The Cottage Smallholder

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On the Plot with ‘Dirty Nails’ by Joe Hashman: a review


Photo: On the Plot with 'Dirty Nails'

Photo: On the Plot with 'Dirty Nails'

“Stroking seedlings to make them stronger. You’re having me on!”
Danny was goggle eyed. I picked up the book and showed him the relevant section.
“Apparently seedlings gain strength and build a healthy root system when exposed to air currents. So you need to stroke the leaves of your greenhouse or windowsill seedlings to stop them becoming leggy and weak.”

At the moment I’m spending more time reading about gardening than actually weilding a fork. At times this can be very frustrating but the flip side is that I have the time to bone up on techniques and methods. And when I’m sent a really good gardening book to review I’m delighted.

Joe Hashman’s On the Plot with Dirty Nails is just that. This gem combines tips and methods for successful fruit and vegetable gardening with observations on seasonal wildlife, foraging and excellent recipes. It is also packed with superb photographs by Tony Benge. This is no coffee table tome – this book is stuffed tightly full information from making your own wormery to soaking asparagus crowns in water before planting. Joe Hashman’s style is relaxed and conversational – I wasn’t surprised to discover that he writes a regular column for the Blackmore Vale Magazine under the pseudonym of Dirty Nails.

The author takes you through the vegetable and fruit growing year with a week by week guide of what to do in the greenhouse and on the plot. The layout of these weekly charts is clear and attractive. Almost guaranteed to stop the novice and experienced gardener from becoming overwhelmed. They even include instructions on what to do if your seedlings have been guzzled by slugs.

There are monthly charts of fruit and vegetables (fresh and stored) that should be on the menu if you follow the methods and guide lines outlined in the book. This was of particular interest for me as I’m determined to grow and eat of our fruit and vegetables all year round. For example, the vegetables on the menu for January include Brussels sprouts, kale, leaf beet, red cabbage, Swiss chard, carrots, celeriac, salsify, Jerusalem artichoke, scorzonera and swede. On the salad front are corn salad and Winter pursalane. Onions and shallots (from store), lemons, bay and thyme. Pretty impressive.

These monthly charts also include seasonal wild plants that can be foraged and great tips for extending the harvest time for these, such as nettle tops for soup. These need to be very young – so if you keep on chopping off the tops of your nettles you will encourage the nettles to produce even more young shoots.

Joe Hashman also suggests particular varieties of seeds to sow. Advice that I would have welcomed with open arms as a novice gardener when faced with the groaning shelves of seeds at the garden centre. Even now my seed selection skills can be a bit touch and go. So I’ll be testing out some of his suggestions.

The wildlife sections are enchanting. Wildlife and gardening are so interrelated and his descriptions are superb. I highly recommend this book. Written by an enthusiastic countryman and gardener, fresh air wafts from every page.

  Leave a reply


  1. I always thought I was weird by stroking and blowing my indoor seedlings. Now I’m vindicated!

  2. Glad to know about both- the book and stroking seedlings. Sometimes I want to pet them anyway….

  3. Toffeeapple

    That sounds like a book worth having.

  4. I have this book :o) Hes really lovely,I met him at a local booksigning.His book is fantastic,very easy to follow
    GTM x x

  5. Dirty Nails! We get one of Blackmore Vale’s other mags each week – the Stour & Avon magazine. His section is one of my favourites, easpecially the way he writes about himself in the third person, very dry, and the occasional appearance of “Mrs Nails” 🙂

    Charts sound handy (not a feature of the column itself). Might have to buy local and get a copy!

  6. Thigmomorphogenesis – plants respond to mechanical sensation (being brushed, or blown by the wind) by growing stockier. Indoors this may not happen naturally and so stroking or blowing on them can make them stronger. I mentioned it in my book too 🙂

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