Thursday, 23 June 2016

Route Vegetables - a cycling tour of Growing Spaces

Cycling around Cambridge on a warm Saturday afternoon (11th June) on the Route Vegetables tour I was amazed by the sheer variety of vegetable and herb plots we have created through the Growing Spaces project. Some of them I had passed by many times without realising they were ours. Thanks to Marie for organising this tour of enlightenment and thanks to Toni for telling us about the different plots. Each one is tended by a different person or team of people but Toni somehow manages to keep track.

Marie inspecting Mizuna leaves at ARU

Our first stop was at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) on East Road. There are two vegetable beds and a herb bed there. However they are well hidden, on the ARU campus but adjacent to student residences. It is a public place but you are unlikely to come across them by accident.

These beds are a joint project with ARU students looking after them. The vegetables grown include mizuna (like rocket), beans, chives and garlic, strawberries and raspberries, brassicas, peas, courgettes, runner beans, pumpkins, and lemon verbena, and the herb bed has chocolate mint (delicious, and apparently not quite as vigorous as other mints so less likely to take over), rosemary, par-cel (looks like parsley, tastes like celery), sorrel and sage.

Norfolk Street, strawberries

At the other end of the size scale, there are four planters on Norfolk Street with rosemary, lavender, mint, and strawberries. These plants need very little maintenance and are drought tolerant so they do not need very regular watering – bar the strawberries, but this is an experiment in gardening after all!.

Cycling between spaces, the rear guard catching up on Highworth Avenue.

The next stop was some distance away, north of the river and I found it quite difficult to cycle in convoy. Single file was essential on Elizabeth Way and we got split up negotiating the roundabouts. Toni brought up the rear to make sure no-one got lost.

Leys Road, vegetables (including chard) and wild flowers.

Sharing the produce is one of the fundamental principles of Growing Spaces – we produce food to be consumed. Quite a few of us took home some chard, myself included. I had quite forgotten how much I liked it. Seeing how easy it is to grow I have now sown some in my own garden.

Leys Road, borage and wild flowers

These flowers are from the same plot, at the junction between Leys Road and Highworth Avenue. The purple flowers are borage which is edible. The orange flowers on the left make a nice contrast but are not for eating. This bed was seeded with wild flowers for biodiversity as well as food plants. The combination is gorgeous.

Lawrence Way Community House, Sandra explaining the filling method for the beds
This planter is one of three installed in the front garden of Lawrence Way Community House, in Kings Hedges. The planters were made by YMCA woodwork group so these beds are truly a community project.

Sandra gave us an important tip on how to fill planters to maintain fertility for longer. Underneath the compost she puts in alternating layers of garden waste and paper, a technique called Lasagna gardening. This breaks down slowly proving more nutrients over time. Here is one recipe Sandra has used but there are others based on the same principles.

Cycling in Kings Hedges was bliss after negotiating Elizabeth Way. We were off road most of the way and when there was a road there was little traffic. The only difficulty was not getting lost. Only Marie and Toni had much of a clue where we were going.

This front garden in Kings Hedges demonstrate a wide range of foods in a tiny space. They include herbs such as parsley and mint, broad beans, rocket and strawberries. The beds are cared for by the lady of the house, who was inspired by the beds at Daily Bread nearby. Her aim is to create a community space for her neighbours as well as herself. Her partner made the planters.

Beds at daily bread as of April 24th - you can see winter wheat in the back on the right.

We finished up outside Daily Bread, the food co-op where there are more fine looking beds. Produce from these is sometimes taken into the shop to be given away. Since this is quite a large space there is room for more plants - including winter wheat, an appropriate choice for the location and useful as a winter cover crop. Sadly I had to go at this point but everyone else went inside for tea and cake.

Growing Spaces aims to promote growing food in the community, for the community and by the community. I was very impressed by the number of spaces created involving other organisations and teams of carers. I was also impressed by the dedication of individuals who take on responsibility for spaces in very public spaces. Being selfish, though, the best thing for me was picking up tips about growing food in small spaces with minimal maintenance.

There is more information about growing spaces here.

1 comment:

  1. That was a fun afternoon! Thanks a lot Nicola for this post, and thanks also to you and Stray Taoist for the fab pictures :) Let's do a South of the River cycling tour in the future - there are still more Growing Spaces to visit!