Archive for April, 2007

Early days…

April 24, 2007

I pull in at 10 AM on the dot. Have managed to work out a good back-street cycle route from London Fields up to Allens Gardens – takes just 15 minutes door to door. Ann-Marie (regular Tuesday volunteer) and Ru are already hard at work when I arrive.

Ru drops what he’s doing and we go through the list of jobs for the day – all written in a note book kept in the shed. Natalie rings from HQ to find out how much salad we can harvest this week for the box scheme. Ru promises 18 kgs. Not quite sure how he makes these estimates! I’ll learn…

So, first up is planting – always a priority job on a market garden with weekly harvesting. In this case, it involves preparing a new bed – one that’s only ever had a green manure planting (= legumous plants have been grown here and then dug in). This means the soil is ‘typical London, ’ says Ru – clumps of clay dispersed amongst rocky bits, broken up builders rubble. But I manage to rake it out, add some rock dust and seaweed powder to fortify it and then a couple of bags of leaf mulch to get the quality up a bit. Then in go the lettuces, juicy green seedling plugs. I plant up two in each hole, 4 to a row.

early-lettuces.jpg

This takes all morning. With just one break, in which Ru explains the watering system to me – run by a solar-powered computer system that doesn’t work too well because of the water pressure. Also a cup of fresh nettle tea brought to me by Ann-Marie, which I forget and so gets drunk cold. She’s been down the way, planting spinach. The sun breaks through the clouds on a day that had started off with the threat of rain.

At one we lunch. Ru picks some leaves to add to the lunch we’ve each brought in. More nettle tea flavoured with some sprigs of fresh mint.

The afternoon’s jobs involve digging green manure into a bed that runs almost the length of the entire plot then covering it over with sacking / plastic to allow the leaves to rot into the soil. It’s a grueling job.

Bruce (other apprentice) arrives to get harvesting – starting with the spinach bed. I leave the tough digging work to Farah (who arrived just after lunch) to go pick red-stalked sorrel – most will go in the salad bags but we’re also trialing selling it in separate bags at the stall where the box scheme customers come to collect their weekly veg. Then onto the mint patch to fill a box with sweetly fragrant leaves. Precious arrives to take over and I go back to give Farah a hand. She sighs with relief at the help.

At 3, Ru decides to head off to Springfield with Bruce and leaves me to finish off the jobs at Allens Gardens with the volunteers. I’m sure Farah would have been happy to leave the digging in to another day. But she heroically helped to finish it off and Precious and I scraped up enough sacking / plastic / rusty corrugated iron to cover the length of the bed. Takes longer than I envisage and I only get to Springfield after 5. More on what we get up to there in my next blog…

Weekly stats…
Volunteers: 5 | Potential volunteers: 2 | Visiting friends: 1 | Interested public: 1 family | Dogs: 2 | Fox: 1

(Confession: this is last week’s blog – this week’s will go up in the next next week or so – just getting up to speed!)

I’s an Apprentice!

April 18, 2007

Woo-hoo! I’m an Apprentice! A good old fashioned Apprentice. I started a couple of weeks ago – one day a week – and from the mere 2 days I’ve done as an Apprentice Grower so far, I’ve got a feeling I’m going to be learning a lot over the next six months: this year’s ‘growing season’. And so as not to be selfish with all this new knowledge, I thought I would share some thoughts / observations / lessons with you as I go along.

You see it’s my first blog too. My idea is that as I gain some skills growing food, hopefully my blog will do a bit of blooming too. Bear with me as I learn the ropes.

Now, how to get this tale growing?

First up, I’ll set the scene. For me, centre stage is to be Allens Gardens, just one of the three sites where Growing Communities grows the salad greens for its organic vegetable box scheme. It’s a hidden gem of a place, just north of Church St in Stoke Newington, north east London. Blink and you’d miss the entrance, even if keeping your eye out for it as you cycle slowly by, worried you’re going to be late on your first day… That’s because it’s the old gardens of a block of listed flats, now open to the public. Story goes that its survival as a park only continues because plans for its development were scuppered when it was discovered that the construction vehicles couldn’t fit through the gates – the listed buildings were in the way. Bummer for ‘development’ = victory for local residents. And a godsend for Growing Communities and all the people who get to eat locally grown salad. Allens Gardens is where I will begin and spend most of my days. Here there are loads of beds for growing veg, a smallish greenhouse, a shed for all the tools, a sweet little pond in the ‘wildlife’ area, a section for the all-crucial compost and a classroom.

 allens-gardens1.jpg

At about three in the afternoon I’m to go to Springfield. This is Growing Communities’ main site in Upper Clapton – about a 15 minute bike ride from Allens Gardens. At this site, there are the greenhouses for planting and raising seedlings and plants, a polytunnel, a fair few vegetable beds, and of course a compost area and the obligatory shed. It’s here that all the mixing of salad leaves and packaging gets done. I’ll tell you more about that later – don’t want to give it all away in the very first blog. The third site – which takes the total area of all sites up to a massive half an acre – is in Clissold Park. But I’ve still to get there so won’t make out that I know anything about that yet.

And now the players. Firstly, there’s Ru. He’s the Grower for all the Growing Communities sites. He’s the guy I’ll be apprentice to for the next six months. Then there’s Bruce. He’s an apprentice like me. He works Monday at Springfield, then comes across to Allens Gardens Tuesday afternoon to help with harvesting the crop here before we all head over to Springfields. Then there are a whole heap of volunteers, who, like me, you’ll meet as the months go by. Some just pop in every now and again, others come regularly – a weekly fix of growing fun.

So, these will be the main protagonists of my notes. Of course Growing Communities is made up of more than just the people who grow the food but at this early stage I’m not sure how the others will quite fit in. I hope you’ll check back every now and again to find out…


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