Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Riverside Market Garden

A group of us from Nightingale Community Garden went on a study visit to the Riverside Market Garden (RMG) on Friday 12 April. The event was organized by our Vale of Glamorgan Community Foodie Rob McGhee and his colleagues from Torfaen and Bridgend.

The RMG was set up as a social enterprise by RCMA (the organization that operates Riverside Farmers’ Market in Cardiff). It is located on the edge of St Hilary on Coed Hills Farm, which it shares with the Coed Hills Rural Artspace, in the heart of the Vale of Glamorgan. RMG grows food for a local organic vegetable box scheme (with many customers in nearby Cowbridge), the Riverside Farmers’ Market and a number of restaurants in the Cardiff area (e.g., Arboreal in Cowbridge and Casanova in Cardiff). It is run as a cooperative with around 150 local shareholders (shares start at £50).

Head Grower Sophie Durnan gave us an introductory talk, followed by a tour of Coed Hills. The RMG was started four years ago and comprises a 5-acre field, on which are two polytunnels. Crops are grown in rows across the 300 foot-wide field. The focus is on high value crops, and a wide variety of produce for the vegetable boxes. Crops grown include kale, cauliflower and other brassicas, courgettes, squash, leeks, fennel, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, and a range of salads. We were taken around the field, which will shortly be ploughed ready for the planting of this season’s crops.

The field is split into six areas in terms of crop rotation. Green manures are grown as part of the rotation; this is now known to be the best way to incorporate nitrogen into the soil. A short-term crop, such as rye grass, mustard or clover, which can be subsequently flailed and dug in, improves the soil more than if a field is standing fallow for an equivalent period of time. This philosophy is extended at RMG, where crop residues (e.g., last year’s cauliflowers) are cut up with a flail mower and dug in, rather than being removed and composted. Brassicas are not grown on the same part of the field again for around 5 years, to prevent the recurrence of diseases such as clubroot. The brassicas like the alkaline soil conditions here; though they are covered with a fine plastic mesh to prevent attack by flea beetle, which is prevalent in the area.

The soil at Coed Hills is clayey and stony. Root crops, such as carrots and parsnips are not grown in the field (although there are some early carrots currently in a polytunnel). Potatoes are also not grown; although a small amount may be in future (it is unlikely that RMG will invest in the expensive machinery for growing potatoes on a large scale). For the organic box scheme, potatoes and some other crops are supplied from organic farms in the area.

In Dinas Powys, we also have heavy clay in our newly-established Community Garden and we picked up some good tips on working on clay soil (see next Community garden post).

Winter salads are flourishing in the RMG polytunnels. These are not heated, but have produced more salad than they can sell over the winter. Pallets containing seed trays hang from the roof of the tunnels – a good use of available space. Plants grown in the tunnels include broad beans, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, aubergines, ruby streak mustard and some basil. Miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) is currently abundant in the polytunnels and forms the basis of the winter salads produced by RMG, though it was noted how diverse their salad is with flavours from different leaves. Lunch included plenty of miner’s lettuce, along with young carrot tops and other green leaves fresh from the polytunnel, to accompany homemade bread and a choice of borsch or pumpkin soup.
After a walk around RMG’s field, we saw the permaculture and forest gardens; the latter has recently been planted. Trees are planted further apart than in a regular orchard, because below them will be a profusion of shrubs and other crops – an entire edible landscape. Drainage ditches (with attractive bridges across) snake across the site to a large pond that is being built at the bottom of the hill. The initial setting up is very important for permaculture and forest gardens. Get it right and things look after themselves, with the diversity meaning there is much less weeding or pest control than in monocultures. A couple of large containers nearby are currently being converted into mushroom production units (e.g., shitake, oyster).
The Coed Hills Rural Artspace was established at Coed Hills in 1996, as a unique centre for art, sustainability and education. The workshop area was built in 1999 and houses metalwork, woodwork, mosaic, textile, printing studios and facilities, where craftsmen and artists work. Around the site are sculptures, tepees, standing stones and an impressive labyrinth cut into the grass by David Goff-Eveleigh around the time of the National Eisteddfod in the Vale of Glamorgan last year. Diverse activities are available at Coed Hills, from nature conservation demonstrations, to drumming workshops, and a sweat lodge.
A key point arising from the day was the benefits that can be derived from people working together in Community Gardens. Bulk orders can be split, seeds swapped and equipment borrowed or exchanged. People learn from each other, both within individual gardens or at meetings such as this one, which concluded with a productive Community Networking session.
Riverside Market Garden:
Community Foodie on Facebook (more photos of the day):
Creating a Community Garden (Nightingale Community Garden in Dinas Powys):
April 2013
March 2013
Feb 2013
Jan 2013
Oct 2012
Aug 2012
Feb 2012
Jan 2012



Sunday, 14 April 2013

Creating a Community Garden 8

In this strand, I have been following the creation of Nightingale Community Garden in Dinas Powys (see links below), on a site that was formerly an unsightly abandoned play area. This month, local residents started gardening there for the first time.

The contractors (Gerald Davies Ltd) finished work on the Community Garden on 6 March, when the compacted red gravel pathways were completed.

On 14 March, Stuart Hockley led work on subdividing the plots with wooden planking, helped by Keith Hatton and Rob McGhee of the Vale of Glamorgan’s Community Foodie initiative. I helped with a couple of borders, including the one to my own plot.

A secure shed was erected on the concrete area at the back of the site. Four deep beds have also being set up in this area. Giles Metcalf has worked on the deep beds and the wood from the cut trees, some of which will be used in the garden.

More recently, screening has been placed along the far fence by the shed to provide the neighbour on that side with more privacy.

A tap now provides water in the garden. Rain water is also being collected off the shed roof in a storage tank.

On Sat 16 March, the official hand-over took place. Elizabeth Millard collected the money, in her role as chairperson of the Dinas Powys Resident’s Group (who have taken on the lease of the land from the council), and Plot Holder Agreement forms were signed. Merry Metcalf took on the role of garden secretary on a temporary basis, making sure all the necessary paperwork was in order for the handover.

Charges are being made according to plot size: £1 per metre squared. This should raise £537 in the first year toward water rates and other running costs of the garden, which now needs to be self-financing.

Councillor Keith Hatton, who co-initiated the project and has been involved throughout, along with Rob McGhee, welcomed local residents on hand-over day. They explained arrangements for the combination locks (on the gate, shed and water tap) and future plans for the garden (e.g., greenhouses). Plot-holders were reminded not to park on nearby grass verges, not to hang coats over fences, not to walk mud onto the public footpath, and generally respect the fact that the garden is in a residential area. An official Opening Day is being planned for May or June.

The first plants in at Nightingale Community Garden were broad beans transplanted by Angela Peterken and her team. Angela is working with five families associated with Dinas Powys Infants School on the garden’s largest plot.

Unfortunately, the weather during the first couple of weeks was very cold and wet. This, together with the heavy clay soil that is hard work to dig over and retains the water, meant that little work got done during the rest of March.

Many of the plots were rotavated on 11 April to help break up the clay. This made a big difference. Sand and grit is also coming this week, for those who want to work it into their plots.

On Sat 13 April, this rhubarb was the first thing I planted in my plot.

I expect when spring eventually does arrive, we will see more action on the gardening front and I’ll report next month on developments. In the meantime, a group from Nightingale Community Garden, myself included, went on a Community Foodie-organized trip to the Riverside Community Garden (Coed Hills near St Hilary in the Vale of Glamorgan) to pick up some tips. That will be the subject of my next post in this strand of the food blog.

Previous posts:

March 2013
Feb 2013
Jan 2013
Oct 2012
Aug 2012
Feb 2012
Jan 2012