I think we all agree that the seasons this year have been somewhat blurred. Snow in May followed by a few Mediterranean weeks in mid-July!
Through these erratic ebbs and flows the Garden Team, as always, worked really hard. Volunteers and visitors likewise were not put off. In fact spring saw some of our youngest workers ever in the garden as we began a new phase of school and community projects.
Marika, a teacher from South Haringey Infant School, had first visited the garden following a scrap sculpture workshop for kids. Inspired she ran her own sculpture workshop in the school, with a little assistance from me and the original artworks. While I was at the school we agreed to extend this informal partnership, opening our garden to the classes as an outdoor learning space.
So in early spring we worked together, to combine school curriculum with hands on garden tasks, for 90 children from 6-7years (in their classes of 30). They experimented with growing, explored the garden for wildlife and habitats and learnt how we recycle food waste and building materials
March saw the first 30 kids arrive in wellington boots and some wool-ied up parents. They were all brilliant even though it was still totally freezing. To keep them as warm as possible we set up our seed sewing station inside and made them run around as much as possible outside while looking for habitats. Whilst outside they had the chance to really dig into compost and soil. Learning with all their senses, especially smell and touch when looking at fresh compost! Against a backdrop of giggles and shrieks they were able to look for and hold the most important animals in the garden…the worms!
Through sympathy (mainly for the parents who didn’t run around as much) the following two sessions, for the other 60 children, were held later in the spring, when the weather was a little more forgiving. The groups worked together over the season to track the growing process. The first groups planted seeds and when the last group arrived the seedlings were big enough to plant outside.
Now the garden has a beautiful line of sun flowers!
Any spare hands were filled with the tools to build an army of ‘scare-slugs’, a miniature version of ‘scare crows’, so that the little seedlings would have some protection through the first, harsh, weeks of their growth.
(However the slugs were too clever even for these stolid stick men and women…meaning that we had to do a little damage repair later in the season)
[Min and Farook looking after the sunflower seedlings]
Continuing on the theme of learning and community, Jack was finally able to run a Friday workshop on Mushroom cultivation in April. When it warmed up enough for the spoors, he was able to talk the group through the process of inoculating silver birch with oyster mushrooms. This is a relatively easy method and empowered people to grow their own fungi at home.
This mini mushroom farm has been left in the dark at the bottom of the garden. Jack has said that mycelial rings can be seen on the ends of the logs, a sign that they are doing well.
So we hope to be eating our own mushrooms in the Autumn!
Our cool spring was livened up with events that brought colour, bonfires and bodies to the garden. The main event was centred on Beltane, or May Day. This seasonal celebration is steeped in traditions and ritual; as such we pricked our fingers weaving hawthorn boughs and toasted our shoes jumping the length of our Beltane bonfire.
Keeping in with the tradition of boughs and bonfires we organised a day of wood work, giving us more than enough fuel for our evening blaze. Everyone spent the day designing and creating scrap furniture; drilling, sawing and sanding their way through scaff planks and old pallets. Under Tom Trimmings’ expert supervision we turn scrap into beauty...sort of.
There was a nice balance of veterans and new-bees at this hands-on day. For some this was the first time they had been into our garden and they thought it was fantastic, especially with benches and decorations popping up everywhere.
This spring has seen a growth in the garden as a teaching and learning environment. From school groups to adults we have set the foundations for future programs, courses and interactive workshops. We hope that people who come and sit at our pallet table and eat their garden harvested lunch, look at our cob oven and feel that they could easily do something similar.
The garden is a visual learning space as well as becoming a hub for people to share their wood working or growing skills with others!
As for harvest, due to the brutally late winter, things began slowly. The team under Ida’s coxing struggled through, from chard to cabbage leaves, until, with some relief things began to wake up: beginning with tones of rhubarb!
Carolyn, in the kitchen, made crumble, "rhubina" rhubarb chutney, and rhubarb ginger jam...whatever she could to deal with the influx.
At this time Farook Bhabha joined us in the garden. He was taken on as Garden Apprentice and has been working and learning with us one day a week ever since. Planting, harvesting, building, maintaining and even helping to teach the kids...he is full of energy and happy to get involved in everything!
Through the labors of our brilliant team of volunteers there were greens for the kitchen in the Spring and even enough extra that some could be bagged up and sold. For the first time Castle customers were able to pick up bags of Rocket, Rainbow chard or Stir Fry Greens (with kale, red mustard leaves, broccoli leaf, 3 cornered leek) grown on site.