Community Learning Exchange reopens

The Community Learning Exchange reopens for applications 2021/2022

At this time of year in our growing settings we tend, coax and feed our crops so that they bear more fruit. In essence the Community Learning Exchange does just that- it acknowledges that in order to nourish and sustain community led growth some cross pollination and a sprinkling of nourishment is required. So, in between watering, weeding, liquid feeding and harvesting you might just take the time to collectively reflect on where or what next next for your group?

The Community Learning Exchange offers an excellent opportunity to community growers and allotment groups to explore and develop new ideas and sustainable ways of working. Countless groups over the years have met to share and reflect on best practice development in their settings and our network is undoubtedly stronger, wiser and better connected as a result. Practical examples include: groups seeking support to design and build a community growing space on a budget, to allotment growers seeking support with establishing communal composting facilities.  Groups have also sought support on ‘practice development’ such as sustainable approaches to finance and running youth volunteer programmes. With over 15 years of grassroots development there is now a wealth of experience amongst growers of all kinds and this fund recognises that. So, if you are starting out, in stages of a new development or seeking ideas to sustain your group you may well find inspiration or sage advice from others within the network.

With support from Scottish Government this well established fund has reopened and can combine either face to face visits where necessary or an opportunity to meet virtually read more here. https://scottishcommunityalliance.org.uk/community-learning-exchange-2021/  All applications require endorsement so if you’d like to develop your idea and submit an application we’d love to help, contact the Community Growing Forum: hello@getgrowingscotland.org

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Water, water…..not so much water

We’ve had a prolonged dryspell across much of the Highlands and Central belt recently. How are you coping in your setting as we can begin to safely, sow together? These dry springs are becoming a more frequent and one we need to be prepared for. Too much water, too little water- when starting out it can require some effort to have water where you want it and when you want it but this is infrastructure that requires a little thought and planning. Whatever the weather anything that is not ‘mains water’ makes good sense both environmentally and for the purse.

One thing you need to bear in mind with water collection systems is the risk of the legionella bacteria- a water borne virus that can occur in standing water reaching temperatures of 20C or more. Guidance states – ideally siting the water receptacle out of the sun, the need for annual cleaning of your water receptacle, use of a watering can for emptying the container rather than something that creates spray/water droplets.

If you have access to mains water and you are a registered charity with an annual income of less than £300,000 you may be entitled to water rates exemption. You need to apply annually before the 31st march.

Send us your water solutions- photos, top tips and questions to share with others to info@getgrowingscotland.org

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Intentional acts of kindness

The thing we have missed most in these past months of lock down is being together. Up until recently we have been going to the garden in ones and twos over the winter just to try and keep it ticking over but we missed the synergy of the group.  I think all community gardeners know we make friends from doing things together and where better than under the wide skies, fresh air and beauty of a garden? 

Our garden hasn’t been open to the public for a year now which is much missed by the community. When the last lockdown was enforced we decided if people couldn’t come to the garden then we would take it to them and we started our ‘hugs in a jar’ scheme! 

We have to do all the processes separately so one of us goes and picks whatever we think will look nice, mainly a backdrop of evergreens, heather and twiggy sticks with a ration of maybe 3 snowdrops each or a crocus and lately the little tete a tete daffy. Someone else makes then into posies, another makes the labels and our artistic volunteer makes lovely stickers for the labels! Then a few people deliver them to folk who are isolating or for some reason a bit low and needing some cheering. We also put some in our sharing shed and they disappear almost instantly! People I don’t know keep bring me jam jars and leaving them at my gate! It’s worked beautifully. 

It’s a simple but very effective way of passing on a little kindness and it helped keep us in touch with each other and our gardening group alive. We still gather in small numbers at a distance but what joy to work alongside each other once more, against the backdrop of spring.

Author: Jan Cameron St. Ronans  Wells, Innerleithen

Sow what next?

How do we plan for different scenarios- with late and possibly reduced access whilst trying to grow more food or possible increased interest in our group? These are some of the questions that have come from the network- keep them coming and we will endeavour to share tips, ideas and inspiration. If you haven’t done this already it’s time to get planning (virtually-) 

What are your priorities for your setting this year? 

  • It might be to just find a way to connect together again ,  
  • to possibly grow more food, to support more people to get involved and benefit, 
  • to make your garden a more beautiful,  inspiring and healing place to be,  
  • to work more closely and consciously with nature. 

What can you grow this season? 

With support from yourselves and some top tips from Castlebank Horticultural Centre we have co created some horticultural inspiration to help with planning an unpredictable season. Do come back to us with any ideas, experience or questions scotland@farmgarden.org.uk. 

Top tips for a slightly different growing year-  

  • If all else fails this could be the Year of Green Manure- sow a living mulch to prevent nutrient loss, add nutrient and bulk and often benefit wildlife too. Get bare soil covered and let nature do the rest. Unsure about the benefits of green manure and what to sow read more here 
  • Allow grass and other non vegetable areas to run wild, Invertebrates and insects will flourish in many an untended garden. Take the opportunity to think about which bits to focus on and where to relax a bit this year. 
  • Growing vegetables requires thorough ground work so you don’t have to come back and weed later on. This is not going to be the year to experiment! Consider trusty, known varieties that will give crops without much attention- watering or weeding- beetroot, carrots, leeks. 
  • If clearing the area is not an option plan to mulch with a thin layer of cardboard and compost and plant potatoes, pumpkins and courgettes through the mulch.  
  • Involve volunteers in growing some of these crops at home for planting out later on – for window sill growing start chilli peppers , tomatoes and leeks just now and pumpkins, courgettes and cucumbers from April.  
  • Flowers-we can’t have too many can we? Many great for wildlife and to lift our spirits. Sow sweet peas now into deep pots or toilet rolls on windowsills for constant summer bunches or calendula and cornflowers straight into the soil as soon as the soil feels comfortable to touch and we able.
  • Where growing in pots and trays chose peat free compost with care, Sylvagrow comes highly recommended. Can you please make a peat/coir free recommendation? 
  • Wherever possible sow directly in situ or into a seed bed. This is much less maintenance than growing in trays and pots. 
  • Remember SF&G members receive 40% discount on Dobies seeds, more here 

There’s a multitude of information (and experience amongst you) on windowsill growing, growing together whilst apart. If you like to share or recommend something with the others please send it through. Meantime check out educational resources with Castlebank here and check out Dundee  Community Allotment Officer Kate Treharne great lockdown growing series here If you are based in an area of economic disadvantage, your group has a bank account and you need a small amount of money to pay towards providing sowing kits to keep your volunteers growing please contact scotland@farmgarden.org.uk asap. 

Growing through COVID

Covid and the Allotment-looking back on a growing season like no other.
The early part of 2020, like every other year saw allotment plots being prepared, seeds propagated on window sills or in greenhouses. Potatoes were about to be sown when the lockdown was announced in mid March.

Fear, uncertainty, confusion, for the first few weeks as most plot holders took the simple advice of staying at home.

However, as it became clear that visits to the allotment were welcomed by officialdom, people began to test the water with short visits, abiding by the new rules and keeping out of each others way.

As the weather improved, people stayed longer, and often were accompanied by other family members in the same bubble.. Demand for growing material increased, compost became in short supply, and even veg seeds were no longer available. Car parking space soon became an issue as nearly all the plot holders were spending a lot more time on their plots.

Obviously, we had a number of members (10%) who were self isolating, or shielding and who had been advised by the committee that no action would be taken if their plot was not cultivated this growing season.

The time rich plot holders were now in full swing on the plots, and in the days of social media, told their  friends of the benefits of having an allotment, as requests for plots took off immediately and have continued to do so. Our site was fully occupied and had no vacancies but the waiting list continues to grow.

The exceptional sunny spring weather contributed to the feel good factor of plot holders who were able to grow more than usual, renovate sheds, huts etc and generally escape the depression of the lockdown.

To date we have no record of any plot holder having Covid 19.

As a result of the increased productivity on their plots, we now have increased demand from plot holders to move from half plots to full sized plots. We are unable to meet this demand, as Glasgow City Council encourage committees to offer half plots rather than full plots, to keep the waiting lists down.

In this dreadful year of the Covid pandemic, it seems unreal to discuss the benefits that the allotment community have “enjoyed” during this period, but that many people have maintained and improved their mental and physical health is to be welcomed. By way of illustration, we have members of our community, who are front line health workers, and in the peak of the pandemic found some respite on their plots. One paramedic said “ the plot helps me to keep my sanity” Another said that having lost 3 patients on one night he needed the plot to restore his strength. The bird song, doing simple growing tasks and seeing new plant growth gave them energy to face their next shift on the front line.

Most of the plot holders who were self isolating or shielding have returned and immediately began the task of tackling their plots overgrown with weeds etc. One such plot holder rued the day he fed his vegetable beds with Growmore prior to lockdown, only to find the weeds invigorated and had reclaimed his plot. They are planning and preparing for next years growing season and are just glad to be out the house and back on their plot.

Gardening leave took on a new meaning as those “working from home “ found time to weed and feed on the plot in between taking calls or emails.

One lady sharing a plot with her sister who was shielding said she had to get out and breathe fresh air and do something, the plot was her safe haven.

As I was leaving the allotment site one day, I met a plot holder just arriving and he said “I just need to get into the plot, get some fresh air and do something”.

The lockdown cancelled our plant sale day when we interact with the local community, we lost our community repair and paint day when we get together, work together and laugh together, and we lost our BBQ to finish up the growing season. The lockdown may have kept us 2 metres apart, but we all felt better together having worked the plots and harvested more than just the crops.

Committees now have the challenge of offering the allotment experience to newcomers, but will struggle as vacancies are likely to be low, with demand unprecedented.

Demand from existing plot holders for extra growing space will be near impossible to satisfy.

Many newcomers have limited growing ability and could struggle in their new environment without hands on support.

Unlike the local population, many of the new plot holders from abroad have more agricultural skills  and we marvelled at the transformation our a traditional plot to a Chinese one and the crops squeezed out of a plot by a family from Poland. Half plots are not sufficient for their needs.

Families now see allotments as good places for their children to experience a childhood inspired by grannies and grandads of times past, and to grow good tasting vegetables.

Allotment committees are unable to meet todays demand.

In many ways the opportunities that allotment plots offers society in the “new normal” future cannot be developed by smart promotions but with access to available land for growing today.

If over 75s shielding from the virus are preparing their plots for growing next year, today, when will authorities do like wise.

It should be noted that all the Covid -19 rules and regulations were observed within the allotment site.

All of the plots are fenced and give each plot holder a safe place to cultivate crops.

Sharing of excess seeds and surplus young plants was not permitted.

Visitors to the site were discouraged.

Author: Denis Barrett

Chair of Budhill and Springboig Allotments, Glasgow