Our big dig!

Spring Equinox: The Big Dig!
We had a great time, with over thirty of us enjoying good – but windy! – weather to transform our two organic community  allotments on the Weald from their hibernating state to being ready for Spring.

The Big Dig!

The Big Dig!

Beds were dug, compost added, weeds removed, seeds sown and old wood burned.

Bonfire

Afterwards we relaxed with a BBQ and delicious home-made cakes.
If you missed out, put Sunday 21 June in your diary for our Summer solstice celebration!

Event calendar

Our famous knitted allotment!

Knit One, Plant One

This project, like the real allotment, just grew and grew, but unlike the real one, which is always extremely well disciplined, it got a bit out of hand.

It all started  in 2009 when the ‘Knit a Veg’ stall proved a great success, attracting knitters young and old to try their hand at creating a variety of produce, encouraged by allotment volunteer Helen Hudson, who had previously made a knitted veg window display for Terre à Terre restaurant.  Several group members were keen to form a knitting group to extend their skills, eat cake and have a laugh – rather like Sunday work afternoons on the allotment in fact!  The idea was not only to make something entertaining and good to look at, but something that would demonstrate the variety, productivity and beauty that’s possible on a well thought out allotment. In keeping with the spirit of organic gardening, most of the materials that were used were left overs, donated or found in charity shops.

Project leader and allotment volunteer Helen Hudson describes the project:

The design conforms to the actual layout of the beds, paths, pond, gravel and recreation areas.  We have allowed some artistic licence, but we’ve included as many of the types of veg, fruit, herbs, flowers and trees that are grown there as we could knit in the space. The more permanent plantings are in the positions they really occupy. Other areas have herbs like thyme, sage, rosemary and feverfew, while the long border below the pond has a variety of useful small trees and shrubs of which buddleia is shown.

“In keeping with good organic practice, the contents of the raised beds are rotated each season. We also thought it important to show how flowering plants are used as companion plants and to attract insects for pollinating and pest control, and judging by the size of the knitted bees, butterflies and ladybirds, and the health of the crops, it’s worked!

“We had a lot of fun making it and I learned more about the plants I’ve helped to grow by working out how to knit them. We found ourselves asking questions like ‘How many petals does a cosmos flower have? ‘Exactly what colour is a Turk’s Turban or a courgette flower?’ and ‘What’s the structure of a Brussels sprout plant?

Look out for the knitted allotment near you!

We’re happy to bring the knitted allotment out and about – it’s a real talking point and helps people appreciate the skill in plotting a real allotment too. At 6ft by 4ft, it suits a public space such as a gallery or community centre. It’s designed to be easily removed from a supporting frame, which is in sections to make transportation on a bike possible. If you’re interested, contact us!

What is organic gardening?

You might wonder what exactly organic gardening is, or what we do that’s so different to any other gardener out there. The simple answer is that we don’t use synthetic fertilisers or pesticides on our plants.

But it’s a little more than that. When you garden organically, you think of your plants as part of a whole system within nature, starting in the soil and including the water supply, and ending in people, wildlife and insects. We want to work in harmony with nature and to minimise and continually replenish any resources our gardens consume.

These are the basic principles of organic gardening:

Learn to love your soil

  • Get to know your soil (whether it’s clay or chalk, for example) and its acidity level. This will help you to grow plants that suit the conditions you’ve got
  • Keep your soil covered with plants and mulches  to protect and nurture it
  • Use additional organic fertilisers sparingly – too much can upset the natural balance

Kompost

(Photo courtesy of Nature and more)

Plant – and weed – well

  • Get the best out of plant nutrients (even weeds) by making compost. There are lots of guides on how to do this, and Brighton and Hove City Council will subsidise compost bins too.
  • Switch it up! Move your crops from year to year to give the soil a chance to get back its nutrients – different plants take different things from the soil
  • Think about including a nitrogen fixing ‘green manure crop’ (a crop that covers the ground and chokes out weeds) in your rotation

Create a diverse Ecosystem

  • Being an organic gardener means having to accept a level of pests in the garden, to attract the predators
  • Provide different habitats and shelters for wildlife – piles of leaves, long grass and ponds are great and will attract a variety of friends (and foes…)
  • Grow a range of plants, fruits and vegetables to attract beneficial insects
  • Grow a mixture of crop varieties (ie, not just one type of carrot) and plant ‘friendly’ plants nearby if you can

https://www.flickr.com/photos/132454184@N04/16459913133/

Avoid Pest and diseases – prevention is better than cure

  • You can do this by choosing ‘resistant’ varieties of crops, and also saving seeds from strong and healthy plants to plant again next year
  • Encourage air flow around plants by pruning and correct planting distances – no-one likes a crowd
  • Work out what barriers will defend against (or confuse) your predators. This one is usually best learned by hard-won experience!
  • Only use organically acceptable pesticides as a last resort, as you may kill off beneficial insects too or disrupt the natural ecosystem

Manage water carefully

  • Collect as much rainwater as you can – using this on your garden will help your bills too
  • Water the soil rather than the plant leaves – they’ll take what they need
  • Water in the evening rather than on the heat of the day when it will evaporate more quickly (except tomatoes!).
  • Try to sow or move  plants just before rain is forecast
  • Protect young plants from sun and drying winds… a good soaking once a week is better than a dribble of water every day

Use Untreated Wood

  • Best practice is to grow your own wood. If that’s not an option (it isn’t for many!) then you can buy coppice products from local sustainable sources
  • Recycled wood (including scaffolding boards) should be untreated, and railway sleepers should not have been treated with creosote
  • Linseed oil can be used to preserve wood

What to do with all those nasturtiums…

It’s been such a mild autumn, lots of us have still got nasturtium plants hanging around! If you’re stuck for what to do with them and you like capers, here’s an idea…

Nasturtiums

(Photo courtesy of Inkberry Blue)

Poor Man’s Capers

Soak fresh, nasturtium green seeds  in cold salted water for two days (half a tablespoon of salt to one pint of water).

Drain and soak in cold water for another day, then drain well and put in a glass jar.

Bring (pickling or white wine) vinegar to boiling point and use to cover the seeds. (Probably best to let it cool first!) Close the jar tightly and leave for a couple of days before eating – they’re nicest after about 2 weeks. Store for up to six months.

Variations on the above include adding the following to the vinegar: garlic, celery seeds, lemon zest, pickling spice and peppercorns.