Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Riddles and pots!

rudbekia by brockvicky
It's been a very flowery day today at the farm - potting up and planting and even though the sun wasn't shining it was warm and lovely to be working outdoors. We've had a load of compost delivered and volunteers and trainees took it in turns to riddle out any large pieces to make it suitable for potting - hard work but I consoled myself with the thought that it was helping to firm up my arm muscles - no more dinner ladies arms for me! We spent most of the day working round a big table outside the cabin potting a range of plants including white and red penstemons,rudbekias, lavender,salvia, thyme, lupins, lemon verbena and geraniums and lots more. Apart from the riddling, the work was relaxing, everyone was in good humour and working together like that gave us the chance to have a chat and a bit of banter with the trainees. They worked hard, joined in the chat happily and looked pleased when we praised them! A cliche - but it made it all worthwhile!
penstemon by M. Martin Vicente
Penstemon: M Martin Vicente
Once the plants were potted up we moved them to the large polytunnel to bring them on ready for sale in the early summer. Keep your eyes open for plants and cut flowers in veggie mail or on the farmers' market in the next few months. Later on I took a look at the seeds I'd sown a few weeks ago. They are all coming up, so there'll be a range of veggie plants on sale too!
Mentha aquatica by --Tico--
water mint: Tico
The pond is beginning to fill up with water at last - but no sign of the fish. Maybe the heron has eaten them all or it could be that they are hiding in the mud ? 

One of the volunteers brought in some water mint which we planted on the edge. Apart from being very atttractive with clusters of pink, blue or lilac coloured flowers at the tip of square shaped stems, water mint smells wonderful and attracts butterflies such as the small tortoiseshell and peacock so hopefully we'll be seeing those in the summer. And you can make mint tea from the leaves - though I've never tried it.

So, altogether a very satisfying day!

If you're interested in joining us at the farm. Come along any Tuesday after 10.00 for a chat or email dave_meara@hotmail.com

If you've got any thoughts on this or anything else to do with the urban farm just leave a comment in the box.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Brambles and bees

Bumble-bee visiting a Snowflake by Josef Meixner
Bumblie on a snowdrop: J Meixner
What a change in the weather! All I can say is that I'm glad we were at the urban farm yesterday. It really felt like a spring day, the sun was shining and when we stopped for our midmorning cuppa we saw two bumble bees foraging for nectar from early spring flowers such as lungwort, spring bulbs and willow catkins. The sound of bumble bees is synonymous with summer days, but sadly they are under threat because of the decline in wild flowers in our countryside - over 97% of flower rich meadows have been lost in the UK and in the last 70 years at least two species of bumblies have become extinct.Others have declined dramatically.
The BumblebeeTrust's website gives more information and advice on how to help maintain the numbers of these vital insects.  http://www.bumblebeeconservation.org.uk .

Making a start: Dave Meara
In the morning we started work clearing brambles from the wooded area.Brambles have featured in folk tales throughout the ages. It was thought by some to represent both generosity and others to represent grief. Blackberries were sacred in Pagan religions and were included in dishes made on feast days while Christians thought that when Lucifer was thrown out of heaven he landed in a bramble bush and cursed it and who can forget that Brer Rabbit escaped into the bramble patch when he was caught by Brer Fox!  Blackberries are lovely fruit but they do need to be managed and cultivated effectively to produce good fruit and our brambles have certainly been left to grow wild. It was tough going. The bramble shoots have curled over and the tips have rooted making a woven arched covering but once we'd done a couple of hours we could really see a difference and it inspired us to crack on - that and the thought of pancakes for lunch at Foundation House and a bonfire in the afternoon!

Sarah and the team want to move the chickens into the clearing. As woodland birds they will be quite happy there and it will open up the chicken pooh rich land that they were on for further cultivation. Sarah's also planning to put a series of large bins on the edge of the clearing so that we can make more of our own compost.
Spring must be on its way  and making us more lively - on Sunday a group of us went to the farm to fix the willow dome. We made it last year, but a lot of the willow staves died because of the dry summer. One of the team brought freshly cut willow and we simply pushed the staves into the ground following the same pattern as last year's dome. Hopefully, if we don't go into a prolonged drought this year they will all take,the dome will start to fill out and we'll have a lovely seating area . 

If you're interested in joining us at the farm. Come along any Tuesday after 10.00 for a chat or email dave_meara@hotmail.com

If you've got any thoughts on this or anything else to do with the urban farm just leave a comment in the box.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

enterprise at the farm

two seater with a central table
There's always something different at the urban farm. This week when I got there we had a set of garden furniture in front of the cabin.I thought they'd been donated and was just thinking they'd be rather nice near the pond and the orchard on a sunny summer afternoon, when Sarah told me that they've been made by the trainees on the Christian Foundation's construction project and are being showcased at the farm.
two seater
There are two designs - one has two chairs joined together by a table, the other is a two seater sofa style.I tried them out and they are very sturdy and really comfy.

The photos don't do them justice so if you want to get a good look at them or try them out pop along to the farm any day after 10am. Each item costs £65.00.

Someone has kindly donated a bag of seeds so we spent the morning sowing tomatoes and aubergines.I know quite a lot of people who are nervous about growing from seed and if you don't have much success young plants ready for planting out are a good fallback. Sarah is planning to sell the young plants in the spring at the farmer's markket and through veggie mail.
Dark room for endive by Sandro_Lacarbona
forcing endives: Sandro Lacarbano
The team are also growing endives at Kiln Farm so we went along after lunch to take a look at them. It's not an easy vegetable to grow and needs to be forced in the dark during its final stages - a bit like rhubarb - to get those yellow and white, crisp leaves. They're looking really good so the team should be well pleased with their efforts. They might be ready to harvest soon so keep your eyes open for them!

 It's worth popping round to the workshop at Kiln Farm. The trainees make a big range of itens  - not just the garden furniture. While I was there I picked up a box of briquettes.I've got a French wood burner at home - the sort that was used by concierges to keep the stair well warm.It's a slow burner and can't really cope with big chunks of wood. I've seen the briqettes advertised at the Christian Foundation but I never thought about using them before.The briquettes are made from compressed paper - total recycling-  and burn slowly releasing a gentle heat. I'll try them out over the weekend and let you know next week how they go. Amazing Waste are giving the briqettes away for free to pensioners and for the rest of us are selling them at £4 a box for briquettes and kindling and £4 for a large, post office sized sack of kindling. If you're interested email:  BoxScheme@mkchristianfoundation.co.uk . The briqettes will be ready to collect from Foundation House on Thursday afternoon or they can be delivered to pensioners who live in Wolverton.

If you're interested volunteering at the urban farm come along any Tuesday after 10.00 for a chat or email dave_meara@hotmail.com

If you've got any thoughts on this or anything else to do with the urban farm just leave a comment in the box.

Friday, 10 February 2012

potatoes, polytunnels and greenhouses

Inside our polytunnel : Alan Entwistle 
I'm reading a book at the moment about life as an Anglo Saxon in the year 1,000. One thing that's really surprised me is that there was a "hunger gap" in July when many peasants were seriously short of food. It seems strange when for us the least interesting time of year for food is round about now. But Anglo Saxons were heavily reliant on cereals - wheat, barley and oats - to provide the carbohydrate in their diet. The new crop doesn't come in until August and any stored seeds were well past their best by July. There is a suggestion that many ate mouldy grain which contains the  same chemicals as LSD and has an hallucinogenic effect ...hmmm!

So, thank goodness for potatoes, polytunnels and greenhouses which have provided us with alternative,good food and have helped to extend the growing season either side  of summer., not to mention fridges and freezers!

Experimentation has played a large part in extending our growing knowledge and skills and Sarah and the team were contributing to that this week at the farm. Those of you who've been on the tour at open days will know that we've got a small heated greenhouse on the site and a number of polytunnels. We were donated a large number of seed packets recently and Sarah thought it would be interesting to see if we could get any of them to grow so early in the year. So, huddled away from the cold snow and winter wind we sowed among other things aubergines and tomatoes , just to see what will happen.  It may be that they are reliant on daylight hours rather than temperature, or a mix of both but even if they don't survive  it's very cheering on a cold grey, slushy day to think of bright purple blooms on aubergines and ripening fruit on tomatoes!

In the meantime, if you're interested in experimenting or just growing you can do both as a volunteer at the farm. Come along any Tuesday after 10.00 for a chat or email dave_meara@hotmail.com

If you've got any thoughts on this or anything else to do with the urban farm just leave a comment in the box.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

to dig or not to dig....

 compost waiting to go on the beds
My partner has just taken over a derelict allotment site. We've  worked well together - dug out old shrubs, cleared a load of rubbish, unearthed a few vole nests and have decided to plant potatoes there this spring. That's when our horticultural harmony was interrupted by dischord. He wants to go for the no - dig approach but I'm all for digging. I understand the science of no-dig. Firstly it doesn't do your soil any good to stand on it, even if you then turn it over. Your weight will impact the subsoil well below spade depth.
Secondly, by opening the soil up to the elements you will lose nitrogen into the atmosphere and all those micro-organisms that go to making a healthy soil will be made vulnerable to the weather and thirdly, turned over soil and a bit of daylight is heaven for all those annual weed seeds just waiting for the chance to burst into life and reproduce!
The no-dig method is practised at the urban farm with good results. I can see it working all round me - so why can't I just let go of the spade? I asked Sarah her views on no-dig. Knowing Sarah's horticultural background I wondered if she was as convinced by the method as her predecessor - Heather - who introduced the system to the farm. She is. She thinks it's fantastic, the only way to go. 
No support there, then, but I'm sticking to my guns because I like potatoes - they are a fantastic,versatile but much abused vegetable. We treat them roughly and use them to clear the land and break up the soil but my view is that with a little bit of care we could have a much bigger and healthier crop. The allotment land is impacted clay full of pretty toxic weeds - bramble, nettle, bindweed and dock roots -  pity the poor spud that has to contend with that lot! ... and I did catch a snippet of no-dig guru Charles Dowding  on Gardener's Question Time the other day admitting that he has dug occasionally when the ground is particularly badly infested...hmmm...   So we're having a  potato bed each and we'll see who has the highest yield. I'll let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, you'll be glad to know that you won't spend much time digging if you decide to volunteer at the farm. Come along any Tuesday after 10.00 for a chat or email dave_meara@hotmail.com  

If you've got any thoughts on this or anything else to do with the urban farm just leave a comment in the box.