Saturday 7 December 2019

Passing three million

Not so dizzy heights
Cathi, blogmeister and young Crumb who parrots the prose
I check my blog statistics from blogger every day. Sad really. Initial pride has dissolved into habit and indeed my figures have been static for several years now. It is useful to see what my readers are reading and I can try and write what might be popular but other than that my numbers do no more than satisfy my ego.
As I now approach a total of three million Cathi insists I recognise the occasion and Peter has thoughtfully suggested we go out for a celebratory meal. Fortunately a few of my friends do read me but it is very few. Isobel still promises to have a first look but she is busy and Jackie will one day get round to asking John to bring up my page. Brenda never reads me and now has the excuse that her macular won’t let her. At least that gives me the opportunity to make loving digs about her or very rarely give vent to her wisdom.

Believe it or not this was the morning of our wedding day
It’s a sort of addiction. I was originally inveigled into it by Cathi and Harry to share my gardening knowledge. Cathi as major domo for York Publishing even knowing I had never written before, set up the blog for me and Harry showed me how to work the apple computer and process the pictures. It had been thirty years since I had used a camera. Harry despaired I would ever achieve fifty readers a day and he laughed at his window when I miss-held the camera.
Apart from any element of self promotion I think there is a dearth of real horticultural knowledge in the vast amount of shallow and sometimes incorrect, amateur, endlessly recycled, gardening literature. I felt I could make a contribution injecting into gardening lore the kind of information we gave our students. There are too many myths I wanted to challenge.

A stumbling start

Harry holds a sparrow hawk
At first I thought my posts ought to be short and concise and carry relatively few pictures. Wrong. It took perhaps my first hundred posts before I strayed into a more relaxed and expansive style. Perhaps too far but Peter Williams assured me that if a post was worth reading there ought to be some meat in it.
My first 74 posts were actually posted by Cathi from my draft ‘Pages’ document. She even, poor girl, placed my selected pictures and put in the captions. (I eventually realised that the dialogue of the captions  and placement of the pictures was so much part of the story)
I of course wanted to get my message about not digging-over over (please excuse the pun). With so many individual strands to the argument not usually tackled in generic articles I wanted to be specific and I started two parallel series - reasons to dig and reasons why not. Only intrepid early readers lasted the course!
People who now come to the blog expecting to find it to be all about not digging are these days surprised to find very little about it. I do still like to throw in sly little bits of propaganda but I don’t really want to too much to repeat myself. It is still all there in the archives!

My blog got off to a great start thanks to Harry’s pictures. He was an amazingly talented photographer and gave me access to all his pictures. Without them I would have never really got going. We were lucky to get some wonderful photographs of a sparrow hawk that Harry had rescued from my garage. It was me that actually clicked the camera as he cradled the defiant bird.
With Cathi’s promotion that post was for me  a very big ‘hit’.  Cathi has always been my secret weapon and she still promotes me all over the place.

The changing blogosphere
Even in the six years since I started, I get the impression that blogs have changed. Apart from the commercially successful blockbusters that have more readers in a day than I have had in a lifetime I get the impression that as far as gardening blogs are concerned there are not so many around. It seems to me that the urgency of modern media and its multi-directional flow gives more success to sharing gardening information. Indeed most successful gardening blogs seem as a requisite be littered with links to Facebook and similar; half a dozen media platforms and more. I am afraid I cannot be bothered to supply a similar service although I must confess in the early days I did trawl Facebook sites promoting myself by making comments related to gardening and nature.
More than half of the wonderful gardening blogs that I once regularly visited are now dead or dormant.
My own reader numbers remain fairly constant and to my surprise vary little with season. No doubt many readers have left me and new ones arise. It is a bit of a dilemma how much I should repeat old information. I suppose like the gardening magazines I endlessly recycle.
One fascination is how my old posts have a life of their own and a few are read regularly and achieve astounding numbers. Some that when published were hardly looked at are now read more in a day than in the first six months!
On the other hand some that were originally popular are now never read at all.

Producing a post

Harry Poole picture of 'Piff'
It would be nice to think they were just dashed off on a whim. Not even close, my posts undergo a period of gestation. Every morning  I get up at about seven, do several kitchen chores, feed and water the bird who then alights on my shoulder. As I write now he is dictating my prose.
Still in my pyjamas I sit at the computer and blog for an hour. A post starts with a germ of an idea. Goodness knows where it comes from. Usually it is the most current bee in my bonnet.

Peter Williams provided the pictures for this popular post
Sometimes the prose flows and the verbiage appears in a couple of  sessions. More often it takes several days to get the first draft.
I allow myself another couple of sessions to assemble the pictures and carry out any editorial chores. Ever so rarely I might then give myself a day off from my obsession. The post then goes into purdah as I take the next post off my desktop. My friend Peter who produces his wonderful articles to a last minute deadline cannot believe I have four posts in stock! Perhaps that is why they are so out of date.

I next edit the new post off the desktop. By now - (on a good day) - a few new ideas have emerged and some of the old ones suddenly seem garbage. It next takes a couple of sessions to cut and paste the prose onto the blog, place the photographs, write the captions re-editing as I go.
With intrepidation I press the button to go public. Will this be the one that eventually destroys my reputation?
It takes an average of ten hours to produce each post. Why on earth do I do it?

My top posts

I was tempted to do my all time ‘top ten’. Unfortunately many  are already reflected in those at the top of the post which records the previous month. I assume many new readers just click there and keep the popularity going.
Instead I shall take samples of the most popular posts in order from the beginning. What I thought blockbusters at the time boast now seem relatively small numbers. They just did not stand the test of time as the thread of self generating publicity weakened. Unless a title brings in new readers from search engine ‘finds’ it fades out of attention.

1. The sparrow hawk came to dinner
Already mentioned today this post has only only been read 5000 times. It seemed so much more at the time. Ironically in contrast the very next post ‘corn marigolds’ has been a sleeper and accumulated 8000
2   Harry Poole pictures.
Harry was a superb photographer. Multi talented he was just as happy changing a washer or building a power station. His pictures were really what got the blog going. This very short post links to several of his very fine pictures. I has only been read 2000 times

3 An ubiquity of sparrows
This was the first real success read 178,802 times
4. Eliminating nettles. This is the first post to achieve many readers because it answers a question that many folk search for. 162,766 readers
5 A congress of corvids
Still in the top ten it is also based on Harry’s pictures 155,000 readers
6. When I wrote about Harry and Cathi’s baby rheas in the first six months it was read 63 times. It suddenly caught on and has accumulated 188,000

7 Po’s Christmas moonshine
All time winner, Po Simpson had sent me his wonderful moon pictures. 333,556 times read. We think that somehow the word ‘moonshine’ has brought in the punters.

8. Mission unaccomplished
It is difficult to know why this record of our holiday in Costa Rica topped the then current top ten for more than a year. 278,923 times read. Now no one reads it. The last reader was eight weeks ago  and was probably me!

9. Longevity in Gardeners
This is the most recent of the more popular posts and has clocked 56,000 in less than a year. I find that these days that ‘general interest’ posts like this do best 

10. Decline in bee populations
I would like to thank everyone who has helped me blog (is it a verb?). Harry and Cathi of course. Harry Kennedy for pictures of Costa Rica and worms. That lovely man Po. Alan Armitage who sends me ‘edits’ from the far north. All readers who comment and contribute their pool of knowledge. Not the spammers who never learn that their intrusions are immediately wiped.
Peter Williams has written for me the very best articles and freely provides superb quality pictures, many ‘on demand’. He is a great person to bounce ideas off, check facts and provide new ideas. The bee post which boasts 55,000 ‘reads’ is a fine example of his help.

Couch grass sprayed in December, pictured in February
11. Can you use Roundup in Winter?
Apart from not digging and soil science, I have several reoccurring themes. Glyphosate is a fundamental part of my gardening which I promote, describe and defend. My most read glyphosate post answers a question that many folk search the net for and brings them to me. 24,068


12. Significance of hybridisation 
I have an intense interest in evolution and hybridisation’s fundamental contribution. I first set out my thoughts three years ago and each new contribution to this series of posts quickly rushes to 5000. This early one has grown to 88,432


  1. Well done Roger, lots of interesting posts. Many thanks for generously sharing your findings. I have taken on boards much of your recommendations.

  2. Congratulations, Roger. Another great post. It is the quality of your blog which brings people back. The time taken is well spent. I have read many blogs but rarely returned to one. In fact, now I think of it, yours is the only one I consistently follow.

    1. Its a testimonial like this that makes it worthwhile Jim

  3. Good for you, I rarely check stats nowadays. I did initially just to see whether I had any visitors at all. I must admit to being a selfish blogger - my blog gives me the impetus to take photos and actually get work done and try new things on the allotment and in the garden. My style is more a diary as i don’t have the depth of knowledge that you have to inspire thought provoking articles. It also is like having pen pals across the globe without the need to write individual letters to them all.

    1. This is much appreciated as you are a blogger I so much admire. I felt I did not have enough 'space' to say more about the contributions of my readers but I can feel a post coming........

  4. Congratulations!
    That is what I like so much about blogging and this platform - everyone can have their own blog and write about they like, be it recipes, gardening, book reviews, crafting, walks and hikes, poems or paintings - the subjects are as varied as the authors behind them.
    I stumbled across your blog when I was looking for something Yorkshire-themed to read, at a time when I was feeling particularly nostalgic about my second home. As I am not a gardener myself (I live in a flat with not even a balcony to plant flowers on), your gardening knowledge is more or less lost on me, but I enjoy the pictures of your own garden and the ones you showed us of other places, such as the old cemetery you looked after.

  5. Blogging has certainly added a new dimension to my life. Thanks for your good wishes

  6. Congrats Roger. Be assured that you 10 times more appealing than me! But seriously, I recognise and value the thought that goes into your posts.

  7. I am just a hobby gardener.

    I discovered your blog a few months ago and have been picking my way through your posts and claim at least 100 of your blog hits!

    It is like an online gardening course, both educational and enjoyable.

    Many thanks.


    1. Many thanks James. You probably know I taught at Askham Bryan College of Agriculture and Horticulture and your compliment is therefore particularly appreciated

  8. Congratulations! Please keep writing, I hear the first 3 million are the hardest. Incidentally, my experience with seasons has been very different, with readership peaking in spring and bottoming out in winter. Thank you for all the links!

    1. Thanks for the good wishes Jason. I do find the words flow more easily with practice.
      I visit your blog throughout the year - but have had difficulties making comments


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