Companion Planting – continuing the allotment project

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Having initiated the allotment project in 2015, it has gone from strength to strength, providing a space where Speedwell Nursery School and Children’s Centre and Speedwell Friends now work in partnership to develop a programme of activities based around organic gardening and creative practice.

Speedwell Friends’ recent work is called Companion Planting, which is a way of gardening where different plants are grown together that are of mutual benefit. We feel that this idea echoes our ethos of bringing people together to share skills and celebrate diversity in order to build stronger and healthier communities.
harvesting-tomatoes

Sessions are advertised by word of mouth and through Speedwell Nursery School and Children’s Centre groups. They take place on Thursday mornings and we also have some weekend sessions to allow working people and school age children to participate.

To read about the work with children from Speedwell Nursery School visit Bristol Early Years Research and Development where it is featured as a case study on their home page. The full report for Speedwell Friend’s Well Being project can be found on the St George Neigbourhood Partnership website.

In both projects we work our allotment organically, using a range of gardening methods that benefit wildlife. We find alternative ways to control pests, for example we plant marigolds to keep away aphids, nematodes to control ants and use vertical planting to keep slugs off our strawberries.

Watering the vertical strawberries

Watering the vertical strawberries

Our willow den
One of our first activities of 2016 was constructing a den from living willow and everyone joined in even though nobody had any experience of making one before. We worked well together and by the end of the morning we had a beautiful structure that people of all ages enjoy.

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‘Thank you for a lovely time on Saturday, learning a new skill and providing lots of families with a sense of achievement and pride as they watch the willow den grow and change over the coming months.’

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Many participants have not done any gardening for some time, if ever. We encourage people to come along to ‘have a look’ rather than putting emphasis on having to work or be good at anything. This informal approach lets people connect at their own pace and in their own way. As well as encouraging people to put forward their own ideas, we work out lists of jobs that needed doing, organised them to suit people’s interests and abilities, and offering support where necessary.

Children are active participants in the projects. They enjoy being outside and taking care of the allotment, and are particularly keen on watering plants and picking fruit and vegetables. The lay out of the allotments means they are able to be quite independent, which leads to excellent problem solving, for example how to turn on the tap, steer a wheelbarrow or carry a full watering can without spilling any.

‘The Speedwell allotment has given me and my son a chance to learn not just about planting and caring for plants but also recipe ideas to make with the produce. We have met lots of people who we would not have had the opportunity to meet without this relaxed and nourishing space. We value our Thursday mornings on the allotment SO MUCH for a breath of fresh air and a place where my son can roam free and feel close to nature.’

wheelbarrow-ride

Mulching
We make beds with mulch from nettles, comfrey, recycled shredded paper and cardboard. This is known as the ‘no dig’ method and is enriching for the earth, better for soil structure than digging, and much better for your back as well.

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Sharing food
Tea breaks are a crucial part of each session, a place where the group can enjoy a well-earned rest and share thoughts and ideas about the allotment as well as other aspects of life.

‘I particularly like coming to these allotment sessions because they are relaxed, friendly and yet very productive. It’s lovely to spend time outdoors with like-minded adults and very young budding gardeners.’

Sharing a summer pudding

Sharing a summer pudding

blackcurrants

Blackcurrant jam in the making

Blackcurrant jam in the making

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‘It has been the strong sense of community spirit and kindness that I have found to be most beneficial. Not to mention the simple reward of tea and a biscuit!’

Solar printing
Emily Tiplady, our wonderful assistant, resourcefully transformed the potting shed into a darkroom and led sessions using solar fabric dye to make bunting. This was an activity where parents could work with their children to print fabric, using leaves as stencils with beautiful results.

solar-bunting-in-process

solar-bunting

‘I’m going to look at all the different shapes of leaves all week now.’

Raised beds
Some of our participants are experienced gardeners and share their skills and knowledge with the rest of the group. We also have some confident carpenters who made a raised bed from recycled pallets.

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Spreading the word
We presented our project at the Parents’ Conference held at M Shed in July, and at St George’s Neighbourhood Partnership Forum in August.

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The little shed has photos of the project inside.
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Our harvest
We have been harvesting our produce through the summer and into the autumn. We had a good crop of blackcurrants, strawberries, raspberries, broad beans, tomatoes and onions. We also grew decorative gourds, aubergines and peppers for the first time. We are currently collecting seeds and starting our planting for next year.

‘It was a great opportunity to meet people from different countries and languages, chatting and discussing about how to make a land and planting was lots of fun. Our children are enjoyed being outside in a fresh air.’

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Jam for refugees
One of our achievements on the allotment was to make delicious preserves from foraged fruit which we sold to raise money to support women and children refugees living in Northern France. We ran a very successful jam stall accompanied by musicians from The Fantasy Orchestra and then teamed up with lovely St Werburgh’s City Farm to run their Bonfire Night bar. In total we raised nearly £6,000 and when BBC Points West heard about our fundraising they did this feature about us.

Speedwell Allotment on Points West from Luci Gorell Barnes on Vimeo.