Growing Connections

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The Octopus Community Plant Nursery is a wonderful resource that helps us deliver our community activities and projects in lots of different ways.  It is the Learning Hub for all aspects of food growing and is also a ‘demonstrator garden’ for the new Climate Action project ‘Action for Local Food’, a collaboration between Octopus, Global Generation and Islington Council.

The Community Plant Nursery on Tufnell Park Estate is a beautiful thriving community space where we grow plants and seedlings for community food growers in Islington. Let’s ask ourselves what we can do together?

We know community food growing is not without challenges, but in Islington we also know its successes.

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At the Community Plant Nursery, we run workshops and training demonstrating good practice but most importantly growing lots of seedlings and plants so that we can distribute them across Islington to promote local food growing. This year, 2021, we are gearing up for a bumper crop of plants to share with Islington’s community food growers.

We couldn’t do what we do at the Community Plant Nursery without our amazing wonderful local participants and committed volunteers. They are the ones who make the space bloom and are such a vibrant community that welcomes newcomers.

As the first 2020 lockdown eased, we kept sowing and growing thanks to our participants and volunteers who were as keen as ever to get outdoors and get growing. While we still distributed seedlings and plants, what we really focused on, in the most challenging of years, was growing as much food as possible within the community plant nursery. Every raised bed, pot and spare bucket, was put to use. We grew as much fresh food as we could, potatoes, cabbages, cauliflowers, kale, leeks, lettuce, rocket, tomatoes, aubergines, peas, beans, squashes, courgettes, pumpkins, chillies, peppers. melons and fresh herbs for the Food Parcels being distributed by Islington’s Community Food Hubs. We got quite adept at packaging food and dropping it off by bike.

Our participants and volunteers were also able to harvest and take produce home as part of the reward for their hard work. One new participant was a furloughed chef, so he often did a bit of harvesting and then came back the following week with delightful snacks. His basil pasta pesto with salad was a delight. We also had Brazilian chocolate orange carrot cake by an inventive participant after she harvested lots of ‘wonky’ small carrots. Delicious.

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Last year we saw a big increase in the numbers of people who wanted to be involved in the life of the community plant nursery for the first time. It took a while for us to get everything covid-secure. For the first time we had to organise a booking system instead of running in our usual open access drop in way. We did this to help keep everyone safe and make sure that we got social distancing right. It worked really well. We kept to small groups in bubbles, following the Government guidelines on the rule of 6 – that’s 6 people meeting up together outdoors. Like everyone everywhere we relaxed a bit and really enjoyed the summer and autumn but sadly had to move to the Government rule of 2 when the November 2020 lockdown was in place.  All the good work last year has really paid off as the community plant nursery is now in excellent shape to get going again in spring 2021.

The last 3 months, January to March 2021, have been tough as we had to close the site for participants and most volunteers due to the severity of the pandemic crisis. Fortunately, the Plant Cultivator Caroline, has been able to keep going, sowing and growing, both at the Community Plant Nursery and at home, so we have a really good plant stock for when we reopen. The site looks great too, the broccoli, planted in autumn 2020, is almost ready to harvest. The over wintered broad beans and garlic are looking healthy. All the hardwood cutting taken in autumn are doing well, including lots of gooseberries and rosemary. The bulbs planted last autumn are looking good. We are giving pots of bulbs to Whittington Park Community Centre who will drop them to members of their elders lunch club as ‘cheerful’ gifts while they are stuck at home and missing coffee mornings and sociable lunches.

In January and February, it is so easy to get carried away and sow lots of seeds when later sowings will produce stronger plants that catch up with their older siblings. Having said that we couldn’t wait. Speedy lettuce lived up to its name and has been potted on. Leeks, rocket and herbs have had an early start and are tucked up under fleece in the polytunnel. Tomatoes, chillies and aubergines have been sown at home on windowsills to get them going, thanks to Caroline and participants who are happy to use every available space at home! It’s not always easy to get the conditions right for early sowing. You need seed sowing compost, seeds, pots or modules, watering can, light, heat and good plant care skills!

It looked like the snow in February wiped out the spinach, but spinach is tough and hardy.  A few weeks later it perked up and is now ready to harvest for the Community Food Hubs.

We can’t wait to welcome people back.

We are ready for a new season of growing. We will have to do it carefully and cautiously in line with the Government Road map for easing restrictions, but we hope that by the 20th April we will have our regular workshop programme up and running again on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. As well as our regular school sessions on Tuesday afternoons, with a range of other workshops available by the Action for Local Food project.

In the meantime, we are still running the fortnightly virtual Zoom ‘stay connected’ workshops, the most recent one being on edible flowers.

If you want to get involved in the Community Plant Nursery and learn how to grow food, e mail Caroline on caroline@octopuscommunities.org.uk

 

Caroline Humphries

Plant Cultivator at the Community Plant Nursery

 

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