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My sixth day volunteering at OrganicLea and it’s the first proper sunny day:

This is the view as you arrive at the Hawkwood Nursery, the first time i've seen it properly bathed in sunshine!

This is the view as you arrive at the Hawkwood Nursery, the first time i’ve seen it properly bathed in sunshine!

I feel like i’ve been more times than I actually have which is great as I think it’s means a) i’m enjoying it and b) i’m learning lots each time I come.

Today I jumped at the chance of spending my first task of the outside helping Marco in the vineyard. Once we’d found something to hold water in (old coffee jar in my case) and picked up the tools we would need (hoes mainly) we headed up the hill to the corner of the site that houses the vineyard…

Job 1: Weeding the vines

The vines at OrganicLea are managed mainly by Marco who’s been growing vines for over a long time in Hackney. They’ve been planted over a few years so some are younger than others. The older vines (3 years old I think) are likely to fruit (productively) for the first time this coming autumn, so next year is likely to see the first bottles of ‘Chateau du OrganicLea, 2013’ which is an exciting prospect (I wonder if volunteers get a free bottle….?)

A young vine with the first signs of growth. If the buds are spongy then they haven't been damaged by frost, if they are brittle when squeezed then they have sufferd damage. These onces are looking healthy (says Marco the vine expert) *apologies for the blurry photo, it's hard to focus a camera phone, even my very good Sony!

A young vine with the first signs of growth. If the buds are spongy then they haven’t been damaged by frost, if they are brittle when squeezed then they have sufferd damage. These onces are looking healthy (says Marco the vine expert) *apologies for the blurry photo, it’s hard to focus a camera phone, even my very good Sony!

 

My designated row of young vines to weed. In the first few year when establishing, they are fussy and don't want too much competition to get their roots down. Once older they are less fussy and can cope better with the odd weed or two (apparently they have very long roots so surface weeds don't offer much threat).

My designated row of young vines to weed. In the first few year when establishing, they are fussy and don’t want too much competition to get their roots down. Once older they are less fussy and can cope better with the odd weed or two (apparently they have very long roots so surface weeds don’t offer much threat).

 

Pausing for a drink, a quick snap of the first half of handy work, trusty hoe in foreground, other volunteers in distance.

Pausing for a drink, a quick snap of the first half of handy work, trusty hoe in foreground, other volunteers in distance.

 

My row as I left it at lunchtime (I admit I didn't quite complete the row, but it is a thorough job!). Weeds a left on the surface to rot back down into the soil.

My row as I left it at lunchtime (I admit I didn’t quite complete the row, but it is a thorough job!). Weeds a left on the surface to rot back down into the soil.

 

Marco controlling a somewhat unruly hand mower with blades at the front which, with a scissor action, cuts about a meter or more of grass and weeds down as it's directed forwards. Marco was a bit upset that during the morning he managed to cut off two small vines (easily done i'm sure) but is hopeful they might still recover.

Marco controlling a somewhat unruly hand mower with blades at the front which, with a scissor action, cuts about a meter or more of grass and weeds down as it’s directed forwards. Marco was a bit upset that during the morning he managed to cut off two small vines (easily done i’m sure) but is hopeful they might still recover.

 

One of the 3 year old vines at the bottom of the hill, which is hoped will start producing processable fruit this year (fingers crossed!)

One of the 3 year old vines at the bottom of the hill, which is hoped will start producing processable fruit this year (fingers crossed!)

 

Job 2: Cleaning the Glasshouse

After lunch, not wishing to hog all the sunshine I opted to switch jobs and was given the task of cleaning the glasshouse roof. This isn’t that easy a job as it involves wielding a 3 meter (I didn’t measure it but it felt that long) long pole with high pressure hose at the end. The idea was to manuvar the jet of water into all the edges of the glass pains to remove the scum and moss that grows there. I was then followed down the row by another volunteer with a broom attachement who’s job it was to scrub the whole pain of glass (also with water being pumped out).

As you can imagine, this task was not one where you could keep dry, I basically ended up 50% drenched, but likely being such a warm day, it wasn’t that bad.

A rare photo of yours truly attempting the rather unfavourable task of cleaning the glasshouse roof. Thanks to Jo for taking the photo (her first ever successful use of a smart phone!)

A rare photo of yours truly attempting the rather unfavourable task of cleaning the glasshouse roof. Thanks to Jo for taking the photo (her first ever successful use of a smart phone!)

This job was pretty physical and demanded a lot of upper body strength. I only managed one row which took an hour and then had to switch jobs in order than I might still be able to function the next day!

 

Job 3: Potting On

As more and more seedlings germinate in the warm glasshouse environment, they need potting on to bigger pots to give them more room and more food. These chillies we were potting on are for one of the many plant sales that take place, here’s a list of where you can buy their plants: OrganicLea Plant Sales.

Like any task volunteers are given here, there’s also member of staff to show you how it’s done and check in on progress / answer any questions. Ru came over at one point and asked if Keith and I could pot the chillies a bit deeper, ideally burying most of the stem with compost. This is because chillies, like tomatoes are part of the Nightshade family and they root from the stem, which means that where we’ve buried the stem in nice warm compost, it will put on extra roots and therefore make the future plant stronger. I’ve since used this technique when potting on my own tomatoes so fingers crossed I didn’t misunderstand Ru!

The more seeds one plants, the more potting on there is to do (unsurprisingly). This time it was chillies, the variety is Ring of Fire.

The more seeds one plants, the more potting on there is to do (unsurprisingly). This time it was chillies, the variety is Ring of Fire.

 

When we pot on plants for the Hawkwood nursery plant sales they all get fancy labels (when they are just for the site, they just get reused plastic ones).

When we pot on plants for the Hawkwood nursery plant sales they all get fancy labels (when they are just for the site, they just get reused plastic ones).

 

There’s lots going on all around the site and I took a few more photos of things that caught my eye:

The cuttings we took a few month back have all started sprouting new growth. It's great to see how what looked like just a stick when planting can actually still be alive!

The cuttings we took a few month back have all started sprouting new growth. It’s great to see how what looked like just a stick when planting can actually still be alive!

 

One of the pear trees I mulched earlier in the year is in full pink blossom. You can see here it's being protected from pest with netting (all the apples, pears and rasberries are at the moment).

One of the pear trees I mulched earlier in the year is in full pink blossom. You can see here it’s being protected from pest with netting (all the apples, pears and rasberries are at the moment).

 

A lovely big chestnut tree that's on the walk between the buildings and the vineyard. The young leaves are bright green against the pale blue sky.

A lovely big chestnut tree that’s on the walk between the buildings and the vineyard. The young leaves are bright green against the pale blue sky.

 

P.S. If you’re in the mood for some far superior plant based photography then head over to Mark Diancono’s blog Otter Farm as he really knows how to take a photo or two.

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