Growing Communities' Open Day on Sunday - all three market gardens were open and looking beautiful and highly productive. The sun shone despite the previous evening's forecast of heavy rain all day which had created a slight feeling of gloom for those of us who were due to work! Visitors included joggers at Clissold - who ran in and round the polytunnel, box scheme members keen to see where their salad bags came from, farmers' market customers, people who came to see our eco-classroom at Allens Gardens as part of the Open House weekend and lots and lots of people passing by who wanted to find out more about urban organic growing. It was really nice to have our Urban Apprentices on site - Shelagh and Jack at Springfield and Jo at Clissold as well as actual Patchwork farmers, Ximena at Clissold and Sophie at Allens who could tell people about the reality of running a micro-site. Apart from the key role played by all the growers, including Sara and Pip obviously, it's possible the real star of the day was the yards and yards of green and white bunting which was drapped all over the Clissold site and virtually developed its own fan base...I know there should be a picture of the bunting but I didn't take one, (too in awe??) so here's a lovely picture of Allens Gardens instead with our eco building and its green roof tucked away at the end of the site.
Category 'Urban market gardens':
The power of bunting
Goodbye from Sara - our grower
Sara - our lovely grower is leaving us to go back to Zimbawe - Sara has written a goodbye blog for us:
I’ve known for a while that come the end of the growing season I’d be handing over my gardening belt and heading back to Zimbabwe. Yet despite some time to get used to the idea, it’s no easier to say good-bye, both to the sites I’ve been working these last five years and the rather amazing group of people I’ve worked with.
When I started in 2007, there was the grower, two of us apprentices, and a fairly flexible programme for volunteers. Now as I leave my post as grower, the volunteer programme is still going strong but as well as the grower there’s also an assistant, five Patchwork Farmers and four newly graduated apprentices. In addition to growing a serious amount of food, we’ve really managed to grow a fine team of growers!
With our Clissold site becoming more and more productive (we turned the butterfly tunnel into a polytunnel last year) and the Patchwork Farmers running four microsites as part of the Patchwork Farm, it’s become quite an operation. One which saw us harvesting and then packing over 80kg of mixed salad leaves at the height of the growing season: getting a bag of salad out to every member of the box scheme plus onto the plates of many more people through local restaurants – and we kept this up for 6 weeks running. It’s been hard work to say the least, with the rather large dose of logistics that comes with growing at multiple sites. But the level of cheer and dedication from my fellow growers plus the honest appreciation for the delicious organic leaves we are growing right here in London has been more than enough to buoy me along.
I wish Paul well as he takes up the reins: may your secateurs be sharp, the compost rich, the robin friendly, the slug scarce and let the salad growing continue on.
Sara Davies, November 2011
A seasonal update from our grower
Paul Bradbury is Growing Communities' new grower and we asked him to tell us about what's going on at the sites right now. Given that it's January you might be expecting him to say " not much" but as you'll see below, there's more happening at the Urban Market Gardens than you'd expect. Over to Paul:
"Well, our gardens are resting under their winter fleeces, which I’m happy to say have so far survived the bouts of lashing wind and rain that we have had over the last few days. Storms aside though, the winter has been so mild that everything is still growing. As a result, we are harvesting a few bags of rocket which will be on sale at our Urban Farm Shop at the Old Fire Station next Wednesday. Also at the Farm Shop will be a rare chance to buy some Oca tubers. Also known as New Zealand Yam, Oca actually hails from the Andes and has a lemony flavour reminiscent of wood sorrel to which it is related. For that fresh crunchy taste, the tubers can be eaten raw but they can also be boiled, baked or fried like potatoes. In Mexico, they are traditionally eaten raw with salt, lemon and hot pepper. If all this wets your appetite, then be sure to pick up a bag at our Farm Shop – it may be the only time you see Oca on sale in London.
The downside of the mild temperatures is that aphids are still abroad. They are currently having a bit of a party in the Allens Gardens greenhouse, which I’m doing my best to break it up with my trusty nettle and garlic sprays. I think I’m making headway, although the greenhouse has taken on the aroma of an ancient piece of garlic bread! The gardens will be opening up again to volunteers at the beginning of February – an exciting time when we will begin planning and planting for the new season, so if you fancy coming along and getting involved, it would be great to see you."
What a difference a month makes
Well it’s been a crazy old month. At the beginning of February it was deepest winter, with our hardiest volunteers helping to scrape snow off the salad beds, but by the end of the month, it already seemed like summer and we were reaching for our watering cans. It’s been a confusing time for the plants that we have overwintering, facing first death by frostbite and then death by drought. But one should never underestimate the staying power of the plant kingdom and I’m pleased to say that for the most part our salad leaves have come through this testing time with flying colours.
February is also the month when I order the seeds for spring planting. This year we have 88 varieties of salad leaf going in the ground. We will be planting with the true spirit of explorers charting new territories with exotic oriental greens, colourful beets and multifarious lettuce leaves. In theory our lucky box scheme members could be getting salad bags in which no leaf variety is repeated more than once!
We are very sad to be losing our Assistant Grower, Pip, at the end of March. Over the years that he has been with us, he has turned our Clissold Park site into a place of bountiful beauty. If anyone wants to see polytunnel cultivation at its very best, I recommend making a trip to our Clissold site, which is open on Thursdays. Pip will be leaving us to travel the country visiting various different communities and growing projects and we wish him well.
It’s been a hard job finding a replacement for Pip, but we are very happy to be welcoming Sophie to the job. Sophie began as a volunteer then became an apprentice grower. She co-founded our Castle microsite, which she and Ida have brought to fruition over the past couple of years. I’m sure Sophie is going to be a great addition to the Growing Communities team.
Summer in the Gardens?
Well it’s been a tricky year with this strange weather – moments of breathtaking heat followed by long bouts of rain. The plants have become a little confused at all the extremes. Some bolted during the hot spell and then, because the weather turned for the worst, replacement seedlings took a long time to grow to a harvestable size. Amongst this confusion, it’s been the lettuces that have really shone and amongst them, a lettuce named Catalogna gets my vote for summer crop 2012. It’s a beautiful deep green loose headed lettuce with slightly serrated leaves. It has a great taste and is a prodigious cropper week after week. Only the Springfield squirrels managed to put a dent in Catalogna’s glory by getting under the netting and chewing a third of the bed down to the stump - there was some wailing and gnashing of teeth the day that happened, but as gardeners we must expect this sort of disaster as par for the course (they say it's character building).
Now July is here the frenzied planting out of seedlings has finally come to an end and we are now busy sowing the seeds that will eventually become our overwintering crops. So for those of you who would like to explore the dark arts of seed composts and multisown modules, now is the time to come and volunteer! For all the info on volunteering visit our volunteers page.
Making a Cob Oven with Stoke Newington Secondary School
Today we delivered our first Spring workshop as part of our 'Grow, Cook, Eat' package and it was fantastic!
Pupils from Stoke Newington Secondary School came to our growing site at Clissold Park to learn how to make a Cob Oven with help from James, Sophie and Helen. Check out the photo below of the pupils barefoot on the site compressing down the sand mixture!
More to follow in a few days when they come back to complete the cob oven at Clissold and make our first ever Clissold Cob Oven pizzas - yum!
Workshops will take place this Spring at a range of locations including our Hackney growing sites, our local pick-up points and our Farmers' Market. Contact Fiona at email@example.com for more info.
Thanks to funding from the Ernest Cook Trust we will be delivering the following programme:
- Cob Oven workshops on both our Clissold and Allens' Gardens sites with pupils from Stoke Newington Secondary School
- Farm to Fork Salad workshops with a local primary school at our Springfield site until the end of the Summer Term
- Family activities at our annual Seed Swap event at Springfield on Sunday 5th May
- Organic and Seasonal Cookery workshops with Growing Communities' veg bag produce with a local primary school
- Seasonal Tasters at several of our pick-up points during the month of May
- Cookery workshops for Growing Communities' volunteers
- Herbal Plants workshops for families at our Allens' Gardens site
- Make your Veg Bag go Further workshops for families on our veg box scheme at our Farmers' Market
- Family activities at our weekly Farmers' Market
- Toddler and Parent/Guardian sessions at our Clissold site in June
Making a Cob Oven at Allens' Gardens
We continued with our 'Grow, Cook, Eat' programme today at Allens' Gardens. After Monday's success, we had a second group of Year 9 pupils from Stoke Newington Secondary School visit us at Allens' who started to build a cob oven. The girls looked a bit horrified when we said they would have to build the cob barefoot (the authentic way!)...but they got over it, and got stuck in and by next week we'll have a cob oven to make pizza on:-)
Some pics below...
Herbal Plants for Families
A fantastic day spent at Allens' Gardens, one of Growing Communities' market gardens.
Mihaela and Ida delivered the first of 3 workshops in the garden to families about growing, harvesting and using herbal plants.
Lovely to have children (aged 18 months to 10 years) and grown ups (ages not solicited - ha!) enjoying the garden space together and learning through doing!
The morning started with chat while we drank some fresh tea (mint and lemon balm from the site) and lemon & thyme cake - yum. We talked about what we were going to grow - calendula and chamomile and then we got to work. All hands on deck from children and parents in sieving the compost, washing the pots and sowing the seeds - all the while munching on some sorrel and rocket leaves while we worked!
The hailstones waited until after Ida and Mihaela gave us a tour of the site and we all had some soup (made from produce from the Growing Communities Box Scheme) and we're looking forward to the second workshop when we'll harvest our plants and start thinking about how to make them into a hand salve, ready to use in the home:-)
We'll be sure to report back soon. In the meantime, we're hoping our little calendula seeds (which incidentally look like wiggly worms) and chamomile seeds take well in preparation for our next family workshop next month:-)
Rushmore Primary pupils become Urban Salad Farmers!
We started our first of 10 sessions with Rushmore Primary at our Springfield site. The weather couldn't have been better and the kids had a tour of the site, had some nettle tea (yes, nettle!) and got stuck in with some seed sowing. Paul, our head grower, has very kindly let us take over a whole raised bed on the site to grow salad in and we're going to help the pupils plant up their own raised beds on their school grounds in a couple of weeks' time so that they can grow salad leaves and have a harvest in time for their summer fair as well as sell some of their seedlings at the weekly market at their school.
Growing Communities is delighted to have funding from the Ernest Cook Trust this summer to allow us to be doing this work and helping schools in the area get inspired by our growing sites and start doing some food growing on their own school land!
Stay tuned, as we'll be sure to post more later in the growing season to let you know how they're getting on:-)
Activities for kids at the annual Growing Communities Seed Swap and Plant Sale
The GC Seed Swap / Plant Sale was a great success on Sunday 5th May at our Springfield site. And the weather was absolutely fantastic!!!
We had something for the kids too - seed sowing, nature palettes and identifying & tasting our salad leaves straight from our site...thanks to everyone who dropped by...