Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Phew! what a scorcher.... was hot, hot, hot at the urban farm today and we were all suffering and grumbling. It's hard to remember that it's only March and a few weeks ago we were glad to be working in the  warmth of the polytunnels and greenhouse! We were covering the space at the entrance to the farm with a woodchip mulch to suppress the weeds. That area has had a  mixed range of uses - for storage, as personal plots for the trainees and for flowers - and as a result it's always been a bit of a hotchpotch.
Bringing another area into use
with a bark chipping mulch
Sarah plans to bring it into cultivation and the mulch should have done it's job by the Autumn.

The heat and the hard work didn't dismay us, though and Adrienne and one of the trainees had a race off to see who could fill their barrows first and run them to the area we were covering. It was a close match - although I think Adrienne won by a handle.

We'll have squashes growing here
 in the Autumn
I took some time out at tea break to visit the orchard. The trees there are coming into bud and looking very healthy, promising a reasonable crop in the summer. Sarah has been very taken by Charles Dowding's method of growing squash under the trees and the trainees have been laying straw down as a mulch.   

The strings of toad spawn wrap around
 weeds to keep them in the water
I also took a look a the pond to see how the frogspawn is coming on. The gloopy masses are still there -in spite of a duck lurking round - and were throbbing and bubbling with life. Some of the spawn has turned into tiny tadpole - so it looks as if the frog population will be ok this year! The best thing, though, was that we've got toad spawn!!! Toad spawn comes in strings wrapped round weeds. I've seen it before, but not as clearly as it was today. The phot doesn't do it justice...but you can just make out the strings of toad spawn wrapped round the weeds.

I'm away for the next two weeks - so no blogs over that period.Have a good Easter break!

In the meantime if you're interested in joining us at the farm, now that the weather's better come along any Tuesday after 10.00 for a chat or email

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

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

A frog he would.....

Common Frogs Breeding 3 by erikpaterson
common frogs mating:erikpaterson
...and they are..wooing like mad in the pond at the urban farm. I was beginning to worry that the heron had eaten them all, but there's loads of frog spawn and lots of frogs poking their heads out of the water, legs akimbo or jumping around and on each other. They're quite a sight to see!

It takes about three years for our common frogs to become sexually mature. You can generally tell the commonn male frogs from female frogs by size and the females in our pond are huge compared with their paramours, but apparently in some species, males and females are hard to tell apart and the male frogs make a special release call when another male makes a mistake.
Mostly eggs are fertilised outside the female's body.The female releases her eggs and the male releases his sperm at the same time. To make sure that the sperm reach the eggs, the male climbs onto the female's back and clasps his forelegs around her middle - plenty of that going on in the pond today!. Frogs can stay like this for hours or even days depending on how many eggs the female releases - sometimes as few as one but our common frogs can lay anything between 1000 to 4000 eggs at a time.
All frogs' eggs need moisture to develop, and most frogs abandon their eggs once they're fertilized. We're used to seeing the gloopy masses of the common frogspawn floating in ponds, but a few species carry their eggs in their vocal sacs or their abdomens. Others lay eggs in dry areas and keep the eggs moist with water or urine.
Depending on the weather the tadpoles will hatch out in anything from a week to 40 days and will feed on their spawn jelly for the first few days. After that they begin to eat algae.  Spawn and tadpoles have many predators - fish, birds and grass snakes. On average, only 5 out of every 2000 eggs will survive to become adult frogs and I'm sure that heron knows where they are.... I'll be keeping my eyes open in April for tadpoles and also for toad spawn. We saw toads and newts last year - proof that the urban farm pond provides an important habitat for local amphibians!

Compost by nancybeetoo
loverly compost!!:nancybeetoo
It was a  lovely sunny day and the volunteers were busy clearing more space in the wooded area and potting up the seedlings that were sown a few weeks ago. Most of them have germinated and Sarah will have plenty of tomatoes for sale through the veggie mail scheme and on the market stall.

Last week I went on a compost making course at Hackney City Farm. I went expecting to learn how to make compost - but I should have read the details a bit more carefully. Sheffield's Heeley Farm have won lotttery funding promoting compost making. Their plan is to train up 15 or so hubs of accredited compost trainers around England. If Sarah's application is successful we'll be able to run compost making courses at the farm. Any potential rotters out there?

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

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

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

In praise of worms....

Long Lunch by Texas.713
Gulp! Texas.713
A bit of a hasty blog this week - a group of us are going on a composting course at Hackney City Farm on Wednesday so hopefully we'll come back with refreshed memories and new ideas that will help us to combat the rising price of compost by making more of our own for the farm. The no-dig method that we use is quite greedy on compost, so we need as much as we can get. 

Thinking about compost made me realise we don't see many worms at the farm because we don't turn the soil over. I'm sure there must be plenty of them - with all that organic matter around they must love it! Earth worms are essential for good, fertile soil. They help to aerate the soil by tunneling; bring deeper and often nutrient rich soil up into the topsoil; and while they are doing this they secrete a slime that contains nitrogen - vital for healthy plants. They are also an important part of the ecosystem's foodchain - blackbirds love them, so do moles, badgers, foxes, toads.....They can live up to 8 years ( although I don't know how you find out?) but with all those predators their life span is usually quite short. Pollution and pesticides are, of course,also threatening to earth worms - toxins get into the soil and even if they don't kill the worm they can be passed on to their predators, while chemical fertilisers can make the soil too acidic for earth worms to survive. So let's be kind to worms and make sure that there is plenty of soil for them to live in and vegetable matter to eat!    

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Frogs, toads, beetroots and hammers

Sarah had plenty of work for us this week, but as soon as I got the chance I wandered up to the pond this week.

Toad on the road?? by grakki
toads on the road:grakki
One of the volunteers had already told me that he has got masses of frog spawn in the pond at his allotment and the Guardian on Saturday announced that toads are on the move. Frogs are pretty undiscriminating about where they breed, but toads generally return to the ponds where they were born. This can mean that masses of toads cross busy roads heading for the same pond and inevitably their casualties are high. is a charity that is committed to the conservation of amphibians and reptiles - frogs, toads, newts, snakes and lizards - and saving the habitats they depend on.  At this time of year they are responsible for special road signs warning motorists about the toads crossing. Volunteer toad wardens also carry the creatures to safety, and last year gave 73,000 toads safe passage. And in Oxton, Nottinghamshire, one particular road is closed to all traffic in March for the toads to cross safely.

Both frogs and toads eat beetles, bugs and woodlice. Frogs eat a large number of slugs and snails, whereas toads favour ants, so very useful creatures to have around. Sadly, there was no evidence at all at the urban farm. We saw toads and newts last year so we know they are around. Maybe next week? But at least the water mint I planted last week has survived and looks healthy.

We've got two new volunteers - an ex-trainee who's back until he gets paid work (it can't have been that bad first time round!) and a friend of Adrienne's who's just moved into the area. It was great having them, they both got stuck in and helped us to crack on.

A self - selecting group of guys built a new compost bin in the woodland area that we cleared a few weeks ago. The price of compost has shot up and we're hoping that we can make more of our own. There was quite a hullabaloo at one point -  I'm not quite sure what they were up to but it seemd to involve an old beetroot and a hammer...

♪ Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme  ♪ by Jill Clardy
parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
:Jill Clardy

The rest of us spent the day taking root and shoot cuttings to meet an order for 1,500 herb plants that Sarah has secured for the farm. I'm not sure how many we planted today, but we must have nearly made the target!

The birds were singing, ladybirds were waking up and the scent of the herbs and the sun on our backs made us all feel very mellow!  

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

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