Sunday, 3 November 2013

News from the countryside

Just got back from a couple of weeks in north Wales, and what a beautiful place. We spent most of our time hiking up mountains and walking the woods, with the occasional dip in the river. The weather had been kind to us and we even had tow warm sunny days. It was nice to get away for a bit and not we back it’s back to working the land.
It’s been an interesting growing season. It’s been really good for growing and it has only just started turning. So what have we been up to? We’ve been working hard to get our new allotment in order. The site is about 75m2 but we are trying to secure a further 100 or so m2 for next season. Though we started late in the season we were still able to harvest a few crops, namely potatoes, beans, pumpkin, a few tomatoes and lots of perpetual spinach. We started working the plot in late June and most of the plants went in close to the end of July. This site posed a few challenges for us. The soil is heavy clay and thus partly waterlogged and infested with both bindweed and creeping buttercup.
The allotment in the beginning
The first step to prepping the plot was to identify the plants already growing there and where the shaded areas were. Half of the plot is in shade for the last part of the day, which is not ideal but still works. After identifying the plants and shaded areas on the plot we had to examine the soil, which I mentioned was heavy clay. We went away and came up with a simple design for the site which involved tilling, manuring, and mulching. It was hard work digging the site, but I felt it was essential for us to un-compact the soil before we attempted to grow anything. It was hard work but we managed to loosen the soil and remove most of the troublesome weeds. The next step was to find lots of manure which is easy to do here. We managed to secure bags and bags of horse manure from our neighbours and dug that into the plot together with rotted woodchip, grass clippings, and lots of chopped up nettles, all in an attempt to add some organic matter to the soil and aid drainage. We then added a mulch layer of cardboard and topped it all off with some spoilt straw. We got four large raised beds and one smaller wild herb bed.
Drying dandelion flowers for tea
We left the site to settle for four weeks before we started adding seedlings which we started off in the greenhouse. We have also been collecting lots of herbs and drying them out for teas. So far we have had nettles, dandelion leaves and flowers, mint, lemon balm, calendula, elder flower, and camomile.
A selection of herbal teas
One of the most important things I consider when starting a new garden is waste. I try my best to reduce the amount of resources that leave the site. I constructed a twin compost bin in our small garden at home and all of our organic waste is recycled there and turned into high nutritious humus. We harvested our first batch of compost only 10 weeks after building up the pile. From  approx. 1m3 of composting material we managed to harvest three bags of good quality sieved compost (approx. 75lt each bag) and three bags of course mulch. I am very pleased with these results. I am always looking for ways to more efficiently deal with waste and I am hoping to build a humanure composting bin at the allotment when we eventually secure the next half of the site.
Sieving and bagging up compost
We went to visit a small community vegetable growing farm in Norwich a got inspired by the gardeners’ pallet craft. I have been using pallets to build things for sometime but had not branched out pass the odd bird house or path borders. I saw a beautiful pallet chair at the farm and immediately started designing my own in my head. I built one and it was very well received by my other half.

Pallet chair
Pallet bench
I then built a few bookshelves and a small two seater pallet bench. It’s good fun working with pallets, turning what would have been a waste product into something useful. I also use pallets to make borders around the beds at the allotment.
Building bed borders
It has been a great year for apples and here in Norfolk there is no shortage of the lovely juicy fruit. We went out apple picking and collected five sacks. We rented a small apple press and made lots of juice and currently have about 60lt of cider brewing in the garage.
Washing apples
Pressing apples
Bottling apple juice
We’ve got alot of work to do before we get to where we hope to be. We’ve got ourselves a rocket stove and are now working on building a small outdoor kitchen. We are also creating one more growing bed in the garden and installing some woodchip paths around our new home. Lots to do. I am hoping that most of these will be done over the winter months which surprisingly tend to be my most productive time of year. I’ll keep you posted in the progress. 

Friday, 2 August 2013

The dawn of a new era

For two months I have been silent on this blog. It has taken a while (5 years ) but I have finally been taken the plunge and moved out of the big city. I never imagined how liberating it would be, for me, leaving the hustle and bustle of London behind. Living in the country does have it's challenges and short falls, one being waiting over two hours between buses to and from the major towns. I love the pace of life here, but I do sometimes find myself yearning for the hive of activity that is London town.
We, my wife to be and I, have built our new home and have settled in quite comfortably. However I have been braving the two hour train journey down to London to help keep the momentum of the May Project Gardens going. Over the past month I have delivered three workshops, and have made significant headway on the new site (yet to be named). The workshops were very well received with everyone confirming that they leant something both new and interesting, and enjoyed working together with like minded people to create something that would benefit the community for some time to come. Last time I mentioned that we had created two raised beds, since then we have created two more raised vegetable beds, a small flower bed and built a compost bin. 
A polyculture bed (foreground) and
potato bed (background)
Workshop participants getting
ready to make a new bed
Raised bed built during
vegetable growing workshop
Compost bin built during
composting workshop
We were also graced with a visit from a group of young people participating in a programme called The Challenge. This is the second year the May Project is involved with this programme. The plan is to get this group of young people more directly involved with community development initiatives. After a short tour of the May Project Gardens I took the group for a stroll down to the pack to show them the potential of under utilised green spaces in London.
Enjoying the smells and tastes of
The May Project Gardens
Visiting Morden Recreational Ground
Back in the May Project Gardens, two new major development. The new pond is now planted up and the frogs have found their way in and are making themselves right at home. We have also completed the composting toilet and so far so good. No bad odours, no files, no rats, and no one falling in.
The finished Composting toilet 
The throne
We had a month of no rain so most of the plants were slow in their growth and in my absence may of the young seedlings didn't make it through. Never the less the high diversity and interconnections of elements ensured that there is still plenty to harvest. The chards were a welcome addition to salads and stews, as were the garlic and onions. Most of the lettuce bolted due to lack of harvesting. There has also been a substantial harvest of both red and back currents.    
Harvesting Red currants 

There is a lot going on in London but what about here in Norfolk?? Well I've built a raised bed which I have been using as a polyculture bed and we have also built a small herb spiral and a twin compost bin. Plus we have taken on half an allotment.

I have also been doing a fair bit of creative woodworking. So far I have made two box cases, a small desk, and a chair all using shipping pallets. I am currently working on  making a model green house using empty 250ml water bottles.
Building a small bookcase
Pallet chair
It works
I'll leave it there for now. But before I go I just wanted to share this clever poster I stumbled upon recently. 

Friday, 31 May 2013

Leaving a lasting impression

Greetings one and all. Rain, high humidity and the odd spell of sunshine has made it possible for many gardens to be flourishing. In just over a week we will be taking part in the London Parks and Gardens Trusts' annual 'Open Garden Squares Weekend' event. Open Garden Squares Weekend is a magical two-day event, where community gardens and private squares throughout London welcome visitors from around the world. Gardens range from historical private squares to contemporary roof gardens, prisons, barges. This is our second year participating in this event. Last time round the weather wasn't too favourable and as a result visitor numbers were quite low. This year we are hoping that we have built up a good enough profile to encourage visitors from all over London regardless of weather. Though it would be nice if it were dry and sunny this year.
There is alot going on in the garden, as usual for this time of year. One of the most exciting things happening in the garden is the emergence of hundreds of tadpole. I enjoy watching them wriggle about the pond feasting on all those pesky mosquito larvae. Tadpoles, to me, are like the sharks of the pond world. Every now and then a slug or snail gets too close to the pond edge and falls in and drowns. When this happens it sparks a feeding frenzy for the tadpoles.  
All the herbs in the spiral are doing very well apart from the sweet violet which has been continuously vandalised by the slugs. The marjoram and thyme had a bit of a shaky start but quickly pulled through and have now, together with the rosemary, sage, calendula,  lemon balm, mint and watercress, established themselves very well. 
The herbs in the spiral are just getting established however we still have quite a few well matured plants which we harvest from. On the edge of the forest garden we have mints, rosemary, thyme and calendula. and we also have a well established lemon balm bush in the polytunnel. All of which have given us a good crop this season. We have been harvesting and using fresh but have also been hanging some out to dry, for use in the month when the plants are hibernating.
Thyme growing on the edge of 
the Food Forest.     
Hanging lemon balm out to dry.
Harvesting Rosemary on the edge.
We have also been harvesting quite alot of salads both from the polytunnel and the outdoor salad bed. We incorporated some broccoli and garlic into our outdoor salads and use the leaves from both these plants as a salad crop.I find that this is a good way of making use of your broccoli and cabbage plants that go to seed too early. Another crop we have been harvesting is golden chard. This plant is an amazingly hardy one. We planted these over the winter and they made it through to provide us with an early harvest of greens which we eat both raw and cooked in stews and stir frys.
Main beds with golden chard, leeks,
onions, garlic and a few broad beans.
Outdoor salad bed. 
Over the past two season we have been toying with the idea of having a soft fruit cage. Back in 2010 I went up to Scotland and brought back with me three black current cuttings. I buried the 8 inch twigs into a bed in the garden and two years later we got our first bumper crop. This season we have decided to use this space for the soft fruit cage. I took some cuttings from a blackberry bush in the our neighbours garden, some cuttings from a prolific gooseberry bush in Brighton and some raspberry canes I found growing wild on the edge of a golf course not too far from our site. Each has adapted well to their new room in the garden and I predict that by summer 2014 we will be in for a bounty of juicy soft fruits. These together with the fruits from the forest garden will mean that we will never be short of fresh fruits in the spring, summer and autumn and lots of preserve in the winter.

Soft fruits (background). Potato bed (foreground).  
Over the past few weeks we have been hosting a number of Vegetable growing workshops. These are aimed at demonstrating to the local community the possibilities for growing some of your own food in an urban setting. We have been lucky enough to have the support of our local council. We have been given access to some of the public green spaces to develop into community growing sites. So far we have created two raised beds and planted them up with a range of different edible plants.

Back in the garden the fun never stops. Although we have been harvesting and the majority of the main crops are well on their way, we are still sowing seed s and bringing on seedlings for the late season harvest. Inside the polytunnel we have a few seedlings growing in pots and many seeds have just been sown all taking advantage of the extra warmth and protection in the polytunnel.

This season I will be experimenting with a different watering technique. Amongst the tomatoes in the polytunnel I have sunk a few plant pots into the ground. We will be water the plants via filling these pots as opposed to watering the surface of the beds. It is my hope that this will help minimise mildew and other fungal problems in the tunnel resulting from excess moisture. We have also been stocking up on firewood over the past few weeks. One of the highlights this season will be bonfires and BBQ's held in the garden where we hope many of the local residents will grace us with their presence.

Firewood store.
We have been invited to a number of local events this season and this has surely helped us get the word out. We are May Project Gardens and we are here to grow.