I spent yesterday morning at the Royate Hill allotments. It was the first of our permaculture course field trips and we were given a guided tour around the site by the extraordinary site manager, Mike Feingold.
After having started life as the source of fruit and milk for the city of Bristol and then as a clay pit, Royate Hill has been given over to private allotments for the last 100 years. There are currently 56 plots and a waiting list of 38. In the centre of the site there is a a community orchard planted with approximately 40 variety of apples, pears, plums, damsons etc. Mike pointed out a few varieties and allowed us to sample fruit positively oozing with juice and flavour. He then walked us round the area he cultivates where we tasted some of the variety of salads and soft fruit that he grows in abundance. After a cup of tea and the opportunity to use the compost loo, we were set to work pressing apples and mulching the apple trees with wood chip waste from a local timber yard.
What surprised me was Mike's apparent lack of interest in exploiting the land for as much as he squeeze from it. In fact, when questioned, he admitted that the tradional cultivation of vegetables was way down at 17 on his list of 'values'. Far higher up that list were education, community projects and working in harmony with the natural environment. Top of his list was his own sanity. The allotment is where he goes to escape to his own Planet Zog.
This got me thinking about our own Grow Zone project which has, on the face of it, been of limited success. Our herb garden at the front of the house has flourished and I even managed to achieve my ambition of growing a few giant sunflowers against our new sky blue wall. We harvested a reasonable crop of potatoes from our old dustbin and from various tomato plants. I was able to eat peas straight from the pod in my own back yard and the chard in our rockery is still producing an abundance of vivid leaves. However our courgettes refused to fruit, the runner beans failed to thrive, the pumpkins were attacked by slugs and I didn't harvest our radishes until they were too woody to be edible. In terms of produce we come out approximately 50/50.
However, when measured by the Feingold scale we have done extremely well.
We have had fun
We have recognised the potential of our small space (and I really do mean 'small')
We have actually done something with it
We have worked with (and for) others
We have shared food and drink and friendship
We have learnt new facts and practised new skills
We have brightened up the street
And finally ... we have grown some of our own food!
PS I described Mike as 'extraordinary' in the best sense of that word. Click on the image below to see just what I mean.