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Book review


Seaweed – a new kind of edible or a centuries old secret?

July 4, 2014

Once I’d picked myself up off the floor having opened the invitation and itinerary to attend the SoSligo Food and Cultural Festival in June, the trip we were being taken on that really jumped out of the page was seaweed foraging with Prannie Rhatigan.

Seaweed - a new kind of edible or a centuries old secret?

Sea or Mountain Woman?

I was born and reared within earshot of the sea and now living on top of a hill, almost an hour’s drive away from the coast, the deep yearning for sea air never goes away. I moved away from the seaside as a young child and my teenage years were spent close by to the salty marshes of Maldon, in North Essex, famed for its Sea Salt. I have no recollection of seaweed. Wistful memories tend to be of swimming every day with friends in the creeks, laying in bed listening to the bells ringing on stormy nights as they swayed violently on the tips of masts on yachts moored close by. Depending upon the wind direction, the sound of hammers and drills could often be heard echoing around the village as men worked in the boatyard on barnacle encrusted barges that sat resting, out-of-place high in the air on cradles, paint peeling from their hulls. The sounds were mirrored by the screech of the seagulls as they fought for morsels of food thrown from small fishing boats that lazily bobbed by.

But seaweed? I’m guessing there must have been some lying around the muddy marshes but it certainly wasn’t something we ate.

Edible Seaweed

Seaweed - a new kind of edible or a centuries old secret?It came as a bit of surprise last year when I attended a fascinating talk about seaweed by Sally McKenna, author of Edible Greens, followed by a Japanese cookery demonstration by Fiona Uyema, that not only is seaweed edible, those in the know have eaten it for centuries and it’s packed full of properties that are tremendously good for us.

Prannie Rhatigan

Prannie Rhatigan

Prannie Rhatigan was reared by the sea too but unlike me, she grew up learning its secrets. She describes in the introduction of her wonderful book, Irish Seaweed Kitchen how, as a child, she would help her father harvest the glistening seaweed on the edge of the Atlantic ocean throughout the various seaweed seasons. These days, as well as practising as a medical doctor, Prannie is sharing her knowledge and having stood spellbound in welly boots on the slippery rocks, surrounded by an abundant carpet of free and now I know, almost completely edible carpet of seaweed, I can safely tell you she really knows her stuff.

Prannie is not only passionate about seaweed in its raw and cooked forms, she’s also convinced of its health benefits and although her medical training dictates that she works from an evidence base, she can see that evidence building. She’s looking forward to seeing the day when seaweeds have mainstream preventative and therapeutic roles as anti-inflammatories, anti-cancer and antivirals among other things.

Seaweed - a new kind of edible or a centuries old secret?As we carefully wove our way around the slippery Sligo rocks, Prannie introduced us to the magnificent gifts from the sea that lay strewn around us, ensuring that we understood how to harvest seaweed responsibly, explaining that it wasn’t to be pulled out by its roots or from its mother plant, but snipped carefully and sustainably.


Seaweed - a new kind of edible or a centuries old secret?The waterproof Companion Guide to Edible Seaweeds that’s recently been launched to accompany The Seaweed Kitchen has an illustration showing exactly where to cut each variety of seaweed with scissors, an invaluable guide to anyone new to seaweed foraging.

Seaweed might be free, but taking anything from the seashore in Ireland should be done so respectfully and sustainably and Prannie was keen to point that out (see here for the Irish legislation about seaweed harvesting).

Seaweed - a new kind of edible or a centuries old secret?

Sea spaghetti growing out from it’s parent plant

I could spend pages extolling the virtues of this cook book and guide with a difference, from its thoughtful bookmark that gives quick tips on preparing seaweed to the tried and tested recipes that include starters, canapés and deserts, compiled from local people’s favourite gems, or the thoughtful illustrations and photographs. The book and guide haven’t left my bedside since I arrived home as I’ve loved every moment dipping in and out of them, bringing me back to the seashore every time I do so.

Seaweed - a new kind of edible or a centuries old secret?During the foraging trip Prannie introduced us to her power packed green smoothie, sea spaghetti and cheese straws, as well as bladderwrack soaked in brandy. Who needs olives when you live by the sea…

You might wonder why someone who lives inland is so excited about a seaweed cookbook and the chances of foraging will be rare? Thankfully there are people who’ve created a business with folk like us in mind, selling little bags of dried seaweed that we can buy from specialist shops and online stores, re-hydrating them when we’d like. I now have a bag of sea spaghetti waiting to be turned into a salad dish I spotted in Prannie’s book, once I harvest my own cosmic purple carrots.

Seaweed - a new kind of edible or a centuries old secret?

Bladderwrack & raspberries in elderflower fizz

If you’re interested in learning more about seaweed, there are several opportunities for you to forage along the clean waters of the Wild Atlantic Way. Prannie herself will be hosting a rather special sounding two-day course in the summer that would be a wonderful treat for someone special (treat yourself perhaps) or there are several other foragers dotted along the coastline. Failing that, buy the companion guide or a seaweed foraging book and see what you can find for yourself.

If you’d like to learn more about our seaweed walk, Irish TV accompanied us on our Sligo tour and you can view the episode below (usually found on Sky Channel 191). Susan from the Vibrant Ireland blog has also covered the foraging trip in a post here and has included a garlicy seaweed recipe conjured up by her husband Terry.

Have you discovered the hidden qualities of seaweed yet? Are you tempted?



Book Review: Would You Marry A Farmer?

December 3, 2013

Several weeks ago, when Lorna Sixsmith asked me if I’d consider reviewing her first, self published book “Would you Marry a Farmer?” in a bloggers book tour, I hesitated slightly…

Would You Marry A FarmerWhat if I didn’t like it? What if it sent me to sleep? What if I couldn’t find time to read it? (I have an ever-growing pile of books on my bedside table and haven’t finished any of them this year!) and what if it makes me wish I’d married a farmer??? 

I’ve known Lorna for some time now and really want her book to be a success. I’ve watched her journey from idea to crowdfunding to a full print run and she’s worked so hard to make it happen through all stages of its production, as well as continue to organise and run the rest of her life – I don’t know how she does it!!

Would You Marry A Farmer on Kindle

“Would You Marry A Farmer” on Kindle

As it happens, all of my worries were to prove unfounded. To address my time concerns, Lorna forwarded me a copy of the book in PDF format prior to it being sent to print, which I’ve been able to download to the Kindle app on my phone. This proved to be the best thing possible as it meant the book was always with me.

It also meant I could also read the book in the middle of the night without disturbing Mr G when my insomnia kicks in. Well that’s not strictly true…. I might not have disturbed him with my bedside lamp lighting up the bedroom at 3.30 am, but the shaking bed as I tried not to laugh too loudly might have! The way Lorna describes a sprint across fields chasing cattle, clutching trousers tightly to prevent them falling down, or running with one arm firmly planted across chest to prevent boobs bouncing in all directions, caused a few chortles and recognition from my own attempts at pig chasing!

Would You Marry A Farmer is split into five sections, beginning by guiding the reader through to the serious question of “Are Farmers A Good Catch?”, right through to “How to Stay Married to a Farmer” once you’ve made the decision that maybe they might be. Although this book isn’t an autobiography, it’s clear that Lorna’s own experience peppers the pages throughout and who better to write such a book, than a woman who’s happily married to a farmer, despite all the difficulties and obstacles that might entail (and of which she now shares).

This book isn’t just for women eitherI’ve quoted paragraphs to Mr G throughout as he’s glanced over to me wondering what an earth I was chuckling about now. (I was reading the section on how to get a farmer to do some DIY and/or take a holiday.)

And it’s not just a book about dating or being married to a farmer. Living in rural Ireland as my family do, surrounded by cattle farms, both dairy and meat, we’ve been exposed to cows for the past fifteen years without actually knowing a thing about them. Our neighbours have assumed that we know what they’re talking about when they discuss their maidens or heifers or that we’re not scared witless when they ask us to stand in the road and stop their cattle heading off in the wrong direction. Now, thankfully, having read this book, I can nod in all the right places during conversations over tea or ale and politely say no if they’re moving young bulls 😉 Would You Marry a Farmer covers many aspects of farming a newbie might meet, from birth to herding to death – vital I would imagine if you’re serious about finding your own farmer and winning his mother around too!

The early pages are dotted with small ads that have appeared over the past century, placed by farmers in their quest for potential wives giving a fascinating insight into how life has changed over the years (thank goodness!!).

The later half of the book is full of anecdotes and experiences, many written with tongue firmly in cheek, but still sharing a clear love of the farmerette way of life.

Would You Marry A FarmerPerhaps I’m biased (and I’ve tried very hard not to be), but I hadn’t expected the book to be so informative, for it to contain such an insight into Irish history and its rich traditions, or be quite so entertaining. I loved the illustrations drawn by Joanne Condon too which capture the essence of the book so well.

This book is for single and married folk, city or rural dwellers, men and women and would make a great read at any time of the year, though had I had it in my hand a couple of weeks ago when I was writing my Irish Gift Ideas for Christmas list, this book would most definitely have been in it.

Would You Marry A Farmer captures so much of what makes Ireland unique in a no-nonsense, honest to goodness fashion. If you’re looking to marry into the farming way of life or are just plain curious about what farmers do all day, you’ll be under no romantic illusions about this hard-working way of life once you’ve read the book.

How to get your hands on Would You Marry a Farmer?

If you’d like to order a copy of Would You Marry a Farmer, the easiest way is to order it online from her Irish Farmerette website. If you prefer not to do your shopping online, take a look at the Stockist page here.

Liam from has a competition to win a copy on his review of the book here, and a couple more reviews are coming up this week if you’re not convinced by mine. Derbhile Dromey will be reviewing it tomorrow over at World of Writing.

Or, for your chance to win a copy now, you can leave a comment below. 

All you have to do is mention whether you think a farming lifestyle is for you or not. The random draw will take place this coming Sunday, 8th December at 6.00 pm and Would You Marry a Farmer can be posted anywhere in the world!

Disclaimer: I’ve not been paid or bribed to write this post, though Lorna did give me a lovely mention in the acknowledgements which has in no way influenced my review (promise). I bought my own copy of the book via Lorna’s crowdfunding campaign.


Food & Drink

Wild Food & Winning Competitions

March 26, 2013

Wild Food from O'Brien Press Book ReviewDo you ever win competitions? For years we didn’t win a thing, not a single raffle, draw or lottery but a couple of years ago that all changed. Little prizes started to arrive in the post box…

A bottle of Bailey’s, a book on Irish Slang, a couple of CD’s and a cook book, a beautiful Greengate Jug, a DVD player, a bottle of champagne and in 2011 Electric Picnic tickets!

A couple of weeks ago I entered a competition over on the Irish Food Bloggers website to win a Wild Food book and was absolutely thrilled to receive an email letting me know I was one of the winners! I’ve been meaning to buy a foraging book for some time now but hadn’t got around to it.

Wild Food by Biddy White Lennon and Evan Doyle
The winning book was a new one from O’Brien press by Biddy White Lennon and Evan Doyle called Wild Food. I like that it’s handbag sized and divided into seasonal chapters. For instance this month I could be looking out for Wild Nettle, Dilisk, Carrageen, Wild Garlic, Wild Sea Beet and Wild Rock Samphire and if I find them (each chapter includes tips on where to look and how to pick the plants) there are some delicious looking recipes from sweet, savory to boozy (how about a wee dram of wild rowan berry schnapps for instance?

I used to think there was no point entering competitions but as a result of our little wins have completely changed my mind. On this occasion there were 142 responses all hoping to win one of five books being given away. Sometimes there might only be twenty or thirty other entrants. We still rarely buy lotto tickets but really, you just never know…

Have you won any interesting, beautiful, expensive or strange gifts in the past?

Community Gardens

‘From the Ground Up’ by Fionnuala Fallon – Garden Book Giveaway

December 8, 2012
From The Ground Up

Image courtesy Collins Press

Are you a book lover or do you find everything you want to know on the Internet? Do you buy cheap gardening books, expensive ones, any books you see or recommendations only?

There’s such an array of garden books it can be difficult to choose, from ‘celebrity’ gardeners to unknown authors, there’s a book for everyone. So many that when you come across a gardening book, and in particular a book about growing food that’s unlike anything you’ve picked up before, if you’re anything like me it can fill you with excitement and glee. You just know it has to make it onto your own bookshelves somehow or some way.

That’s the sense I experienced when I finally unpacked Fionnuala Fallon’s first book ‘From the Ground Up‘. The book was sent directly from Irish publishers Collins Press who had kindly sent me a copy to be reviewed. Between Gift Seed Collection making, community gardening, teaching after schools children how to make vegetable puppets and family life, the parcel sat on my kitchen table unopened. It wasn’t until after midnight when I fell into bed that I remembered the book was still waiting to be unwrapped. Aware that day times are filled with activity and quiet time rare, I hopped out of bed and retrieved it. This turned out to be a BIG mistake.

As I carefully removed the protective envelope and pulled the book out, I began to feel a sense of joy. The weight of this new book, the solid binding and the colourful imagery immediately gave me a clue that this wasn’t going to be a run of the mill read.

What really popped my cork however, is that ‘From the Ground Up’ is unlike anything I’ve read before. It’s a book about people. A book about individuals who are passionate about growing food – young, old, inner city, rural, big gardens, community gardens, small gardens and balconies. Fionnuala and her husband Richard (who took the beautiful images throughout the book) travelled Ireland chatting to several experienced gardeners about their successes, their failures, why they grow their own, what they grow, their recommended books and websites, their favourite tools and their treasured memories (I thought I loved my job but I’ll admit to some job envy at the thought of that! Fionnuala if you need an assistant when you’re writing your second book…..)

Fionnuala Fallon – image courtesy of The Sodshow

Fionnuala listened and noted, then wove the tales into chapters, giving us a glimpse into the lives and passions of these experienced gardeners. committing them to history in an exquisitely written and styled book. This gardening book is unusual and it’s inspiring. It’s about how Ireland is growing its own food and whether you’re a grower or an observer, gardening or thinking about it, in Ireland or overseas, I think you will love it too. The one thing it isn’t about is egos.

So why was opening the parcel such a mistake? Because once opened I couldn’t put it down. I read page after page, noticed the digits on the clock click by and didn’t care, I wanted to read more and I’m now writing this post with matchstick eyelids as a result.

I really don’t want to give this book away. I want to keep it by my bedside and pick it up every night before i fall asleep. However, as its Christmas and a time of sharing I will be posting it off to a lucky reader with an Irish address (apologies to anyone else but An Post overseas postage is ridiculous, and as much as I love you all…..).

So why am I parting with this precious book if I like it so much?

I figure that authors need all the help we can give them in the days of the internet and google. Book shops are closing and publishers working harder than ever to survive. I’m going to put this book on my own Christmas list and hope that it finds its way under my Christmas tree so that during the festival period when we’re taking a break, I can stick my nose into it for several days, read it cover to cover and not feel guilty that I should be doing something else.

So how do you get your hands on this particular gardening book? Just leave a comment below telling me the title and author of your own favourite gardening book and why. It might be about ornamental gardens, flowers, biology or self-sufficiency, just tell us about it. That’s all you have to do… Well that and (given that this is the time of year to share)  tell your friends about this giveaway and not keep it all to yourselves…. A winner will be randomly chosen on Sunday evening, the 16th December giving me time to post it and you the opportunity to give it away as a gift or treat yourself this Christmas.

If you’re not the lucky chosen one, you can purchase a copy from bookshops or online at Collins Press for €24.99.

Lastly, The Sodshow interviewed Fionnuala on Fridays show. She talked about her book, the inspiration, people she met and her own gardening experiences. If you’re interested you can listen to the podcast here.

Best of luck and Happy Christmas to you all x

Vegetable Garden

Organic Gardening The Natural No-Dig Way by Charles Dowding

March 5, 2011

Book Review: No Dig Gardening - Charles Dowding

I ordered Organic Gardening The Natural No-dig Way by Charles Dowding some time ago but only sat down to read it last week. Intrigued by this method of gardening as a sufferer of periodic back spasms, I’m always on the lookout for ways of preventing a relapse (other than relying on Mr G).

Book Review ~ Organic No Dig Gardening

Other than to clear perennial weeds (docks, dandelion, etc.), Dowding has not dug his garden for over 25 years. He crops almost an acre of land, selling vegetable boxes and salad bags from his farm. In his book he advises that gardeners ‘forget all the rules’ and instead learn and develop a better understanding of how their soil, plants, seasons and garden work – figuring out their own rules.

What is No-Dig Gardening?

As the title suggests, the basic principle is that the gardener does no digging at all, allowing the worms and other soil bacteria to do all the ‘digging’, keeping the soil aerated and open.

No dig gardening involves a system of permanent slightly raised beds, using the soil from what will become the permanent pathways to fill the new beds.

A top-dressing of compost or well-rotted manure at a depth of about 25-50mm is added to the beds in late autumn or early winter, and nature is left to do her work.

Charles refers to Charles Darwin’s book written in 1882, The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms, with Observations of their Habitats. In this book Darwin comes to the conclusion that between 25-50mm of topsoil is added to, every year in healthy pasture, as a result of worm action.

By adding plenty of organic matter to the soil, the need for digging is eradicated.

This was one of only a couple of queries I had with this method. Not everybody is able to add that much organic matter to their beds every year, certainly not in the first couple of years. Most keen vegetable gardeners do their best to make as much of their own compost as possible, but it can take time (and space) to build up a good supply. Likewise, unless a friendly farmer has been actively sought and persuaded to part with some of his/her well-rotted-manure in the early days, a ready supply might not be available at the beginning. That said there’s no reason why organic matter can’t be sourced or built up over time.

Dowding also addresses my query about spring dressings for those of us who didn’t have time to prepare our beds in the autumn months.  As long as the compost is not too rough (slugs can hide under large lumps), seeds can still be sown.

What about the weeds?

Dowding explains that few weeds grow because the soil is not ‘panicked by being disturbed into re-clothing itself’.  In every soil weed seeds lie dormant until they are exposed to light, which is what happens when soil is turned over and dug.  If weeds are not allowed to grow then they won’t be there producing seeds. He feels that weed germination is a defensive reaction by the soil when it is disturbed. That they are there to protect our planet’s skin, the soil, whenever it is turned over and exposed

How about green manures?

Green maturing is a much talked about and practiced method of organic gardening, but on the whole, most are dug into the soil before they seed, which of course they cannot by using this method. Frost tender annuals such as mustard are the exception however, as they dies off at the hint of a frost and can be left on the beds until the worms take them into the soil.

Sowing at the right time

Dowding is a strong advocate for sowing during the season that’s best for the plant (and not necessarily for the gardener). Many of us are plagued by the cabbage white butterfly for instance, but if varieties are chosen that grow before or after they lay their eggs, the need for netting, biological nematodes or sprays are avoided.

Likewise he advises we learn the best growing seasons for our plants before we impulsively buy them. Just because they’re for sale in a garden centre doesn’t necessarily mean that they will thrive in our gardens.

My conclusion…

I really enjoyed the simplicity of this method and the book explains the reasoning behind the ideas too. The fact that it works so successfully for so many indicates it’s certainly a technique worth trying. I foresee picking the book up many more times over the coming months.

Dowding has learnt from practice that no-dig gardening works for him. What surprised me is that we are pretty much following these methods in our garden without realizing it. If we can just discipline ourselves to get outside in the autumn months and cover the soil with compost or manure we’ll be pretty much there.

I’m keen to try the suggestions he makes on biodynamic gardening too that use the moon as an influence.

The easy method is to plant anything that grows above the ground such as leafy crops during a waxing moon (which occurs between the new moon and the full moon) when it’s considered to have an uplifting effect as the moon is rising, and therefore pulling upward. As the moon wanes (between the full moon and new moon), it’s said to favor the root crops, as the pull is downwards.

The moon has such a powerful influence on our tides among other things that its effects on crops should not be dismissed out of hand.

You can find out more about the No Dig method along with photos and experiments from Charles Dowding’s website.


Gardening Books I’m Loving This Month

February 26, 2011

Cook books and gardening books – I’m a sucker for both. So this month I couldn’t but help slip a couple more into the house.

Bob Flowerdew and Charles Dowding are two particular favourite gardeners of mine. Bob is often a panelist on Gardeners Question time which I download as a podcast.  I’m also intrigued by No-Dig Gardening as somebody who frequently suffers with a bad back.

I’ve only managed to read the first chapters in both books so far so can’t give an accurate review but flicking through I’m excited about reading them both more fully.

I especially liked the paragraph in Bob Flowerdew’s book “unless you take part in competitions or sell your produce, everything doesn’t need to be manicured beyond perfection, treated with pesticide or fed till it bursts.”

He talks such sense!

I also have an on-going battle with preserving techniques….. as an owner of ten jars of furry strawberry jam I’m determined to get it right this year!



Review of His Dark Materials Northern Lights by Philip Pulman

February 6, 2011

I was delighted to find the Bloggers Book Club (thanks to Lorna) for a couple of reasons. Firstly I love to read but seem to have looked at nothing but gardening books for the past two years. Secondly, any local book club groups I’ve been aware of always seem to meet on evenings that I can’t.

So this is my first attempt at a book review since my school days many years ago, and I’m not entirely sure of the rules, guidelines or etiquette involved. Do I give away the whole story or just enough to encourage somebody else to pick the book up? I think the first could take too long, so I’ll aim for the later…
His Dark Materials I Northern Lights by Philip Pullman was the first book chosen for 2011, having been suggested mid- month as an alternative to the Disappearing Spoon that we couldn’t seem to find anywhere. I ordered the novel online (as I’d been housebound for most of January with a flu bug) and the book finally arrived on Monday, 31st January – just as I was back on my feet, and with only a few days left to review it.
Having been out of the novel reading mode for longer than I care to admit I was thrilled to find that this was the book that later became The Golden Compass – a film that’s been on my ‘must see’ list but one that I still haven’t managed to catch. I therefore had no preconceptions or mental images of characters involved. I also love a good fantasy.
So what’s it about?
His Dark Matierials I is the first in a trilogy of volumes set in a universe like ours, only with slight differences.
I found this slightly disconcerting at first – reading place names I was familiar with such as Oxford, East Anglia, The Fens but then having to visualize all the human characters with dæmons that were invisibly connected to them – and not demons (as the word’s pronounced) like we usually associate with the name, but comforting, affectionate creatures that were an extension of the characters souls.
That said, it didn’t take long to grasp the idea and warm to the beings, and in particular the children’s dæmons that frequently flitted and changed, be it from mice to sparrows, before finally settling on creatures that mirrored their human’s character, as the children grew into adults.
Initially the idea of having a dæmon constantly with you seemed a good one – you’d never be lonely and would always have someone to throw ideas around with (outside of your head). This unusual concept had a drawback though in that it left the characters vulnerable. Lyra, the feisty 11yr old lead began to find this out as fate led her on a journey to the North, and with it to the wonders and mysteries surrounding the mesmerising world of the aurora, or the Northern Lights.
From the opening chapter I was unable to put the book down and I particularly enjoyed Pullman’s imaginative descriptions, immediately recognising the imageries he conjured, as they swept the reader along from page to page:-
  “the idea hovered and shimmered delicately, like a soap bubble, and she dared not even look at it directly in case it burst. But she was familiar with the way of ideas, and she let it shimmer, looking away, thinking about something else.”
“she felt tears prick her eyes, and the tears split the light into prismatic rainbows”.
I’m glad this book is the first of three. It finished in a way that didn’t need me to go and buy the next one immediately, (very handy for a busy, working mum) but I’ve made a note of the titles and look forward to reading them when I’ve more free time (and haven’t got February’s book to start reading and review!)
I’ll also make a point of letting my family know the books I’ll be reading in the future as when this one finally arrived, our 12 year old muttered “Huh, you should have said mum, we have that book in the school library – I could have borrowed it for you”.

My Favourite Gardening Books

February 6, 2010

In my quest to keep learning as much as possible about growing fruit and veg I’m always on the look out for good gardening books. There are so many out there it can be difficult to choose which ones to spend our hard-earned cash on.  I’d planned to make this a blog of my top five but found some of them really hard to weed out (couldn’t resist).   The following are therefore my current favourites.  If anybody has any comments, recommendations or further suggestions I’d love to hear them.

This week I’m raving about my latest buy:

“How Does Your Garden Grow” by Chris Beardshaw (published 2007 Dorling Kindersley). 

This is a fantastic book for anybody who wants to learn a bit more about the science of plants and soil, written and laid out in an easy to read fashion with sketches, photos and anecdotes from Chris’ own experiences.  Covering topics ranging from plant cells, light and shade through to seasons and ageing, the book covers all the basics of horticulture. I can’t recommend this enough for anybody who wants to learn more about the gardening world, subsequently helping them to improve their skills.

Grow Your Own Vegetables by Joy Larkcom (paperback published 2002 Frances Lincoln Ltd).

A guru of fruit and veg, Joy shares her knowledge in this handy sized book packed full of practical information on everything you need to know about growing vegetables.  A no-nonsense book (there are no glossy photos to be found here) Joy covers all aspects of growing from site, sowing, planning as well as a comprehensive vegetable directory.  I wish I’d known about this book when I started out.

The New Self-Sufficient Gardener by John Seymour (published 2008 by Dorling Kindersley).

We were bought the original Complete book of Self-Sufficiency as a wedding gift and have often referred to it over the years (although sadly not living by it yet!).  The new Self-Sufficient Gardener is a beautifully illustrated guide to producing your own food.  More general and basic than Chris Beardshaw’s book in terms of science, John covers the important topics such as the ecology of soil, the edible parts of plants as well as gardening through the year and planning a food-producing garden organically.

The Plant Propagator’s Bible by Miranda Smith (published 2009 by The Reader’s Digest Association).

If you’d love to grow your own plants from seeds, cuttings or division but aren’t sure how, this book has it all.  Taking you step by step with illustrations and photo’s on many propagating techniques, including grafting, budding and layering, this book will save you heaps of cash as you start rearing your own young plants.

The RHS Pests & Diseases – The Definitive Guide to Prevention and Treatment by Pippa Greenwood & Andrew Halstead (published 2009 by Dorling Kindersley).

A long title but the best book I’ve found to date on pests and diseases.  This book has a gallery of colour photos that help to identify problems, as well as a comprehensive A – Z of pests, diseases and disorders, including the symptoms, cause and control of each problem.  Although we garden organically, the section on chemicals made interesting reading and the chemical-free and biological control chapters covered many of the methods used by organic gardeners.

The Vegetable & Herb Expert by Dr D G Hessayon (published 2002, Transworld Publishers).

This was my first gardening bible and one that was carried to my plot every time I ventured out. I was also given a diary version of this by a close friend but for some reason keep losing it!  Although the pages are now falling out I think it’s a must have for beginners, containing illustrations of recommended seed sowing distances, expected yields and soil preparation for each crop.  The only downside I’ve found with it is that some of the varieties recommended haven’t always been available in the garden centres (so if you do use it to help you choose a variety suitable for your garden, make sure you write down a second and third choice too!)

The Garden Expert by Dr D G Hessayon (published 2005, Transworld Publishers). A

nother handy Hessayon book, this introduction to gardening covers many aspects including putting a name to your soil, improving drainage, digging, fertilising and liming amongst many things.  A useful reference book, particularly when starting out.