Big Bird Little Bird

Just before Christmas I got dive-bombed by a robin, which I’m taking as a sign we should be keeping an eye on the little critters. The RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch, 28-30 January seems like a good way of doing this – ordinary people all over the country watch their garden or local park for an hour and report back on what birds they see. This gives a nationwide picture of how our birds are doing. Click here to go to the RSPB webpage with details – if you get your skates on they’ll send you a bird-identifying chart, and coffee.

So, on Monday 30 January from 3.30 to 4.30, we’ll be spending an hour in the Kitchen Garden on Croxted Road Estate. Put on your long johns and join us! I’ll have a thermos and flapjacks. The railway embankment is home to masses of birds, so we should be able to tick off a good few.

If the weekend suits you better, you can sign up separately and do it on Saturday or Sunday (28/29 Jan) in a local green space of your choosing.

Update – our bird count on 30 January 2017 was as follows:

Bluetits x 2
Great tit x 1
Robins x 2
Wood pigeons x 2
House sparrows x 2
Carrion crows x 2
Parakeets x 2

Unidentified birds (the light was terrible and it’s hard to identify a bird from its sihouette) x approx.12
Not bad for an hour in this little corner of our big smelly city.

Zoë Petersen

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I have! Wrens live right next to us, on the wooded railway embankment

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Dishing the Dirt on Compost

HELLO there everyone!

This is the first report from the Glazebrook Growers Compost Department….

As you will know, we currently have three compost bins in the Kitchen Garden. The round one on the right is the oldest, the two square ones on the left are more recent, and they are all currently in use.

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Since this is a communal venture, we rely on all gardeners knowing how compost is made, and the simple do’s and don’ts of what to put into the bins. So I thought I would remind everyone of the general guidance given by Paul Richens:

  • To make good compost you need a more or less equal amount of ‘greens’ and ‘browns’ by volume.
  • Greens include grass cuttings, young weeds, uncooked fruit and vegetable peelings, tea bags, leaves and coffee grounds, soft green prunings, horse manure, and wood ash (in moderation).
  • Browns include cardboard, eg brown packaging cardboard, toilet roll tubes and egg boxes, waste paper and junk mail, including shredded paper, paper towels & bags, old bedding plants, straw.
  • Items that should NOT go to compost include meat, fish, dairy products or cooked food, coal & coke ash, cat litter, dog faeces, disposable nappies.

So when you put some ‘greens’ into one of the bins, it is a good idea to add some of the ‘brown’ card that we leave nearby.

Gina and I will also be keeping an eye on it and turning it every now and again with our newly acquired compost aerator (see example below). The compost needs to be watered regularly – those flies are an indication that it is too dry, so pour a can of water over the heap if you see them.

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Paul & his trusty aerator

At the end of season gathering on 12th November we took our first ‘harvest’ of a rich mature compost, and divided it out amongst the beds. There is more to come from the other bins – we will prepare this soon and bag it up, ready for your use.

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The future is bright! Food for our soil.

The composting will slow down over the winter, but in the spring we should have some more to use. When spread on the top of your beds it will enrich the soil, and its dark colour will conduct the spring sunshine and warm everything up.

Harry Hunt

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Eat our herbs!

OUR HERB BED is still flourishing with sage, thyme and purple basil ready for the delicious meals you’re making. Providing winter isn’t too harsh we should be able to continue to harvest the sage, thyme and oregano, but the purple basil needs to be eaten before the first frosts arrive (usually around 5th November). The fennel will also die back, so pick some of her greener fronds now for your digestive teas and salad flavourings. The mint is also past its time and will hibernate for the winter before springing back to life with warmer days. Yarrow leaves can be picked for your salads – their bitterness a tonic for the digestive system. Make the most of the lemon balm before we cut it back for its winter sleep – it makes a delightful calming and aromatic tea.

HERB BED LABELLED

With time we hope to help you deepen your knowledge of and relationship with the herbs, using labels and workshops to help you tap into their many qualities and uses.  For now we encourage you to visit the bed and take what you need for your meals & teas… they’ve been growing all summer to give us this bounty! We’ll be looking after the bed through the winter to bring it back to its fullest in summer.

As we move into Autumn it’s great to reflect on the joys this little bed of herbs has brought us this season: from the Glazebrook Growers meeting where we added different herbs to our hummus and rice crackers to create a true smorgasboard of tastes, to the magical Medicinal Herbs workshops delivered by Janine Gerhardt in July. If you didn’t make it, or want a daydream of summer, read on…

Medicinal Plants with Janine Gerhardt

ON A SUNNY JULY DAY the engaging and passionate herbalist Janine Gerhardt came to the Kitchen Garden to lead our first medicinal plants workshop.

Without moving from the grass that we sat on, we discovered the medicinal wonders of yarrow, self heal and dandelion, as Janine opened our eyes to nature’s healers growing everywhere. The herb bed in our kitchen garden is a hotspot of medicinal value, from the digestive, calming values of fennel to the soothing, relaxing properties of chamomile.  Janine got us to engage all our senses when being with these healers – touching, smelling and tasting the different plants.
A short walk around the estate revealed the treasures that we walk past every day; including feverfew, renowned for treating migraines, and verbena, a prized herb for soothing the nervous system.  We were starting to really appreciate that right on our doorstep on this beautifully green estate in the middle of London we had a trove of health helpers.

Back in the Kitchen Garden we made 100% natural lip balms and tasted various herbal teas; both adults and children loving the opportunity to create with nature. The use of herbs as medicine has been with us since the beginning of humanity, so it was wonderful to have this space to return to an often forgotten art, strengthening our relationship with our natural environment.

We hope to host more workshops of this sort in the future, so do let us know if you would be keen on attending, and what you would like us to cover.

Jeannine Mansell

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Pricking Out and Potting Up

SEE HOW HAPPY our Winter Crops are! We sowed trays of mizuna, red mustard and other leafy crops just after our September workshop and they all sprang up. We’re now halfway through pricking out the seedlings and potting them up so they get good strong root systems before we plant them out.

Kitchen Gardeners, half the seedlings still need potting up! Everything you need is currently in the garden. Those who don’t know how to do it, read on…

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How to prick out and pot up seedlings

INSTEAD OF THINNING OUT your seedlings (pulling some out to give the others space), you can prick them out of the seed tray and put each one straight into a pot. That way we get a plant from every seedling that comes up.

You’ll see for these pics I used a recycled polystyrene tray instead as we’re running low on pots. It needs to be something deep enough to give the roots a bit of room. Here’s what to do:

1. Fill your pot or container with compost – but not right to the top or it will overflow when you water it – and make a little hollow to receive the seedling. At the moment we have multipurpose compost and seed compost (see below). Use the multipurpose – the stuff in the yellow bag.

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2. Holding the seedling GENTLY by a leaf, use a blunt pencil or something similar (plant label did the trick) to tease the roots out of the compost. Don’t touch the stem.

 

…if you get some soil with the roots, so much the better, but it might all fall away.

 

3. Not to worry: as long as the roots and stem aren’t damaged, it will be fine. The seedling should go straight from the tray to the prepared compost with zero time for the roots to dry out. Lower the roots into the hole, fill in and press gently down around the seedling.

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If your seedling is long and spindly, bury it halfway up the stem so it can send more roots out sideways. (A note of caution: if you try this with older plants they may rot).

When you’ve done a few, water them.

4. Finally, label! Actually we don’t have enough labels to do every pot, but label at least one, and keep the pots grouped by type (as in the first photo). That way we’ll know what we’ve got when we come to share out our Winter Crops.

That’s it.

Zoë Petersen