Totally Tasty Ready to Ride!

27th June 2013 by

Hello, I’m Jessie, one of Otesha’s three liaisons for this summer’s Totally Tasty cycle tour.  I first came across Otesha cycle tours last year and though they seemed totally perfect for me I was too busy studying.  Finally, a year later, I’m very happy to be off cycleventuring, learning, laughing, teaching, eating, wild-swimming and deep-exhausted-tent-sleeping with a bunch of likeminded people!

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I’ve been here in the office since Monday with Lyndsay and Rowan, the other lovely liaisons, busy sorting logistics, packing up the (yet to be named) trailers, phoning tour members and hunting down maps in local libraries.  Now that these maps are spread out on the table with orange post-it notes marking our campsites – all in exciting foody projects that I can’t wait to visit – it is finally sinking in that we will be on the road in 8 days time!

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One lovely feature of the Otesha office is that everyone eats lunch together. Several times we have carried a table outside and eaten in the street, soaking up the sun and amusing the locals. Yesterday we were joined for lunch by a group of people taking part in Branch Out, Otesha’s new horticultural work training programme. Once totally stuffed with bread, humous and salad we joined them on a visit to St Mary’s Secret Garden, a local food community garden where trainees on the programme get their hands mucky working towards getting their qualification in practical horticulture.

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It was a beautiful garden, buzzing with bees, visitors and volunteers.  Phil, an Otesha volunteer and one of the first ‘branch outers’ showed us around.  I was particularly fond of the ‘sensory garden’ which had fragrant herbs, interesting textures and little poems hidden amongst the foliage ‘The bay tree is the shepherd, all the other herbs are his sheep‘… Seeing such an awesome, food-centred community project gave me a taste of what is to come on tour – 3 weeks of inspiration from the people and places that are reshaping Britain’s broken food culture – Bring it on!


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Branch Out Sides with the Seeds

16th May 2013 by

Nathan and TilthPhil updates us on what’s been happening down in the garden…

It has been a few weeks since my introduction to tilth and soil preparation. I have had plenty of practice in my own allotment when my first batch of rhubarb and leeks were promoted from humble crop to vibrant ingredients for roasts, soups and deserts. After a terminally cold winter the soil needed a serious working over, re-nourishing, re-hydrating and good dousing of sun-induced sweat from my brow. With my raised beds eager to welcome the incumbent class of vegetable goodies, Branch Out’s next session at St Mary’s Secret Garden on sowing seeds was a timely return to the tutelage of Liam.

The Branch Out team had recently completed our first assessment and we were ready for the next stage. We gathered around a raised bed and Liam told us to pull up a chair. The lesson was off to a laid back start. Perched on our seats, we peered into the bed, whereupon Liam instructed to work our magic to prepare the soil. It was a far more civilised affair being a sedentary gardener. We had our miniature forks and rakes, and fortunately the tilth only required the odd prod and poke, a pluck of some nuisance weeds and stones, and a little persuasion to level the final soil.

Branch Out Carrots

Our demonstration began with stakes connected by string bridging the width of the bed, demarcating our drill. Liam used a trowel to open out a V-shaped trench about an inch deep along the string, before filling it with a drenching of water. The water rapidly seeped through, leaving a moist mould; perfect preparation for the seeds to be sown. These were duly and carefully dropped in. The first technique was a continuous line of closely spaced individual seeds. The alternative was stationing, a peppering of 4 or 5 seeds at a single point with larger intermediary spaces. The drill was covered and given a generous watering, thus completing a simple but crucial process that gives the plants the best chance at flourishing. We were ready to try it for ourselves and we managed to fill an entire bed with Rothild, Yellowstone and Nantes 2 carrot types. Hopefully when we return next, a squadron of emerging carrot tops will be at attention on our arrival.

Carrot SquadronThe Branch Out team has also been very busy working on other projects. We have been helping Cre8 Arc, a centre of opportunities in sport, media, a variety of arts in Hackney, with the construction of their new eco-walkway. We have also spent a fantastic day with the team at Streetscape based in Myatt’s Field, Lambeth. They do a lot of work in design, landscaping and garden maintenance, and are actively involved in providing training for young people in acquiring these types of skills. We attended their taster day and were graced with scorching sunshine as we helped with their mass composting, fixing a fence, clearing the secluded shaded walkway and cleaning the pond. The whole team, including the directors of the Branch Out Programme, Tamsin and Cecily, got stuck in and had an amazing day.

 

Building Garden small

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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