Until July 2017, documenting the seasons of coastal Dorset. I'm a complete amateur so don't trust I'm always right. If ever you see I'm wrong - whether with identifications or in anything else - do say! Meanwhile . . . I've now moved to Halifax in West Yorkshire. Click on the link below to collect the new URL. Don't forget to follow there!

Saturday, 25 February 2017


Cover of 101 Organic Gardening Hacks by Shawna Coronado
This picture came with an email before the book arrived.
Maybe one day I'll take pictures of what's inside!
Shall I tell you my woes? My camera isn't mended. I've smashed my phone (I fell over) and the speaker I dance around the house to got knocked off its bookcase so the music it spouts sounds tinny.

Right. Having got that out of my system . . . there's a book I was sent ages ago for reviewing and I've been meaning to tell you about it ever since and would have done if I hadn't been feeling so very bolshy about not being able to take photos of it.

It's 101 Organic Gardening Hacks by 
Shawna Coronado.
Cool Springs Press Minnesota.

I like it. (I'll say that fast before you think I'm about to be hyper-critical as usual.)

But before I enthuse, I'll mentions a few 'buts' about the title. It's probably the English / American thing. To me a 'hack' is negative - 'old hack', 'hacking into a computer', 'hacking a horse' (whatever that means) 'hacks in fingers' during cold weather or after doing too much washing up; and taxis. (Hackney cabs.) Computer hackers have been getting a better press recently. 'Hacking' in computersese seems not so much to mean 'breaking in' or 'cheating' but going straight to the point with skill and disregard for convention. Something like that.

'Organic' confused me too. It's not really about organic gardening but it's a book about gardening by someone who happens to do organic gardening. In other words, it's practical rather than proselytising. You wouldn't need to be an organic gardener to find it useful.

Getting there!

The '101' bit.
The book has wonderful advice but there's also what I would call 'padding'. '101' is probably a number publishers (?) like . . .  '37' or '93' wouldn't have the same zing. And by padding I mean things like how to renovate a chandelier so you can hang it in your garden . . . or disguising your shed by putting screens and metal gates round it (what's wrong with garden sheds? I like garden sheds!) . . . or how to decorate your fence by sticking spades on it.

And at the risk of spending all the review space on the title, 'hacks' makes it sound as if the 101 ideas are easy - like growing carrots in a wellington boots. You know the kind of thing.

The cover's very jaunty and the insides are attractively displayed and widely spread - so it looks as if we can flick through and imagine gardening's a doddle. (A popular theme on the gardening shelf.)

So why do I like this book?
It doesn't go for the 'doddle'.

The big deal thing which won me over was that the first 22 'hacks' are solidly about soil and composting. (I'll miss the bits I found irritating in the introduction.) And while it all sounds fun - like making a muddy mixture with earth and tipping in vinegar or baking soda to measure the ph of soil by seeing if it bubbles (waaaaaaaaay!) . . . it's the first book to make me wish I had an allotment - and that the work involved would be properly serious. All of a sudden I want to experiment with making compost. I'm not sure I'd bother with growing veg. - I'd just spend my days making compost in different ways. Shawna does happen to suggest coffee grounds are useful. Maybe they are but I'm a dubious. In my hands they go white and furry. But my hands are not her hands! Clearly. And I'm not sure she mentions what kind of worms you should use. Ordinary earth worms wouldn't be interested. (If I were a good reviewer I'd re-read it to find out but I'm not going to.) Never mind - the thing is . . . all of a sudden, I'd like to go into compost production. (Can you really buy worm casts at garden centres?)

Three handed footpath sign.
This is the only picture which has come from my camera in ages so I'll use it.
I've got a grump about notices like these.
What if motorways had signs which pointed just to 'roads' in every direction.
It's definitely an American book and inclines to hot weather gardening. Cacti don't like Dorset even though it's hot compared with other parts of the British Isles. And succulents are expensive. I don't need to know how to attract hummingbirds (however much I'd like to) and don't think Japanese Beetles cause much of a problem in the UK. (Though one day they might so perhaps it's good to have this book on hand in case they do.) I can't find bee-preservers in our local gardening centre (or even on Amazon) but that's no matter; finding a way to give bees access to water without risking they'll drown is worth thinking about.

Apart from some things (like edging a path with old wine bottles) I think it's a very respectful book. Gardening may be fun but it's not 'a laugh' in the sense of 'anything goes'. It's a sensible mixture of different kinds of information.The easy-to-make garden bench looks ok. And the suggestion that we should try deep-planting tomatoes is interesting - especially when accompanied, as it is, by an explanation about different types of tomatoes. (I didn't know there are 'determinate' and 'indeterminate' ones. Did you?)

And there are a few 'tips' of the kind which are obvious once you've thought of them - like storing hoses in figures of eight to stop them kinking while stored away . . . or using flour on the earth to mark out garden designs before planting.

Yup. I'd recommend it.

P.S. I like the instruction that you shouldn't drink tea made from manure.
And I like it that arthritis gets a nod,
And that it's the first gardening book I've read with bison in it.


Diana Studer said...

Welcome back Lucy!

I hope that you came off better than your phone, when you fell?

The 101 is a first course, this is where you begin.

Do write for us. The pictures are a bonus, but your words are good!

Lucy Corrander at Loose and Leafy said...

Hello Diana. Yes. I was ok. A bloodied hand but otherwise ok. The screen on my phone smashed into thousands of tiny shards. I don't really miss it though. I hardly ever use it. It's handy for an emergency but the land-line (I find) is better for conversations.

Glad you like the words!

Anonymous said...

I've missed your wit!
Yes indeed, we are separated from the Americans by a common language. For a moment there I thought you were going to hate the book, so I'm glad you enjoyed it in the end.
As for the 101 - I guess it makes it sound like you've got one "hack" free. And apparently odd numbers are always chosen for online "listicles" for some psychological reason.
Hope you also manage to get something photographic going by the time spring comes...
All the best :)

Lucy Corrander at Loose and Leafy said...

Hello Pat. Yes. I did like it. I had the misfortune to open the book first at the chandelier page . . then when I went to the beginning to start properly it was about old tuna tins and cut up tights and my heart sank. However . . I mean it about the compost and soil section. As a non-expert I would have some qualms about spreading compost on the surface of the soil because I've seen it cake over like that (in the manner of cowpats) . . but a variety of mixtures are recommended so it probably all comes out right in the end.

Some advice in the book is way beyond my ability though - like . . . if you are stung by wasps, keep calm, cover your face and walk backwards. Couldn't do it. I'd be running away as fast as I could and screaming! After that, I'd whimper pathetically while friends brought me ice and cups of tea.

Dee Nash said...

Hi Lucy, what a round of bad tech luck you've had lately! Everything broken. It does seem to come in threes. As for the word hack, we don't use it much here either. I think it's the publisher's attempt to appeal to Millennials. It does come from computer hackers. I just don't hear it said much, but occasionally, I guess it means super smart ways of doing things. I suppose we all think computer hackers have superior knowledge or something. Thanks for the thorough review.~~Dee

sharp green pencil said...

Hi Lucy.. ditto here, broken decent camera and cracked laptop screen.. oh and a heavy cold. Is it something about Feb! And yes get those lino cutting tools out again. :)

Barbara Fisher said...

I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the word hacks either it made me think of hacking down trees, which is something our neighbour does constantly much to my annoyance.
I must just tell you I had to look up proselytising as I had not the foggiest notion of its meaning. Interesting and it’s true what they say you do learn something new every day.
I was enjoying your review and even thinking I just might buy the book until I read the bit about edging a path with old wine bottles – really? Do glass and paths really mix? I’ve got a habit of falling over these days (a bit like you did when you smashed your phone) so I think I will give that particular ‘hack’ a miss. It would make more sense to edge our paths with something soft – like cushions. Actually I might fall over less if I left the wine bottles in the supermarket! :)

Lucy Corrander at Loose and Leafy said...

Hi Dee. I never read reviews of books till after I've posted my own . . . and having now looked at some . . I can't think of another book where the title itself has gathered such a disproportionate amount of attention compared with the text of the book itself!

Hello Sharp Green Pencil. (!) After I left the comment about lino-cuts on your blog, it struck me that one probably has to buy lino as special craft item now that lino is no longer used on floors. Perhaps it always was because, come to think of it, we were always issued with neat squares.

Hello Barbara. I wouldn't like a bottle edging either. And while I thought it might be pedantic to ask how one hangs a wacking great chandelier in a garden, I notice that on the cover of the book it seems simply to hang from mid-air.
A while back I reviewed a book called 'Happy Home Outside'


I enjoyed it immensely because I found it so very funny (taking sofas and carpets into the garden). I'm the ultimate in boringness. I like a garden to be a garden and a house to be a house. (And wouldn't really like either to be lined with bottles!)

Down by the sea said...

Oh dear it must be some frustrating not having your camera still working! I would definitely miss the camera more than the phone! I'm not sure that book will be my cup of tea! Sarah x

Stewart M said...

Any book with a bison in it has to be worth a look I would think!

Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne