Friday, 25 November 2011


Well it's that time of year again when the floors are littered with a multitude of colourful leaves. These are the days I like heading into the woods and observing their preparations for the cold months ahead. There's a lot we can learn from just sitting still and putting our five senses to work. Winter is on the way but funny enough the temperature here in south London is still quite mild for this time of year. This is a God send as we can still work outdoors without much discomfort.
We have been recognised as an official Permaculture site and are now one of the Permaculture Associations' LAND demonstration site. We can be very proud of what we have achieved in such a short period of time. For us at May Project Gardens it's all about replenishing the soil and sowing winter veggies. Last week we managed to transplant most of the winter salads (mainly winter lettuce, spinach, and chard), we also got some garlics in and we hope we will have as good a crop, or even better, as we did this past season. As the days grow short we harvest most of our herbs and hang them up to dry in our storage shed.

     Herbs and seeds drying

The majority of the work being done in the garden is in preparation for spring. We've got most of our seeds dried and stored, all the beds have been covered with mulch and early crops have been planted and now awaits the warmish spring air.

  Winter crops (salads, garlics, and chards)

As mentioned in previous posts, we have been making a great deal of compost and since we started making out own compost we have no need to buy from the shops which has allowed us to save quite a bit of money. A very close friend of mine is currently doing a very intensive course on Permaculture and Practical Sustainability in Ireland and has been giving us pointers on being more efficient in the use of compost. Apparently quick compost is mainly bacteria base and much better for trees and shrubs, and compost which takes slightly longer to mature is much better for veg plants. Something else we learnt was that this time of year is not ideal for tree pruning. Reason being that this is the time of year when fungus (mushroom) are at their most active, releasing trillions of spores into the air and these spores are actively seeking out dead or freshly wounded trees to feed on. So late winter/early spring would be the best time to prune fruit trees for example. I also find that using a bit of wax to help seal the pruned tree would help prevent fungal infections.
We have made a lot of compost this year and a lot of it was added to the front garden which is now looking very healthy.

 Front garden

This year has not only been garden work. We held a musical fundraiser on the 11/11/11 at the Tooting Market in south London and it went down really well. Check out the video clip of the event Come We Grow video clip. We are very close to becoming self sufficient in terms of food and are now working on water storage and purification as well as housing and energy. At the moment we are half way with our pallet house build and I will post the process on this blog once it is completed. 

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Autumn Blues

So autumn's here and as the days get shorter and shorter, so does the leaves on the trees become fewer and fewer. We too are preparing for the winter ahead by taking full advantage of the abundance of freely available soil feed, Fallen Leaves. In preparation for winter we have been harvesting and storing as much as we can, and covering the beds with a layer of dead leaves. This mulch will help the soil retain moisture, stay cool and limit weed seed germination. As a bonus the leaves will add nutrients to the soil as they break down, and the worms and soil micro-organisms will work on them as well resulting in lighter, fluffier soil over time.

Dead leaves collection

Once we had harvested most of the crops we then added a one inch layer of crushed up leaves and twigs. The next step was to wet the leaves to speed up the decomposition process. 

   Mulched Forest Garden

Next, we them added a two inch layer of well rotted leaf mould. This will add humus to the soil, retain moisture and protect the soil from erosion.

 Well rotted leaf mould

One other thing we have been doing in preparation for winter is to prepare our compost bins and collect ready compost. In June we made a hot bed composting system and have already reaped the rewards. In just over four months we were able to make some very humus rich soil.

Organic Compost

During the time of harvest there is always a large amount of seeds available. All plants, that I know of, all want  there legacy to go on, some even go to the lengths of producing hundreds of thousands of seeds. With the success we had with the Nantes carrot seeds we have now began collecting and saving as much of our own seeds as we can. This will help us save money and ensure that what we plant in following seasons will do well on our site.

  Seed saving for seed swaps and future planting 

Finally our wild spaces. Our experimental mini wild flower meadow produced great results this season so we will be keeping this welcome addition to the garden. We have cut the site in the hope of giving the flowers a chance to compete with the fast growing grass in the spring.

Cut Meadow

The pond has been teeming with life since its' creation in February. All the plants both in and around the pond have taken well, some more than others, and now frogs and toads are a regular site throughout the entire garden.

  May Pond in September

Sunday, 9 October 2011

You Reap What You Sow

August was a busy month in the garden. We hosted our very first major public event 'Apple Harvest Weekend' and it was a great success. There was lots going on in the garden over the past 60 days. We had a great harvest this season consisting of potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines, carrots, onions, garlics, peppers and corn.
We have been harvesting tomatoes since June and there is still loads and loads of them still being developed on the plants.

Freshly harvested tomatoes

We greatly underestimated the vigorous growth of the varieties of tomatoes we planted this season. The varieties we used were Gardeners Delight and Golden Sunrise. They both did very well and the gardeners delight are exceptionally sweet small cherry tomatoes. We built a small support structure for the tomatoes from bamboo canes and plastic coated steel wire. This worked well for the first two and a half months of harvest but the plants just didn't stop growing/producing, event after the new growth was cut off. Our supports were just over metre high and so we now know that it needs to be a lot higher than that.

   Tomato plants out growing their supports

Despite our bumper tomato crop this season we had a huge problem with mildew on the outdoor tomato crop. Before they had a chance to ripen up they began to go brown and mouldy. 

 Tomatoes being attacked by mildew

However we were able to safe the majority of the fruits and made a lovely batch of green tomato chutney.

  Green Tomato chutney

Another crop that did very well this season were the carrots. These were grown from seeds which we managed to save from the 2010 seasons' carrot harvest. The variety we used was Nantes. The were delicious and kept very well in the ground. We noticed that once they were pulled up they would go soft quite quickly so we would only harvest what we were going to use that day. The problem with that was that the slugs and woodlice also thought they were delicious however the damage caused by these creatures was only superficial. 

 Nantes carrots in August

Aubergines(egg plant) did not do very well last season, the majority of the plants simply flowered and withered before being allowed to bear fruit. This season however we sowed them a bit earlier and kept close eyes on their development throughout the season and we were well rewarded for our efforts.

Some of our aubergines

The growth period of aubergines is very long. It took approx 6 months from seed to harvest, we were lucky to have a polytunnel which helps to protect non native plants against the harsh English weather. Two other heat loving crops we planted inside the polytunnel were peppers and melons. The peppers were a variety called California Wonder and did quite well. And we also had some very potent chilli plants.  
California Wonder

 Scotch Bonnet (chilli peppers) 

We just dug up the last  of the summer potatoes and found a real monster. We had two varieties of potatoes this year Romano and King Edward. The King Edwards seem to be susceptible to blight and so most of them were harvested early.

 King Edward

As you can probably see in the previous picture we also managed to successfully grow sweet corn again this season. We used two varieties, one called Golden Bantam and the other Mini Pop. The mini pop was planted to be used in the making of pop corn and it did not disappoint. The Golden bantam grew well and produced an average of two husks per plant but were not as sweet as we would have likes. 

 Golden Bantam 'not so' sweet corn

Next on the list of veg harvested this season are garlics and onions. Our garlic bulbs were from the supermarket. We simply saved a few good cloves, planted them in the late autumn and eureka we had a good batch of lovely strong flavoured garlics.

Garlics hanging out to dry

We planted two verities of onions and they both did well. We planted some white onions from sets and a red variety from seeds. As expected the ones grown from sets matured quicker than those planted from seeds however the gap between harvest times was only a few weeks.

Onions drying

We had a few varieties of squashes this season and they all fruited. We had the a pumpkin (variety unknown) Sweet Dumpling (squash), Butternut squash, and Festival (squash). Sweet dumplings are very compact plants and as a result did not produce a large number of fruits unlike the butternuts and pumpkins.


Sweet Dumpling 

Butternut Squash

On to the fruits now. In the garden we have strawberries, which have just started producing new fruit (I am as shocked as you are), apples, grapes and melons. The apple harvest, as mentioned in a previous post was overwhelming to say the least, and the grapes were just as productive. 

Sweet and juicy apples

 Picking grapes

 Very sweet white pipped grapes

The melons did surprisingly well, we managed to get five melons from one vine, The variety we used was Sweetheart which has a green skin which turns yellow once ripped and consisting of sweet refreshing yellow flesh.

 Sweetheart Melons

So that's the quick update on the harvest at May Project Gardens. Remember if you would like to learn more about the project and/or share some skills or expertises please don't hesitate to contact us or pop in for a visit during one of our open days. I now leave you with some more pictures of this seasons' harvest.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Apple Harvest Weekend

May Project Gardens apple harvest weekend took place last weekend and was a great success. On the garden site we have a very mature apple tree and she supplies us with a large bounty of fruit during the summer months. This tree is at least 20 years old and it's variety of apple has still not been confirmed. During the three days of the apple harvest weekend we collected about 80kg of apples and got approximately 30lt of juice as a result.
On the Friday we had a visit from two groups of children who loved every bit of the project. We first took them on a tour of the garden site where they saw how a variety of their favourite and not so favourite fruits and vegetables grown. During the tour they learnt about attracting diversity to the garden by creating various ecosystems. One such ecosystem was the May Pond. Identifying the creepy crawlies that make the pond their home was one of the activities we had the youngsters doing on the day and it really sparked  their enthusiasm. 

Learning about wild pond life

 After the tour which takes about 15mins it was time to get juicing. Two weeks before the apple harvest weekend we collected the fallen apples and stored them in the open on a tarpaulin sheet. There is a very interesting property the apple has which causes it to soften once it leaves the tree. This softening process causes the apple to convert it's flesh to sugars and as a result produce sweeter juice once pressed. So we had the apples sitting on the ground for a minimum of two weeks before pressing. 

Washing then select the apples

All the partially rotted fruits were removed from the pile and the remaining were washed and subjected to the crusher. One the weekend we were loaned a traditional apple crusher and press courtesy of Mr. Richard Burns Cheers Wine Making and Brewing. Crushing was the most physically demanding task of the whole juicing process.

   Crushing Apples

With the hardest work out of the way we then had to transfer the crushed material to the press. The press works by extracting the juice from the crushed apples by applying a constant pressure. Another fun fact about apples juicing is that it is not advisable to put the maximum pressure in one go as most of the juice gets trapped in the compressed mass. Instead only add pressure until the juice begins to flow out of the bottom at a steady rate, once this flow stops a bit more pressure is applied until the flow starts up again.

Transferring the crushed apples

Another fun fact about apples juicing is that it is not advisable to put the maximum pressure in one go as most of the juice gets trapped in the compressed mass. Instead only add pressure until the juice begins to flow out of the bottom at a steady rate, once this flow stops a bit more pressure is applied until the flow starts up again.

100% Pure fresh Apple Juice

 The results were amazing. "Tastes......normal" commented one of  the youngsters on trying a glass of the freshly pressed juice, another noted "You can taste the sunshine." While  the juice flowed out of the press visitors were encouraged to sample some of the produce of the project. We had plum and apple jam, blackberry and apple jam, blackberry juice, freshly harvest carrots and tomatoes, dried lemon balm and fresh mints for making teas. 

A selection of the produce grown and made on site

Fun times at May Project Gardens

Saturday brought with it rain and so we had very few visitors so we simple sheltered  under the gazebo and made rope from the leaves of a plant called New Zealand Flax, very strong material which is slow to rot.

New Zealand Flak rope

Sunday the rain clouds shifted and the sun shone once again and with it came more visitors. We had visitors from all corners of London just to share in the experience. With the adults visiting the site, the aim was to inform and inspire. On arrival we gave them a guided tour of the space explaining the concepts and functions of each element. During the tour they would ask questions voice their concerns and problems they were having in their own gardens. 

  Trying the produces

The adults too tried their hands at both crushing and pressing some of the apples and all had a fun with it.

We managed to get quite a bit of juice over the weekend, most of which was drunk on the day of juicing. We also had 17.5lt which we are now turning into apple cider. 
All in all the apple harvest weekend was a huge success. We managed to attract a wide range of individuals, form all across the city of London and raised enough funds to erect a communal structure and complete our  irrigation system. A big thank you to all those who helped make the weekend happen. I now leave you with a few more pictures of the weekend.