Archive for the ‘Growth’ Category

Rip out? Leave in?

September 20, 2009

This is the time of year when you have to make some difficult decisions when you’re growing salad – should you rip out a bed of beautifully producing leaves in order to make way for the new crop that will see you all through the winter? Leave it in much longer than now and the new crop won’t have time to establish itself before the cold sets in.

The red-veined sorrel is one such tough call. We’ve got the corn salad hardening off at Springfield, champing at the bit to get planted, yet the sorrel has really only just come into its own, becoming more vigorous, and beautiful, by the day.

But one has to be ruthless in this salad-growing game – come out, this week, it must.

We’ll leave a couple of rows of the sorrel at the end of the bed of newly planted corn salad, just so we can see how it fares over winter. A small concession, that might, it must be said, have some emotional ties attached…such a pretty leaf…


Growing season a go-go

April 23, 2009

April’s been a whirlwind of a month, as I’m sure all you gardeners out there will agree! Hardly a moment to spare for sharing my growing tales with you all.

Traditionally, when the clocks change at the end of March, we move the harvesting back to a Tuesday from the winter timetable of Wednesday morning, there now being light enough to get it all done before dark. However, this year’s field of applicants being so good, we were a little behind on the selection of our apprentices…a very real indication of the growing interest in the exciting world of urban agriculture. This meant the first week’s harvesting remained on the Wednesday morning. And that week saw Ru and I picking and then packing 260 bags of salad between us. Seriously hard labour, I tell you! The harvests leapt from just 40 bags in the middle of March to over 200 in a matter of weeks! We just managed to get down to the Climate Change camp in central London, where the ‘Farmers’ Markets not Carbon Markets‘ stall had our very own salad leaves on sale…

Selection made, the following week we were joined by, not two as we had intended, but three new apprentices. One apprentice has been allocated to each of our urban market gardens – Allens Gardens, Springfield Park and to my own site at Clissold Park too. I’m very excited that Sophie will be joining me every week over this growing season.

We also had two wonderful visitors from France – doing a three week internship with us. A terrific spike in numbers to get the salad picked and packed.

Over the winter I’ve been deliberating over what element of the sites I’ll bring to you as a regular feature this year…2007 was Leaf of the Week, 2008 I gave you Dressing of the Month. So what’s it going to be for 2009? Well, I’ve finally settled on something…watch this space, it’s coming soon.

Back in the swing…

February 20, 2009

It’s been a crazy old month this February, it really has. I had a sudden and irresistible opportunity to leave this wintry island right at the start of it. So while my poor salad leaves at Clissold Park (and some of you!)  languished in the icy cold, I flew south to Cape Town. There, in amongst visiting family, friends and working, I chanced upon a fantastic food growing project called Soil For Life. They are all about getting people to grow food in their own gardens. (Quite like my own project Get Growing then, which we launched the day after I got back. Yes! It’s been crazy!)

From Cape Town, I went up to Kenya, where I was blessed with the chance to visit a tree nursery and plant one myself in the beautiful red soil. More highlights were the amazing nutrition gardens and seeing an abundant vegetable garden tended by a woman in her 90s. Wonderful advertisement for the healthy goodness of this food-growing work!

Now firmly back in London, my site at Clissold Park is open again. My first week back saw me scraping up all the snow that was still accumulated down the side of the butterfly tunnel.


Tried desperately to resuscitate the poor wee chard plants that hadn’t really had a chance to grow before it got cold. We’ll just have to see if they survive.

And we’ve started harvesting again – a good 40 bags of salad a week are making their way into the Growing Communities veggie bags. If you’re a member of the scheme, hope you get a chance to taste the delicious mix – there’s some wonderful daffodil garlic in there too, if you were wondering what that tasty grassy stuff was…

Don’t forget to check out my own project – our deadline for entries is this Sunday…more on that soon.

As the dark draws in…

October 31, 2008

Now the clocks have changed, our days on the Growing Communities urban market gardens have been shuffled around a little. By 4pm it’s too dark to start packing the salad bags, so we’ve been doing most of the harvesting on Wednesday morning and delivering the salad to the Old Fire Station (Growing Communities HQ) where it’s packed straight into the veggie bags. It was a cold old task this last Wednesday, I tell you, after the snow the night before, but the skies were clear which always makes it good to be outside. It’s just Ru and me packing the salad bags now, as our apprentices finished their stint with us last month. They’re going to be taking on the newest of the Growing Communities sites, the first in our patchwork farm scheme – watch this space!

My Tuesday mornings are still spent down at Clissold Park. Although the leaves are almost done falling from the trees – lots of lovely leaf mould in the making, thanks to volunteer Michael collecting them all up – and our salad leaves are growing at a much slower rate, the site is still looking pretty good. Especially pleasing is the Evening Primrose, which carries on adding its burst of yellow to the autumnal days. If you get the chance, pop the whole flower in your mouth for a delicious nutrient kick…

Summer bounty

July 16, 2008

It’s been a seriously busy couple of months down on my Clissold site. The intermittent rain and sun, although frustrating for summer revelery, has meant there’s lots of lovely growth and I’ve really been battling to get everything done in the few hours a week that I have to spend there.

Part of the crazy-growing-ness is that I am harvesting more salad leaves than ever and this takes up most of my time. From a site that last year was providing a fairly low yield, we are now taking an average of 6 kilos of leaves a week. Feels record-breaking to me! In between the lovely flowers you see here…

flowers all over

…are beds of true bounty – rocket, catalogna lettuce, rainbow chard and, of course, the salsola I introduced you to a few weeks ago. Red orache is also doing particularly well. It seems to love this site more than any of the other Growing Community sites, with delightful self-seeded plants springing up along the pathways. We are letting a couple fully mature so we can collect the seeds later in the year.

In answer to my prayers for help, a couple of volunteers have been coming outside of the regular volunteer day (1st Tuesdays of the month) to give me a hand with the planting. And, of course, to deal with the weeds which all seem to be demanding their right to come forth in droves this time of year. For Becca and Ximena’s time, I am eternally grateful.

Cutting the ribbon…

May 7, 2008

My site at Clissold Park is the oldest of the Growing Communities sites, but today really felt like a ‘cutting the ribbon’ day. We had a great turn out of volunteers (first Tuesdays of the month are Clissold Park days) which meant my usually rather quiet patch was a real hive of activity. We laid porous pipe for the watering system, prepared a bed and planted catalogna lettuce, planted out herbs, dug in green manures, selected a nettle patch and pulled out the rest (more on that soon!), turned the compost and sowed pennyroyal (a creeping mint) by the shed door. We also claimed the long bed by the butterfly tunnel (this is something the Park runs and is well worth a visit now that the butterflies have finally woken up!) which doesn’t have the best soil. We bolstered it up with compost and planted chard – extra seedlings that had no home otherwise.

But the cutting the ribbon moment to which I refer came when we put up the sign at the site’s gate. This has been lovingly crafted by an old school sign-painter. With the sign firmly up, I really feel that the site’s ready to go.

Here are the two apprentices, three volunteers, Ru the grower and that’s me on the far right.

Growing growing growing!

April 18, 2008

Just wanted to give you a little update on what’s been happening at my site…As you might know, if you have been reading this blog, in my new position as assistant grower, I am tasked with looking after the smallest of Growing Communities’ market garden sites. At this site, we have 3 rotations going – two new ones which we have turned over to salad production this year (now that I am on board to give the salad the attention it needs) and one with longer maturing crops such as pumpkins, garlic and chard.

Last week I planted up the first bed with tatsoi ( = a Japanese salad leaf ) and another with wild rocket, both of which I had sown last month. And this week I sowed some salsola soda straight into the earth. This is a bit of an experiment, both the plant itself and sowing straight in – normally we sow seeds into trays at our Springfield site and take them to the various sites when they are ready for planting. But we thought we would give this a try to see what happens…will keep you posted!

Here the beds are covered with mesh. You can just about see the pigeons in the background...

All three beds are covered with fine mesh to keep dem pesky birds from causing damage. One thing about this site is that there are loads and loads of pigeons. We are very close to the deer pens and those opportunistic birds are always around waiting for the Park guys to feed the deer (if you look very closely at the picture, you can just about see them in the background). I’m hoping that the deer feed will hold more of an appeal to the pigeons than our tasty young salad leaves…

Harvested from Clissold this week:
1.5kg rainbow chard – this has been growing over the winter and gave us 6 really beautiful bags of greens with colourful stalks to sell at the farm shop, which is where people pick up their veggie bags.

Ripping it up

July 22, 2007

Bit of an emotional day last Tuesday. Had to rip up the entire bed of oakleaf lettuce that I planted on my very first day as an apprentice. Pulled up, not because it had anything wrong with it – so I guess that’s good – it just came to the end of its cycle for us. That’s the way with growing, I’m learning. No point in getting sentimental about a bed of lettuce. But just look how beautiful it looked before Ann-Marie and I carefully harvested the whole crop…

Green oakleaf

We got a good three boxes of leaves from it and we’d been harvesting loads, generally a box or two each week since we started cropping it – so, all in all, it’s done us well. But the time had come to get a new lot of plants in there so that we can keep getting leaves from the bed in the next part of the growing cycle. All going well, the new lettuce, also a green oakleaf, will start delivering in two to four weeks, depending on the weather. Check out the new bed…

Netted lettuce

…all planted up and under a net to stop the foxes from digging up the clear ground. They seem to have made a habit of finding unprotected soil and digging holes, we have no idea why. A whole bed of cos was trampled last week, so it’s really important to give the beds proection.

The three boxes of oakleaf set the scene for a real bumper crop last week. 23 kgs of salad, which translates to 230 bags of salad for the box scheme and this year’s record harvest. We all felt rather proud.

Weekly stats…
Grower: 1 | Apprentices: 2 | Volunteers: 7 | Support workers: 1 | Dog: 2 | Fox: 0

Harvested from the site…
Salad greens & edible flowers: 23kg | 2 punnets bright purple plums: 700g | Basil: 150g | Thai basil: 60g | Figs: 500g

(apologies for the short and rather late blog this week – I’ve been really busy in my job outside the site and have been mostly away from a computer since Tuesday)

Keeping the slugs at bay…

July 10, 2007

A true day of multi-tasking! The barrow loads of compost to be collected from the pile and sieved for the new bed of amaranth makes for a warm start to the day. The sieving helps to make the compost a good fine medium into which we plant the seedlings. I also help Ru to prune and then train the grape vines up the wall on the wild side of the site. There’s been a lot of growth from these vines and we need to make sure that we train them well so that next year they’ll be strong and hopefully we’ll get some fruit.

Grapes in training

The new shoots are tied to the wire on the wall to help give the vine support.

After all the exercise involved in preparing the compost, I get some rest by sorting out the site’s cloches. Those of you who understand gardening speak will know what cloches are, the rest of you might have wondered what all the cut up plastic bottles are doing scattered round the site. They’re there to protect the new plants from the nasty slugs. And though it sometimes feels like a bit of a hassle, especially with so many new plants to protect each week, when you come back to the site and find a large proportion of last week’s planting chomped by the slimey little fellows, you realise just how vitally important those half bottles can be. We mostly use recycled 2 litre water bottles, cut in half for the job. In the cooler months it’s ok to leave the top of the bottle on, as they act as mini greenhouses for the new plants, however in the summer, when the sun’s shining and hot, you need to cut the tops and the bottoms off the bottle so it acts as a sleeve and prevents moisture from building up too much. We also tie a piece of copper wire around them which acts as a double deterrant – shocks the slug away from its mission to eat the tender leaves. It’s not a totally fail proof system but the number of plants that we save from the slugs makes it worth the effort.

Ann-Marie helping with the cloches

Volunteer Ann-Marie helps make the cloches

Today, even with collecting all the cloches from the plants from round the site that have outgrown them and making up a batch of new ones, we run out. So we make do with another method of slug-protection. This is a mixture of sand and lime which we dribble in a circle around each plant. We add a little bit of seaweed powder which enriches the soil for the new growth at the same time. The only problem with this method is that if it rains, which no doubt it will, the circle gets washed away and you have to reapply it. Sometimes, maybe, you just have to pray to keep the slugs away…

Two methods of slug protection

Two methods of protecting the new plants

The harvest goes particularly well this week. Despite being rained on as I cycled to work, there is a good turnout of volunteers who plough through the day’s tasks…mowing the pathways, netting up some of the fruit trees, planting and harvesting. Ru’s promised Nat at Growing Communities HQ a bumper crop of 21kg and we easily hit our target plus we bag up some extra salad to be sold at the stall. With all the help we get away by 7. I’m worn out but it’s that wonderful tiredness that comes after a productive day.

Weekly stats…
Grower: 1 | Apprentices: 2 | Volunteers: 6 | Ex-volunteers volunteering: 2 | Friends & Visitors: 4 | Support workers: 2 | Dog: 2 | Fox: 0

Harvested from the site…
Salad greens & edible flowers: 21kg | Extra bags: 12 x 100g | 1 punnet summer fruits: 300g | 1 punnet red currants: 250g | Basil: 60g | Thai basil: 30g | Figs: 225g | Plums: 200g

Red Orache update

June 30, 2007

It’s been some time since red orache featured as Leaf of the Week but every week at the site they just get better and better and I wish I hadn’t given them fame quite so early! Really a wonderful feature in the salad beds. I thought I would share this picture with you, just to show you how big and beautiful they have become.

Red Orache grows up