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Where have we been?

Our ambition is to tour Can You Dig It? to every county in the UK.

The rules

allotment rules 005

The NEW allotment rules arrived in the post the other day. There has been much debate about them as our local council was proposing to ban bonfires entirely. Thankfully they have agreed to allow plotholders to have bonfires between October 1 and March 31. “Always have a hot, quick fire,” say the accompanying guidelines. “Only burn on your own plot, do not light fires for others.” The rules also make it clear that we cannot “keep any animals, bees or livestock of any kind” without written consent. I hope this does not apply to the one bee that occasionally lives in my bee box.


Caterham carrot

Dan at Surrey

This is Dan and the successful carrot slide whistle he made for BBC Radio Surrey when we went on the station last week to promote our forthcoming show at The Arc in Caterham on Saturday, November 15. Look at the mess he has made on the desk! The carrot slide whistle was a bit of a miracle given the quality of the carrots Dan had to work with. We got them at some kind of corner shop on the way to the radio station and they were very thin and weak – not the fat, sturdy kind of carrots that make the best carrot instruments.

We’re very much looking forward to performing the whole show in Caterham, which reminds me that I must do some urgent repairs to my morris dancing wellies.

Vintage DG


My lovely friend Anna unearthed these early works by gardening God – and friend of the show – Dr DG Hessayon and has very kindly presented them to me. The image on the front of Be Your Own Gardening Expert is how I picture our beloved DG in my head. By the time this edition was published the booklet had already sold a million copies, as the blurb on the cover proudly states. It is very exciting because it comes with a square of soil test paper so you can test your soil and, as you’d expect with a book by DG, is crammed with useful advice. “Correct digging is an art,” he explains.

The other title Be Your Own House Plant Expert has a stark message for would-be indoor gardeners. “House plants are now more popular than ever,” it says. “Millions of them, however, die every year due to failure to follow the simple rules of selection and care.” I am quite keen on the idea of getting both these treasured volumes framed but am torn because that would mean I couldn’t read them.

Wisley wonder


This is a very special carrot recorder, fashioned out of an organic carrot grown at RHS Wisley. Normally we are forced to rely on shop-bought carrots for our carr0t recorder workshops but we were thrilled to be given a crate of rustic veg when we went to RHS London’s Harvest Home event earlier this week. Our antics with Surrey-grown carrots even attracted the attention of local news site GetSurrey. Read all about it here.

hall small

The event itself was a veritable paradise for veg lovers and Dan and I were in awe of the impressive produce on show – onions the size of human heads, carrots as thick as arms and humungous pumpkins that could comfortably house a family of four. Although I have won prizes for my veg, my efforts paled in comparison to the perfection on show. How on earth do you get leeks as clean and straight as these, for example?

leeks small


As well as goggling at the veg, we met lots of splendid gardeners including Cocktail Gardener Lottie Green the woman behind one of my favourite gardens in London right on the roof of the Brunel Museum. All in all it was very inspiring. Maybe one day I will dare to enter some of my allotment produce but I would be a bit scared of the judges, who were very sniffy about these beans and their numerous faults. Eek!

beans small

They know their onions in Stockton-on-Tees

Onion tombola

Look at these beautiful onions! Just some of the impressive produce from the beautiful walled veg garden at Preston Park Museum. Dan and I had a great time performing at the museum’s Harvest Home event on Saturday, which featured many vegetable-related activities. These onions, for example, are not just onions but a thrilling game where you pick an onion and see if you have won a prize. Meanwhile the collection of fruit and veg below is actually a musical instrument. If you squeezed the leek it made an unearthly sound. If you caressed the carrots they also produced haunting notes.

Veg instrument

I think Dan has been trying to make something similar out off melons. However, I doubt it will be as good as this. Note the sprout bottom right. Sprouts! Sprouts! Sprouts! Sprouts!

I had a good old chinwag with the head gardener at Preston Park who has been experimenting with biodynamic gardening and working with the cycles of the moon. He’s had particular success with salad crops such as pak choi, red mustard and mizuna and has inspired me to try growing some new leaves. I don’t know whether I can be bothered to pay too much attention to the moon though.


No dig method

no dig 002

Can I dig it? Yes. Will I dig it? No. I am experimenting with using the No Dig Method on my allotment and have even bought a book by one of the UK’s leading exponents of No Dig – Charles Dowding. I surely can’t be the only person to notice that an anagram of Dowding is Wd no dig. Anyway, here is a picture of Charles showing off all the crops has has harvested by doing no digging.

no dig 003

Apparently, by doing no digging you not only preserve the natural structure of soil but also get less weeds. However, you do have to do lots of hoe-ing and spread much compost so there is work involved. I plan to do exactly what Charles says, starting from next year.

In the meantime Dan and I are limbering up for a couple of exciting harvest festival events. This Saturday (October 4) we will be making carrot recorders and playing songs at the Harvest Home event at Preston Park Museum in Stockton-on-Tees. On Tuesday next week (October 7) we will be popping up at the RHS London Harvest Festival Late event. Do come and see us if you can!

Walk on the wildside


I’d been wondering what to do with my old wellies and here was inspiration courtesy of the London Wetland Centre where all manner of unusual containers, including plastic milk bottles, had been cunningly planted up with herbs. The centre, which is an oasis of reed beds, lakes and lily ponds near Barnes, was founded by Sir Peter Scott, son of Antarctic explorer Captain Scott and a true polymath. As well as being a pioneer in the field of conservation, he was a respected broadcaster, talented painter, got an Olympic medal for sailing and was a champion ice skater. Basically he was an Expert in everything, much like our beloved DG.

Anyway, there is loads for wildlife-lovers to enjoy at the centre and, as you might expect, the place is brimming with birds. They also have the biggest bee box I have ever seen. I have two bee boxes on my allotment yet have only succeeded in attracting one bee. But I bet this deluxe bug hotel is fully booked every night.

bee hotel small

Part of the centre is actually called the “wildside”, which means our tour guide Phil regularly gets to say: “And now…let’s take a walk on the wildside.” He never gets tired of it, apparently. I was building up to an “under the boardwalk” joke (we were on a board walkway over some water at the time) but was distracted by a spectacular Hawaiian goose. Hawaii is, of course, home of the ukulele but was nearly not home to the Hawaiian goose after horrid humans ate them to the verge of extinction.

While fowl, including many other types of geese and ducks, are the main attraction at the centre, I couldn’t help being drawn to the foliage including this lovely piece of planting featuring nasturtiums clambering up a willow obelisk.


However, the highlight of the day had to be meeting this slow worm. According to Phil, slow worms love to wolf down slugs and are a boon to gardeners. Given the chance, I would have popped this delightful creature into my pocket but Phil would not let me near it for fear it would become “agitated”.


Other slug-munchers on show included this fat marsh frog which was minding its own business when a bunch of us invaded its privacy by eye-balling it through a telescope.


And here is a rather good picture of a spider on its web.


During my visit I was tasked with testing out the photographic capabilities of the Samsung Galaxy S5. Like my idol Alan Titchmarsh, who recently announced he was to follow in Dan’s and my footsteps to go into musical comedy, I prefer to spend as much time away from screens and devices as possible but I did my best and once I had worked out how to use the focus function, managed to take some pretty decent photos, as you can see. But the wildlife fun did not stop there. When I got home there was another, much bigger spider lying in wait for me in the hall, which I snapped in all its furry-legged glory.

home spider

I am pleased with this photo. Although less pleased with the fact a giant spider has moved in.


Adventures in carrots

carrot workshop at Green Man

This is me and Dan conducting a carrot recorder-making workshop in a giant domed tent at the Green Man festival in Wales. Almost no children were harmed.

We will be doing more of the same at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford tomorrow (Saturday, September 2) as part of the Pitt Fest Need/Make/Use Day. I have already been to purchase the carrots, raking through the crates in my local supermarket to find 60 of the fattest. The woman on the checkout must have wondered what on earth I was up to when she scanned them all in plus some Peppa Pig plasters (just in case). Here they all are in my wheeled shopping bag.

carrots in wheelie bag 004

Dan says he has another 50 at home so we should be okay. We’re doing 10 workshops in all and, as always, our goal is for every single child to leave with a working carrot recorder and with all their fingers intact. We’ll be doing even MORE carrot recorders at the Royal Horticultural Society London Harvest Festival Late on October 7 plus all our greatest hits from the show.





Green scene

Dan and I are very excited because we’re setting off for Wales and the Green Man Festival this afternoon. You may have heard Dan talking about on BBC Radio 6 Music on Wednesday afternoon.

We’re going to be making carrot recorders and slide whistles at a workshop on Saturday morning. If you can’t make it to the festival then Dan has made a handy video about how to make a carrot recorder at home.

In the afternoon we’ll be doing about an hour of songs (and dances) from the show on the Solar Stage so do come and say ‘hello’.

If you prefer me to Dan, which many people do, then you can also see just me doing some non-vegetable related songs on the same stage a bit later on in the day.

Monstrous cucumbers


I have accidentally grown some monster cucumbers. They were supposed to be small pickling cucumbers but I neglected my plot for a few days only to find they had morphed into glowing green Incredible Culkcumbers – same with the marrow at the back. I will still pickle them but will have to slice them up now.

The big question at the moment is, of course: What can I enter into my local produce show at the end of August? Last year I won first prize for my beans (non-runner) but that’s not going to happen this year as my bean plants have been decimated by slugs. However, I might have a chance with my beetroot, potatoes, courgettes and squash. So desperate am I to beat last year’s haul of awards and certificates that I am even tempted to enter the “plate of blackberries” category as I certainly have loads of those.

I have no idea how Dan’s allotment is doing. I will ask him when we next meet to rehearse for our appearance at the Green Man Festival on August 16th.

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The Daily Telegraph

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Next Shows

6 April 2016
Horniman Museum London SE23 3PQ
11:30, 13:30 & 15:00

Jo Stephenson and Dan Woods are real-life allotment holders and two of the UK's finest comic songwriters.

As well as thinning their lettuces and watering their weeds, they have collaborated on a unique collection of comedy songs about growing your own.

Can You Dig It? is touring the UK.

Read more about the project.

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