia for something which we’ve missed out on, but are aware of from the stories we read as children, as well as a nod to a type of knowledge that has been passed down for centuries and in a generation has almost been lost. 

This book is full of ideas, recipes, images and anecdotes, comprising stories from Alys’s past and stories she has gathered from other sources, along with tips on growing, harvesting and storing. It serves as a call to action and demonstrates how to become more self-sufficient, to save money, to impress your friends, to enjoy summer flavours during the colder months. For anyone who has questioned their dependence on carbon-heavy, shop-bought produce, the book presents a host of fun, creative and inspiring solutions. 

From Japanese pickles to no-sugar raspberry jam and Alys’s carrot top pesto, this book has something for everyone. Recipes are presented not as fine cuisine, but as “a shortcut to a better meal”. Yet they sound amazing; Kimchi, tabasco, broad bean falafel, and a range of chutneys along with practical tips to make sure the preparation goes to plan. “Be sensible”, Alys writes, “act cautiously, make small batches and vary them often”. And share, often. 

It’s incredibly informative, with information from the history of preservation and the importance of sterilisation to composting, each part scattered with tales like sowed seeds; a friend’s mother growing up in an Austrian mountain town, memories of harvest time, the strict teachers teaching Alys to pick apples at the RHS fruit orchards.

Illustrated throughout with bright, luscious photographs of the ingredients, recipes, and a smiling Alys on her allotment and in the kitchen, the book includes a number of useful graphics detailing, amongst other things, a scale of natural pectin levels in fruit. The images of frozen vegetables are enchanting. Filled with scientific sections on how vegetables decay and how fermenting and preserving work, it’s incredibly well laid out and thoughtfully put together. 

Since my work with FareShare and Carbon Conversations, I’ve become acutely aware of the importance of reducing my food footprint. Alys is great at sharing the skills you can use to preserve your home grown produce and keep your food footprint low without sounding preachy in any way. She understands the importance of communicating to people with a positive message – anyone who has tried to raise awareness in sceptical friends will appreciate that. So this is a book to share like jam.

Published by Kyle Books, Abundance is new to What You Sow and it’s a really cracking, exciting, inspiring read. And in celebration of our recent membership of Good Reads, where we’ll be regularly sharing reviews of my favourite gardening books, enter the code “goodreads” at the What You Sow checkout and I will give you 10% off Abundance or any other book you order from the shop. You can’t say fairer than that.



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