Wednesday, 30 May 2012

normal service is resumed...

...sorry about last week's interruption to my normal service - I was really ill, but feeling much better this week. So it was back to the weeding on Tuesday.

Couch grass by brianpettinger
just one couch grass plant...:

 It's amazing how quickly the earth has dried out. We were weeding an area that has become infested with couch grass. A few weeks ago the long roots would have pulled out quite easily, but it was hard work teasing the plants out of the soil trying not to break the roots. I'm sure you all know couch grass... it's a nasty perennial which is virtually impossble to get rid of.  The roots are really rhizomes which spread under the soil surface and become entangled in the roots of other plants.

couch roots, 2.11 by 2_Sheds
...but a whole load of roots! 2_sheds

One small plant usually hides metres of root under ground. It grows incredibly quickly but at least it's sterile and doesn't spread by seed as well!

Couch grass has a number of names - twitch grass, witchgrass, dog's grass, scutch, quackgrass and has been used in herbal medicine since classical Greek times. The Romans used it to treat kidney stones and as urinary problems. The common name dog grass comes from the fact that sick dogs will dig up the root and eat it. According to Culpepper

" Tis under the dominion of Jupiter, and is the most medicinal of all the Quick- grasses. Being boiled and drank, it opens obstructions of the liver and gall, and the stopping of urine, and eases the griping pains of the belly and inflammations; wastes the matter of the stone in the bladder, and the ulcers thereof also. The roots bruised and applied, do consolidate wounds. The seed doth more powerfully expel urine, and stays the lask and vomiting. The distilled water alone, or with a little wormseed, kills the worms in children. "

I don't think I'll try it!!!

Sarah's off sick this week - hope she didn't get my cold! But there si more good news. The team have got on the short list to give training in composting - keep your eyes and eras open for more news!

If you want to volunteer at the urban farm come along on Tuesdays after 10.00 for a chat or contact Dave at : 

Wednesday, 23 May 2012


...I've got a really bad cold, so no farming me for me this week! What a shame when the weather is so lovely!!!

Antarctica: South Pole to McMurdo on a C-130 by eliduke
But I am reading a book about why explorers risked their lives and various bits of their anatomy ( frost bite!)  to go to the antarctic. Apart from the usual stuff about " because it's there" both poles were presented in the thought and literature of the period as places at the extreme of the world and experience .... think about Mary Shelley's Frankenstein....

And, of course, they didn't know what was there.

In the early 1800s Captain Symmes of Cincinnati  seriously put forward the theory that there was a passageway at both poles that lead under the earth's crust to onion layers of different worlds where other beings lived.... weird!

The hundred or so years of speculation  all contributed to a sense of sublime awfulness - which fed into a love of gothic horror - which fascinated both the explorers and the public that read about their efforts.

I'll be better next week!

If you want to volunteer at the urban farm come along on Tuesdays after 10.00 for a chat or contact Dave at : 

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

weird, weird weather!!!

I have to admit that when I went up to the farm last Thursday I suggested to Sarah and the team that they should cancel the big day on Saturday...luckily no-one listened. The Urb Farm open day was a resounding success with beautiful sunny weather and a great atmosphere! I couldn't make it - granny duty again - but eveyone seems to have a great time and there are some really positive messages flying around from the growing people facebook page - including one asking for more open days! If you took any photos let me have them and I'll post them on the blog.
view from the cabin during the hail storm
This Tuesday, though, was quite different. We had the full range of weather conditions  - cold and cloudy in the morning with warm, sunny spells. A downpour in the afternoon sent us scuttling for the polytunnels and then we had an amazing hail storm just as we were packing away! The whole area was covered in white.

This weird weather is having a bad impact on the urban farm, though. The ground is sodden, there isn't much sun and it's still cold - even for May! The greenhouses are full of plants that really need to be put outside, but the conditions just aren't right  and that means there's no space to sow or pot on the next set of plants to be ready for planting out later! It's quite a headache for the team...and now, with all this grumbling about the weather I'm beginning to sound like a real farmer!!!

It isn't all miserable though. DHL's UK Foundation have given the farm a cheque for £500 . The DHL UK Foundation is an independent charity which funds activities and programmes helping children and young people achieve their full potential. Some of the money will go towards buying a new bee colony and the rest - crazy though it might sound at the moment - will  probably go towards an irrigation system for the I back to writing about rain...????

If you want to volunteer at the urban farm come along on Tuesdays after 10.00 for a chat or contact Dave at : 

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Hurrah for the sun!!!

At last... a full day at the farm this week, with no break for rain! And we're really getting ready now for the open day on Saturday. ( Saturday, 12th May, between 1 and 4pm. We'll be having a barbeque, pizza cooked in the pizza oven, some great family activities and stalls selling plants, produce, baked goods and crafts.) The continuous rain has put everything behind.
water logging in the wooded area last week
You can see from the picture just how wet it was this time last week and after yesterday's absolute deluge in Wolverton I was expecting the worst when I went up this morning but even though the pond is nearly overflowing the water is beginning to soak in, so all should be well by Saturday!.

On the bright side, the rain has made it easy to pull out the weeds and we were able to get stuck in weeding the strawberries. 
The sun was shining, we were all happy,  working together and chatting and remembering picking fresh strawbs last summer and eating eton mess in the shade of the trees!  Aahh! the good old days of summer and sun!  
I remember weeding the strawberries last autumn, but the couch grass and creeping buttercup have grown back.This isn't as disheartening as it might seem... there's a comforting sense of continuity about the inevitability of weeds. 

Wild flowers by Agilmente
The strawbs have been invaded
by creeping buttercup: Agilmente
The creeping buttercup, though, was in danger of swamping the strawbs and it gives off chemicals that inhibit the growth of other nearby plants so, even though it is quite pretty, it had to come out. Creeping buttercup grows in any areas where the soil is disturbed and can tolerate both waterlogging and a moderate drought - so not surprising that it's thrived this year!! It isn't a prolific seeder, compared with other weeds - most plants will produce 687 seeds -  but it does also spread by runners, as its name suggests. The runners had managed to get in among the strawberry runners, so it was quite a difficult job getting them out - as one of the trainees said "how come weeds always get into the most difficult area?" ... that's the nature of weeds!

The prison estates guys who came to help us chip the wood obviously took pity on us and have donated four very nice wooden benches for us to sit on - so no more perching on logs at tea break! We're very grateful!

If you  want to get philosphical, want to help grow strawbs for eton mess or just think helping at the urban farm is for you come along on Tuesdays after 10.00 for a chat or contact Dave at : 


Wednesday, 2 May 2012

bloomin rain!!!!

We were rained off again this Tuesday. I know we need it but it's doing nothing for my mental equilibrium!!! I'm going stir crazy stuck in the house! And there's plenty to do around the farm in readiness for Open Day on Saturday, 12th May, between 1 and 4pm. If the rain holds off - surely it will have stopped by then? - we'll be having a barbeque, some great family activities and stalls selling plants, produce, baked goods and crafts. I'll have more details in next week's blog.

Cleavers, Stickywilly, Galium aparine ....#4 by Vietnam Plants & America plants
cleavers hook onto other plants and
 can  pull them down: phuonglovejesus
Luckily some of us volunteers did put in an extra day last week. In the morning we weeded the herb patch by the gate. It's the first area you see as you come in - but sadly the last one you see as you leave and realise that yet again you forgot to sort it out. It's been annoying me for weeks! The whole area was full of cleavers.Cleavers have a number of common names -beggar lice, clithe, cliver, cliders, goose-grass, goosebill, hariff, gripgrass, catchweed and a Scottish friend of mine knows them as sticky willies. You're sure to know what they look like. They are a native plant that grows in hedgerows and have tiny hooks on their leaves and seeds that stick to your clothes ( a prototype for velcro??) They flower from June to August and seed sets from July to October with each plant producing from 300 to over 1,000 seeds!  Luckily we got them out early in the year so  hopefully we've cut down their reproductive potential!  As with so many wild flowers, cleavers reputedly have a range of health benefits with diuretic, anti-inflammatory, tonic and astringent properties.

Wood Chipper | 127/365 by mfhiatt
watchin the chips shooting out
was impressive:MFHiatt
Sarah had arranged for some of the estate management team from the prison to come along with their chipper, so we spent the afternoon moving wood out of the compost rows in the long path at the back of the beds and clearing broken branches and odd bits of wood lying around ready for chipping before we got rained off again. We all thought we'd done realy well... but there was a pathetic pile of chipppings at the end of the day, which makes you realise how much wood the professionals must get through!

The prison estate guys were really helpful and put together some more compost bins for us. The plan is to move the rotting material from the rows into the compost bins - helping to cut down on compost costs and extend the beds. Not work for the rainy day we had yesterday - but probably next week!

If you think helping at the urban farm is for you come along on Tuesdays after 10.00 for a chat or contact Dave at :

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Urban Farm open day

If you are a friend of the urban farm on facebook you'll know that it's the spring open day on May 12th - starting at 1.00 and running through the afternoon. I'm not sure of all the details but there will be market stalls, home made food and the usual buzz of friends spending a happy afternoon together. Most of the seeds we sowed a few weeks ago have come good, so there'll be lots of veggie plants to buy just in case yours have failed...or like me you went away at the wrong time!!!

Groundsel by Barry Cornelius
Groundsel going to seed:
Barry Cornelius
In the meantime...we've all been sprucing up the site getting it ready for the big day! Which of course means lots of weeding!  The recent warm weather and rain have really perked up those weeds and the groundsel flowers particularly are just about to break out. I'm sure you know them. They are quite a pretty, unassuming sort of plant  with small dandelion type flower heads .The Anglo-saxon word means 'ground glutton' and they are aptly named - they really can spread if you don't get on top of them!  Each plant can produce around 1,200 seeds, most seeds can germinate at once and seedlings emerge within a few days to go on and produce more seeds which .... all through the spring and summer!  They aren't just annoying, though. Groundsel carries leaf rust, which attacks garlic and onions and can also host  the fungus that causes black root rot in peas. And then there's the couch grass, dandelions, docks, cleavers.....!

Building the willow dome last year
Sarah's arranged for some helpers coming from the prison to come in later in the week to shred the growing mounds of compost which are lining the pathways at the edge of the site. We're building compost bins in the tree area and the shredded stuff will go in there to help cut down on the compost bills - it seems silly to buy in when there's so much vegetation there! ...and then there's the new chicken run still to finish off....and the willow dome .The fresh cuttings that we planted have all taken and the wet April we're having will help them to really take off. The willow arbour is shooting away like mad and we're all set to start weaving these to give it a bit more shape. If it carries on growing so well we'll probably be able to weave in the roof next year! The willow structures look great, but they are also serving a purpose. After months of worrying about the water table the heavy rainfall has soaked the ground near the pond and the orchard. The willow will help to soak this up and stop the fruit trees from getting root rot.    

So... there's plenty to do. The regular volunteers are going to put in a few extra days but we'd welcome more if you think halping at the urban farm is for you come along on Tuesdays after 10.00 for a chat or contact Dave at :

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Back to hard work....

looking for a handout:
Alan Entwistle
I had a fab time in Dorset and Devon over Easter but it was good to be back at the farm this week. It all seemed very lush and productive after the heavy showers we've had recently - it is April! After a spot of weeding in the big polytunnel during a particulalry heavy shower this morning we were out in the wooded area where we're getting on with creating a new run for the chickens  We've cleared a nice big area of brambles and nettles and spent most of today putting up a fence. The spot will be great for the chickens - they'll have much more space to run around in, with dead leaves and rotting bits of wood to turn over and peck at. Hens are naturally woodland birds and love foraging for their food - it keeps them alert and happy, as well as providing them with a varied diet - which, of course, means better eggs for us!
Hedgehog by Tina_S_White
on the prowl! Tina_S_White
While we were pile driving stakes into the ground to hold up the chicken wire someone mentioned that they hadn't seen any hedgehogs at the farm - not surprising since they are nocturnal animals...but I'd be very surprised if there aren't any around. I've got a very noisy one in my Wolverton garden. It snuffles and snorts around in the dark and once it walked into my leg - a very weird experience in the half light! They travel long distances - up to two miles - in a night looking for food so it could make it to the farm. It might still be a bit early in the year to spot them, but they will be coming out of hibernation soon, ready for breeding in May/ June. I did see a pair of hedgehogs breeding once - the male walks closely round and round the female until she goes a bit gooey eyed and sort of hypnotised and lies flat on the floor with her quills flattened. It was fascinating watching them.... and then there were babies... which was lovely but they were very sadly killed when a friend came round one evening and accidently dropped his motorcycle on them....hey ho!
But,I'm very relieved to say that the wildlife at the farm is thriving....we've got loads of tadpoles in the pond and there's still toad spawn wrapped round the weeds. There were frogs and toads keeping warm in the polytunnels, the birds are active and really enjoying the April weather, the fruit trees are coming into blossom and all the veggies are looking very healthy.
On a more serious note, it's not surprising that some of the trainees at the farm have anger management issues. Nothing happened this week but we do get the odd explosion every now and then. I'm full of admiration for the calm way that Sarah and Adrienne ( and Kevin and Heather before them) deal with it. As volunteers we just stay mellow and don't get involved but it is something to think about if you are interested in joining us.

If that hasn't put you off come along on Tuesdays after 10.00 for a chat or contact Dave at :