Chairman’s Report, from Peter

It is March and the sun is shining so what do a young man’s thoughts turn to?  Why, gardening of course.  Turning soil and spreading compost and chopping weeds down and that most optimistic of all things; putting in seeds, tiny little vulnerable things cast out in to a big bad world where EVERYTHING wants to eat it.  It could be a metaphor for Sogs; all those years ago the optimistic founders sowed the seed in to a big bad world full of distractions and counter ideas but here we are, a big strong plant that would take a chain saw and high explosives to cut down.

The Sogs potato day has become like a plant with a life of its own (more like a triffid perhaps, overshadowing other potato days as they struggle to reach the high standard set by Sogs).  See the report that has been written by Frank.  Wha
t a day!  What a result!  What a team!  Well done everyone.

Talking of team work, an idea has been put forward for the Flower Show stand.  It is a very complicated concept that has an indefinite number of interpretations but it can be summed up in one word; WATER.  Now there is something to mull over at the end of the wettest winter since winters were invented.  The first thought is how to cope with too much water, but in the long run the problem is likely to be not enough water.  Tell me what you think about water as a theme; and please come up with some ideas about how we interpret it for the Flower Show.

Our programme secretary has been hard at work putting together a summer full of interesting places for us to visit, but new ideas are always needed.  If you have an idea for a visit or a talk, and you have a name and a phone number to go with that idea then please do tell.
Talking of hard work, the old saw is that work is only hard if you do not enjoy it.  Judging by the cheerful way that Sogs members throw themselves at the job of making Sogs better and better then none of you work very hard at all (especially me).  What is the opposite of hard?  In this context it is not easy, answers on a postcard please and the first one out of the hat will win a prize, you can be chairman and like me you can take the praise and do very little of the work because of all those cheerful volunteers.


6th November, 2013 -Talk on owls by John Lightfoot, Shropshire Barn Owl Group


John arrived with an owl in a nesting box – it soon became apparent that it was a stuffed one; the box was a demonstration model to show the best design. An old tea chest is ideal, but it needs an entrance hole towards the top, with a platform around below the hole to ensure that the owlets do not fall off when they start to explore. They roost and nest in old buildings, ivied trees, Leylandii and so on, but fortunately they are happy to use nest boxes, and so, despite a dearth of suitable nesting sites, they can be helped to breed and survive. The nest boxes can be situated on trees, at a height of about 4 metres; inside a quiet building with access hole, fixed to a beam; or if there are no trees in an area of grassland known to be vole habitat, they can be fixed on a pole.

John told us how he became fascinated with barn owls as a small child, and visited the same barn four years running to watch successive owl families, until unfortunately a tramp accidentally set the barn on fire. John then found another nest site to watch until that too was destroyed, this time in the gales of 1987. This is the story of barn owl nest sites being lost all over Britain, sadly not always by accident or weather. Much more often they are lost because of modern farming methods: hedgerows removed, rodent-proof grain stores, a lack of wildflower meadows, barns converted to housing and so on. Sheep and barn owls do not go together, as the grass is too short for voles and mice.

The first half of John’s talk was, depressingly, about the decline of the barn owl since the first survey in 1932 – there has been a 50% decrease in numbers. In the second half, however, he was more positive. The Shropshire Barn Owl Group was formed in 2002. They provide nestboxes in areas of suitable habitat, and work with farmers and other landowners to enhance their habitat. Their website gives details of their activities and achievements.

Monday, November 11th. BBC Gardeners’ Question Time.

Two recordings of this iconic programme were hosted by us, so a team of Sogs meeters, greeters, and refreshment providers arrived at St Alkmund’s Church early in the afternoon to prepare for the BBC engineers and the panel, which consisted of Anne Swithinbank, Bob Flowerdew and Chris Beardshaw, and presenter Peter Gibbs. All tickets had been sold, and extra chairs had to be placed at the back. Questions for the panel were written on the admission tickets and given to the production team as the audience arrived. They selected the questions to be asked and the panel didn't see them beforehand.

Two programmes were recorded back to back, so the lively audience enjoyed a long session, with two sets of eleven questions being presented to the team. There was some disappointment later, when the programmes were aired, that not all questions recorded made it to the final version. Now some of us may not be able to set eyes on our hoe without a vision of Chris Beardshaw lovingly caressing his hoe while polishing it with linseed oil, after his lyrical description of what an erotic experience it is for him.



Christmas Party, 11th December 2013.

We are beeholden to Debbie for beeing so kind as to give us a fascinating talk about her bee keeping work at Attingham, before we set to enjoying the usual delicious bring and share festive feast. Thanks to Debbie, and to all who contributed to the festive fun.

Meeting January 8th 2014

 While we happily discussed and planned and looked forward to our 10th Potato Day, Kate Nicholl was setting up her slideshow equipment to tell the story of further developments at Attingham Walled Garden of which she is ‘gardener in charge’.  Unfortunately the computer refused to work so instead Kate had to tell us the story herself.

She began by telling us that practically all of January is spent getting the garden ready for the ‘Organic Police’, with documents ready and just how they should be and getting to grips with her seed order which will be started off in the many greenhouses situated outside the walls.

As most of us in the audience had at some time been to the garden Kate didn’t need to explain how the garden evolved, the layout in four quadrants, the use of pigs to clear each of them, the volunteers that help the staff and the restoration costs involved.  Instead she decided to tell us of the plans for the future beginning with turning the children’s playground in to an organic cutting garden.  Organic cut flowers are hard to come by and they will be sold in the shop and used in the house.

 As the staff and volunteers cannot keep up with harvesting the produce for the shop they do need more volunteers especially at weekends and because of this they will not be rushing to open the fourth quadrant.  As the garden is managed without the use of pesticides Environmesh is used to protect carrots from carrot fly, which does not seem to fit in with the Georgian replication of the garden but it has to be.  To help with pest and disease control a 6 year rotation plan is used which is copied from Heligan which if I remember correctly is potatoes, brassicas, legumes, roots, alliums and green manures with each quarter divided in to 8 (don’t ask me how that works but it’s what I wrote down on the night!).  Kate has tried Alfalfa as a long term manure which hasn’t worked too well so she’s looking for something else.

 On the walls are 50 different fruit trees, which are pruned in the summer as there is 6 weeks of pruning work in the orchard outside.  Also outside are 15 bee hives including an observation hive under the care of bee keeper and SOGS member Debbie Simmonds.  Because these walls do create problems with winds blowing over them in such a way to be quite damaging, structures are being put in place to break up these winds. 

I think this garden is well worth another look if you are not a regular visitor and remember the tea room is very nice and you may get to try some of the many different lettuces.

Thank you Kate; you didn’t need pictures; you painted them for us with your words.

Sue Bosson

Meeting February 5th, 2014. Talk on the charity Self Help Africa

Several members had difficulty hearing this speaker, but he had a good powerpoint presentation for us with captions and excellent images including a couple of short videos, so everyone was able to ‘get the picture’. Self Help Africa, or SHA, work in nine countries of Africa: Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Zaire, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo and Benin. They help people to help themselves, by education in farming methods to increase food production, by connecting farmers with markets, by promoting the use of compost rather than commercial fertilisers and by teaching seed-saving techniques. Solutions to problems must be low cost and sustainable, such as concrete irrigation channels, drip irrigation in polytunnels, intercropping and so on. We were shown images of these, and of storage of harvested rainwater in thatch covered pits, and cultivation using zai holes – see below.

It was noticeable that the images were mainly of women working the land, and in fact, women do 80% of the farm work, in addition to daily household tasks and looking after small children.

Zai Holes : info from a website:

Zai holes are small pits (1ft² by 6in deep), which provide a place for rainwater to collect and small amounts of manure or crop residue to be added in order to improve soil fertility. The improved soil moisture and fertility have allowed farmers to restore their degraded farmland by planting trees and crops such as sorghum and millet in the zai holes they have dug.

Marian Byrne

Thoughts on Potato Day
from Frank, followed by comments from Sue and Steve Boulding, and Silvi and Mike, which formed part of an exchange of emails between certain members, and are well worth sharing with the whole membership.
From Frank: Thanks for rapid feedback whilst fresh in the mind
If anyone has comments on what worked or what we should change then please share them before they get forgotten.
The day seemed to go well and hopefully we all enjoyed it. I did but then I was just swanning around doing bits here and there. However, that did mean I saw how hard the people in the kitchen were working-----non stop all morning making the day into something special. And-----
I witnessed the car park drama of which most were unaware. One of our visitors, ignoring advice, got well bogged down in the far corner. After attempts to pull him out failed Steve finally commandeered a "proper" landrover and he was rescued. " SOGS provide all services as necessary"--- and a bit of excitement into the bargain.

The selling of raffle tickets was awesome to behold - few got past Angela and Julie. Maralyn with her game found out quite a bit about some of the visitors The man with the "proper" landrover was from West Brom and knew his spuds - he identified all the 10 varieties but it turned out he does displays of potatoes. In the afternoon a local potato farmer came to look us over - he grows 6 varieties on contract to McCains but seemed interested in the fact we offer the range we do. Someone else was from Loughborough! These are just a few bits from the day but the great thing about SOGS, as always, is the way everyone really mucks in and gives it their all. The set up on Friday, the day itself and the clear up are done so efficiently and well it would be a lesson to anyone about team work.

I hope everyone admired The Cake - Ann arranged that with the designer and maker via her contact with Attingham.  It was a magnificent piece of work. The Cake Cutting ceremony gave Peter the chance to say thanks to our supporters and say that charities benefit from our profits.
Finally pre publicity ----- Thanks to everyone. It seems that in spite of increased competition our support is holding up well. Jan did a survey to find out how people had found out about the day and a lot just "knew about it". What they really meant when quizzed was that they knew it would be on and searched out the details--Having a lively bang up to date website is ever more important. - Sue adding info immediately made the difference to it. Nevertheless, other publicity played a vital part and it is clear that everyone taking the initiative to advertise the day is really important. Lets face it -- if we didn't all do publicity and no one knew about Potato Day, we would have a rather lonely time----- although we would have a lot of cake each!!!
The Day belongs to us all.

From Sue and Steve Boulding:
Potato Day was what drew me and Steve to SOGS, and each year it's got better and better.  Perhaps the odd glitch adds to the enjoyment; if it was well-oiled it might lose some of its soul, though we learn as we go (witness Maralyn bringing gluten-free rolls which left one of the customers thrilled to bits - we must put them on the list next year).
We had nothing but praise for the baps, soup, teas and cake from punters, and had a pretty good time ourselves.

From Silvi:
 Mike thinks his info point worked well and he really enjoyed doing it and will be happy to do it in future years.  An initial suggestion for next time is to research and add more info re taste/flavour and categorise as fluffy/floury/waxy/etc/etc as this was a popular question. And if those manning the potato sales wanted to send enquirers over to Mike to answer their questions he'd be happy. I really enjoyed doing the 'meet and greet' bit, will be happy for suggestions to improve, and will be happy to do this in future years. - Carol talked about a 'clicker' to count the number of people coming in (good idea - but I know I could get distracted - but it would still be a guide). The bacon was a superb thing - I just told everyone to follow their nose!  And loads of people took their purchases out to their cars and returned for a cuppa etc.
Ideas for next year:-
- bring more rags to clean the tables
- bring a bucket or two for cleaning water
- bring a few of our own sweeping brushes, dustpans to ease the load
- bring a few vacuum cleaners to make lighter work at the very end (not allowed to use mop and buckets on the floor)
- give/offer everyone a SOGs leaflet when they pay or as they leave

Mainly though, once again, Mike and I were so impressed by the hard work that everyone does so effectively, willingly and sociably.  The reason I kept returning after my first visit to a Potato Day at Nescliffe was the lovely atmosphere. Well done everyone!

Carol Lovell came across this tip:
Putting an apple in a bag of potatoes will keep them fresh for up to nine weeks, preventing wrinkling or sprouting. Carol said that she found the apple kept longer, as well!

Here is a tip from Maggie:  “Over the years I have struggled to grow a decent swede.  Last year I read an article which suggested starting swede seeds in modules and planting them out when they were strong.  I did this and we have had wonderful swedes this winter”.

In an essay entitled ‘Of Gardens’ by Francis Bacon in 1625:
“ For fountains, they are a great beauty and refreshment; but pools mar all, and make the garden unwholesome and full of flies and frogs”.
(Nowadays of course we disagree, and make ponds in order to encourage frogs!)

Why everyone should grow phacelia

In an article on green manures in the Daily Telegraph, Apr 14 2012, Mark Diacono gives a lyrical description of phacelia.

“… the phacelia provides one of the perfect moments of the year at Otter Farm. From even 30 yards, the colour is enough for you to mistake phacelia for lavender, and although that’s enough of a reason to grow it, closer up it reveals its full loveliness. Growing anything from 20in-5ft tall, with feathered, fern-like leaves, it has truly beautiful flowers that unfurl, rather prawn-like, in purple.

To enjoy phacelia in all its glory, stand completely immobile next to a patch of it. If you are entirely still and perfectly quiet, a fabulous world reveals, starting with a peculiarly loud, deep hum like an approaching Lancaster. It seems impossible to have missed it when walking past. The hum belongs to the bees and other winged insets busying themselves in the flowers. Hoverflies, lacewings and numerous bee species couldn’t be more at home. On a summer’s day don’t be surprised to see 50 or more honey bees to every square metre. They come in such profusion that you can’t help but wonder where they’d be if the phacelia wasn’t there.”

Pond myths exploded

From an old newsletter, the former Conservation and Ranger Team, Shropshire County Council.

(Now Shropshire Biodiversity Partnership?)

Myth 1 “Ponds are artificial habitats that only exist because people create and manage them”.

Before man’s influence much of Britain was covered in natural ponds.

Many plants and animals became adapted to these still water conditions and still rely on them. If it weren’t for man’s activities natural ponds would be far more common in the landscape than man-made ponds are today.

Myth 2 “The process of pond succession ends in dry ground”

The usual end point as ponds age is a seasonal pond, wet in winter, drying out in summer. This is a stable state that can exist for hundreds of years and provides a valuable habitat.

Myth 3 “Letting a pond dry up, even temporarily, is disastrous for pond wildlife”

The majority of plants and animals living in shallow ponds are adapted to temporarily drying out and exploit the opportunities this provides. Seasonal ponds are extremely valuable.

Myth 4 “Ponds should be at least two metres deep”

Research has shown that shallow ponds are as rich in wildlife as deep ponds and support a different range of species. Each type of pond has its own unique value. Rather than deepen a shallow pond dig a separate, deeper pond.

Myth 5 “Ponds should not be shaded by trees”

Some trees and shade are a natural and beneficial accompaniment to many ponds. Removing trees can have unpredictable effects. Ponds within woodland are a rare and valuable habitat whose plants and animals are adapted to the often heavy shade in which they live. If there are good reasons for tree removal it should be done on a very small scale and the results carefully observed.

Myth 6 “Ponds must have ‘oxygenating’ plants”

Ponds are still water systems, naturally low in oxygen. The animals that inhabit them are adapted to these conditions. Submerged plants are important as a habitat for insects and animals in what would be barren open water and produce insignificant amounts of oxygen.

Myth 7 “New ponds need to be planted up because colonisation

is slow”

Try to avoid planting up ponds. Colonisation by plants and animals is rapid and allows them to find the niches that suit them. The ‘new pond’ stage is rare and valuable; it’s better not to end it artificially.

Myth 8 “Ponds are self contained habitats”

Ponds are a valuable part of a habitat matrix, relying on the land around them for water supply. Pond animals rely on that land for food and hibernation. Wherever possible link the pond to other wetland habitats and surround it with non-intensive land use such as un-fertilised grassland, heath and bog.

Myth 9 “Ponds need to be dredged to prevent them choking with vegetation”

Most pond animals live amongst the vegetation in a pond and avoid open water. Dredging of ponds is an extremely damaging activity from which a pond may take years to recover and can cause permanent loss of plant and animal species. Think carefully about why you are doing it before removing plant material. If it is necessary, remove only a little at a time observing the results.

Myth 10 “Livestock should be prevented from accessing ponds”

Grazing by horses or cattle can be beneficial to some ponds by poaching (muddying) the edges, and diversifying marginal plants. Stocking levels and access need to be carefully thought out.

Myth 11 “Ponds need an inflow to prevent them becoming


Ponds are still water habitats that are naturally low or variable in oxygen levels. An inflow of water can be problematic often bringing pollutants or large amounts of sediment. Many ponds are fed sufficiently by ground water or run off from the surrounding area.

Ponds and their management is a very complex subject not easily dealt with in a short article. I am indebted to The Ponds Conservation Trust publication ‘The Pond Book’ from which most of this information is taken –

Clive Dean - Conservation & Community officer



Answers to mini-quiz on P14:

Green Gages get their name from Sir William Gage, 7th Baronet, who imported them into England from France in 1724.

The damson, or damascene, as its name implies, is from Damascus.

Shaddock a.k.a. Pomelo This fruit is the parent of the grapefruit, which it resembles to some extent. The fruit is larger and the stalk end is more pointed. The shaddock derived its specific name from having been first carried from China to the West Indies by Captain Shaddock.

The achacha is a ‘superfruit’ from the Bolivian rainforest

The papple is a species of pear that looks a bit like an apple.

From the Guardian: (date not noted):M&S are launching the so-called “papple” this week– a species of pear that looks a bit like an apple. The fruit was developed in New Zealand, where it has officially been known as PremP109 – a more clinical but rather less emetic name than "papple", if you ask me. In fact, the papple has no immediate apple ancestry at all: it's a hybrid of two European and Asian pear varieties. It is an almost fluorescent pinkish-red, and its skin is weirdly, plagueishly mottled. Eating it is thus a strange experience.

“Papple” Find out more at



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