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Being able to head to OrganicLea for another day of volunteering, especially now that spring has finally sprung, felt pretty good. I missed my last friday of gardening because I was busy giving a talk (A dysexic’s A-Z of Urban Gardening) at a conference my office puts on every year for developers called Bacon – I’ll get the slides and reference for this up into another post soon.

There seemed to be more people around the OrganicLea site on friday; volunteers, trainees, people on induction and the usual staff members. It’s nice when I go back to see both familer faces and new ones. Over lunch I was chatting to the lady who runs the garden at Spitalfiels city farm (ashamedly not one i’ve visited…yet! Apparently they have a tree house) and there was Jen, a lady I previously met while dividing the rhubarb who was back to do more specific training with the Marco, the vine expert, and she had brought some delicious flapjacks to share! Yum.

Having been suffering a bit from some mild RSI recently, I chose to specifically avoided the hard digging or weeding jobs on this visit, not wanting to aggravate my arm or wrist. Luckily, now that things are warming up, there’s now lots more choice in things to do around the site…

Job 1: Picking Rhubarb

The champagne rhubarb which has been forced this year has been supplying delicious fruit for the market stall at the Hornbeam Cafe market stall on saturdays. Our first job was to harvest a few kilos for them to sell the next day.

First there was the demo from Ru on how to pick and trim the stems to make sure they keep well and the technique for pulling the stems: hold as low as you can, pull and twist. Leaves were then trimmed back, leaving about 1cm left at the end and letting the off cut leaf drop to the ground to mulch back in to the soil.

Unfortunately I forgot to take my phone up to the market garden field for this rhubarb harvesting (doh) so unfortunately I don’t have any photos to show here. I can say that harvesting rhubarb ‘professionally’ (i.e making sure you’ve pulled the stem off with as much as the protective ‘skirt’ as possible) is pretty tricky. This ‘skirt’ part (I can’t find the official term for this) is where the stem is held onto the bulb from which it has grown from, is unlikely to be seen on supermarket rhubard (because it looks untidy) but apparently it helps keep it fresher for longer if you can pull stems with it still attached. I’ve found this photo on a fellow blog called ‘The Food I Eat (which also contains a tasty looking rhubarb recipe!) which shows some rhubarb with this ‘skirt’ still attached:

1.pulled-up-rhubarb

Photo of rhubarb from the blog ‘The Food I Eat’

It’s surprisingly hard to pull the stems in this way, most of mine (I apologise OrganicLea) snapped off without it. This earned me only 3rd prize for pulling rhubarb from Ru, there only being 3 volunteers doing this job : ( I’m sure with practise this is something that i’ll get better at.

It didn’t take us long to harvest the required amount. Before returning to pack them up for selling, we visited the new hedgehog house the team had built for the 5 hedgehogs they received from the local animal hospital  OrganicLea is well placed for rehousing these hedgehogs as they don’t have any fences which means they are free to roam, and there will be plenty of food for them (apparently they eat slugs and other garden pests so it’s win – win!).

Once back to the buildings to weigh and pack the rhubarb I picked up my phone to document the end of this process:

Our Champagne Rhubarb harvest.

Our Champagne Rhubarb harvest.

They sell their rhubarb in 300g bunches (i'm not sure how much a bunch costs).

They sell their rhubarb in 300g bunches (i’m not sure how much a bunch costs).

Bundles of rhubarb ready for the market stall. From field to stall in 24 hours.

Bundles of rhubarb ready for the market stall. From field to stall in 24 hours.

The reject rhubarb or 'Grade 2' harvest - available to the volunteers for free.

The reject rhubarb or ‘Grade 2’ harvest – available to the volunteers for free.

Extra special stems held back to make a bouquet!

Extra special stems held back to make a bouquet!

Job 2: Planting seeds

The other non-digging related task for the day was the planting of many seeds. This year, OrganicLea’s plan is to grow a large amount of squash for the veg boxes which they supply to local residence. A tasty and versatile fruit, the team want to grow a wide verity for harvesting in the autumn.

First the seed specific compost needed to be toped up, which is a combination of coir (coconut husk), compost, leafmould and sand. As I didn’t actually do this job i’m not sure of the exact quantities. This potting mixture it the perfect consistency for germinating seeds in, light and free draining with just enough nutrients to get the plants off to a great start. One of the things I find quite frustrating about having to do these sorts of tasks in my flat is that it’s hard to find good potting mixture (I don’t have the luxury of the space required to make my own) so I have to use a general purpose compost for most tasks.

Today we were planting a number of squashes:

Blue Ballet  x50

Sweet Dumpling x100

Turks Turban x 50

And a few others that I can’t remember the name of. We also planted some climbing beans ‘Barlotto Di Fuoco’ which are not for growing on at OrganicLea but to be sold at one of the plant sales they hold during May.

Volunteer team of seed planters, working in 2s or 3s in 'production line' to maximise efficiency.

Volunteer team of seed planters, working in 2s or 3s in ‘production line’ to maximise efficiency.

Mixing up the seed potting compost: coir, compost, leafmould & sand (not sure what quantities)

Mixing up the seed potting compost: coir, compost, leafmould & sand (not sure what quantities)

At the work bench; writing labels, filling pots, planting seeds, watering and then covering.

At the work bench; writing labels, filling pots, planting seeds, watering and then covering.

One of the verities of squash we planted: Blue Ballet. Each label has the plant type, verity and the date. Apparently volunteers can add their name to the label as well but I didn't think my initials would help much.

One of the verities of squash we planted: Blue Ballet. Each label has the plant type, verity and the date. Apparently volunteers can add their name to the label as well but I didn’t think my initials would help much.

3 Beans to a pot for the plant sale. These are climbing bean 'Barlotto Di Fuoco'.

3 Beans to a pot for the plant sale. These are climbing bean ‘Barlotto Di Fuoco’.

A try of squash 'Sweet Dumpling' ready to go onto the heating standing to germinate.

A try of squash ‘Sweet Dumpling’ ready to go onto the heating standing to germinate.

A trolley full of freshly planted seeds. A mixture of squash, beans and tomatoes.

A trolley full of freshly planted seeds. A mixture of squash, beans and tomatoes.

A layer of Vermiculite is sprinkled on all pots or trays that are going to live in the glasshouse. This is to stop a certain bug (I can’t remember what it’s called) from laying their eggs in the compost, as when they fly over the pots, they don’t see the compost, they see a desert. A simple yet effective piece of pest control. All the pots are then covered with a propagator lid to keep the moisture in and are placed on the standing (high tables) some parts of which are heated which gives the seeds a really speedy start.

Now that all the snow has melted on site, things are really beginning to grow and here are a couple of photos from the glasshouse:

Peas flowering in the glasshouse.

Peas flowering in the glasshouse.

Lettuce galore!

Lettuce galore!

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