Soft fruit at the Vicarage plot

The front garden of St Lawrence Vicarage is now a flourishing soft fruit plot, and volunteers have been kept busy harvesting the produce. The first to ripen were the strawberries – and they have been prolific and delicious. Then red currants and raspberries were ready, followed by both red and green gooseberries. Still to come are black currants and blueberries. The bags of fruit have been put out in front of the Vicarage for passers by to take – which they have been delighted to do! They can make a donation to ALFI at the Allen Gallery next door.

IMG_20170627_104903
July in the Vicarage plot

The other ALFI plots are also starting to look productive. At the Westbrooke plot the narrow border is now a ‘salad bar’ with lettuces, radish, spring onions and salad leaves all coming on. The station plot is planted with beans, onions, leeks, courgettes, potatoes etc, as well as some soft fruit and an espaliered pear and a new apple tree. Up at the Jubilee field most of the trees have fruit starting to swell, promising a crop later in the year.

Thanks to all the volunteers who help maintain these lovely plots.

Project Wild Thing

Calling parents, grandparents and all those who want to help children enjoy the outdoors.

ALFI and Energy Alton bring you the film

PROJECT WILD THING.

On Monday April 3, at the Wesley Room, Alton Maltings Centre, Maltings Close, Alton GU34 1DT, 7.00 for 7.30pm. 

FREE event. Refreshments. 

David Bond is a worried man. His kids’ waking hours are dominated by a cacophany of marketing, and a screen dependence threatening to turn them in glassy-eyed zombies… His engaging film is helping to lead a movement to encourage children to get outside and enjoy nature, improving their health and wellbeing. ‘It’s not the kids who don’t want to put their hands in the mud.. it’s the adults who have said no.’ Chris Packham

See the trailer here: http://www.thewildnetwork.com/film

After the film, join us for a discussion about how we can help children enjoy Alton’s wonderful open spaces.

See How It Grows:Gardening, Cooking and Eating with Children

This year ALFI is setting out to interest children in the joys of gardening, cooking with fresh vegetables, herbs and fruit  – and eating the results.

We are already supporting local schools gardening clubs and this year we are  giving each primary school an apple tree.

We will have recipes, and articles in our newsletters to encourage children, parents and grandparents to find new ways of enjoying fresh seasonal and local food. Children love getting dirty hands, planting seeds and seeing the seedlings grow. and they love cooking so this can be a good way to get them to try some foods which they might otherwise reject. We also plan to have some children’s activities at our regular events – ideas and recipes gratefully received!

The Joys of Seed Saving

ALFI’s annual “Seedy Saturday” is next Saturday (4th February, 10am-12pm, Alton Methodist Hall). Please bring your seeds to swap; if you have none to share, you can still participate and collect seeds for a small donation to ALFI. Tea, coffee, biscuits and advice will be available.

“Seedy Saturday” is with us again, and so I’ve been busy reviewing my saved and purchased seeds, and sorting out which to share, which to keep, and which need to go to the “big stale seed-bed in the sky” [see our seed-saving guide].

Looking through my records (actually, just the hand-written labels on the little plastic bags I’ve re-used for many years), I’ve been saving seeds since at least 2007, probably a little longer, starting only a couple of years after taking on my first garden.

One of the first things I remember saving on a regular basis was French marigolds (Tagetes), picking the faded heads and drying them indoors, before pulling the weird little match-stick like seeds from their papery casing, and putting them away for the next season. Over the years it was fascinating to see them gradually change from their original bright yellow to a mix of orange and deep red, presumably reverting to an earlier, more natural form. I saved the seeds like this for several years, somewhat uselessly naming each packet after their parent plant things like “mostly red, with orange” or “red with lots of orange”, despite the fact that their progeny could be coloured pretty much as they chose!

But then one year, perhaps due to the weather, or maybe daunted by the prospect of the many nights of torchlit slug-hunting it would take to keep them safe, I missed sowing them, and my little packets of seed sat forlorn. When I returned to them in a subsequent season, no plants emerged: their fragile life had faded. It turns out that Tagetes seeds only really last a year, and that their increasingly unique DNA, surviving for so many years in my seeds, was only one careless (or busy) gardener away from dying out for ever.

French marigolds are ten-a-penny, and my failure to save mine is no great loss to the gene pool, but there are many varieties of edible and non-edible plants that are much more special, and have survived only by being handed down in an unbroken line from gardener to gardener for many, many seasons, in pretty much the same way that humans have selected and persisted crops for thousands of years.

These ‘heirloom’ varieties might not attract the commercial grower, being perhaps too difficult to harvest with a machine, or having too short a “shelf life” once picked, but they have been preserved by gardeners because they have something special: perhaps they crop a little earlier, or later; tolerate a sticky local soil or tricky climatic conditions; have a uniquely coloured flower or fruit shape; taste that little bit different, or just because they are a sentimental, yet tangible link to the past.

While few of us in this country lack the money necessary to buy seeds (though there are sadly those who do), and we’re always tempted by the offer of new varieties from the seed producers, with their reassuring silver-lined packets, bright photographs and bizarrely accurate instructions (“sow 7mm deep”!) , there’s also something quite satisfying about collecting those little capsules of life yourself, and popping them safely away in labelled packets through winter, to be rediscovered, remembered, and tended back to life come spring.

Sharing with your friends (and strangers) not only enhances the enjoyment, but also adds a bit of insurance, a little bit of protection, from bad weather, and bad gardeners!

Come along to our “Seedy Saturday” on Saturday 4th February, 10am-12pm at the Alton Methodist Hall, and bring your swaps. Don’t worry if you have nothing to swap yourself, you can still pick something up in exchange for a small donation to ALFI.

As well as locally saved seeds, we’ll also have some commercial offerings that we will divide up and share, making better use of our resources. Remember also that our “Seedling Swap” is in early May, so if you end up growing too many, or too few, you can also swap there.

Happy New Year!

A Happy New Year to all!

We officially sum-up at our AGM in July, but here’s a quick synopsis of our calendar year:

seedy-saturday-2016Our Seedy Saturday (seed swap) in February was a great success, with a great many seeds on offer, and our subsequent Seedling Swap in May went well too, although the cold start to the Spring nobbled our most tender plants and we were practically bean and squash-less, with the notable exception of Runner Beans!

The plot at the Vicarage received a number of new fruit bushes and trees, and produced a flush of wonderful fruit, so much in fact, our pickers could hardly keep up with it.

unusual-planter-2016Other plots continued to be wonderful, with the Station Plot getting a new growing barrel and a bird table, and sporting a very unusual container in the form of an old Spanish guitar; the Westbrook plot absorbed a great deal of hard-work fighting invasive tree roots, before hopefully finding a solution which will vastly improve its yield, and our little orchard at Jubilee Fields produced its very first apples. We got some great new ALFI signs for all the plots and planters, and a Alton Men’s Shed made us a couple of fantastic notice boards.

O20160208_122514ur planters got shifted around quite a bit due to the council’s new flower arrangements, and ongoing works around the Station, with our rings and hops opposite The Railway pub sadly loosing out to a storage area, but some new ground was gained next to the refurbished building next to the Taxi office, and we gained a brand new planter outside the library.

 

westbrooke-plot-working-party-nov-4-2016Also shifted around a bit was the committee, with long-serving members taking a bit of a breather, or swapping roles, and long-lost members returning to the fold.

Our annual schools competition was another winner, with some super drawings we’ve put on display at the Station Plot, celebrating our theme of “Greening the Grey”; we really loved the work that was put into these.

harvest-feast-2016Rounding up the season, our annual Harvest Feast in October was so incredibly popular, we ran out of room, nearly ran out of soup, and chided ourselves for not baking more cakes!

xmas-tree-festival-2016

Last, but not least, our entry for the Christmas Tree Festival at St. Lawrence was literally the hottest thing there, decorated as it was with chilli peppers!

Thanks to all our plot-keepers and other volunteers, to everyone who’s supported us or contributed to funds, and to the people who’ve passed on their admiration and thanks for our work: there’s really nothing better than a compliment delivered in person.

Cheers! Have a great year!

ALFI

Rooting for the Westbrooke Plot

The Westbrooke plot volunteers have been busy digging matted fibrous roots out of the small raised bed – they have grown through the fine porous membrane at the bottom of the bed from a nearby sycamore tree – and removed most of the impoverished soil. The bed now has an impermeable strong membrane to deter the roots, and been refilled with a mixture of new top soil, soil improver and some very well rotted horse manure. By the spring we hope to have a very fertile mix ready for planting for the new season.

westbrooke-plot-working-party-nov-4-2016
ALFI volunteers pose after their hard work

Next working party Friday December 9th, 1.30 -3.30pm

Allen Gallery Charities Fete

ALFI joined a number of charities in the lovely Allen Gallery garden, with a table with a tombola, and a cress-growing activity for children as well as our display boards and newsletters to publicise our events and activities.

It was a hot, sunny day as a number of people came to see what we do and to support our efforts. The profits from the tombola, which sported a number of gardening related prizes, will go towards expenses for our plots and planters, and educational schemes such as our annual schools competition.

ALFI maintains a herb bed in the Allen gallery garden, and next door is our fabulous Vicarage plot, which has yielded a staggering amount of fruit this year, regularly picked and put out for public collection by our volunteers.

IMG_20160821_115023.jpg

Elsewhere, two of our apple trees down at Jubilee Fields (between the Sports Centre and the playing fields) are bearing fruit that should be ready to pick in September or October. The trees in our orchard are only young, and their yield will pick up over the next few years, and, with a little care and attention, they will fruit for decades to come. Did you know that the original “Bramley’s Seedling” apple tree, from which the famous cooking apple originates, is now more than 200 years old? Orchards, as well as being wonderful for us, are also great for wild-life, supporting many invertebrates, pollinators and  birds. We’ll enjoy watching it grow!

 

Our next event will be our annual Harvest Feast on October 9th in the Methodist Church Hall in Alton, from 11.00am.