One of our favourite website blogs, Vegetablism, recently got even better. Sarah Coomer has relocated her own blog, Chant’s Cottage, to join original vegetablists (and Big Allotment Challenge contestants) Pete and Gary on a new, super-blog. We chewed the fat with all three of them…
1. Vegetablism is one of the most popular allotment blogs on the internet. What was the idea behind it?
Gary: Pete and I have both written blogs previously, some more popular than others, I’m not saying which. This was our attempt to write collectively about our experiences on a shared allotment. Most of our time at the allotment is spent either swearing or laughing. I wanted to do a website that proved to be too technical for my internet skills, and while I was mucking around trying to get it to work Pete started Vegetablism, I think to annoy me initially.
Pete: Our blog is about sharing the successes alongside the failures. Most blogs only seem to offer advice whereas we offer realism and hopefully some new insights into growing. We successfully grow vegetables and flowers with as little effort as possible, and we want to share our experiences while hopefully making people laugh.
Sarah: If I can stick my oar in as the Johnny come lately of the operation, I think one of its biggest appeals is the collectivism it espouses, if I maybe so poncy. Anyone can get involved and is welcome to. And there’s certainly no elitism when it comes to gardening prowess which is handy because, let’s face it chaps, I’m RUBBISH at gardening.
2. Last year you set up a chilli growing trial. We joined in but had limited success. What have you deduced from this exercise?
Pete: Last years Chilli Trial was really successful for us, and it’s members. We had over 40 people join in with all levels of experience. It might not be easy growing a chilli that normally only germinates after traversing a bird’s digestive tract, but we had people who’d never grown a plant from seed, successfully germinate, and grow a chili plant to fruit with no previous experience. We also had trained horticulturalists fail miserably. I think it was a lesson for everyone.
Sarah: I learned mainly that I’m not very good at growing chillies, and more recently they don’t really like having trampolines and glass chucked all over them.
Gary: I want a heated greenhouse
3. Have you got any more trials planned for this year?
Pete: This year we decided that we’d have another trial, but one that would suit everyone and still add a learning curve for our participants. This year we’re doing a sunflower trial. Not many people realise that sunflowers are so versatile. You can grow the single stem variety for height, a branching variety for cut flowers or you can grow them for flower buds for eating. All of the sunflower varieties are edible, in fact someone is already creating a recipe to make wine. It’s a ‘win, win’ plant.
4. With the recent recruitment of Sarah you’re now a mighty trio. Tell us a little about the three of you and what you each bring to Vegetablism.
Pete: I’m not sure we recruited Sarah to the blog, I think in fact that Sarah always fitted in and it made sense for us to share our website as it benefits everyone. Also she writes a funnier blog post than anyone else. And also because she’s a woman (we think.) I like to think she adds a whole new dimension and a different point of view to Vegetablism. Gary brings along the practical side. He’s the man who can build stuff but also the the driver. If it was up to me I’d just go to the pub in the afternoon and fiddle with my favourite tool in the morning. Nothing worthwhile would ever get done up the plot if it was down to me and enthusiasm. Me? I’m just the idiot with the stupid ideas and the words. I don’t think it would be the same with any of us not on the team. Then again, it might be better.
Gary: They are better writers than me, it takes me ages to get a post done. I love making stuff out of other stuff. Turning old pallets into planters or fences, rebuilding sheds and greenhouses, finding stuff for free or cheap and making it useful. I also do a pretty good techno dance when stung by loads of bees
Sarah: My blog is about all sorts of aspects of trying to establish a smallholding, vegetable growing being just one element, though I will be writing more posts for the ‘main’ blog too. Last year I had decided I needed to pimp my basic blog a bit and Pete and Gary were thinking along the same lines with Vegetablism. I’d already done a few posts for them and obviously hijacking theirs was so much easier than redoing mine, but joining forces felt like a totally natural progression. We complement each other on so many levels. They are Southern, I am Northern. They can do gardening much better than Pete says they can, I am rubbish. They have beards, I don’t (I can confirm that yes, I am a woman).
5. Your growing successes are trumpeted with much enthusiasm, but it’s the failures that provide the most entertainment. What has been your biggest veg disaster.
Gary: We have a £200 brasica cage – the first year it grew fantastic weeds of many varieties, then a wind came along and it sort of fell apart. This year I spent a bit of cash and purchased some loctite and new nuts and bolts and fresh zip ties, and reerected it. It looked much better, straighter, sturdier. We managed to grow sprouts, cabbages, kale, caulies. Every one of them eaten by caterpillars. If it wasn’t made of plastic I would burn it where it stands.
Pete: I think my biggest failures can’t actually be mentioned at the moment (note: at the time of writing their appearance on Big Allotment Challenge was top secret). From a personal point of view I would like to say that we’re rubbish at most things. I do like how we can turn what looks like a disaster into a win though. The video for our red cabbage springs to mind.
Sarah: I’m very good at growing foliage with no fruit and I seem to be the only person in the world who can’t grow pumpkins despite repeated attempts (three years now). I suppose my most idiotic mistake was when I ignored all received wisdom and impatiently dug up my seed potatoes and cooked them, thinking they were the crop despite being four weeks too early. They were utterly inedible, quite the most disgusting thing I’ve ever cooked if you’re wondering.
6. One of our favourite posts was your ‘Blackberry & Dorset crab apple wine live tasting’. Any more booze related activity planned?
Gary: I had planned a great post about my version of Plum Jerkum made with Bullaces from a farm in Wales. It didn’t even get bottled, it was that nice I demolished the gallon demijohn in a couple of days. I am certainly going to be getting me some more of those.
Pete: We always like to do a bit of foraging and I tend to flavour a fair amount of gin and vodka come the autumn. Gary is the winemaker in the team, but it seems he can be quite protective of his booze. I’m unsure if it’s cos it’s good, or really crap.
Sarah: I made some bullace gin last Autumn which is lovely but now I really annoyingly can’t remember where I picked the bullaces. I am quite drawn to the idea of a Rumtopf, a big stone jarful of rum into which you chuck in any available fruit throughout the year, until Christmas, being careful not to mistake it for the compost bin at any point. Though maybe that would work too if you added enough sugar. After a few gobfuls I imagine you wouldn’t much care what was in it.
Pete: A Rumtopf ? That’s sounds interesting… We are also hoping to make some honey based booze from our bees later this year.
7. And finally, what advice would you give to anyone considering starting their own blog?
Pete: My advice would be to probably write from the heart and try not to offer advice unless you have something that no-one else knows. Google is full of advice and chances are it’s probably better. If you do have something to say, I think it’s a good idea to submit stuff to blogs you follow. Most bloggers aren’t that much up their own hoop and will at least have a look. If it’s any good and suits the blog then normally they’ll post it. Also have a Facebook page so you can notify your friends when you post stuff and have regular pictures added to it as well, it’s good to be active all the time. Also join Twitter and add fellow like-minded people. They’re normally as stupid as you are, and probably as funny (in a good way).
Gary: Most of the gardening things you see on telly and magazines aren’t real, they are staged to look awesome so we think we can achieve that by buying loads of crap from Homebase. Just tell it as it is, people love the failures and ugly stuff as much as they like the pretty perfect stuff.