Archive for the ‘Volunteers’ Category

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…


Hard labour, farewells and ‘summer’ pumpkins…

August 14, 2007

Harder day today than any other yet. Nine whole wheel-barrow loads of soil to be dug, scraped and shoveled off the former cos-lettuce bed and carted to various piles around the site. Then five loads of compost to be brought to the bed and raked smooth ready for planting. Raised beds normally mean no digging is needed but with the infestation of lettuce-root aphid a couple of weeks ago, Ru deemed it best to take no chances of a repeat attack. So off comes as much soil as we can handle.

A truly exhausting exercise which took three of us all morning to complete. First we used shovels to get the top layer of compost off and into the barrow. Then Nat got out the pickaxe to try to break up the compacted soil beneath. I used the cultivator to try to scrape it up. It’s a strange movement, using this tool, kind of like scratching at the surface. Very tiring, even taking turns with Nat! Meanwhile Ann-Marie was down the way on compost sieving duty, getting it all ready for when we needed it. Then when the compost was on and level, in went the rouge d’hiver, another lettuce Ru’s trialling for the salad bags.

Really can’t complain about the hard work. It wasn’t too bad a day for working up a sweat – cool and with only a threat of rain. The threat became reality at lunch though. Held off until we were all seated down, outside because the smell of garlic in the classroom, the only shelter other than the shed, was totally overbearing. Still soaking for the concoction to treat the soil from those dreaded aphids… My friend pitched up to join us and check out the site, and we had a little leaving party (in the rain and all!) for our volunteer Nat, who’s sadly done her time here and is going back to the States. Ann-Marie stayed on for lunch and we had some cake to commiserate Nat’s departure. Will definitely miss her and her hard-working-always-willing-to-help attitude.

On another sad note, one of the volunteers said today, and I am hoping this is not true, that today was the first day of autumn. Was kind of fitting since we harvested the first of the pumpkins, but summer surely can’t be over??!!

First of the pumpkins

Here the pumpkins sit on the window shelf of the shed, in the sun (when it shines) and out of the rain, ready to eat come Halloween. These pumpkins have been growing on the Wild Side at our Allens Gardens site.

Weekly stats…
Grower: 1 | Apprentices: 1 (Bruce is at Climate Camp) | Volunteers: 8 + one baby in tow | Support workers: 1 | Visitors: a few | Friend: 1 | Dog: 1

Harvested from the site…
Salad greens & edible flowers: 16kg | 3 punnets blackberries: 750g | Basil: 120g| Tomatoes: 8.5kg!! | Figs: 10

Smells like rain…

May 8, 2007

First day of rain today. Though I guess that’s really an overstatement. It actually felt as though the skies were easing me into the idea of rainy days at Allens Gardens – drops of rain, followed by sunshine, warmth, then a cold breeze. Sweater on then off, then on again, sunglasses following suit. It was only at lunch time, when we were legitimately allowed to go indoors that the rain really came down. By the time lunch was done, the sun had come out again. April’s temperamental weather in May? But stop me, I’m jumping ahead a few hours…

Again I arrived on time, to find Ru and Ann-Marie already hard at work. Ann-Marie was digging compost into the bed that I had covered over with Precious a couple of weeks ago and then got onto planting red orache (don’t ask! I’ll explain what that is soon) into half of it – a very long bed, the other half still covered ( = really allowing all the plant matter that we had dug into it, to rot and bulk up the soil’s nutrients). Ru and I walked around the site, looking at the various jobs for the day. Not too much rain since last week so top priority was to give most of the beds a good soaking. That’s a job that ran alongside other chores throughout the day, changing the watering system from bed to bed, half an hour on each.

Next priority is planting. My job is to do half a bed of chard. Planting them out in rows a plank’s width apart ( = about the span of my hand, a very helpful measurement for you! Will measure the plank next time!) so each plant has enough room to grow. First of all you dig a small hole, fill it with water ( = we use water mixed with liquid fertilizer, which we have made by ‘drowning’ weeds pulled up from the plot in a big tank and letting them stew for weeks on end) and then plant the seedlings, which Ru brought over from the Springfield greenhouses. I then covered each one with a cut off plastic bottle – a homemade cloche – with a piece of copper wire wrapped around it to deter the nasty slugs. I planted up 6 viola on the very end of the bed – a sweet little pansy-like edible flower, that attracts ‘good’ bugs and livens up any green salad.

Yaensuk arrived then with Anthony, her husband, in tow. She’s a general support worker at Growing Communities and helps with packing the vegetables for the box scheme. Her husband was volunteering for the day. They got going with the harvesting. 20kgs to be collected.


Yaensuk harvests salad greens while Ru explains to volunteer Ann-Marie how far apart seedlings should be planted.

Other jobs: helped Ru with putting netting up for the soft fruit; weeded out the ground elder on the pathways between the raised beds; watered the patch where the rhubarb had been and covered it with compost ( = acts as a mulch to keep the moisture in, though nothing has been planted there yet). Ru left at 3 to get to Springfield for harvesting taking Yaensuk and Anthony with him.

We had a few more things to finish up in our final hour at Allens – Precious on mint-picking duty, Bruce harvesting spinach leaves as well as sweet flowers for the salad bags…

Flowers for the bags

… and me to complete the watering and pack up all the tools. Then I locked up the classroom and the shed and Bruce and I cycle over to Springfield. Lots of work to do over there, but, though I promised last time to tell you what goes down at Springfield, I think I’ve come to the end of this week’s word quota – you’ll definitely have to come back to find out next week!

Weekly stats…
Grower: 1 | Apprentices: 2 | Volunteers: 4 | Support worker: 1 | Husband: 1 | Dogs: 2

Harvested from the site…
Salad greens & edible flowers: 20kg | Rhubarb: 2.8kg | Asparagus: 630g | Spring garlic: 100 bunches | Mint: 60g

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.


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!)