Archive for the ‘urban agriculture’ Category

Farewell my London…

November 10, 2011

I’ve known for a while that come the end of the growing season I’d be handing over my gardening belt and heading back to Zimbabwe. Yet despite the time I’ve had to get used to the idea, it’s no easier to say good-bye, both to the sites I’ve been working these last five years and the rather amazing group of people I’ve worked with.

When I started in 2007, there was the grower, two of us apprentices, and a fairly flexible programme for volunteers. Now as I leave my post as grower, the volunteer programme is still going strong but as well as the grower there’s also an assistant, five Patchwork Farmers and four newly graduated apprentices. In addition to growing a serious amount of food, we’ve really managed to grow a fine team of growers!

With our Clissold site becoming more and more productive (we turned the butterfly tunnel into a polytunnel last year) and the Patchwork Farmers running four microsites as part of the Patchwork Farm, it’s become quite an operation. One which saw us harvesting and then packing over 80kg of mixed salad leaves at the height of the growing season: getting a bag of salad out to every member of the box scheme plus onto the plates of many more people through local restaurants – and we kept this up for 6 weeks running.  It’s been hard work to say the least, with the rather large dose of logistics that comes with growing at multiple sites. But the level of cheer and dedication from my fellow growers plus the honest appreciation for the delicious organic leaves we are growing right here in London has been more than enough to buoy me along. It’s been so great to work with an organisation that is pushing up the amount of food grown and eaten locally, making small but important steps towards an alternative food system.

I wish Paul well as he takes up the reins: may your secateurs be sharp, the compost rich, the robin friendly, the slug scarce and let the salad growing continue on.

Here’s me at our Springfield site, about to make one of my final voyages with the trailer, well loaded with salad after the harvest. Thanks to Amy Scaife for the picture – one of only a few of me on the sites in all my time at Growing Communities.


This grower’s going…

July 20, 2011

Well, I’m heading to Zimbabwe at the end of this growing season and wonder whether any of you reading my blog might be interested in my job. As you’ll know from my last few years of writing on here, I totally love the work that I do with Growing Communities, and so I hope I will have inspired you to have a think about it. It’s proving to be really hard to disentangle my deep roots in London but the pull of family is just too strong and I’m going home.

All the details are here.

The closing date is 5.00pm Friday 19th August and we’ll be interviewing on Thursday 1st September, so get your applications in!

What does this mean for this here blog? I haven’t quite decided but, here or there, I figure I’ll still be a growing apprentice for a long time. So my tales might still be told….

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.

Gearing up for the year ahead

January 19, 2009

I’ve not been at the site these last few weeks, hence the Jerusalem artichokes holding fort for longer than they probably ought…and I’m afraid I’m still not quite back in business. We closed all the sites for the coldest part of the year, happily coinciding with Christmas and New Year (a belated season’s greetings to you!). The leaves just don’t grow enough to make it worth while for us to harvest this time of year – pick a leaf one week and you come back a week later to find the plant exactly the same. So there’s no point our labouring in the cold…

The first volunteer day back at Clissold Park will be the 10th February. Looking forward to pulling out all the lovely clean tools we worked on in the cold days before Christmas.

Shiney clean tools

Clissold tools get an extra good clean. A cold job on an extra cold day – so special thanks to all the volunteers who’s  hands almost froze off in the process.

This year is set to be extra special. The apprentices from last year are taking on a new site and so will bring even more land in Hackney under organic salad production for the Growing Communities veggie box. We should get a new set of apprentices to train up on all things salad-y. And my own food growing project is about to take flight – watch this space around the 9th February…

Awesome yearly yields!

November 12, 2008

I was up at the crack of dawn this morning to get the harvest in from Clissold before heading to Springfield to help Ru with the packing. Sounds dramatic, but with the sun only coming up at around 7, that’s not really too early. I normally harvest on a Tuesday but I couldn’t make it to the site yesterday, hence the dawn rising. The sun shining certainly made it much easier to get up – a glorious day to be outside. Check out these lettuces veiled by the sunlight…

may-king-lettuce in the sunshine

Having not made it down yesterday, after the harvest was done and the bags of salad dropped off at the Fire Station, I went back to Clissold to do some work on the site. We’re fighting a constant battle at the moment with the leaves along the side of the butterfly tunnel – delights of the passing seasons! It’s north facing which doesn’t make for great conditions anyway, and now, the tunnel’s serving as a wonderful slide for the falling leaves. They all gather up in great big heaps over the cloched chard. Last week, with the help of the volunteers, we rigged up some netting and planks and laid that against the side of the tunnel to try to block the leaves’ path…


But…this week, just as many leaves had fallen onto the really wee plants – doesn’t give them much chance to grow. I think I’ve resigned myself to the fact that anything we get from that bed is a bonus – it’s not one of our main growing beds – and next year I just hope that the summer months bring a return on the effort we’ve expended.

All is not in vain though…as you’ll see from the pic, the leaves that fell have been collected up – all into bin bags which now line the side of the shed to rot down. I’ve pierced the bags to get a bit of air circulating – a good aid to their breaking down into something we can use next year – and weighted them down so they don’t fall over.


On another positive note, tonight’s our AGM at the Old Fire Station. Our director Julie is going to be talking about our plans to get folk to replicate our growing model across London and maybe beyond. It’s been a wicked year despite the lack of summer – Clissold was producing an average of 7kg at the height of the growing season and across all our sites yields were the equivalent of 24 tonnes per hectare per year. We’re pretty proud of that. Shows that urban agriculture really can work!