What a novel idea. I've read the October installment of The Curious Gardener--in October! And even with and entire week to go still. October is filled with the usual mishmash of items ranging from apples (my favorite) to the irritation of cell phones in public gardens (bad cell phone behavior being a pet peeve of mine as well). Another month of easy and entertaining reading along with a bit of the 'down to business' stuff as well.
One of the main topics of this month's reading is--soil. I know I have mentioned it before, as has Anna Pavord, because as the title of this mini essay says, "The Answer Lies in the Soil". This is one of those things I will take with me from the book, even if I don't always recall all the variables she writes about that make up good soil. I am sure I will remember that the perfect soil to strive for is "fabled" loam which falls somewhere in between soil that is either acidic or alkaline.
"Soil is a mixture of bits of rock, water and organic matter such as rotted leaves. Sandy soils are made from relatively large bits of rock, clay soils from small particles. One is called light, the other heavy. The essence of success in gardening lies in getting the right balance between the two, the right structure. For that, you need the proper ratio between earth crumbs and air pockets. On heavy clay soils, there is not enough air. Plant roots keep bumping their noses on the underground equivalent of brick walls. On light, sandy soils, there is too much air and the fine hairy rootlets that absorb nutrients are unable to clutch at what they need."
I wonder what kind of soil I have. And I bet the soil in my pots also has a lot to do with how well (or how poorly) my houseplants do. In nature the soil takes care of itself more or less through the dying and decaying leaves and vegetation and animal droppings. For the rest of us--it's compost, compost, compost. Is it weird that I dream of having my own compost heap? I really do, and someday I am going to create one. Maybe that will be next year's project. And a good hint she shares--never spend time doing work that others can do for you. I like the idea of frost breaking up clods of earth and worms creating air pockets to improve the soil. It's sort of weird (but then, not really) to think of what the soil in your garden/yard means.
I'm envious of the vacations Pavord takes. Often the destinations are so exotic, but sometimes, too, they are close to home. Do you want to know what the view was like from a cottage in the Scottish Highlands?
"Out of the back door of the cottage stretched fifty miles of hill with nothing in it except red deer, heather, golden eagles and orchids. No houses. No roads. No aeroplanes. No people. Absolute silence."
Sounds divine, doesn't it? The only thing to improve this picture is a stack of books close at hand.
But the highlight of the chapter for me, happens to also be my favorite fruit--apples. I eat an apple a day (sometimes two). My favorites are Macintosh (didn't find too many this fall, but I am hoarding a few in a bag), Honeycrisp (much better at this time of year than the other months--more flavor and the apples are on the smaller side), and Pink Ladies (what I eat when Honeycrisp begin losing their yummy, tart flavor). Galas, Fujis and Braeburns are good in a pinch.
I'm afraid I don't know anything about British or European apples, but I do like the sound of some of these names: Egremont Russet, James Grieve, George Cave, Discover (a modern variety), Worcester, Beauty of Bath (doesn't the name of this one even sound delicious) and Laxton Epicure. I'm not sure how common some of these apples are, but perhaps some of them can only be had in an orchard. Pavord writes about some of the apple trees she has had and which have the sort of apples you need to eat directly from the tree, the sorts that you need to put a mattress of straw underneath for those varieties that have the habit of "falling rather suddenly off the perch", and the sorts that drop their fruit just at the moment it is ready that you had better be there to catch lest the slugs "beat you to the feast".
Don't read this section on an empty stomach or you'll begin craving apples (but I seem to crave them in any case). The descriptions she gives some of them are literally mouth watering--the colors, scents and flavors. You know how some people go on wine tasting tours? I would happily go on such a thing as an apple tasting tour, if I found one! I will leave you with a reading suggestion (I plan on getting a copy of this myself!): Edward Bunyard's Anatomy of a Dessert, which was published in 1929 (maybe foodies are already familiar with it?). "He does not tell you how to grow fruit, but gives you a thousand reasons why you should."
"When we think of dessert, our mind’s eye sees cakes, pies, and pastries. Yet the truly creative palate imagines things even more tempting, decadent, and, yes, sinful. So claims Edward Bunyard in this delectable paean to the wonderful fruits of the vine, from apples and apricots to gooseberries and strawberries, from pears to the grapes that give us wine."
That is from the book description. A book not just to borrow but to own, I think! Yum.