The Victoria plum has not fruited well for us, and we’ve put this down to the exposed position of the orchard, which means the blossom is exposed to frost and harsh winds, adversely affecting pollination. The Majorie plum flowers three weeks later than the Victoria which we hope will suit the position better.
ALFI first started to cultivate the Westbrooke plot (a roadside verge at the junction of Lenten St and Westbrooke Rd) as a small vegetable and herb garden in 2009. For the first two or three years it was pleasingly productive; presumably the soil was fertile after growing only mown grass for many years.
But gradually the productivity decreased. One problem was the lack of a water supply. At first kind neighbours let us get water in cans from their taps but we were grateful when ATC agreed to fill our water butts on a weekly basis through the summer. We now have two butts, and organise a watering rota through the summer months. The site is also quite shaded and on a slight north-facing slope so crops only get sunshine from mid-day onwards.
However, the biggest problem was that whenever we dug over the plot, we found that masses of tangled fibrous roots had grown in from a large sycamore tree in a nearby garden. These, presumably, were taking water and nutrients from our crops. We had two lovely raised beds constructed and filled them with good soil and organic material over a permeable plastic sheet at ground level. I was sure this would prevent the roots from growing up. I was wrong.
The more we fed the plants, the more the roots grew in! So last year we decided to dig out the smaller raised bed and laid an impermeable plastic sheet before refilling with a lovely mix of fertile soil. And this year that bed has been most rewarding. Broad beans, peas, salad crops, beetroot and carrots have all done well through the summer, and in late September we planted seedlings of spinach, rocket, radish and Chinese cabbage – all of which have flourished and are now ready to pick.
So we have just had a working party to dig out the bigger raised bed to lay an impermeable membrane in that one too. Hard work; it is amazing how much soil comes out of a modest raised bed. But a good team of volunteers completed the task and the bed now has a few months to settle before we start planting again, beginning with broad beans in February.
Finding solutions to such problems is what makes gardening so satisfying. Unfortunately the rest of the plot still has to compete with the tree roots so we have to grow hardier, less hungry plants there-like herbs-unless we can find another solution!
Our first community picnic took place on Sunday 3 September on a rather rainy afternoon at the Jubilee Orchard on the Jubilee Playing Fields next to the Sports Centre where ALFI (Alton Local Food Initiative) have an orchard of fifteen fruit trees.
A range of activities were organised for participants, the fields looked splendid with newly-cut grass and some of the fruit trees were full of fruit and all were decorated with attractive bunting for the occasion. The afternoon included a conducted tour of the orchard to look at the range of apple, pear, plum, cherry and quince trees. Balloons that the children could take home decorated the area and guided participants to the event.
The main table was attractively laid out with a basket of fruit and flowers and had cut apples pears and apples to sample, dried apple slices, bramley jam pancakes, courgette cake and freshly picked local blackberries to sample or take away.
Picnics were eaten under the shelter of the pavillion whilst hot drinks and squash were provided in the pavillion.
Emily Crofts prepared a scavenger hunt for the children that directed them towards the orchard and an apple and spoon race had two heats with a final that was won by Sophie Tomson, one of the children, although the adults also enjoyed the heat that they participated in.
There were some imaginative hats with a fruity theme entered for the hat competition, from real fruit to a waste paper bin with fruit painted on it … and everything in between. The children’s section was won by Elise Clark, four years, with a hat straw cap that she had decorated herself, face paint reinforcing the fruity theme. Melissa Pritchard won the adult section with an elegant apple hat made of paper with a toilet roll core. (It needed to be seen to be appreciated!)
Prizes were given to all the winners and those who had won the schools competition earlier in the year were also invited to receive their prizes.
We all had a fun time and we were pleased we could go ahead in spite of the weather, thanks to everyone who came, the sun is ordered for next time. In the mean-time please come to the ALFI Harvest Feast, with special guest Apple Experts from Sparsholt College on Saturday 30 September at 10.00 a.m. until 2.00 p.m. for coffee and homemade cakes at any time and/or vegetable soups and bread at lunchtime. This is indoors at Alton Methodist Church Hall. See you there.
200g curly kale, shredded, washed and dried
1tbsp. sesame seeds – optional
Demerara sugar – optional
Heat oven to 200 degrees.
In large bowl, mix kale, oil, salt and sesame seeds, so the kale is coated.
Spread out on baking tray, sprinkle with a little demerara sugar, and roast for 15–20 mins, turning halfway through. The kale should be partly crispy, partly soft.
4 large tomatoes
85g cooked peas
85g cooked sweetcorn
Halve the tomatoes, scoop out the pulp and mix in a bowl with the peas, sweetcorn and a little salt and pepper. Pile this mixture back into the tomato cases. These can be served at room temperature or cooked for a short while in a moderate oven.
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.
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.
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!
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.