Chairman’s report

I was just reviewing the Sogs winter programme and wondering how it could be made better.  I thought for a long time and I did not come up with one single idea.  This may be because of my lack of initiative or because the programme was so good that it is difficult to improve on it.  What do you think?  If you have an idea, then please do tell your hard working team and especially our programme secretary. 

We started in November with Malc Mollart doing that wonderfully detailed talk with all the names of the plants that he had got off pat, (we must get to know this Pat).  The Christmas bring and share feast was, well...a feast...for the body the mind and the spirit.  The tool sharpening was something to whet the appetite for having a go; there is nothing to it apparently- hold the stone flat, tilt it to 5 degrees and sharpen; it really is that simple.  This was followed by water - water everywhere and not a drop of drink, or something like that.  After the wettest winter since winters were invented this was a refreshing look at the most basic necessity.  And then exotic veg, it looks so simple and inviting.  I like the word exotic, it reeks of the romantic and the foreign; but at one time red carrots would have seemed to be a strange import, so let us not be afraid of oca and fenugreek.

What can I say about the potato day that has not already been said?  It was (insert superlative---------------------).  How do we do it?  This was the 12th time of being superlative; and do you know what?... everyone is determined to do it again!  The ideas and creative juices are already flowing for next year.  What about “SOGS 13th ANNUAL FESTIVAL OF THE POTATO”.  I can see the layout, smell the bacon butties and taste the homity pies as I write. 

From Maralyn: Inspired by our Potato Day poster (which bore a potato wearing a mortarboard in honour of our resident Potato Guru), Henry, Julia and family came up with the Spuddy Awards at the Xmas do. Not sure what they were drinking! So I put them together: 

“After passing his Chiploma, Spud succeeded in doing very well in his Bat-tubers degree and went on to do a Mashters.  

Having done so well, he was awarded a Scallop-chip for a Potatorate and was awarded a Professorchip.  

He is now a full time Edu- tater, and is educating Frita”. 

The flower show is something else to look forward to every year but this year even more so.  The idea is for every Sogs member to participate at some level.  Please grow a plant that you like and write a note in 20 words, or so, of why you like it, its scent, taste, medicinal properties, folk lore, etc.   The day before the show we will arrange these plants in to a drop dead gorgeous display and then bask in the glow from our adoring public.


A Reminder of the Weather, Autumn 2015 to Winter 2016

 Rain (from Gwen and Roger)

It rained and it rained and rained and rained

 The average fall was well maintained

And when the tracks were simply bogs

 It started raining cats and dogs. 

After a drought of half an hour

   We had a most refreshing shower

And then the most curious thing of all

   A gentle rain began to fall.

Next day was absolutely dry

   Save for the deluge from the sky

Which wetted the party to the skin

   And after that the rain set in.   

From Sandie at The Albrighton Trust, Moat & Gardens.

Reasons to help by growing veg and flowering plants ready for the 8th of May:

 We support disabled, special needs and socially excluded people in the West Midlands in our idyllic and tranquil environment and welcome and support them whatever their capability.

We provide a wide range of stimulating and worthwhile activities including horticulture and conservation, and also very popular is angling from our wheelchair accessible fishing platforms.

The Gardens and Resource Centre are designed around a 13th century Scheduled Ancient Monument; the Gardens consist of a sensory garden, landscaped and natural gardens, wildflower garden, raised vegetable beds, wildlife nesting & feeding stations, compost area, hanging baskets, a large greenhouse and a growhouse enabling all weather use with wheelchair access benches, we have a number of volunteers both disabled and able bodied who help in the gardens.  

Our Horticultural Therapy programme began in 2005 initially to help those visitors with special needs or those people dealing with, or recovering from illness and older visitors who have lost a loved one or feel isolated, helping them during a difficult period of their life and focus on something positive.

In 2007 we launched our Four Seasons Programme, which is more structured to young people and their personal development. Our gardeners are generally unlikely to achieve academic qualifications; we support them in achieving recognised qualifications providing them with long term benefits. The programme provides achievement based activities for individuals or groups, and consists of modules devised to accommodate a wide range of ability. Our gardeners gain real benefit from their horticultural sessions, which provide them with valuable transferable skills, personal achievement, increased self confidence and esteem, whilst providing the enjoyment and satisfaction of cultivating and nurturing that only horticulture can offer. 


Talk: “Gardening for Wildlife” by Malc Mollart from Bowbrook Allotments, November 4th 2015

Anyone who has visited Bowbrook Community Allotments site in Shrewsbury will know what a haven it is for many forms of wildlife. Malc and his wife Judy are involved with the running of the allotment site, so it is no surprise that their own garden is also a paradise for bugs, birds and small mammals, as shown by the slides with which he accompanied his excellent talk.

Malc stressed that the wildlife-friendly garden does not have to be untidy, nor does it need exclusively native plants. You do not have to have an overgrown wild area, or grow weeds and/or nettles if you have not enough space. The wildlife will move in if you provide suitable habitats. Do not “put the garden to bed” for the winter. Insects need cover and birds need to feed on the seeds of spent flowers. Aim to have no bare ground to keep soil in good condition, so allow self-seeding, or mulch as much as possible.

To encourage pollinators grow open-flowered plants rather than fancy “doubles”, and try to ensure blooms in early spring because lacewings, which are voracious predators, need nectar and pollen then. Provide insect homes, home-made rather than fancy garden centre ones which are hardly ever used, maybe because they are too smooth or have been coated with preservative. Log piles, rotten wood and more tolerance of messy areas, are all that insects need.

It is important to feed birds all the year round, and wildlife needs water. If you lack space, just a bucketful of water will suffice, (with a means of escape for hedgehogs). If planting trees, choose ones which have catkins in spring, and/or textured bark providing hiding places for insects.

This is just a small sample of the sound advice given by Malc, and you can see it in practice yourself on Saturday May 14th when we visit Malc and Jude’s garden.

This is a 'dedge' (dead hedge) at Bowbrook Community Allotments.
It privides shelter for various forms of wildlife.

  ‘At the Cutting Edge’ – talk by Will Smith on January 6th.

 Look sharp there!

The sound of keen Soggies filing industriously was to be heard throughout Shropshire the day after the talk by Will, during which he demonstrated the simple techniques of sharpening garden tools – simple, yes, but maybe not thoroughly understood or practised by many of us until inspired by him. No doubt these techniques are to be found in books or online, but nothing beats a fellow gardener bursting with enthusiasm and skill, who can show in seconds how we should be achieving a good cutting edge on our secateurs, knives, billhooks, or any of the assortment of tools brought in by members.

‘How easy is that?’ ‘How long did that take?’ These were Bill’s catch-phrases as he sharpened tools using a steel, a whet-stone, and a narrow file which is ideal for secateurs as it reaches right into the gap between blades without having to take them apart. These unfamiliar narrow files were on sale at only £5.

 You need to have been there to absorb all of Bill’s expertise, but the main thing to remember is:

‘Feel the burr!’

This has nothing to do with Bill’s Irish burr, but is the means of knowing that a blade edge is sharp. Working on the bevelled edge, file this edge across the blade at the same angle as the bevel with a pushing motion moving along until the end is reached, at which point you feel for the burr on the opposite side. If you feel it all the way along, the blade is sharpened; if not, you do it some more. It’s as simple as that. There is no need to remove the burr.

Apparently spades do not need to be sharpened, (but I find that mine works better sharpened, as it is the weight and strength of the user that forces it down – and I am lacking in both of those!) However, too sharp an edge on it can cause wear and tear and nicks. An axe edge also should be blunt to prevent splitting wood. MB

Potato Day 2016

 All done and dusted for the 12th year and enjoyed by everyone.  Lots of work but at the end it all feels worthwhile – again.

We never forget that the prime purpose at the first Potato Day was to give gardeners a much greater choice of varieties and we still do that each year. Of course there is now competition from garden centres and the “Shropshire Potato Day” at Harper Adams. Also the Wildlife Trust - but not this year. We keep an eye on the “market” as the competition has reduced our “profit” and we don’t want to ever make a loss. We are nowhere near that but as Harper Adams publicity was more focussed on us this year we can have some fun next year pushing back because ours is the original and the best Potato Day.  We get lots of enthusiastic feedback from the people who come because of the unique friendly “feel” we create – it is a truly welcoming community event.  If one was trying to describe the difference we are “friendly” whereas Harper Adams is “professional” – with an entry fee to get in and two cash registers at the exit!! 

Just a footnote – as you all know we have given donations to organisations and charities that we choose each year. Most of the money comes from Potato Days and this year Eric went back over the records to find to our surprise that SOGS has given over £5000 in the past 5 years. Dwell on that for a moment and feel a bit of satisfaction and pride – its well deserved.      Frank Oldaker

  From Maggie.  Has anybody else tried Oca?

A couple of years ago Pete and I took the SOG’s stand and some potatoes left from our Potato Day to a seed swap at Treflach Farm.  It was a very chilly day in March and the event was set up in an open barn.  We wrapped up well and fielded enquiries about SOG’s and potatoes for most of the day.  In between times we looked at the seeds which had been contributed to the swap.  Pete took some seed potatoes and reappeared with a bag of red, shiny, lumpy potato shaped roots and said they were Okra. 

 The tops grew enormous and they need lots of water.  Pete chopped the tops off and eventually we harvested some oca which we boiled and ate and enjoyed.  This was all experimental.  The tubers we did not eat we saved and planted the next March – some in the greenhouse border and some outside.  The outside ones did better than the inside ones.  We tried roasting some and enjoyed their lemony taste.

 Last year we were given a Country Smallholder magazine and in it was an article about oca by Charles Dowding who writes about organic gardening. He suggests chitting them in February.   Then plant in April at 7 to 10 cm deep.  Charles says they grow well in undug, surface composted soil.  Then add a spadeful of compost to the top of the centre of each plant in July.  The tubers do not go green when exposed to light and many tubers appear at soil surface in Autumn.  They develop only when there is less than 9 hours between sunrise and sunset, from late October.  They can be dug from late November to mid December, especially after a frost.  When they are dug wash them in a bucket of water and spread them on a tray in a sunny windowsill or as light as possible, to develop their sweetness.  After that they can be stored in a dry and frost free, cool place and can be used till March or April when they start to sprout again.

As well as boiling and roasting, they can (Pete’s favourite) be eaten raw, in a salad when they are crunchy and have a lemony taste.  Charles says the flowers can be eaten too but we haven’t tried them.  Apparently there are also yellow and white varieties and a bi-coloured one from Real Seeds.  They are rich in zinc and other minerals. They have a high oxalic acid content which is reduced by exposing to sunlight after harvest.

(“Get Growing” A Rare Treat, by Charles Dowding, Country  Smallholding , April 2015.)

Also – see article on Oca in latest (Spring/summer 2016) issue of The Organic Way magazine.


Mike & Silvi’s yogurt recipe.

As we have had so much success with our method and I am asked so often, here is our (almost) fail safe and much-cheaper-than-buying method ...

An additional benefit is that because UHT milk is used, you can keep a store of milk to make any time.

We make 2 litres at once, you could make more if your 'hay box' is big enough, or less.

We have the whole preparation process down to less than 10 minutes

You will need:


1) Large saucepan to easily contain 2 litres with stirring  (we use our pressure cooker pan)

2) Milk frothing thermometer (do a search in google, they are about £4). Any thermometer will do but must be able to measure accurately between 45 and 50 deg C. The ones recommended are good because they clip inside the pan and give a constant read-out.

3) A box to keep the yoghurt warm. We use a cool box with an additional blanket inside. Any 'hay box' would do, e.g. cardboard box stuffed with blankets (or even hay).

4) Jars with lids for the yogurt. We use 3 x 1litre Kilner jars, but anything with a wide neck would do. We use three so that each is not too full and doesn't spill in the hay box.  It's important to have at least two jars so one remains untouched and uncontaminated for use as a starter for the next batch.


5) 2 litres of UHT milk. We use full fat Moo Organic from Sainsburys, but I guess you can find other brands and could use semi skimmed. (Why UHT? - because it has already been heated which kills off the bacteria that would cause the yoghurt to go sour)

6) A plain yoghurt as your first starter. This must be a live yoghurt. We have found that most of the plain ones are live anyway, even if it doesn't say. We have used Yeo Valley Greek, Creamy and Natural varieties plus other brands. Currently we have settled on M&S "Authentic Greek" and M&S "Organic Greek Style" - both produce a thick, creamy yoghurt.

After the first batch, we use yoghurt from our last unopened jar as the next starter. We find that we get about 8 batches before we need to buy a starter again because the yogurt begins to taste sour.


a) Make sure pan, jars, thermometer, stirrer etc are clean, rinse with clean hot water first (no detergent).

b) Add some hot (50 deg C) water to the jars so they can warm up.

c) Add a small amount of the UHT milk and 2 or 3 generous dessert spoons of yoghurt into the pan. Stir well to make sure that the yoghurt is well mixed in. Then add the rest of the UHT milk.

d) Hang your thermometer in the pan, turn on the heat and whilst stirring continuously, heat to between 45 deg C and 50 deg C. We have found ours works best at 50, but that may be an accuracy issue with our thermometer, so experiment. It is important to stir to make sure you do not overheat patches and kill the culture. It is also important to make sure you do not go over 50 deg C for the same reason.

e) A soon as you reach the temperature (or before if you have, say, cast iron pans which store heat and therefore continue to heat), immediately remove from the heat and pour into your now empty pre-warmed jars.

f) Place the jars into your hay box for 10 to 12 hours (it is not critical, we have done a bit less (needed our yogurt fix) and a lot more (we forgot) and leave them alone in a room. We make either early am or late at night. When you take them out again, they should be still just slightly warm. If not, you need more insulation round them and/or to put them in a warmer place or add a hot water bottle into the box. TIP Place a large sign where you cannot miss it to remind you to take them out.

g) Place in the fridge. We have found that they keep for 10 days or so.

h) Enjoy! Further tip, do not stir the finished yoghurt as this will thin it.


1) Add some vanilla essence whilst making

2) Strain through muslin to make it thicker like double cream and use in place of cream.

3) When eating, add some honey for sweetness

4) We have been told it should work with other milk types (goat, sheep) and even Soya milk each with the right yoghurt culture. If you try this and it works (or even if it doesn't), please let us know.

  From Maggie: Carrot Cake

This recipe is really delicious.  It comes from my old Cranks Recipe Book from 1982.

Carrots 6 oz (175g)

Free range eggs 2

Raw brown sugar 4 oz (100g)

Oil 3 fl.oz (75 ml)

100% wholemeal self-raising flour 4oz (100g)

Ground cinnamon 1 tsp (5 ml)

Ground nutmeg ½ tsp (2.5 ml)

Desiccated coconut 2 oz (50g)
Raisins 2 oz (50 g)

 Orange icing

Butter or margarine 1 ½ oz (40 g)

Raw pale brown sugar 3 oz (75g)

Orange, grated rind of ½

Shelled walnuts, chopped 1 oz (25 g)

Grease and line the base of a 7” (18cm) square cake tin.  Finely grate the carrots.  Whisk the eggs and sugar together until thick and creamy.  Whisk in the oil slowly, then add the remaining ingredients and mix together to combine evenly.  Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin.  Level the surface and bake in the oven at 190 deg.C (375 deg.F/Mark 5) for 20 – 25 minutes, until firm to the touch and golden brown.  Cool on a wire tray.  Spread with orange icing when cold.

For the icing – Beat the butter until soft, beat in the sugar and orange rind.  Spread over the cake and sprinkle with chopped walnuts.

From Janet: Home-made Garlic Spray to keep Blackfly off Broad Beans.

Take 6 cloves of garlic, crush them and put into a pint of boiling water. Let them boil for about 15 minutes with the lid on. Then add another pint of cold water, stir and leave to stand for 24 hours, stirring occasionally. Strain the liquid into two gallons of cold water.

  From Frank: Bees – Still Buzzing!!

Over recent years we have all become aware of the problems that bees and other pollinating insects have faced. Many campaigns, including by Garden Organic, resulted in action at EU and National levels.  I thought you might be interested in a short update.

The EU banned neonicotinoid pesticides for last year but our government, as is permitted, have granted exemptions from this for this year for a few areas where farmers claim there is a problem with pests on oil seed rape. The ban continues elsewhere.  At EU level the effects of the ban are being studied with a report now due in January and then any legislation will follow. This is later than expected but is good news for bees because more results from investigations going on around the world will be complete and the evidence against neonics is mounting all the time.

In the meantime it is important not to forget the issue and we must keep encouraging the creation of bee friendly planting everywhere.

19th Century bee experiment proves they travel up to five miles: In a prose passage by the poet John Clare (1792-1864):

I have heard that a man, curious to know how far bees travelled in a summer’s day, got up early one morning and stood by one of the hives to powder them as they came out with fine flour to know them again, and having to go to the market that day he passed by a turnip field in full flower about five miles from home, and to his surprise he found some of his own bees in their white powdered coats busily humming at their labour with the rest.

  Plant-related quiz.

 1) What did naturalist George de Mestral invent in 1948?

2) Which caterpillar feeds on ragwort?

3) What are theses? Farro, Kamut,Teff, Freekeh.

4) What is a ‘hodmedod’?

5) Why is The Chequers a common name for pubs?

Answers at the bottom


               and                                      in the garden


Strange, isn’t it, how we:

Cut branches down and then cut them up.

We dig up carrots and then wolf them down.

We pack up work, down tools and then lock them up.

We down a drink and eat up our dinner.

Our spirits lift up in spring but go down when we see all the over-wintered weeds.

We get down to work in the garden, but eyebrows might be raised if we got up to things there.

 Marian Byrne

  The Dana Community Garden, Castlefields

I was walking along the riverside in the direction of the weir, beyond the station bridge, and came across the community garden. It was looking good even in mid-February. The fruit trees seem to have established well. I marvelled at the ambition and tenacity of the volunteers transforming this steeply sloping site. Among them is Sogs member Jen. Do try to go along there and watch it progress.

Marian Byrne


Carol Edwards passed on the link to and this item with the beguiling title “Sprinkle what you Tinkle”.

P is for Plants? Can Human Urine Benefit your Garden?

Where do you stand (or wee, as might be more apt), on the topic of urine for the garden? The use of human urine for fertilising the garden is nothing new, in fact it’s an age-old gardening technique that has been employed by the more passionate gardeners for centuries.

Fresh urine is actually completely sterile and thus free from bacteria – furthermore, it is essentially so clean that, technically, it could be drunk when fresh (though admittedly you’d have to be pretty thirsty to try). It is only when urine is older than 24 hours passed that the urea turns into ammonia and develops that funky stale fragrance that we’ll affectionately call, eau de wee. By this point there’s no going back and the urine is not just unsuitable as an afternoon beverage but also too strong to use on plants. That’s not to say it can’t be used on the compost heap – there’s no waste here! Adding urine, or urinating directly onto a compost heap, most definitely helps to activate the composting process and accelerate it. This is considered a completely safe and organic method for producing a healthy supply of organic matter.

But back to the fresh stuff, exactly what is it that makes our urine so influential in the garden? Healthy human urine is approximately 95% water, 2.5% a key substance called urea and another 2.5% a mixture of minerals, salts, hormones and enzymes. As such, human urine is actually one of the fastest-acting sources of potent nitrogen (mostly as urea), as well as dissolved phosphates and potassium – all of which are the main macronutrients required by plants. It is recommended that you dilute one part urine with approximately 10 parts water and always apply it directly to the plants root system. Dilution will also help to fend off any associated whiffs.

And of the male V female urine argument? Defunct. Whilst some state that male urine is a superior form of fertiliser to female urine because it is less acidic, there is no scientific evidence to support any difference between the effectiveness of diluted male or female urine on the garden – so, logistics aside ladies, feel free to get involved!

Word of warning: Should you decide to give it a go, we strongly advise that you use only healthy urine that is free from infection. Birth control and hormone supplements are widely considered unsafe for use. Supplements however, tend to present themselves in very low doses in the urine and would consequently have a negligible impact on the garden.

  From Carol Edwards:

I don't know how many of our members would remember Muriel Grindley. She passed away 27/01/16 aged 97, and was still interested in her garden right to the end.

  To make the haire of the bearde to grow.

Take cane rootes, Bryony roots, Beetes, Radish, flower de Luce, Onions, of each a like the quantity of foure onces, five fatte figs brused and stamped very small, maiden haire, southernwood, dill, of each a hanfull soeothe all these in good Wine, then wring out the liquor and straine it, then put to it fresh butter never salted, pure Honie two onces, Oyle of Almondes sweete and sower, Oyle of Selania one once, Orimell squillick, half an once, the pouder of meale, nigella, fenegreeke well sifted and throughlie boulted, one handful of Grasse Labeanum one once, set there upon the fire and stirre them well till it be thicke. The Linament being applyed to the Chin and Cheekes, wil become haire: the body first purged from al filth inwardly, proved by experience.

Medieval recipe - I’d love to know what some of these plants are, particularly Orimell squillick! MB

 From an 1829 article about gooseberries, from "A Description and History of Vegetable Substances used in the Arts and in Domestic Economy” published by Charles Knight, London, 1829.

The gooseberry plant, under favourable circumstances, will attain a considerable age, and grow to a great size. At Duffield, near Derby, there was in 1821, a bush ascertained to have been planted at least 46 years, the branches of which extended 12 yards in circumference. At the garden of the late Sir Joseph Banks, at Overton Hall, near Chesterfield, there were two remarkable gooseberry plants, trained against a wall, each measuring more than 50 feet from one extremity to the other. In the fruit catalogue of the RHS there are nearly two hundred kinds, and about 150 of them are the large Lancashire gooseberries. Their names are indicative of their humble origin. Examples are "Jolly Miner", "Jolly Painter," "Lancashire lad," "Pastime," "Top Sawyer," and so on. They are characteristic of the manners of the country in which they are produced, as the high sounding titles which distinguish the fruits of other nations are indicative of theirs.

The gooseberry shows of Lancashire, Cheshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, and other manufacturing counties, are conducted with great system; and an annual account of them, forming a little volume, is printed and published at Manchester. The prizes given on these occasions are adapted to the manners of the homely people who contend for them. They are often a pair of sugar tongs, a copper tea kettle, a cream jug, or a corner cupboard. The proceedings of these contests are registered with as much precision as the records are of horse racing and when handed down in a family are as deeply valued as the Gold Cups of Newmarket.

Shows are still popular: In 2013 Kelvin Archer, 53, from Cheshire, produced a fruit which weighs 64.49g.  It is the first gooseberry ever to weigh more than 40 pennyweights - an ancient system used to measure the popular summer treat

 Answers to quiz

1)  Velcro, after examining closely the structure og burrs he found clinging to his clothing after a walk.

2) Cinnabar moth caterpillar

3) Types of grain, which along with spelt, quinoa, amaranth, millet etc are being recommended as 'smart carbs' (low on the Glycaemic Index, high in fibre and high in nutrients.

4) Country name for a scarecrow - (also mawkin, mammet, bogle and tattie bogle)

5) The browny orange berries of the wild service tree Sorbus torminalis, sometimes called chequer tree, wee used for brewing before hops became the norm.

Thoughts on snowdrops by Helen Yem, gardening writer in the Daily Telegraph, who has 'never succumbed to the genteel frenzy that is galanthophilia'.

I'm not very fussy: I love Any-Old-Snowdrops, preferabley in swathes, sheets or carpets, call them what you will, their secretive downward-nodding little flower heads (to examine the intricacies of which quite frankly, you would need the help f a dental mirror on a long stick), brilliantly whitening-up an otherwise colourless woodlnad floor at the dreary back end of winter.

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