Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Erection at the urb farm!

One of the chickens watching our efforts
Sorry about the naff title but the joke and variations kept us going all morning! All very juvenile - you had to be there really -and thankfully the trainees weren't around at the time. The weather was finally good enough to get out and do some work and we were all excited at the thought of erecting the fruit cage that someone has kindly donated to the farm. In spite of the drizzle we made good progress and now have the uprights in place. It wasn't plain sailing, though. The uprights had mysterious plates attached to them which we finally worked out weren't designed to catch your shins every time you walked past but were meant to rest on the ground to prevent soil falling into the tubes that hold the uprights in place. Once that was sorted out we only had to deal with uneven ground and a sloping site.  We're hoping to get it finished next week and then we can start to move the fruit bushes into it. At the moment one of the chicken runs is in the middle of the cage but they weren't impressed at all by our combined brain power and all the activity going on round them. The next question is whether to leave them in there to clean up after the fruit has been harvested or move their run into the wooded area so that they can start to clear some of that area for us.
Spring and spring cleaning is definitely on the agenda. Sarah and her team have been cleaning out the greenhouse and getting it ready for spring sowings - which is a cheering thought. Sarah said that she'd seen male blackbirds and, unusually, thrushes squaring up to each other - a sure sign that spring is on the way. 

 We're also tidying up the website, so take a look this week at the new veggie box page at www.growingpeopleproject.co.uk We're hoping the new design will make it easier for you to see what's on offer and to order your veggie boxes. All the vegetables are grown locally, of course, cutting down on travel miles and making sure that your food is as fresh as it can be.

If you want more information the person to contact is Adrienne.
Her email addresss is Adrienne.Attorp@mkchristianfoundation.co.uk 

We still haven't sorted out a date for fixing the willow dome, so if you are interested in helping get in touch with Dave at   dave_meara@hotmail.com . If you're interested in volunteering on Tuesdays come along and have a chat. We're usually there from 10.00.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

frozen pipes and new ideas

frozen kale at the farm
It was freezing – literally - at the urban farm this week, fingers, toes and pipes, so sadly no tea! But it wasn’t all bad news. Sarah had bumped into one of last year’s apprentices. He’s working with Chris Bridgeman, landscaping and planting at the Olympic site and is loving it, even though it means leaving MK at some horrendous hour of the morning to get down to East London. It’s really satisfying to have a success story and makes the effort feel worthwhile for staff and volunteers.  One thing that always surprises me about the trainees is that the volunteers turn up (nearly) every week and they never ask us why. I suppose teenagers are generally only focussed on their own lives and we’re just part of their experience. I asked the other volunteers and their answers were quite mixed. One of the team sees it as an opportunity to get some exercise in the fresh air and uses it as a green gym; for another it was the love of growing and the wildlife. Other reasons included putting something back into the community; the sociability; and, for all of us a strong commitment to the principles of the urban farm.
Not everyone is free during the week to volunteer at the farm so we wondered if some of the farm’s supporters would like to get involved in weekend work parties developing specific projects. Over the past few weeks we’ve batted round quite a few ideas, some more long term than others but we have identified two that we’d like to get going in the near future.
building the dome last year
Last year we built a willow dome near the orchard. There’s a mellow feeling inside the dome. Everyone who's visited the site has been attracted to it and all the trainees like it. During last summer’s open day I remember a group taking it over, playing guitar and Northumbrian bagpipes, chatting and singing and just chillin’. The dome suffered badly during the summer's drought and winter's high winds and needs replanting to restore it. It isn’t a lot of work but it would make a big difference to that area.

The other project we’d like to work up is the pond area which is a bit neglected at the moment. There aren’t enough pond plants to keep the water clear and we’ve had an infestation of blanket weed which looks a bit disgusting, especially when the water dries up in summer. We’d really like to fix the pond floor using the traditional canal builders’ method of puddling clay. Once the pond is functioning properly we’ll plant up a bog area and have wild flowers growing in the grass round it – attracting more wild life into the area and creating an attractive area to sit in. 
We haven’t fixed a date for any of this activity yet, but if you would be interested in helping with either of these projects or with any others please email Dave at: dave_meara@hotmail.com and we’ll be in touch.

If you’ve got any ideas for more projects share them with us and other readers. Put a comment at the bottom of this page.  

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Hawthorne and Weeds....

Hawthorne Blossom by Jenny Mackness
May Blossom  Jenny Macness
I was called away for granny duty this week, so didn't make the urban farm. It's ok - I'm a volunteer but I'm beginning to get withdrawal symptoms. One of our more reliable team members told me that he'd spent the morning weeding around a hawthorne tree that's near the path at the edge of the main vegetable growing area. The tree was choked up with quite a range of weeds - couch grass, docks,dandelions and anything else that could get in there. It really isn't the best spot for a tree, but it does add its own beauty to that area and we've all felt we'd rather keep it despite the inconvenience and weeding problem.
Hawthorn is one of our oldest native trees which might explain why we all feel so protective towards it. It also has an interesting folk history. Apart from being closely connected with fairies it was strongly associated with fertility and sexual abandonment . The common name for Hawthorn is the May Tree. Its blossoms appear in time for the May Day celebrations when people and houses were decorated with may blossoms and local processions celebrated the May Queen. Cutting may blossom symbolised the beginning of new life and the onset of the growing season. The maypole is, of course, a phallic symbol and maypole dancing is symbolic of renewed life and sexual union. According to Glennie Kindred it was the custom in some parts of the British Isles for young men to erect a may tree outside the home of their sweetheart - which has all the potential for being extremely embarassing - I suspect size really did matter.... 
I didn't know that another name for the Hawthorn is the "Bread and Cheese Tree" and that you can eat the young leaves and leaf buds. They have a sweet nutty flavour and can be added to salads along with the flower buds. I must remember to try that in May.

If you're interested in becoming a volunteer at the urban farm, come along any Tuesday for a chat. We usually start at 10.00 and break at 12.30 for a free lunch ( one of the volunteers perks) at Foundation House. 

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

rain stops play.....

Slug eggs: urtica 
Rain - and wind - stopped play this Tuesday, the trainees were not due back until Wednesday and it was a good time for Sarah and her team to catch up with paperwork so volunteering day was cancelled.
The heron is back, though and seems to have set up residence in the area. Sarah’s seen it in the pond and on the roof of one of the houses on Windsor Street opposite the farm. ( If anyone can get a photo of it please send it in and we’ll put it on the blog.) 

There is a theory that if there are predatory birds around then the food supply must be plentiful, which in turn suggests that the supporting environmental infrastructure is healthy too. I hope that’s true. I’ve spent a bit of spare time over Christmas reading about slugs. ( I had a bad cold , television was rubbish - what else was there to do?) There are between 24 and 30 different types of slugs and there seem to be as many, if not more approaches to getting rid of them. Slugs do have their role - they clean up by eating decaying vegetation but they seem to be committed adherents to the view that life is a continuous process of decay starting with those healthy young plants that you lovingly nurtured  until they were ready to plant out and moving on to the roots and tubers which you can‘t even see have been attacked until you come to harvest them! 
If you want to take an ecological approach then maintaining a healthy and clean environment seems to be the best way to minimise slug damage. Slugs need cool, shady and damp places to protect them and their eggs from drying out during the day.  If you keep your vegetable plot tidy you reduce the number of places where slugs can hide and places where they can lay their eggs - which is no bad thing if you think that hermaphrodite pairs of slugs lay batches of 30 eggs each and any one individual slug has the potential to produce arond 40,000 eggs. These can hatch out after 10 days if the weather is warm. Young slugs take under a year to mature and can live for a further two or more years, munching and breeding...

Some gardeners recommend creating natural barriers from substances that are likely to irritate slug skin - like coffee grounds, sand, grit etc; others recommend turning the soil over in spring and autumn to expose slugs and their eggs to the elements and predators, but this doesn't fit in with the no dig method practised at the urban farm. We don’t seem to get huge amounts of slug damage, though. This might be because the wood chip paths around the beds create a rough barrier which is enough to deter slugs - why crawl over that when there's the woodland area full of decaying vegetation just waiting to be eaten? Or it could be because of the wide range of natural predators that are around, including the insects, frogs, toads and newts and birds all attracted in by the pond which in turn attracts the heron….

Tuesday normally is volunteering day at the urban farm. If you are interested come along for a chat. We're usually there from 10.00.