Chairman’s report for the Sogs newsletter, March 2015.

Sogs has just had an extraordinary meeting, in a sense every Sogs meeting is extraordinary, extraordinarily good that is...  This extraordinary meeting was to catch up on business; Sogs is so involved with so many projects at the moment that all the business could not be fitted in at the routine meetings.  An exciting bit of business at the moment is preparing for Sogs’ 25th birthday celebrations.   In April it will be 25 years since Sogs first meeting, I think that the founding members will be proud of Sogs achievements over that time, in fact...I am sure that they are because most of them are still members, (and they don’t look a day older, it is obviously all the organic vegetables which keep them youthful.)   By the time you read this we will have had the party at the AGM, were you there?  Was it good?  Did I enjoy it?  The last question is rhetorical, how is it possible to not enjoy a Sogs do when one is surrounded by such friendly people?

Talking of meeting friendly people, we discussed the Flower Show and the ideas that Maralyn has got for the Severn Marquee stand are stunning, if you have not been involved with this project before you have got a treat in store.  Building the stand is like a day-long party, setting up the stand always has a touch of magic about it as the beauty arises out of the chaos and meeting the adoring public on show days is better than being prime minister (but then, anything is better than being PM because he doesn’t get much time for gardening, and what kind of a life can it be without gardening?)   Oh! And did I mention the growing of the plants for the Flower Show stand, Maralyn has a list of plants that is a long as your arm, you don’t have to grow them all, just grow the ones that you are good at and those which you enjoy growing, if we all turn up with one or two plants it soon amounts to a garden full.  The pleasure is doubled again this year as Sogs will also have a stand in the ‘Our Futures’ marquee... how much excitement can one body take?   Be there and find out!

We have just had a winter of excellent meetings and we now have a summer of excellent visits to look forward to, many thanks are due to all the Sogs volunteers who make all this possible...thank you many times... may you all continue to enjoy Sogs for another 25 years.


Some accounts of our well-attended winter activities:

 5th November 2014: Copper Garden Tools

Jane Cobbald and Nigel Thorley brought a large selection of their beautiful copper tools, some of which might deserve exhibition space in an art gallery, or which might be taken for some kind of weapon. The tools are made in Austria with the tool heads of bronze, (copper with a small amount of tin), rather than pure copper. Jane explained the theory of why copper instead of iron/steel can be more beneficial to garden soil.

It began in the 1900’s with an Austrian, a descendant of foresters, who as a child was sensitive and in communion with water. Preferring intuition to formal education, he later wrote about how water echoes planetary motion, with rivers naturally curving and eddying, and Nature working by means of water, as witnessed by sap rising through trees without any mechanical pump. He had theories about electricity, magnetism, and how energy from earth’s magnetic field is carried in water.

He was asked to investigate agricultural problems in Bulgaria, and decided that steel tools were bad for the soil. He experimented with a copper plough and found that results were better. Copper is good at conducting energy, whereas iron and steel are losing it in the process of decay – rusting. A full account of Schauberger and his theories can be found under the heading ‘Concept’ in the website below.

Jane attests to the power of copper tools to repel slugs and snails in her own garden although the firm does not guarantee this. Her potatoes have far less slug damage than before she started using copper tools.

Finally we were given the opportunity to handle (and indeed caress) these covetable objects, and to make purchases, although maybe only of the smallest and least expensive of them.

see picture at bottom of page.

 3rd December 2014: Christmas Bring-and-Share and mystery guest

 Sweet and savoury goodies appeared like magic on the tables as people arrived, and so did bottles of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. So our chairman’s prophecy to our visitor that evening – “Wait till you see the wonderful spread!” was fulfilled. The visitor was Phil Allen, head gardener of the walled garden on the Apley estate near Bridgnorth, which Sogs had visited in the previous June. He was here to give us an update on the progress of this garden, which is in the process of being restored. He brought his own spread, which needed a large table on which to display it: a collection of before and after photos. He needed quite some persuading to leave off explaining all about these and to partake of the feast. We were delighted to see the progress made in this exceptionally large walled garden, especially the restored greenhouse.

Marian Byrne

7th Jan: Home-made wine & cider by David Shearan

 From Maralyn.

We were all entertained by a well presented powerpoint with an insight into the different garden and hedgerow plants that David uses for making wine and cider.  This was an all year round job, with birch sap being syphoned off in the winter.  Golden rod was the worst in preparation as it involved removing all the flower heads with a fork, and the taste didn't warrant the effort - though his wife enjoyed it. 

 I was once told that a speaker should speak for no more than 20 minutes before involving his audience.  David was therefore an excellent speaker as there were two breaks for us to try his elderflower wine, Hawthorne wine and cider.  This made for a merry evening for those of us not driving.  

 Frank took some photos, and I have put two on facebook.


4th Feb: The Development of Peat-free Compost by Terry Rogers of Vital Earth

Maralyn sent me this to add to what members heard at this meeting:

 ‘We were discussing compost at the planning meeting, and they said that the stuff professionals use is fine for sowing seeds, but amateur stuff isn't.

So I got in touch with a friend in Hampshire who was supplying National Trust property Mottisfont Abbey with plants, when the NT went peat free.  

She finds peat free very good  for seeds, but it needs to be sieved if lumpy, and she usually mixes some grit with it to assist drainage’.


“It is so . . . REAL!!!” Comment to Peter by a customer enthused by the atmosphere of Potato Day.

7th Feb. 2015 Potato Day at Montford Village Hall

From Frank 

This year was our 11th Potato Day, not a landmark number except for the fact it reminds us it has been going for a long time.  Circumstances have changed as the years have gone by, garden centres stock many more varieties and there are two other Potato Days nearby, at the Shropshire Wildlife Trust and at Harper Adams – with more than 100 varieties on offer at the latter.

 So, every year there is now a little worry that we will find a turning point has been reached and we will have a non-event on our hands. This year wasn’t “it” – over 500 people came and enjoyed themselves  as much as ever. The secret seems to be that we quite enjoy doing it too, from setting up on Friday evening, seeing everything laid out ready, then on Saturday everybody doing their bit.  Visitors feel the positive vibes and know it is something special. The cafe was busy and the super food was much appreciated with the team in the kitchen/café, working harder than anyone. Out in the hall it all went smoothly, meeting and greeting, keeping the spuds under control, giving help and advice, recruiting new members, playing a potato game with children and taking money. The enthusiasm that we have is what makes it “an event” and not just a sale of potatoes and is no doubt why we have a lot of people coming back year on year. So, gold stars to all those who baked and cooked and/or helped.

For the record, the effort that Matthew from Brighter Blooms puts in is also a great contribution to the day. His selection of seeds and fruit trees and bushes adds to the interest. Also he supplies our spuds bringing them to the door on the Friday evening - so very convenient. Other stands including The Wildlife Trust and a stall with a selection of cards for sale, added to the variety for our visitors.

Will we keep doing it?  As is SOGS’ way we decide year on year, but there seems to be mileage in the idea for at least a bit longer. We did after all start doing it only to give people a much greater choice of potato varieties - and that we do. This year some coloured varieties we had would not have been available elsewhere. Financially every potato day has been a success so although it is not the prime consideration it lets Eric our treasurer sleep at night and allows SOGS to be generous to chosen charities and other kindred organisations, giving us all some added satisfaction.----------Oh alright then let’s do it again next year!!!!

Further comments on Potato Day:

 From Carol: In the tearoom all went well. Would like to thank all those who made and supplied the delicacies, these were enjoyed by all.

From Silvi: I LOVE Potato Day.  Of all our events it's the most important for me.  It was my introduction to SOGs and I went for years before finally joining.  Once I joined I was keen to help because I know this is always a good way to feel you belong, to get to know other members and of course to support the organisation.

Potato Day always has a friendly, welcoming and homely feeling.  I always recommend it to friends as a lovely event.  For me it's not just about the potatoes, in fact it's more about the atmosphere, not to mention the homemade goodies!!

From Maralyn: This year, we had a coloured potato matching game, which even caught out the most expert of potato gurus, as it took a while to realise that the 2D potatoes were upside down.  Children had fun designing their own coloured potatoes (non-GM) and naming the plant parts.  The activities always create a talking point - time to relax, enjoy and have fun.  

 From Maggie: We were very busy in the kitchen and sold out of bacon.  These must be the most popular baps but lots of people had bacon with eggs or sausage.  The soups went well as did the potato bread.  The Reg May pork pies  were very popular and people were buying them to take home.  I wonder if homity pies would sell as well.  We used to do them.  Val used to make them.  

 We missed Gwen in the kitchen.  For those who don't know, Gwen is recovering from chemotherapy which has hit her hard.  Apparently she is beginning to gain some strength and hoping to be home from hospital soon.  All the kitchen helpers worked very hard and we made a good team.



4th March 2015 Film: Symphony of the Soil

 (Appropriately, 2015 is International Year of the Soil).

 Soggies had publicised this event, and had invited friends to come along, with the result that not only did we have a packed room, but we also gained some new members. Our expert cake makers had been busy and there was an array of goodies to enjoy after the interesting and stimulating film, written and directed by Deborah Koons.

 With such a vast subject as soil, which covers so much of our planet, it was inevitable there would be more to learn and wonder at than our already extensive knowledge encompasses. Who already knew all the orders and suborders of soil classification ( eg alfisols, andisols, aridisols, entisols and so on)? We do need reminding of the extreme length of time needed to produce a layer of soil, to make us even more aware of the importance of caring for it.

This film took us to places in different parts of the world, where people of different nationalities talked to us about their organic methods of cultivation. It was a most instructive and enjoyable evening.



Berrington Hall/ Crabapple Community Progress Report

By Graham Patient

 It was a pleasure in May 2014 to welcome SOGs members to Berrington Hall – gardens, fields, woodlands and the rest – our organic “work in progress”.

So, nine months later, here is a progress report...

 A prime objective of the gardening here is to make the community of 11 adults and 6 children as self-reliant as possible with seasonal vegetables and fruit. We aim to do that organically – and respecting the over-arching permaculture principle of taking out no more than we put in. That's a challenge.

In the walled garden we are still working out how best to utilise the seven 100 square metre vegetable beds. The brassica cages were a

great success this year. We are grubbing up and burning all the 20-year-old blackcurrant bushes with their big bud/reversion disease, building a new shed, putting the fruit back into dedicated borders, working on asparagus and artichoke plots and introducing mason bees.

Beyond the walls, the polytunnels tick over with all sorts of salads. One of the tunnels nearly burst with butternut squash this year!

The field-based Tuesday community-supported market garden project progresses. All seven vegetable beds are now in cultivation and the two additional plots are mulched ready. One will feature an intriguing large-scale collaboration with gardening author Anni Kelsey and her perennial vegetables. The other will develop leisurely into … a permaculture fruit plot … perhaps... It's organic! There's a recycled polytunnel to go up.

We will be taking on the care of honey bees this Spring when our beekeeping friends move to the South coast. We will be planting a cottage garden plot and sowing plenty of wildflower seeds to support our pollinators and other aerial wildlife.

Back by the house, there is more to the walled garden – two more bits. There's the herb garden which currently is home to our two surviving hens. We plan to reclaim and renovate the herbs when the birds are finally called to the great hen-house in the sky. And – shades of Heligan – we have recently uncovered a substantial adjoining plot.

Back by the house, there is more to the walled garden – two more bits. There's the herb garden which currently is home to our two surviving hens. We plan to reclaim and renovate the herbs when the birds are finally called to the great hen-house in the sky. And – shades of Heligan – we have recently uncovered a substantial adjoining plot with a glorious south-facing high wall that is to be a new fruit garden. The wild damson/bramble/nettle thicket which we hacked away proved a lot bigger than it appeared to be when we started!

We have made links with Phil at Apley, Kate and the team at Attingham and friendly wildlife enthusiasts from CJWildlife at Upton Magna and hope to see these helpful liaisons blossom this year.

We are developing a “mile walk” and a children's area with tree house and landscaped play space. We have ideas for expanding the embryonic forest garden/ edible woodland edge, creating a substantial wildflower meadow
and undertaking a wildlife survey/audit to inform all developments so that we support as diverse and rich
a variety as possible. Except for slugs!

Then there's mowing the grass, maintaining the flower beds, cutting and composting the hay, managing the woods, looking after the orchard … well you all know! Gardening yields a pleasure of a constant nature.

And talking of pleasure, SOGs members are welcome visitors any time – just contact Graham to arrange. We enjoy sharing ideas, experience – and good company.

Berrington Hall 01743 761418

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