Tired of insects and pests damaging your plants?

18th June 2014 by

Tired of insects infestation on your hard grown plants. Well, here are some of the simplest ways it can be tackled. 

  • Always use clean pots properly before repotting or starting a new one.
  • Check on the plants frequently to find signs of insects i.e. slimy fluid on plants means a snail.
  • Isolate insect affected plants from the healthy plants so that it does not spread.
  • Every now and then use a magnifying glass to look for mites.

Another way to protect your plants is with garlic garden spray.

Garlic spray is one of the easiest way of looking after your plants against snails, aphids, cabbage moth, caterpillars and mosquitoes, when it is used with 2 weekly interval success arises promptly and rapidly. Follow this instructions to make the garlic spray.garlic spray

Ingredients:

85 (3oz) (about 3 big knobs) garlic not peeled

6 tablespoons medicinal paraffin oil

1 tablespoon oil-based soup, grated

0.5 L (1 pint ) Hot water

The first step is to roughly chop the garlic, put into the blender with paraffin oil and pulverise. Scrape resulting pulp into a bowl, cover and leave for 48 hours. Stir the grated soup into hot water until melted. Stir soup and water into garlic mixture. When the garlic mixture has cool down, strain into screw-top jars and store in refrigerator. For spraying in the garden or plants, use 2 tablespoon of garlic solution to 2L (4 pints ) water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Delicious Vegan Jollof rice

9th June 2014 by

Farhana joined our Branch Out group at Made in Hackney, where they’ve been learning to cook delicious, vegan, locally sourced, organic food – inspired by food from around the world. Last time they were cooking Vegan Jollof rice – check out the recipe below!

Ingredients

225 grams of long grain brown rice

2 Onions

2 tablespoons coconut oil

2 red peppers

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon chilli powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

4 tablespoons tomato puree

1 pinch pepper

1 tablespoon vegetable stock

1 tin tomatoes

1 cup water

 

Method

The very first step is to wash the rice thoroughly in a sieve with cold water. Then chop the onions into small cubes, chop the peppers into thin slices. Heat the oil in a medium pan and heat over a medium heat. After that add the onions, pepper, pepper flakes and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the cumin, paprika, black pepper and cook for 2 minutes. Add in the vegetable stock and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the tomato puree and ketchup, then add the tinned tomatoes. Fill the empty tomato can with water and add to pan. Bring to a simmer (gentle cook) and stir to get the spices up from the bottom, fold in the rice and bring to a simmer again. Cover pan with tin foil and lid and cook for 20-30 minutes, or until the liquid has absorbed and the rice cooked. Do not stir. Leave to stand for 2 minutes with the lid on. To add something to the side of Jellof rice you can cook plantains or stew, and a mango salad dressing.

Lastly stir and serve

photo 4-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bread!

15th May 2014 by

Did you know that this week is Real Bread week? A time to celebrate slowly fermented bread, made with nutritious flour, that’s good for you, and good for the planet! We hope you’re doing something to celebrate – whether you’re baking bread, eating it, or sharing it here are a few ideas of things you could do:

Okay, so it sounds like a good idea, but how do I make it? And doesn’t it take a really long time? Well, yes and no. As sandwichyou might have seen on the other links, sourdough needs time – it’s a fundamental ingredient, and time will hugely improve yeasted bread too. But the good thing is, you don’t have to be there all the time. I make sourdough bread every week, lots of it and I definitely end up spending a lot longer washing up, and clearing up a fine coating of flour across half the kitchen than tending to the loaves… (every time I promise myself I’ll be a bit tidier next time).

  • If you want a good place to start why not try Do Sourdough – a little book helping you fit real bread making into busy lives! Last night I went to the book launch and was also treated to a fascinating talk about bread and its making from Andrew Whitley of Bread Matters, as well as some delicious bread and beer. Thank you!
  • Spread sourdough - join the Bread Matters Fungal Network! (I’ve got some sourdough if anyone wants some!)
  • Make your loaves more sustainable. Choose flour that’s organic, and as locally sourced as possible. Why not bake lots of bread at once to minimise oven usage, or bake with friends? In Germany there are some really cool, old baking houses, traditionally fired up on certain days where all the village can take their bread to bake.
  • If you don’t want to bake, it doesn’t mean you can’t have real bread: you can still eat good quality, healthy, and more sustainable loaves. The Real Bread Campaign have a Real Bread finder! Yum!

Enjoy!

Alumni Spotlight: Harley

14th March 2014 by

Everyone who goes on a cycle tour, joins our green jobs training programme, or comes to us for support to set up their own project becomes part of our alumni network. We send them weekly updates, filled with  green, world-changing jobs, interesting volunteering opportunities and events, a bit of Otesha news, and something to make them smile! Basically, we like to keep in touch, find out what they’re up to and support them however we can. Here’s a little spotlight on one of our wonderful alumni!

1. Which Otesha tour did you go on?

Tastetastic 2012 – Scotlaaaand!

2. What were you100_5861r tour highs and lows?

Highs - Too many to mention but I really loved our time at Broomhill community garden in Burntisland with Elly and the founders of Fife Diet. Our first day working out in the sunshine and meeting some very dedicated and inspiring people.

Lows - Having to jump on a train on our first proper day cycling… my knee was not up for it and I was worried that was me done for the tour I’d been so excited about. (With a couple of days rest it was fine and I lived to tell the tale!)

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3. Briefly, what have you been up to since the tour?

After the tour I moved back to Newcastle and have been living up there until very recently. Living with an incredible bunch, cooking and eating tonnes of big communal veggie delights. Enjoying the beaut that is Northumberland, cycling, learning lots about growing veg, taking kids on farm tours and making them taste new things! Getting dirty growing and selling tasty veggies, dancing, adventuring and planning exciting things for the future!

4. Tell us a bit more about Food Nation…

For the past year I’ve been working on a number of projects for an organisation called Food Nation. They are a social enterprise based in the East End of Newcastle that aim to inspire people about good food. This varies from cookery classes for all ages/abilities, outreach at a number of schools, community centres, universities and events. They also have an allotment where they run a few programmes for local schools to visit and engage with gardening, food growing, cooking and tasting! They are also linked to Food Newcastle which has been set up to improve some of the food systems in Newcastle by setting up a Food Charter – read more here. It’s been a pleasure to work on such a range of food related initiatives with them and I recommend checking them out!

SONY DSC5. What impact has the Otesha tour had on you?

I was lucky enough to get onto the tour just after graduating and I think Otesha has given me a fundamental backbone of inspiration, knowledge and positivity. Learning so much more about FOOD and confirming my desire to GET INVOLVED. Falling in love with cycling. Friends! (I met the most brilliant of humans!) Feeling part of a powerful network of individuals from all over the world. Despite not living in London I have still felt supported by Otesha and looking forward to getting more involved when in London. It’s confirmed my view that by creating an enthusiastic and inspiring example (by DOing), others will feel encouraged to join in and get involved themselves. Also, by educating people with a fun and playful approach, it can be a much more influential way of changing the habits of individuals.…… I am also a lot less scared of standing in front of a class of children which has come in handy!

6. Are you still involved with Otesha and how?100_5617

Only a fan from afar but hopefully this will change now I’m a little closer!

7. What advice would you give to new tour members?

Don’t bother with those ‘waterproof’ socks… They don’t really work.

Just get ready to have a wonderfully fun and productive time, meet glorious people and learn loads!

8. Describe your Otesha experience in 3 words, a picture, or an action?

GO! GO! GO!

Greenwash Monsters?

16th January 2014 by

I’m not quite sure why the title got ‘monsters’ in it – it was the first thing that popped into my head, and it stuck. Monsters aside, I read some things about supermarket waste practices today and I thought I’d share some thoughts…

So what’s been happening? One recent announcement is that Co-op supermarket are replacing their plastic carrier bags with compostable ones. Well, that’s a great start for reducing plastic in landfills – but only if you don’t look at what goes inside the shiny new compostable carrier bag. I very rarely go into supermarkets – I’m opposed to them for a variety of ethical reasons (this is not the place to get into a debate about all things supermarket related – you can have a look at www.tescopoly.org for more info). Anyway, one of the problems with supermarkets is that they end up with a monopoly and sometimes there are no alternatives. Recently I was in a small town, needing food and there was nothing else available. I tried to buy vegetables, but everything was plastered in plastic – the only loose vegetables I saw were some anemic-looking out-of-season tomatoes – tasty! A lot of the plastic was the thin sort which most councils don’t recycle either. This is only the waste that we see and deal with as customers. How much is hidden by press-releases about small changes? Some tiny percentage of supermarket waste is now compostable – but how much is this worth, when a far higher volume of waste inside the carrier bag still gets sent to landfill/sea/other countries?

A number of other UK supermarkets have apparently made a partnership with Coca-Cola encouraging customers to pledge to recycle. The argument here is sort of the same, brands and supermarkets shift responsibility to you, the consumer, instead of looking at how they package items and taking responsibility. Apparently last year 37,000 people spun this wheel and pledged to recycle. 37,000 more people recycling may be a good thing – but I’ve got some questions.

First, why would anyone want to spin a wheel on a website to see which material they should pledge to recycle? Maybe I’m missing something, but I think there are more fun things to do. I’ve spun it three times now, and it’s not getting more interesting. Wheel-spinning hasn’t cropped up in much I’ve read about behaviour change either.

Second, if you make a pledge, you get yourself some free Coca-Cola merch in the form of a fridge magnet. What’s the idea? You go to the fridge, think “oh Coca-Cola is so delicious”, and then “I don’t even need to recycle the bottle once I’m done because I only pledged to recycle metal…”

Third, why does it only encourage you to recycle one set of materials, when a lot of councils collect them all together?

Fourth, there’s a link to find out more about how they recycle, but it doesn’t work. (That was even less of a question than the other points – I’d better hope Gove isn’t reading this!)

Fifth, what do I do with all the things I’ve bought I can’t recycle? Why is there so much packaging in the first place and why are you making it my fault? If supermarkets and other companies didn’t put so much packaging on everything, it wouldn’t be there to go to landfill, recycle, repurpose, or for me to complain about!

And finally, my question to all of you. Is it good, or is it greenwash? Are these businesses making real change, or are they hiding unsustainable business practice behind the celebration of minor changes and shifting responsibility to the consumer?

If you think shops should stop creating waste, perhaps you could take your custom elsewhere (if you’re still fortunate enough to have that option), or go and tell them what you think!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inspiring Projects to make your own

7th November 2013 by

http://mariashriver.com/blog/2013/08/powered-by-inspiration-maria-shriver/Here at Otesha we’re always on the lookout for inspiration.  No doubt, there are hundreds of thousands of people, organisations, projects, and places that do the trick.  Recently we came across Revolutionary Arts and their list of 50 inspiring projects.  We like what they have to say: Revolutionary Arts is dedicated to new ideas, fresh challenges and radical thinking. It makes things for places and people.

Looking over the list below, I’d say it’s all about finding those precious moments/ideas/thoughts/people and celebrating the way they ‘inspire you to bring playfulness, pride, pop up fun, placeshaking and productivity to the place where you live‘.

Stay tuned as sources say there’s another list of 50 coming.  We can’t wait!

  1. Open a pop up bookshop
  2. Make some robots
  3. Plant more sunflowers
  4. Start a shop local campaign
  5. Walk to work
  6. Create an indoor charity market
  7. Open a cycle-powered cinema
  8. Ask people what they want in the neighbourhood
  9. Make your own roadsigns to encourage people to walk
  10. Start a weekend festival in a forgotten corner of the town
  11. Manage the empty shops to make it easier for people to use them
  12. Make the public spaces places for people to sit
  13. Turn the place you live into a Play Street
  14. Create a Cash Mob and support independent shops
  15. Print your own money
  16. Grow more food
  17. Fill the shops with swings
  18. Plant a sensory garden
  19. Think of the bicycle as transport, not just a leisure activity
  20. Install benches with bookshelves at bus stops
  21. Open a pop up playspace
  22. Design theatre posters and paste them up
  23. Find new uses for empty shops
  24. Only buy secondhand stuff
  25. Start a bicycle recycling project
  26. Tell people what’s made locally
  27. Collect photographs of things you’d usually ignore
  28. Make your street a 10 smiles an hour zone
  29. Give teenagers their own market
  30. Open a café that gives homeless people jobs
  31. Ride your bike naked
  32. Open a box shop
  33. Find the garden under the paving slabs
  34. Build your own mobile phone network
  35. Imagine what an art festival could do
  36. Meet up to celebrate local architecture
  37. Create interactive art in windows with digital technology
  38. Open a book exchange in a fridge
  39. Ensure that people can walk (not drive) to the town centre
  40. Clean up the place where you live
  41. Make buildings from shipping containers
  42. Open a pop up crazy golf course in a shopping centre
  43. Make the whole town an arts venue
  44. Turn the local park into a city farm
  45. Paint your own pedestrian crossings on streets
  46. Start a moveable museum
  47. Bring bees to the city
  48. Find out what makes a place special
  49. Make sure your high street balances
  50. Create a pop up thinktank and write your own list of ideas for making where you live better
via Revolutionary Arts

‘Eco’ Status Quo? Why We’re Growing Our Own Food

31st October 2013 by

Our friends over at Ashoka have been supporting social entrepreneurs’ solutions to the toughest social and environmental challenges for the past 30 years.  Here, they share a series of some of their relevant learnings and top stories for our Otesha readership – the first installment is by guest blogger Julia Koskella. Enjoy!

 

The past few years have seen a massive increase in demand for locally-sourced food in countries around the world. Fed by well-rooted concerns that processed food transported globally and treated chemically is not best for the planet or people, consumers are driving a new localism in supply chains.

Most consumption decisions are made by individuals at the supermarket shelves. But behind this change in consumer habits is a global league of leading social entrepreneurs, innovating, creating new markets, and understanding the key drivers of human behaviour.

Michael Kelly says “Grow It Yourself”

GIY 3 - Otesha photoThe latest trend to hit the local food movement is to go straight to the source and grow your own.  Increasingly consumers are asking themselves where their food comes from and how they can be sure it is safe and healthy.  Five years ago, this prompted a real “aha” moment for Michael Kelly, Founder of Grow It Yourself (GIY) and now an Ashoka Fellow. Picking up a clove of garlic in Ireland, Kelly was bowled over to see a “fresh from China” sticker on as small and cheap an item as garlic – a product which grows naturally and abundantly in Ireland.

Digging deeper, Kelly found Ireland imports no less than €4 billion per year of produce, which could be grown locally, despite being a net exporter of food and drink. His solution was to plant garlic himself and convince thousands of others to grow some of their own food too.  Through GIY, Michael aims to make it easy and sociable for anybody to start growing food for the first time. He has created a GIY network with dozens of locally-run chapters and events and an online platform to share tips and resources.  

Five years on, the GIY network connects more than 50,000 people and 800 food-growing groups. In Ireland, GIY is not just a network but a new cultural movement cutting across age and class divides. Michael is now ready to take on other global markets. Last July saw GIY formally launch internationally, with Michael leading a day-long UK event mobilising food enthusiasts, community groups, and growing experts from across the country.

Key drivers behind the ‘Grow It Yourself’ movement

Four key insights have allowed social entrepreneurs like Michael to have real impact on human behaviour and food consumption patterns.

1. Sustainability just got personal:

Localism is having great impact on the environment, cutting down food miles and chemicals from agribusiness. But social entrepreneurs like Michael know you must tap into a range of personal motivations and interests to create a successful mass movement. In the case of GIY, foodies know that locally-grown food is more tasty and cost effective. Cutting out the commute means your food will be on your plate fresher and faster, without losing vitamins B, C, and E.  If that’s not enough motivation to get you growing, then experiencing the simple pleasures of being active outdoors might: gardening is regular exercise and a dose of sunshine. And any food grower will tell you about the glowing pride they feel at watching their crops sprout, fruit, and harvest. So whatever market you’re in, make sure to appeal to people with a range of interests.

2. Cultivate food empathy:

The first-hand experience of growing food, even if it’s just a few basil pots on your windowsill, leads to a wider mind-shift change that Michael calls “food empathy.” Growing your own cultivates a deeper understanding of the value of food, the time and effort invested, and even awareness of the seasonality of food crops. GIY impact studies have found people who grow their own food start making more sustainable and healthy food consumption decisions throughout the week, not just when they’re picking a home-grown carrot.

3. Collaborate to innovate:

When you’re in the business of changing behaviour, social entrepreneurs understand they must collaborate, not compete, to affect change. For GIY’s launch in the UK, Michael received the collaboration and support of Ashoka Fellow Rob Hopkins, co-founder of Transition Towns.  Many local Transition Town groups are also linked to the Slow Foods movement originally created by Carlo Petrini in Italy.  Petrini, originally elected an Ashoka Fellow in 2008, works through 1,300 local chapters worldwide to promote the greater enjoyment of food through a better understanding of its taste, quality, and production – again linking to the concept of food empathy.

4. Social networks on the ground, not the cloud:

Behind all of the leading local food initiatives is the act of bringing people together regularly on the ground.  Changing your behaviour away from the status quo – whether by putting up solar panels, biking to work, or growing lettuce on your windowsill – takes time, energy, and often money. To counterbalance these costs and shift behaviours on a large scale, social entrepreneurs know the power of bringing people together in a supportive community.

 

Social entrepreneurs are creating online communities that are just as smart, and often more vibrant, than their GIY 2 - Otesha photocorporate counterparts. But crucially, the Grow It Yourself movement is also bringing social ties back to basics at the local level, meeting a deep human need that can’t be satisfied on Twitter – especially when the sun comes out.  People are coming together in community gardens, local garden allotments, or starting their own “GIY Groups” – a structure Michael created so that any member of the public can facilitate new and deep conversations focused on lifestyle, food, and the joys and frustrations of food growing.

If you or a local group are already involved in food-growing, make sure to sign up to the GIY network and strengthen the movement world-wide. If you’d like to try growing even a small amount of food for the first time, or even set up a local GIY group, then check out the website for full, free tips and support. Happy GIY-ing!

 

This is part of a series of articles on Ashoka’s network of social entrepreneurs transforming environmental systems, originally posted on Forbes.com.  Ashoka is building a movement of leading social entrepreneurs innovating for sustainability. If you know of anyone whose work will truly change the system, please consider nominating them. Find them online, or follow the conversation on Twitter and Facebook.

Freewheelin’

6th August 2013 by
Our penultimate official Tour Cycling Day took us from Namayasai Japanese salad farm over rolling Sussex hills to Kent, and CommonWork educational organic farm. Embarking on our longest – and most undulating – cycling day yet, we left behind the early morning salad pickers. and sailing through Cooksbridge, we saluted Hamsey School who had received our workshops the previous day. Tristan, Thomas and I were gifted with orange squash in a church in the very posh Nutley, before crawling up some fearsome hills, on through beautiful Fletching – apparently the best kept village in Sussex! – and upto Ashdown Forest. Some roadies from Sussex Nomads wished us well and congratulated our sweating efforts as we laboured over our panniers – and Tristan’s trailer – and they whizzed up another treacherous hill en route to Ashdown Forest. This area is moorland and woods, with ubiquitous sheep nestling in their shadows from the sun we couldn’t escape from, our iron steeds strong before our glistening brows.
raspberries
After the longest downhill I have ever had the freewheelin’ (I have been an avid fixed-wheel cyclist for 6 months) joy to descend, Hartfield village received us with a short stop off at Pooh Corner, and the cheeriest, most delightfully friendly waitress ever took our picture outside this slice of British literary history – the birthplace of A.A. Milne’s Winnie The Pooh. Apparently we’d whizzed past 100 Acre Wood and the location of the original Pooh sticks! Winding undulating folds of countryside and villages took us through rabbit-warrens of roads under shafts of light filtering through lime green leaves, swollen from the last night’s rain shower. Our tranquility was unfortunately all too often momentarily ruined by a cement mixer or too-large land cruiser. We dinged our bells in celebration when we were alone on the road!
Making good time (certainly up on our 6 miles per 2 hours on the Chichester cycling day), we decided to detour to Hever Castle, but were denied free or even discounted entry so instead settled for a pleasant luncheon under another generous oak tree. Another churchyard bequeathed unto us water-based sustenance, and a quick wee stop in the bushes led to me find some piglets sleeping in their woodland pen.
Arriving before the other cycling groups, we pounced with gay abandon on CommonWork’s phenomenally clean – and warm! – showers. After hosing down in a corner of Tupenny Barn’s vegetable bed and no showers for several days it felt like having new skin! No longer olfactorially offensive, we were given a mini guided tour by the lovely Jacquelyn, director of CommonWork, who explained the founders’ vision of interconnectedness and harmonised working, theorised before the term sustainability came into frequent use. CommonWork unites the head, heart and hands in experiential learning in the fields with horticulture, in the kitchen and seeing the organic dairy farm at work. Otesha Totally Tasty tour 2k13 loves this holistic view of education and learning!
After lentils (Turkish) stew and pasta (italian) dinner, Imogen, Amy, Jessie and I had a singsong to lull the over tour members to sleep, we really need to make a Tour songbook!
salad
A restful sleep is cut short by a 6am alarm heralding time to milk the organic herd with the lovely Martin, who instructs us how to iodine dip the cows udders, operate the suction equipment and avoid being drenched in poo and milk! He explains the dry period cycles of the cows and how the suction apparatus emulates a calf’s sucking on the teat. Many litres of milk later, we wash our poo-y clothes and gobble organic eggs, before weeding fat hen from in between the raspberries in the kitchen garden. Cooking the communal dinner for the tour + 8 guests requires all hands on deck! Jessie, Amy, Thomas and I go on the Bore Place woodland walk to take in some of this beautiful 500 acre estate, Jessie barefoot for authenticity, telling stories of Grandpa tree, posing as trees on tree stumps, playing blind trust games, seeing a baby fawn, discussing our personal triumphs and visions and actual tree hugging!

The Veritable Veg Patch

8th May 2013 by

Food. It’s what feeds us and keeps our body going. Over the years my concept of food production has changed. Let’s rewind to the beginning shall we?

I came to the UK over five years ago and one of the first things I noticed was how all the veg seemed to be packaged pre_packed_displayin the shops. I didn’t understand why this was the case. Upon being introduced to the Otesha Project, I started questioning my food even further – what a food mile was, the journey of food from field to plate, where things came from, how they grow etc. In primary school I learned a wee bit about the basics (planting a seed etc.) but I never really understood or felt the connection between my own personal life and the choices I had.

Fast forward to the last year and I was fortunate enough to move into a flat which had an outdoor area. When I first moved in, it was pretty derelict and I couldn’t even see the garden through the wild growth. The previous tenant was an artist and loved being nestled in amongst the branches to paint – first lesson learned: everyone has their own definition of a garden.

It took me six months to get the gumption to tackle the area. And I did it in bits and pieces. I’m by no means a horticultural expert but I was patient with myself and took it in turns to clear the area.

More lessons learnt along the way: I could go to my local library and pick up brown waste bags and get all the green waste taken away and mulched; good tools are a great investment (shear, lopper, secateurs, gloves etc.); my local shops sold plants and small bags of compost at a particular time of year – ie. when I should be tending to the garden.

It still took me another 3 months to reveal the ground but I felt a sense of satisfaction as a raised bed emerged out of the wild state. Whilst the clearing was going on, I also kept an eye out over the months of how much sun hit the garden patch. I knew enough basics that sun, soil, water and seeds are what I needed and I was trying to ascertain what I had to work with. Next lesson learned: my garden didn’t get that much sun. Hm, this could be problematic I thought. But alas I plowed on.

I decided that the first year would be my season of experiment. I went out and bought seeds that I fancied growing – peppers, tomatoes, beans, peas, broccoli, courgette, carrots, salad, strawberries. It was a wide array of things and I admit, I got a little over excited. I read the instructions on the packet and tried my best to follow them thoroughly. And then waited to see what happened.

Long story short things grew but they didn’t necessarily grow well nor did I have a massive harvest. Over the summer period there was an intense deluge of rain (too wet), and then a drought (too dry). I learned about slugs, feral cats and pests the hard way but I certainly don’t regret the experiment. I would however be lying if I said I wasn’t discouraged by the end of the season.

And now fast forward to the present. After pondering about what to do next, I took inspiration from Otesha’s blog including the tales of horticultural training as part of Branch Out, the Tastetastic! cycle tour as well as the brilliant Newcastle-based Vertical Veg to try once again. I’ve learned to actually do a bit of research about things I might be able to grow with the little sun I had and I’ve accepted that Mediterranean vegetables just won’t work.

broad beanThis year I’ve chosen spinach and salad (which don’t need much sun), strawberries (in a container so I can move them around to catch the sun), tomatoes (in a container high on a shelf I’ve built to get the most sun exposure as possible), peas, beans and broccoli (all of which I’ve moved elsewhere in the garden where I hope it does better than last year). So far, so good. But I recognise it’s early days yet and I have a feeling there will be more lessons to learn.  Here’s hoping for the best!

Have any tales or tips for your food growing? Drop us a line, we’d love to hear about it.

Branch Out Blog: Rolling around in Tilth!

17th April 2013 by

Branch Out participant Phil tells us all about their first week in the Gardens!

st marys signToday was my first visit to the St Mary’s Secret Garden for Otesha’s Branch Out Programme. It is tucked away behind the overground railway line between Hoxton and Haggerston stations, and the garden has all the mod cons a horticulturist needs: a large greenhouse, poly-tunnel, shed and a small headquarters equipped with library. Casting a sweeping glance, I can see the garden itself currently consists of grassy expanse, raised beds and trees intermittently punctuating the perimeter. There are St-Marys-Secret-Gardenalso occasional hints of the urban environment such as the car tyres re-used as soil containers. I am already looking forward to exploring and re-exploring these areas over the coming weeks to acquaint myself with the changing environment during the Spring growing season. Vibrant vegetation is only just beginning to emerge after the extended winter temperatures continued into April. However, I can confirm buds are appearing, and vegetable shoots are starting to reach for the sky. We met Liam, our friendly course co-ordinator and gardening guru in HQ, where I booted and gloved up. I was ready to Branch Out. 20130415_143540

My first task was to identify some tools and cover aspects of safety. First up, were a selection of rakes: soil, leaf and grass. Liam then (carefully) re-enacted a range of classic ‘Tom and Jerry’ inspired rake related slapstick for our amusement, and to demonstrate the dormant danger of a stray rake. Liam thrust two large digging tools in my direction. At first this seemed an easy one and I took my chances on ‘spade’, but eagerly swapped my answer to ‘shovel’ when this was met with expecting silence. This too received a headshake and I was put firmly on the back foot; my ego felt like I had trodden on one of Liam’s proverbial rakes. I was holding one of each, but didn’t know where to start to split the synonymy. Liam grabbed the spade, the more narrow of the two, and plunged it into the earth like a guillotine. Purposefully pushing his weight onto the spade’s shoulder, he explains that spades are sharper and primarily designed for vertical incision into the soil, to ease its working for later on by breaking it up with a decisive first strike. The shovel has a wider platform with a slight curvature to its side edges, making it excellent for scooping. This is the tool to transfer a loose soil, compost, leaf mould or any other pile for that matter, from one place to another.

20130415_143428The group began working on a raised bed that needed to be prepared for the planting of seeds/seedlings. The soil was uneven, clumpy and peppered with pebbles, and it was our objective for that session to achieve a good tilth. This is the all-encompassing property of the soil that was spoken with a mixture of fondness and reverence by the gardeners. When I pushed Liam for a more precise definition, I was slightly overwhelmed by a volley of descriptions concerning soil receptivity, moisture, topography, texture and permeability. The lesson I took away from that discussion was not only the importance of all of the above, but also the particular emphasis on uniformity-working the soil to give all that is planted an equal chance to thrive in the micro-ecosystem. Tilth is a loaded term and demands more than a single definition; it is multi-dimensional and has personality almost as if it embodies some ancient god. However, Liam probably best described it with a great cake baking analogy involving the meticulous preparation required to ensure the even spread of currents, chocolate chips, cherries and blueberries within the well mixed sponge.p-stmaryssecretgarden.jpg.270x270_q95_crop--50,-50_upscale

To that end, we spent the next 20 minutes digging the soil; turning in some leaf compost which aids moisture retention; removing stones; raking the surface; and most importantly gently treading down the soil. We were interacting with the soil, feeling for troughs and rises with every micro-step, so we could repeat our tilth-preparing ritual. The site of four grown men jauntily bobbing about like chickens, within the confines of one small raised bed should have raised many eyebrows. Fortunately, the secret garden was empty, and the four of us, whilst looking extremely silly, made short work of the bed. We probably didn’t achieve the holy grail of breadcrumb texture, but our work was certainly approved by Liam and the other gardeners.

20120101_124233The first day was a success. A combination of practical work; time for reflection on our learning; preparation for assessments; the eating of delicious dates (for some of us); sunshine and visits from inquisitive robins made for an enriching start to the Branch Out Programme.

 


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