Thursday, 9 December 2010

Autumn in the Garden

We started the Autumn season with a bulb planting day. With the help of one of the Castle's new members of staff, Claire Lee. We took the advantage of of the last of the sunny warm October days and planted bluebells, snowdrops, crocuses, wild garlic and wild daffodils under the big trees in the garden. We'll hopefully see some lovely colourful flowers pop up from next Spring! These early flowers will certainly keep the bees happy.

We also had the pleasure seeing these lovely jerusalem artichoke flowers which were in full flower all October! We harvested plenty of them at the end of November, some given to volunteers and the rest to the Castle cafe. Sam and Giusi, made great use of them and served them up roasted with potatoes and rosemary.

Around this time of year, while working around the garden we found ourselves unintentionally finding hibernating wildlife, so we made sure to make an range of habitats, such as our "sleazy bug hotels", "lacewing hotel" and a "habitat mansion" made with pallets stacked on top of each other, inspired by the London Wildlife Trust.

The Stumpery
One of my favourite habitats to create is the Victorian inspired "stumpery". (To carry on the theme of the castle being originally Victorian building and grounds). We have lots of dead tree stumps with roots, and old logs from when we had the sycamores pulled out. We half buried them in the ground and planted ferns, woodland plants and bulbs around them. We hope to attract some stag beetles! Other Victoiran features to look out for in our garden is the "figgery", "shrubbery" and the "mushroomery"

On our early November workday some young climbers came out and helped make our "lacewing hotels" out of used plastic bottles.

The Swale

Barry leading the way with our swale on the hill! Of course it took him no time to complete, with the help of a few extra strong hands.

We have nearly completed the swale. This part of the project is led by the CEO of the Castle, Steve Taylor. This swale is basically a ditch dug along the contours of the hill at the back of the castle, and it's purpose is for water from the mens changing rooms, (from the sinks and showers) to run through it and adding extra infiltration into the soil. We will be planting lots of trees and shrubs in the mounds in front of the swale. We hope to get this planted and started by the start of Spring next year, so watch this space!

Our November bonfire celebration

Tom Trimmins and his wickerman, which he later was set alight in the HUGE bonfire, along with all our effigies....

winter vegetables from the mini plotters and
wild mushrooms found in the garden.

NEXT in the garden
- we'll be battling it out through the icy cold winter planning, preparing, creating the new forest garden area, and we'll be having a Winter solstice celebration with a bonfire on the 19th December, click here for details.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Castle Apple and Pear Scrumping weekend

On weekend of the 9th and 10th October, as part of the 10:10 global action on climate change we decided to do an apple themed event and we joined in with the local team hackney harvest to go round the local area to pick apples and pears that would usually go to waste. The hackney harvest team started the project this year, a there is so much fruit going to waste from local fruit trees which are mainly in people's back gardens and also many in public places. Some of the trees are really big, and difficult to harvest from, and sometimes the tree owners they end up with such an abundance of fruit that it is too much to deal with, or they don't even pick them at all and see the dropping fruit as a nuisance.
Thanks to the inspiration from projects such as the scrumping project in Walthamstow - who started this idea a few years ago, and abundance project in sheffield. This is a great way to get this fruit put to good use in the local community. The fruit gets picked (with permission from the owners!) some fruit going back to the owners, and the rest is distributed to community groups as fruit or as juice, desserts, chutneys, jams and cider!

Getting climbers up the trees!
As a first year trial, I thought it would be a great idea to get some Castle climbers involved, using their skills and strength to climb tall fruit trees to shake the high branches which wouldn't usually be reached! We went to a back garden of someone I know on Allerton Road (a friend who I happen to pass while he was picking up his growing commmunities veg bag from the Castle pick up point). He told me he had a huge pear tree completely covered in fruit. We went there in full force, couple of climbers up the tree, and it was raining pears! Think we ended up with about 80kg of pears! And that is from one tree!
The next day, I borrowed an apple press, and we spent the day pressing the fruit into juice, making apple fritters, and playing some apple games, and we even sang a song, thanks to Robert Malies who turned up with his guitar and made up a song for us to sing along to! (you can here it here) It was lovely and sunny, and some of the Sunday climbers who came to climb with their children, kept on finding them out in the garden with us helping us press juice, trying the apple fritters and trying the apple bobbing! Some of the juice was drunk by us all, then some sold in the Castle cafe, some made into apple cakes (thanks to Sam in the cafe) and some, (well most of it) is fermenting somewhere in the castle, slowing turning into cider! To be drunk on after a very hard cold workday in the garden.

Next year, there is definitely potential to get tons more fruit! After chatting to a few locals about their big fruit trees,it seems they are more than happy to let us in their back gardens to climb and harvest their unwanted fruit. See more photos here

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Sustainability Policy - v2.0

Well, it's not the most fun or glamorous job, but a key part of a proper environmental management system is to take a step back and review the general policy and aims. Why are we doing this? What exactly are we trying to do?

So version 2.0 of our Sustainability Policy has been proposed, debated and finally approved. You can download a copy of our new policy here. Below I've also listed some of the changes we've made and why we've made them.

1. Changing the title from 'Environmental Policy' to 'Sustainability Policy'. This is more accurate because our policy is based on the business being sustainable in an economic, social and, of course, ecological sense.

2. Including the shop. We've taken over the management of the climbing shop at The Castle (formerly Urban Rock) and we will be holding the shop to the same high standards that we have for the rest of the centre. There's a lot of research yet to be done in the way of reducing environmental impact in the climbing industry, but we've opened up this dialogue with our suppliers and we're excited to hear that many of them are already waking up and making changes to the way they do business, the materials they use and the waste the produce.

3. Revising our water policy. Our first policy stated that we wanted to be 'water neutral'. What does this mean? Well, we weren't sure either. Of course, we want to reduce water consumption, but we also don't want to have to use up more energy to keep harvested rainwater to a drinking standard. We commissioned a paper on this subject from our environmental consultant - Es Tresider- and he laid out some facts for us. We'd need to treat and ciruclate water every 24 hours for it to be adequate for drinking and washing. Weighing this up against the relative efficiency of the mains water system, we concluded that it would be more reasonable for us to reformulate our water aims. So, we're going to come off the mains water for the garden and use rainwater collected from the roofs and greywater from the centre. With the rest of the centre, our focus will remain to reduce our water consumption. To this end, we have put in waterless urinals and we will be building composting toilets in the next 2-5 years.

4. Developing a garden based on permaculture principles to grow food for the cafe. Those of you following our Sustainability Blog will probably be surprised to find out that the garden - undoubtedly one of our biggest projects- wasn't even mentioned in our original Environmental Policy! We couldn't leave it out, so it's there- loud and proud- in version 2. Although we are still limited by our lack of a proper kitchen, but our Cafe Manager, Thomas, has delighted with roasted potatoes, salads, gratins and all kinds of other treats fresh from the garden.

5. The final change is that the Statement of Intent is signed by all of our Core Management Team in addition to the Board of Directors- showing real commitment from the top to making this happen.

Hope you'll find this inspiring, interesting or even intriguing!

Best Regards,

Audrey Seguy
Managing Director

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Castle Garden Summer 2010

What a great summer we've had in the Castle Garden. Despite the drought in July, then the sudden amount of rain in August, food and flowers have been growing in many exposed as well as hidden corners of the garden!

The Castle staff and volunteers have been great in keeping on top of the watering. The volutneers have been also really helpful in constantly pulling out the vigourous weeds growing around the new small hedge plants and fruit plants, helping in giving the poor young things a chance to establish in their first year, and not

In the garden over summer, the jobs are mainly weeding and harvesting, but on top of this we've made sure to relax, have a few celebration bbq's and enjoy the lovely the garden has produced.

The Castle Cafe have been serving up lots of fresh mixed leaf salad. They've been harvesting every other day. They have not had buy any all summer. This goes for the cucumbers as well. (I over planted and we've had a healthy glut!)

They've been making the most of other goodies from the garden too, and included them in some great seasonal specialities. Roast courguettes, steamed cavolo nero in toasted sandwiches, french bean salad, grated beetroot and carrot salad and recenty some roast potatoes and squashes. The mixed leaf salads have been enjoyed by many staff and customers, which included a mix of herbs and edible flowers. Also, there have been some very lovely fresh herb tea infusions, such as mint, lemonvebena, lemon balm and fennel.

One of the best harvests has been the compost. We recently sieved our first compost from all the waste that has come out of the Castle in the past year, and it looks like lovely stuff. This will be used for mulching all those new fruit trees and bushes we planted in the first year.
The Castle Quid
The Castle's own currency! (our own Local Exchange Trading System!) This is offered to volutneers who have helped us in the garden. Each session they come and do, they can earn a Castle quid, (they are specially marked screw on smears!) which can be exchanged for a free climb, or a course, depending on how many they earn. After this full year of activity I have awarded about 55 credits. Some of the volunteers have never climbed before are now able to book onto a free beginners course.

the fig tree in its first year started to show some fruit, but we won't probably get some until next year

Growing Communities micro site has done really well in it's first season! Since June, there has been up to 70 kilos of salad harvested! All sold to restaurants on Stoke Newington Church Street. If you've been to the Fat Cat Cafe, Alistairs or the Three Crowns, you may have sampled some. This October, this site will be going into organic conversion through the Soil Association.

We've been making the most out of old climbing rope and even old shoes - they make great hanging flower features! The rope has been perfect as a support for the tomatoes and a trellis for climbing plants.

It's been great watching the bees at work!
they love the cucumber flowers, borage and the big sunflower!

The castle garden party in June around the cafe plots
One year on...
This project started under a year ago, and am amazed at what has been achieved with such limited time. I am very happy to see what can happen when you bring lots of enthusiatic and strong people together! Autumn is now on its way and there are more plans to develop the garden further. A new forest garden with fruit and nut trees and fruit bushes planted, more vegetable plots, more flowers, planting on the hill, earth ovens and more...
A big thank you to Susie Norris for taking lots of nice pictures! To see more of them see her flickr page:

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

The castle garden project in Hackney Citizen

See this link for a nice article in the Hackney Citizen, written by Eloise Horsfield, who also climbs here.

Climbers for the garden, (Hackney Citizen, 8th August 2010)

Friday, 2 July 2010

Environmental Report for 2009

Following up on the runaway success of our Environmental Report 2008, the team and I have come up with the sequel... the Environmental Report 2009! You can download it here Annual Environmental Report 2009. To summarise we were directly responsible for 125.07 tonnes of CO2e. That’s not that much better than the previous year (136.79 tonnes CO2e) but that’s because the carbon footprint only tells a small part of the story. So much else has happened in 2009 including major changes to our Cafe supply chain, the start of our garden, our own eco-build (Training Room 3) and lots and lots of research into water, waste, passive heating/ventilation, climbing holds, recyclable paper and so much more.

If you have any questions about this, just send me an email:

Friday, 18 June 2010

Office chairs

We need some new office chairs so I researched 'eco' chairs - I found a company called Steelcase who manufacture operator, manager and boardroom chairs to a high environmental standard.

Then I located a company who refurbish these chairs second hand (being good quality they can take some refurbishing). So we will get a few of these and see how they work out.

Friday, 11 June 2010

The bees have arrived!!!!

I'm terribly excited- our first hive is now buzzing with bees. Ian, our expert beekeeper delivered the swarm this morning. They seem to have settled in fairly well. In the first few days we expect some activity as the bees will be getting to know their new home. They will be using landmarks and the sun to orientate themselves. We'll be getting another hive within a few weeks and we'll be letting them settle in the first year. Next year, Ian will be running beekeeping courses here at The Castle and we can expect our first Castle honey harvest!

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Castle Garden Spring 2010

A very happy Kerry finishing building the mini plots and one of the neighbours being the first in March to plant out her veggies

After a harsh winter and some confusing cold days then hot days in the Spring, the castle garden has been a surge of activity.

Springtime apple blossoms on the trees we planted in February. the transformation always amazes me, especially when they start off looking like bare twigs.

As well as the plants and wildlife, people come alive and get busy too! The garden is really starting to take shape and Spring has really transformed things. It was really worth the garden team's hard work over winter and it's been great to see a lot of green emerging from all the fruit trees and bushes we planted in February. Hopefully we will at least get some raspberries and strawberries this year. (whoever spots them first!) The fruit trees and rhubarb will we hope to harvest next year after another year's growth.

We kicked started this season with the Spring Equinox. We had a weekend workday, with showers of course, and we planted a new hedgerow along the front near the roadside of the castle. Thanks to Nick our medicinal herbalist, who chose lots of native English hedgerow bushes, shrubs and trees, which will not only shelter us from the noise pollution from the road, but provide a great habitat for wildlife, and interesting things for us to harvest – Hazel, crab apple, silver birch, elder, hawthorn and blackthorn, and sneaked in some others we are trying out such as goji berries and cherry plum trees. The day ended in a celebration with a bonfire, cider and a few equinox songs and spring detoxes.

Nick giving providing us with a medicinal dose of cider to help us plant the hedge

A few more workdays in April saw us planting up more vegetables for the Castle and a variety of herbs on the hill, and I'm also making the most of some of the south facing walls by planting an apricot, figs, grape vines and a kiwi (which will climb a trellis made out of climbing rope) We hope to get a great variety of climbing fruits to go with the theme of the place. I even found some types of strawberries with interesting names. There’s the climbing “mount everest” strawberries and the tumbleberries, I got in especially for Tumble the Castle’s maintenance manager, who’s been a great help.

Green woodworking with Tom Trimmins

We’ve also made use of lots of free giveaways from the neighbouring construction site, wood for raised beds, steel toe cap wellies, and a smokers shelter made into a greenhouse. Thanks to Tom Trimmins, our latest garden team member who's a great carpenter and woodworker. He fitted it out with lots of shelves. Watch out for any green woodworking workshops he’ll facilitate. So far he's had us making mallets, spoons and plant labels with the sycamore wood from the garden.

We’ve been making the most of the lovely young fresh nettles. The café using them fresh and drying them to make nettle tea and I’ve started to make nettle feed for the garden. It's a great free source of nitrogen for the plants. A homemade feed from it is easily made by collecting nettles, putting them in a porous bag and leaving it in a big container of water (like a giant tea bag) Leave it for 20-30 days, and dilute it with water and water around and on your plants. A warning however, this is rather smelly.

The Castle's own veg plots have done really well with the salads. The café having already had at least 7 or 8 generous harvests. This hot weather has been bringing on a really fast growth! They’ve had a lovely mix of red orach, coriander, bronze arrow, green salad bowl, rocket, and land cress as well as the odd radish which don't make it to the cafe.

Starting from May, the staff have been offered some paid working hours to help out in the garden. Two staff members have already come out so far, and expect to see some more, helping outside with the weeding, seed sowing, harvesting, digging, building, and of course enjoying the sun and rain.

Min enjoying the sunshine while she's weeding the castle veg beds

The Growing Communities Microsite

We’ve finally finished all the beds, and with the help of some very strong volunteers, managed to shift 9 tons of compost into them. We've been planting all Spring

and had our first harvest the other day - nearly 6 kilos of lettuce to be sold locally via Growing Communities.

Next in the garden, is our second annual garden party and the arrival of our bee hives.I’ll be there at the garden party, potting up seeds in various containers. Come sow a seed and take it away - as part of the One Pot Pledge campaign

Finally to add, we've had some press coverage - see: The Evening Standard

Also a nice big article in the Stoke Newington Gazette on the 3rd June. BBC Radio 4 Farming Today is covering the progress of the Garden over the next 2 years. For those early risers listen out for the odd programme. It's been on 3 times already!

Hope to see you at the Garden Party!