Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Clearing the ground

At last. We've eventually found a morning that has been kind to us, and begun to set spade and fork into the soil for 2010.

Sandwiched between last night's snow and this afternoon's showers, we enjoyed a nippy but dry and bright morning. With fork, spade and trowel in hand, Kathy, Gill and ben set to clearing the first of the beds. We also popped a few flower bulbs into the soil; perhaps a little late, but they should hopefully spring up in due course and add some joyful colour to the Spring.

We also met with a new eager grower, Sean, who will be joining us to help out on the allotment. Sean, who has been working with a local volunteering scheme, comes highly recommended as a bit of an expert with a strimmer, so amongst other activities there'll be plenty for him to do when the grass begins to take over our community orchard again. Welcome Sean - we look forward to having you alongside.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Seed Swap

On Saturday, we were at a 'seed swap' organised by our friends at Beeston Transition initiative.

Beeston Transition are a group of local people trying to raise awareness about climate change and peak oil. (Terminology: the concept of 'peak oil' is based on the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline.) The movement aims to help the transition of the local community into one which that is less dependant on oil.

The seed swap event does exactly what is says on the tin. You take your spare and unwanted seeds, or even ones which you've lovingly saved for other people to enjoy, and you swap them for other people's seeds that you need or would like to try out.

Dig In brought home plenty of new varieties to try out back on the plot in Stapleford. Nicola selected some lovely flower seeds to add to the sensory beds and wildlife area, which the bees will enjoy. Ben got some good advice on composting from one of the gardening experts who was in attendance. Mary picked out some more unusual and exotic veg seeds to add interest to our plot (and cookery sessions) later in the year: multi-coloured beetroot, Cherokee beans, and calaloo, to name but a few.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

New Life

Here's the very first seedling of 2010, just shooting out from the compost. It's a melon, in case you're wondering. It was raised under a simple, inexpensive propagator top from Wilko's, placed on a window ledge in a warm room.

Starting early seeds off indoors is a great way to get a head start on the growing season, even when it's too cold and wet outside to think of sowing anything in the soil. Tender plants, such as melons, peppers, and tomatoes can be germinated (ie. started from seed) in trays of compost in the house, with a propagator top which acts like a tiny wee greenhouse. The propagator top is removed once the first shoots appear.

Once the plants are big enough they are usually 'potted on' - that is, transplanted into larger pots to give the roots more space to spread out. Then you can start 'hardening off' by putting them outdoors in spring for increasingly long periods each day until they're finally able to look after themselves out of doors once there's no more danger of a bad frost.

These melons will eventually go into our polytunnel, rather than outdoors. They need the extra warmth provided by the tunnel's protection even in spring and summer. By starting the melons off nice and early, they have plenty of time to grow. They need to be quite big and be producing fruit in good time for the summer, which is when there will be enough heat and sunlight to ripen the fruits. That way we can dare to grow sweet, juicy melons which are not normally associated with our British weather.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Post something on the Blog they how about JOIN US?

So I'll start by saying hello, and this is me on the left (the bigger one of the two) I joined the Dig in team approximately a year ago, I love to get out and grow things, I'd heard about dig in community allotment, and decided I'd like to know more about it and possibly get involved, and so here I am.
Joining the team after becoming 'hooked' instantly on day one is with out a doubt one of the best moves I've made in quite some time, and urge any one with an ounce of curiosity to come and take a look for your self - and absolutely no pressure we promise!
It wasn't very long before I realised Dig In wasn't just about growing a few tomatoes, and runner beans, there are many other things Dig In has to offer, as well as the growing side there is the cooking side, we've had some fantastic cook sessions and there have also been numerous community events, the pumpkin day, apple day, even well dressing, and scarecrow days, local schools are also becoming involved along with a number of other groups also using the Dig In site.
Dig In is helping to spread the word about healthy eating, and how it benefits us showing us how we can grow, cook and eat very well for much less you don't need to be an expert (well, I'm living proof of that!) you can start out using almost anything you have lying around at home, a couple of seeds (you can pick some up at the annual seed swap or later seedlings at the seedling swap) and start growing on your windowsill on an old milk carton! cost: could be nothing! or maybe just a few pence.
The health benefits of becoming much more involved in growing your own food are seemingly endless, and many of these possibly explain why I keep coming back:

  • Physical exercise - A good session of digging is high on the list for burning calories and raising your heart rate. Or if you prefer to potter about, it's still a clear winner over the arm chair and the TV!
  • Emotional well being - reducing stress levels, and producing natural endorphins.
  • Social benefits - Meeting a diverse range of people from equally diverse backgrounds, all with a common interest.
  • Intellectual- Learn something new about gardening, bee keeping, cooking, to mention just a few, or bring something new to the site yourself!
  • General well being - Putting all of the above in to practice and following it through,seeing the results emerging in late spring, following on the harvest in the autumn, planning liaising and communicating on site and in the wider community is not only rewarding in terms of the abundance of produce and what we can do with it, but also in terms of what it produces for the soul, it has an overall 'healing' effect as so many aspects of our well being are being addressed, holistically, unwittingly?..........but certainly quite effortlessly!

Re the Blog, it's looking great! well done everyone, especially to Tracey for getting it up and running!

Cook and eat sessions 2010

Just to let everyone know that plans are afoot for more cook sessions- led by volunteers and supported by the community nutritionists. These sessions will be starting after easter- when the weather is warmer- and take place on site in the last week of the month. Ill circulate a date list when we have more details.The aim is to get a community group working with volunteers on a particular recipe(or two) and then... the best bit... eating together! After the last 2 years of cook sessions, and the wonderful sessions on site last year, I think we are all looking forward to more fantastic healthy recipes using fruit and veg freshly picked from the site. The sessions will be open to anyone to participate. Let me know if you are interested.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Winter colour

The skies over Stapleford may be cold, bleak and laden with snow, but there is still plenty of colour to bring cheer on the Dig In allotment.

OK, so this might be cheating, but the beautifully painted mural on our storage container-cum-tool shed comes into its own when the earth isn't producing much in the way of natural blooms. Those beds in the foreground are just a small part of what the Entry to Employment (E2E) team achieved last year. Great work from those lively young people to transform a patch of bare earth into well-made paths and beds which are just oozing potential. You can expect those beds to be bursting with colour and goodness once we're into the growing season.

Now, here's some more natural colour: Autumn-planted onions shooting above the earth, full of promise for the year ahead. They were planted as 'sets', which are like miniature bulbs and, having rested in the earth through the worst of the cold, are now beginning to put up some lush green growth above the soil. It will still be a while before the bulbs swell into tasty onions but, when they do, the head start they've had will allow us to pick and enjoy them a few weeks earlier than any Spring-sown onions.

And finally, something that's already available to eat. Winter lettuce growing in the shelter of our polytunnel. Amazing, if you associate salads with Summer only. Those frizzy leaves may look delicate, but they've grown through the winter, even when the snow-filled days and frosty nights brought temperatures plummeting inside the tunnel. They're quite hardy and will thrive when other plants won't survive. They'll keep growing back after you cut a few leaves, so long as you let a few leaves and the root behind. They live tough, but taste tender; in fact they really do taste as good as they look.


The Dig In volunteers spent the last two days in meetings.
Yesterday we met with Chris, a researcher who is collecting data for a postgraduate thesis on the role community gardens and allotments in society. Today we met with Lynn, who is helping us put together a bid for Lottery funding to support the project over the next two years.
"Meetings" always sound terribly dull and daunting, but over the two days we learned a lot of interesting things about one another, our personalities, talents, values, motivations, reasons for growing green stuff. It also gave us a chance to step back for a moment and examine our core values and what direction we want for the Dig In project, as well as to see just how much has been achieved in a relatively short time.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Presents on Friday!

I went up to Cool Temperate at Cossall to pick up the order I failed to get for Dig In before Christmas. It was a bit like being a kiddy in a sweetshop (yes I bought myself a Mulberry tree - I admit it, I'm weak...). 

So - anyway the outcome is that we now have 2 different rhubarbs to replace our current geriatric one, 1 blackcurrant and 1 Marjorie's Seedling plum ready to be planted next week, + a jostaberry and a yellow gooseberry which are heeled in, in the soft fruit area, because they came bare-rooted and I was wearing fancy boots that weren't up to a proper planting.

When Marjorie gets going, she could look like this.

The weather was far too nice and sunny just to drop stuff off and run, so we pottered a bit. My son (Apple man!) got as much of the algae out of the pond as he could with a stick, and I re-wove the fedge and the little willow arbour seat by the ladybird city.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

What we did Wednesday 3rd February

We arrived to find the site blanketed by a hard frost: beautiful, but any digging was out of the question.

A walk around the site put us in mind of various jobs that need doing: drag the weed from the pond; renew the wild flowers in the insect zone; identify and label all the plants in the sensory garden once they emerge in Spring.

The winter salads in the polytunnel are looking well, and some of us treated them to a little light weeding whilst the others set our newly-purchased seed potatoes ready for chitting. It will be a couple of months before they go into the soil, but the rows of tubers are a fine reminder of what we can look forward to. Mary chose them from the Nottingham Organic Gardeners' potato day, and she has selected a good range of cultivars.

Kathy and ben counted all the beds on site because we plan to number and label tham all. This will make it easier to reference them and so aid with planning and crop rotation in future. Wow - the site has over fifty beds. What a tribute to everyone who has worked so hard to put the infrastructure in place.
Ben has obtained some scrap wood for the labels, but we are likely to need more in order to complete the task. Let him know if you can contribute anything from this list:

  • wood for labels (about 5" width and 1/2" section is ideal, but larger sizes can be adapted.)

  • wood for pegs (about 1" width and 1/2" section is best, but larger sizes can be adapted)

  • unwanted tins of outdoor or household paint

  • unwanted tins of varnish

It would be good if we could use leftover materials, so check your loft, shed, garage, or wherever else you dump the stuff that you can't bear to throw away.

With little else to do, we retired for coffee, muffins (thanks Nicola), and chat. Discussion centred around a banner for our big events this year, and Nicola obliged with an excellent design. We also finished sorting our stock of seed into date order, ready to be sown at the right time of the forthcoming season.

Our stock of seed looks good, although there are still some that we need to obtain, if we are to grow everything we'd like to this year:

  • borlotto bean

  • cauliflower, Romanesco

  • beetroot, Chioggia Pink

  • tomato, a variety of different cultivars

  • carrot

  • courgette, though not too many

  • sunflower

  • sweet peas, any favourites?

  • shallot sets

  • garlic bulbs

Anyone who is going to this month's Beeston Transition seed swap event can help by looking out for these.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Dig In's Greatest Hits 2009 - Part 2

We had some excellent events last year.

The first one was our Willow Obelisk Weaving Workshop (hard to say, but fun to do!).

Then we had a Scarecrow Festival, with Scarecrows made by Albany Junior School, the 5th Stapleford Cubs and a few by Dig In members. Here are a few of the best ones - you'll guess that the theme was "The Sea"...

Next came our Apple Day, which was pretty busy, and meant that local folk got to taste over 20 different varieties of apple, taste various apple recipes, try their hand at making and drinking apple juice, play games and do crafts with apples and even meet our very own Apple Superheros!

Last, but definitely not least, we had our Pumpkin Festival. This took loads of work, but it was definitely worth it. We had help from the local Transition Group, as well as Dave - the Pumpkin Poet, and Francis - a pumpkin story-teller with many hats! We ran pumpkin carving workshops, pumpkin games, lots of food-tastings, a largest pumpkin competition, a best-carved pumpkin competition and even a pumpkin spa where pumpkin-cremes were used to give the clients younger-looking skin.

Our pumpkin poet starts off proceedings with a specially commissioned poem.

A pumpkin well-dressing

The largest pumpkin on the day.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Dig In's Greatest Hits 2009 - Part 1

 I thought I'd start things off with a flavour of what we've been getting up to at Dig In recently.

2009 was a great year, with some excellent events and lots of activity sessions at the allotment. 

As usual, the AAH Veg group that meets on Wednesday mornings at the allotment did a great job and managed to grow some very interesting and delicious crops, including almost completely filling the polytunnel with vines of a stupendously prolific squash. They've also brought their cooking to the allotment this year, so we had some feasts like this one.

Here's the vine when it was still a baby, before it took over!

The Thursday Group - which meets in the afternoons, also managed quite a few nice crops, including a great pumpkin crop (handy, since we were having a Pumpkin Festival!).
We got very excited when we found our first pumpkin! 
But soon we had loads - and the picture by the car doesn't show any of the larger ones.