We’ve grown a lot in 10 years (excuse the pun) – both in the size and scope of the garden and the amount of produce. A huge amount has happened since that first volunteer day on a chilly November morning in 2009, so this is just a snapshot of the history of what is probably north London’s unique permaculture space.
2009 – The Garden Begins
In the summer of 2009, the Castle commits to transforming the grassy outdoor space around the building into a productive permaculture garden as part of its plan to go zero waste. A garden co-ordinator is appointed to help design and manage this process. The first volunteer day is 1st November 2009, which lays the literal and figurative groundwork for the years to come.
2010 – Growing Fast
The garden is almost an immediate success. Even in its first year it is able to self-sufficiently supply salad leaves to the Café throughout spring and summer!
The team plants vegetables beds and fruit trees, creates an apiary which is soon home to happy bees and installs a Ridan composter and a diverts waste water from the men’s showers for irrigation to help our zero waste policy. We plant 500 native hedge plants donated by theWoodland Trust to encourage local wildlife.
It’s so popular with locals and staff we start a “Grow and Climb” scheme, where customers can tally up volunteering hours in exchange for climbing. Our success hits the headlines when we’re featured on Radio 4 Farming Today.
It was also the start of some of the garden’s favourite traditions, including the annual apple scrumping project in autumn to press and save surplus fruit to create juice.
2011 brings with it more expansion, including planting 18 new trees, a new polytunnel and more hedges and vegetable beds. We added rainwater tanks to help with zero waste irrigation, a wildlife pond, and the bees are doing so well we’re able to make a range of herbal lip and hand balms from the beeswax.
An exciting year for pizza enthusiasts: this was year we installed our cob pizza oven, which has been used to cook delicious wood fired pizzas at Castle garden parties ever since. This came in handy when we took part in Urban Food Week for the first time. Again the Garden is in the news, featuring on BBC Radio London.
Awards: Silver in Capital Growth Grow for Gold awards.
We build the Roundhouse, the woven wooden structure in the garden, out of sustainable techniques. Volunteer trainees are welcome to the garden for the first time – our first trainee, Farook, came back as a staff member four years later and still works at the Castle today! It’s not just adults; this year we also start working with local primary schools and the Prince’s Trust to encourage young people.
Awards: Sustainable City Winner of Sustainable Food, Hackney in Bloom Gold for Best Newcomer and Gold for Best Food Growing
It’s not just our plants, in 2014 our team starts growing too as we take on more staff and volunteers, including taking on trainees. We increase our space too, building our greenhouse out of entirely recycled glass. Would you believe it used to be part of a swimming pool?!
Grants: Urban Food Routes grant enables us to buy a 20-litre apple press and a solar herb drier.
Awards: Sustainable City Winner of Sustainable Food
This is the year our range of garden grown teas fully replaces any externally bought herbal teas in the café. We’re also able to expand the apiary and fully commit to sustainable beekeeping methods, add a full outdoor kitchen to the Roundhouse including a working sink, and collaborate with food waste charity Feedback to turn 800kg of apples that would have gone to waste into fresh apple juice, with proceeds going to charity.
There is one thing we stop doing this year: buying in external compost. From 2015 we produce enough compost to be entirely self-sufficient, which reduces the carbon footprint of the garden significantly.
Polytunnel improvements were the focus this year, which allowed us to create more herb beds than ever before. We take part in Coventry University’s study A Matter of Scale, published at the Oxford Real Farming Conference. We started the Castle Wild, an after-school program for local children aged 7-13 years to help them engage with nature connection, a popular program which is still running today.
In the last two years, the Garden has grown into maturity. All the fruit trees are now yielding the maximum amount of fruit, we are self-sufficiently producing ever-increasing amounts of compost to meet the growing demand, and the apiary is constantly growing as bee swarms over the summer bring new colonies in. With the redevelopment of the outdoor boulders in 2019, we seized the opportunity to create a new row of basketry willow and hazel to encourage wildlife.
Garden 10 Year Anniversary
2019 marks the 10 year anniversary of the Castle's incredible permaculture garden. Built on sustainable permaculture principles, the multi award-winning garden has gone from strength to strength in the last 10 years, and is now responsible for growing produce for the café, including a huge variety of fresh fruits, delicious vegetables and vibrant, unusual salads – much tastier than bland supermarket varieties! – as well as the drinks you've read about here.