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.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Spring has finally sprung

Spring is finally here. So the cold snap has finally broken. Well sort of. We have had a full two weeks of very sunny weather and the odd day that's been quite warm. Many of the plants are well on there way now. Earlier on this month we hosted a workshop on starting an organic vegetable patch which went really well. During which we created a new grow bed and planted up out some potatoes, sowed some beans, garlic and calendulas, all in the same bed. This was to demonstrate and explain companion planting and the interconnections of plants in nature. It was a damp grey day but everyone braved the weather and got stuck in. The results were amazing and I like to think that everyone took something valuable away with them.

Digging trenches for slow release
nutrient substrate ('horse poop').
Digging in and covering up manure
Covering the bed with mulch ('spoilt straw')
Planting out chitted potatoes
Salad bed
Now that it has warmed up we have been planting out many of our more sensitive summer crops. Our salad bed is now beginning to look very productive with two types of lettuce, chinese mustard (mazuna), spinach, rocket and onions (for their leaves). Behind the salads we have some purple sprouting broccoli, kale and garlic. Late on in the season we hope to have some squash, pumpkins of other vine crops growing up along the fence. We've already had a pretty good harvest of rocket from the polytunnel. The forest garden has also sprung to life with all of the fruit trees and bushes in bloom. We hope to get the first crop from the trees this season. 
The food forest is really filling in quite nicely. Plums apples and pears will make up the canopy, while black, red and white currants will fill out the shrub layer and below them we have nettles, mint, lemon balm and strawberry as ground cover. We also have comfrey, forget-me-not, and calendula to help with adding nutrients, pollinator attraction and pest control.
The young food forest
It's been so cold this spring that it took awhile for our friend who dominate the pond to make their presence felt (or heard). Their croaking can be heard from a long way off and the evidence of their rhythmic songs can clearly be seen in the shallows of the pond.
The May pond in spring
One of the activities we did over the winter months was to prune back the currant bushes. We saved a few cuttings and potted them up. They all seem to have taken and we hope to be filling the green spaces in our community with fruit for all to enjoy. 
Black and red currant cuttings
A very recent addition to the garden is a log shelter. We have built a small gazebo type structure made from large branches of a tree that was felled in the park just down the road from us.
The amazing log shelter. 
With an equally amazing view.
We've also been working on making a new pond which will greet visitors to the site. 
The new pond