I started in the Autumn, with the Castle garden and being on this food growing project from the on set has brought me to be outside more than I have ever done over winter, and I really felt its harshness more than ever. Also the heavy soil doesn't half sticks to your boots, you end up walking with several kilos on each foot! Our hardcore garden team were out there with the mattocks and spades slipping over in their muddied heavy boots. I can’t recommend highly enough a paint scraper tool to scrape off your tools and boots at the end of the day!
Through doing this work, you can really begin to appreciate the work of all small scale farmers who produce vegetables on a commercial scale. These guys are out every week all year round no matter the weather, harvesting, preparing the earth. Even if some do use machinery, there is still a lot of harvesting by hand in the coldest wettest muddiest conditions.Back at the Castle, we have had such a productive two months, a lot of activity has been going on with various elements of the garden. The mini plots project headed up by one of the Castle senior managers, Kerry Simmons is bringing together staff and neighbours to create mini plots so they can have a go at gardening their own veg, and will be creating a community growing club out of it.
mini plotters - castle staff and local neighboursdigging and preparing the garden for the veg plots
We had a consultation with the immediate neighbours about the project, which has been a great way to make contact and get to know some of them. A few of them have come to help out in the garden and have even signed up for a mini plot. Plus the good news, is the project was awarded a Capital Growth small grant to contribute to their tools and materials!
Over January and February a lot of work was carried out, - even during the snowy icy times - on the west side wall facing Green Lanes, which is now the "fruity wall", we finished the clearing, digging holes for fruit tress (yes even in the snow) and on Feb 6th we had a very successful and enjoyable work day, planted 8 fruit trees and about 30 fruit shrubs which finished in a wassail to wish a good harvest.
We were blessed with a dry, sunny day and up to 40 people showed up to help in the garden! Castle staff, members, neighbours, local community, my own work friends, colleagues and family came to help to support and work in the garden as well as celebrate, drink cider, enjoy a bonfire and bbq. We then had a special wassail song (to ward off evil spirits) performed to us by two castle members and their two guitars. The night finished up with us all joining hands and performing a spiral dance around the garden singing wassail songs to wish a good harvest for the fruit tree and bring good wishes to us and the garden.
This area now has all their fruit trees and bushes planted, they look like bare twigs, but in a year or two we’ll hopefully see and harvest the fruits! We planted three apple trees, two plum and two pear against the wall to be espaliered. We also planted raspberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, gooseberries, loganberries, Japanese wineberries, rhubarb and strawberries. In the style of a forest garden we’ll later interplant the area more with ground cover plants, (the herbaceous layer) with useful edible plants, as companion plants for the fruit, and to suppress the weeds a mixture of herbs, flowers, such as wild garlic, marigolds, thyme, lemon balm, comfrey,
before and after, planted with fruit and then mulched. In time it will hopefully
be transform back to be green with fruits and herbs!
This area originally had lots of invasive plants such as ivy, bramble, and the fact that it’s clay soil . We did some sheet mulching To help improve the soil structure and fertility, suppress weeds, and hold in moisture (clay soil goes very dry and crackly over summer) and keep in some kind of warmth (clay takes longer to warm up in the Spring) – Also to give the young fruit plants the best chance and start in life in the conditions they are in!We mulched the area using a layering sheet mulch technique advised by many gardeners/permaculturalists – layer of manure, layers of sheets of cardboard, another layer of organic matter – mixture of compost (including composted waste from the castle) or leafmould, and then straw on top.
Part of the garden, has been offered for a growing communities microsite, a small urban market garden to grow organic salads, herbs and fruits for their local box scheme. This area of the garden, has been worked on every Tuesday. We had the hard work of digging up brambles and bindweed from the clay soil and removing the sycamore trees (which was actually done by Steve the CEO of the castle, Ray one of the Castle senior managers and our garden team volunteer Barry who is a human machine). They rented a winch and pulled out most of the trees in that area! The area is ready to dig up, lay raised beds and hopefully by the end of April we’ll be planting the first seedlings of organic salads which by June will end up in the local box scheme.
The castle also started as a drop off point for their box scheme, and at least 20 local people – including some castle staff are now pick up from the Castle. Its exciting to think that some of the salads that will be included in the bags this summer will have been grown at the Castle!
What’s coming next?
Spring is on it’s way, which brings about a very busy, sowing planting time and warmer weather!
The mini plotters have been hard at work – their second work day was on 6th March, and the areas are now clear and ready to have their beds made.
Next big work day for the grounds, is 20th March to celebrate Spring Equinox. We’ll be planting a hedgerow at the front by the roadside - the medicinal arboretum- designed by our resident medical horticulturalist Nick Quinn. It's mainly native hedgerow shrubs and trees, such as hazel, silver birth, hawthorn, blackthorn, elder, holly as well as some non native berry fruits, and if the weather is ok, we’ll have another bonfire!
Lovely orange crocuses appearing from the Castle grounds.
This is the local fox who comes to visit from time to time