Autumn Update!

Well it feels like years since I last posted anything. It seems that there is just never enough time to do this when there are always things to fix, plants to plant, weeds to pull and veg to deliver.

I’ll lay out the bullet points that I can remember here and then fill them out.

Broadforking brilliant!

This is Dave, who is using a tool I made quite a while ago. It’s called a Broadfork, and is basically just a broad fork, with long tines, and 2 really long handles. I added wooden handles initially but they broke within the first few minutes, so now it weighs a tonne due to the metal handles (which used to be a hand rail).

Broadforking is often thought of as vital in a market garden. I’d never used one until recently, and thought it wasn’t necessary when the compost was super deep. Now it’s settled quite a bit, and it’s obvious when dibbing holes, that the ground underneath is quite compacted. This broadfork is a remedy to this, as it stabs the tines deep into the soil, and loosens it without turning it over. I can honestly say, that the results astounded me! I’d got used to the hard compact soil under the top layer of compost, and after a broadforking and a going over with Pete’s wheel hoe – it now feels like a dream to plant! I unfortunately broke it again, and so need a few hours and plenty of sun to fix it (more on that later).

JM Fortier!

This guy literally wrote the book on market gardening. I read it many years ago, and followed his youtube channel, and he is a giant in his field. I had the pleasure of joining a 2 day event at Soul Farm, where dozens of market growers came to connect, and learn together. I must be honest, I got a little star struck, but plucked up the courage to speak to him before the end. No selfies though.

Picnicking!

Thanks to the volunteers and members who came for a picnic last weekend! It was nice to sit in the grass, near the beds that will feed us next year, and eat some food and drink a little home-made cucumber and parsnip wine.
I’m not really much of a host, and so a picnic seemed like he easiest and most chilled gathering there is, and I’m grateful to those who attended and who sent their best wishes. I don’t know why the prospect of hosting something made me so nervous! The punch certainly helped.

Chutney Club!

Thanks to Food Troops and CN4C, we had 2 gatherings of Chutney Club where we made loads of chutney, some pickle, and even a chilli sauce!

It was nice to get people together and to make something from all this veg, and I look forward to many more Chutney Club gatherings in future. The first rule of Chutney Club is – bring a jar!

New Tomato Variety Bred Itself!

The Here we have a hybrid tomato that bred itself! Many plants cross-pollenate, but tomatoes are generally self-pollenating. This means the flower pollenates itself, and so breeding one type of tomato with another usually requires some effort. Not in this case! The top left is a “Peche Vilmorin De Andrieux”, stuffing tomato. The top and bottom right, is a “Marmande” beefsteak. What we have on the bottom left, is a hybrid of the two! So it is a new peach coloured, beefsteak tomato, and this means – we get to name it! I am collating answers as we speak so please send your ideas in by email to grassrootsgarden@protonmail.com.

Workshopping

Here we have Abigail, a local volunteer, using metalwork tools for the first time, in out attempt to fix the broken broadfork. In fact, I think this pic was cutting metal for building the next version of broadfork, but you get the idea. It’s fun to do everything from scratch, but quite challenging – but there’s always something to do. So much to fix! The natural entropy of life is always catching up with us in some way or another.

I really have to stop typing now. I remembered loads more stuff that’s happened, and I can’t keep you any longer! Thanks for reading. x

Summer Of Veg

This summer really has been so bountiful! It started with turnips and beets, and now it’s overflowing with tomatoes, aubergines, beans galore, melons, watermelons, a loofa, and more leafy greens than you can shake a trowel at.

I’ve not been blogging much, although I have intended to share the progress. I’ve been working pretty hard outside, not getting much laptop time, until a dodgy back and now a stinking cold are forcing me out of action so I can type this right now. I think I need a social media and blog wizz. Any takers?

We have had many yields that do not grow in the ground that I would like to touch on. Sounds cheesy, but the volunteers have been so amazing, it has been an honour to be a part of this. Sometimes there’s just me, and at others, there’re loads of us, cracking on with whatever needs doing, while we chat about the world. We’re creating community here and it’s wonderful. And the members have been sharing recipes, photos of their culinary creations, and all around appreciation for good veg that’s grown by hand, with love, by wonderful people.

The volunteer whatsapp group is full of community-minded, caring people, and I have seen friendships blossom. What a wonderful thing to behold! And all stemming around the one thing we all have in common: food. It’s as essential as air and water, and the vast majority of us used to be involved in the growing of it. Now we mostly use huge machines and chemicals to do all the work, and we ship it hundreds or thousands of miles, to be wrapped in plastic or processed, and taken off a shelf to be consumed. I feel like this modern attitude towards food is not serving us. What is serving me right now, is to be connected to this place with my hands in the soil, to the like-minds around me with food to offer, and to know that Grassroots Garden CIC is growing in the most wonderful way.

Big shout-out to CN4C- Cornwall Neighbourhoods For Change! We recently were awarded a grant that shall be spent on some better wheelbarrows, some compost, and some tracks. Next steps, are to try and get infrastructure grants for more polytunnels, and to expand the veg production. At the same time, we are tinkering with the prospect of a few camping pitches in the summer, and opening up for some eco-camping to entice those who might appreciate the abundance and the location. There are so many directions we could take, that I’m glad I have great people around me to talk these things through with. Some of these great people have been beautifying the place with flowers and herbs, and I look forward to what blooms next season.

With a little help from our friends!

Our recent volunteer days were so wonderful, and we were blown away by all the amazing responses. The Facebook post was seen thousands of times, and was received really well, so we’re looking forward to getting to know all the new budding Grassroots Gardeners!

Thanks to Sam, Hamish, Pete, Perran, and Katharine for your help with the weeding, planting thousands of onions, and potting up and grafting trees!

Check out the home-made dibber that Pete cobbled together with some egg cups and bits laying around at home! It has made wonderful holes for planting inside and out, and has helped me when my back was sore, so it’s very much appreciated.

We will continue to welcome more Grassroots Gardeners, and look forward to growing together and serving our community in the most ecological way we can. Please join us if you’d like to learn how we grow, or just for the soup and tea. Call or message me on 07916444709 or email grassrootsgarden@protonmail.com or through this form:https://grassrootsgarden.co.uk/contact/

Help! We Need Somebody’s Help!

Not just anybody’s help, but yours!

That’s a Beatles lyric – don’t panic, nobody is in an emergency. We need to find some volunteers to help us do lots of cool stuff:

Would you, or anyone you know, like to work outside, connect with nature and community and learn how to grow food? Would you like to help us co-create a new project/CIC (Community-Interest-Company) that will help Redruth become more resilient and food-secure? Then please read on!

The first volunteer days are 10am – 4pm:

Thursday April 6th, Saturday April 8th,

Thursday April 13th and Saturday April 15th.

Grassroots garden CIC  at it’s essence is a start-up CSA – Community Supported Agriculture farm, and permaculture project on 2.5 acres, growing ‘beyond-organically’ on the edge of Redruth. 

Become a Grassroots Gardener:

We would love to work with local people, to co-create this space and do our bit for the planet and each other. 

Grassroots Garden CIC was mostly setup by me (Dan), with the help of some friends, and wonderful volunteers at Tresargie Farm, and we are entering into the 2nd season of running this CSA vegbox scheme, for a small number of local veg lovers who have become members. 

We want to expand so that we can feed more members (and volunteers), which in turn, allows us to support more struggling families via local food banks.

Last year we gave over £750 worth of veg to people in need, and we’d love to increase that amount this year!

We can offer lots of tea, plenty of soup and bread for lunch, and a friendly vibe while we work with our hands and the soil. We would love your help to kickstart the growing season! Help with planting new seedlings, clearing brambles, prepping this year’s beds, making new veg beds, fruit tree grafting, weeding, watering, tying tomatoes and many other things before the harvesting begins.  If you’re arty, perhaps you could help write some signs? Practical? Help us build something!

We have a newly installed polytunnel that is lovely and warm, which will soon be planted full of yummy tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and many other crops. Please help us fill it! 

If you are interested in knowing more or helping in any way whatsoever, please give Dan a call or send me a message on 07916444709, and check out our volunteer days list (above). If you can help on a different day, please let us know! We would love to hear from you.

We are here: https://goo.gl/maps/kaRLchhtp7FpdWnn8 We have space for some cars to park, and can use the “Wheal Peevor” carpark if needed. Head towards “Globe Vale Holiday Park”, and turn left down the “Wheal Peevor / Windy Ridge” track. We are just on the right, open on volunteer days (shown above).

Springy

Here’s a stream of conscious thought:

Well, I’m not sure if spring is here yet or not. It certainly feels that way at times, and the sap sure is rising in many of the fruit trees. In fact, the pear blossom is almost ready on the tree I have here, but the rootstocks I bought from up country are definitely not budding yet. Which actually meant that my recent fruit grafting might have been done too late.

There are thousands of seedlings in the greenhouse, bursting to get outside as soon as the risk of frost passes. Onions, leeks, beans and rhubarb germinated by my new friend Pete, and loads of cauliflower, celery, tomatoes, aubergene, peppers, in fact too many to remember at this time of night.

The biggest milestones this year, have been putting the polytunnel skin on the frame (finally – thanks to Pete, Mike, Karen, Pete, Vivienne, Rhiannon and Jim), and digging an irrigation pond and wind-protection mountain (bund?), and sorting out the veg delivery vehicle! It’s an electric tricycle, and I’ve built a box on the back out of some reused signage from Eden Project (thanks Jim). It feels like things are looking up for the season, but I have to be honest, I’m a little daunted. Last season, at this time of year, me and Sophie were working flat-out, but she’s back in St Austell. I saw some posts from March and April, and much more was in the ground than right now. So, rather than get stressed, I’m accepting what is, and realising that I can buy in veg if there’s not enough, and also – I can ask for help!

So I put a call-out the other day for help fruit-tree grafting, and Lucy and Pete came! And tomorrow, some others are expected to come too, lightening the load, sharing the journey, passing on the skills, and having the chance to make connections. It’s a humbling experience. I have been reminded many times (thanks Elaine, Lucy and many others), that lots of people would love to get their hands dirty, connect with nature, and be part of a CIC like this one, so I’m going to open up more this year, and say when I need help. I’ll even put a sign up on the gate. This weekend is fruit-tree grafting. Next weekend, might be weeding and prepping the beds for the storm of upcoming planting. I’m not sure I have the time to do all of this myself, especially as I’m doing part time care-work to supplement the income, plus plenty of upcoming peaceful environmental activism stuff, so I’m going to put out the call and hope some wonderful people answer. If there’s enough people helping in Spring and Summer, we can grow a much larger amount of veg for the year – it’s as simple as that. With more people longer term, we can prep and plant more beds, and expand, and do more things.

A few weeks ago, I linked up with the wonderful CN4C – Cornwall Neighbourhoods 4 Change. They’re such a great CIC, doing fantastic work in Redruth and beyond. They have a wealth of experience and knowledge to share, and they were very supportive, and like Grassroots Garden. I took them a few trailer loads of veg, and I’m hoping we can work together in future. I also met Jack from Grow Cornwall, and we have some exciting ways we’re wanting to work together soon -watch this space in case it pans out.

And I have to tell you of a friend Aaron, over at https://www.cnccraft.co.uk/ – his laser cutter made hundreds of millimeter-perfect holes, and helped me turn some sheets of perspex I saved from landfill, into a dibber board, and a drop-seeder! These would have cost probably way over £500 had I bought them, but with some time invested and Aaron’s magic, I should have these ready to go before long. I do love a project.

A little too much at times actually – I don’t know how I fit it all in. In fact sometimes I don’t. I’ve had to pause many things, and drop the electric-van project, and will be turning it into a quirky volunteer accommodation pod instead! It’s still a project I guess, but no more money will be spent – just some TLC, when the time arrives in my lap.

So there you have as much stuff as I can remember right now, and I know it’s a lot to update on, but I had to get it out as I’ve been wanting to blog for ages.

Oh, and we might start a Youtube channel! First things first though, I just keep planting seeds and filling up the greenhouse. Perhaps a few days of pricking-out and potting on little seedlings might be a nice easy volunteer sesh -another callout is on the cards.

Recent times have reminded me of many wonderful things. One being, I’m not alone. Another being, my food-community are awesome. Also, I’m living the dream. And, I can do this, We can do this. In fact, we already are doing this. And I’m incredibly grateful to serve my community and this beautiful planet. I get to watch the miracle of life with every seed I plant, and I get to nourish my community and my soul in so many ways. This life is blessed, and it’s often only with hindsight that I remember this. I’m working on being more present in this reality, and to appreciate each day, each seed, each breath and each drop of water.

I’d better get that pond lined and guttering fitted before the drought happens then. Wanna help?

x

Freeeeeeezing!

Here we are in 2023, and after having such warm temperatures at times in the last couple of months, it’s seriously dropped. This killed off lots of plants, but many survive and even thrive in the cold and snow!

Now that things have thawed, myself included, I have started to plant a few seeds in the greenhouse. There’s so much work to be done, including preparing dozens of beds, planting thousands of seeds, building the trailer for deliveries, sealing the greenhouse, sorting out the volunteer caravan and facilities, blogging the progress (tick!), and loads more jobs that seem unrelated, but aren’t.

I’ve been hibernating since the end of last season while I process how wonderful and challenging last year was, and plan this season to be even better. And more viable for a long term future.

There are so many plans afoot, but I usually get ahead of myself and spread my energy too thinly, so I’m not sure which ones to divulge. Camping areas are one of the plans, but getting a mains water connection goes hand-in-hand with that, along with bikes for hire, a wood-fired pizza oven, laying tracks and all sorts. For now, I am just going to concentrate on the veg, because I’m still in the early days.

I am looking for pots of funding to scale up the growing operation, to buy labour-saving tools and kit, seed saving and isolating infrastructure, and to lay tracks and move forward, but it’s hard to focus on this while I’m also keeping everything ticking over. If anyone would like to get involved to help in any way, please just contact me – I’d really appreciate it.

I’ve been doing some fencing, tree planting, tea drinking and friend-making with a wonderful local volunteer for a couple of months now, who I’m incredibly grateful to share time with. It’s lovely to have support and company, and he seems to have a wealth of knowledge in so many areas – thanks Pete! You’re a star.

Foodbanking

In times like these, it’s food banks and the people who run and volunteer at them that make me have hope for humanity. I spoke with Mel at the foodbank distribution centre in Pool, and it sounds like donations are way down. Particularly for the more substantial items. This is inevitable as belts are tightened, what with the cost of energy, and everything else that we need to live. The people at the bottom (in socio-economic terms) are falling through the cracks.

The wonderful members of this CSA are helping just by being a member of this veg box scheme and not a corporate scheme. On top of this, some of them pay more each month, so that extra food is given to food banks, and many choose to donate if they have a week away. It’s incredibly heart warming to be a part of this! They’re an amazing bunch, and I feel lucky to be the guy that gets to take their donated veg to where it’s needed.

So, we’re 21 weeks into the first growing season of this CIC, and I did some sums on a spreadsheet that I use to store data recently, how much food has been donated to foodbanks and similar projects since we started. Well, I was so chuffed that I had to share it here.

Firstly, I pledged to donate at least 10% of the value of the veg boxes, in food. Basic figures equal somewhere in the teens per week. There was a lot of food donated before our first boxes went out at the end of May to Food Troops, an excellent CIC supporting families in Redruth. We also took some to Trussel Trust, and more recently, we’ve been taking veg to the CPR Foodbank that supports struggling people across Camborne, Pool and Redruth.

So, the sums – so far, we’ve taken over £600 worth of fresh, organically grown veg to people in need! This will increase before the season is up. This is an amount I am so pleased with, and I want to thank all the members for making this possible. The ones who have donated more, deserve even more gratitude, and your generosity is directly helping struggling people to eat good food. Organic, local food will no doubt be too expensive for those of us who have fallen on hard times, so I’m incredibly honoured to be a part of this scheme, to nourish those in need. It nourishes my soul.

I want to open up volunteer opportunities for next season, for those who would like to help, take some veg for themselves, and have their work help support the foodbanks. Just get in touch if you’re interested, and I can teach you how we grow, which is a wonderful way to connect with the Earth and those around us.

So there we have it! I wonder how much we can donate next year?

Too much veg! How wonderful :-)

Well folks, I’ve not blogged in ages, and although I wanted to keep it up, having a gazillion veggies to tend kind of gets in the way. Here, I have a blog post that I wasn’t expecting to write, but am also quite pleased to be writing it. It means we’ve been doing something right – actually a little too right.

The season has been going so well – even though we lost a lot of early crops due to pest damage. Our members are incredibly happy with their massive veg boxes, and herein lies the problem! They’ve been too massive. Hear me out.

Firstly, let me express my gratitude to our wonderful members. These first adopters onto our vegbox scheme are incredibly special to us – they supported us from the very moment we sent the email around with payment details to get the ball rolling, and just a few weeks later – the veg deliveries started. I feel so warm and grateful about our members, that when I check out the going rate for vegetables grown to organic principles, see what’s ready to be picked, put together a little spreadsheet to work out the amounts I’d like to put into the boxes to come up past the £10 and £15 cost of the boxes – I’ve been putting waaaaaay too much veg in, and underestimating the value, quite significantly. Often over 300-400g of mixed salad leaves, bunches of kale and chard close to half a kilo – and when this is all added up, it is always significantly above the cost of the box. By a long way. The issue for our members, is that it’s being reported as being overwhelming. Many are close to having to throw some away!

I regret nothing! You deserve to be spoiled with this wonderful veg – you wonderful people!

However, I also did some maths, which put things into a different perspective.

Most of the work in the garden is done by me (Dan) and Sophie, although we occasionally have a wwoofers or two (these are volunteers not dogs, from WWOOF.org). They have been (and continue to be) wonderful people, helping us in exchange for learning skills and having some time to explore Cornwall, and this week, we had 4 people harvesting, weighing and packing. The person-time (or man hours) we put into just this last step before it reaches the door (the harvest), if we were to attribute minimum wage for this time, accounted for 120% of the total payments made for these 9 boxes. While I have to admit that I work a little quicker than these first timers (it’s week 6 for me after all), and we are not actually paying ourselves a wage yet – it hit me hard – that we have to make this business financially sustainable, or we just won’t last long, and won’t be able to keep the veg coming, which means our social aims also don’t get met and nobody gets fed. Either we’ll go under when we get to the point of paying ourselves a small wage, we’ll burn out and go under due to not being able to cope, we will have to become 10x more efficient (which just isn’t possible), or we need to spread the veg further, to feed more families.

I’ve done some work on other farms of our type, and while I know I can always improve techniques and speeds of certain tasks, there’s only so much optimising to be done before reaching a limit. And I think we have found it.

It is now clear – and after hearing it from a third of our members this week(!), we are going to have to bring the amounts of veggies in the boxes down to a more reasonable amount, perhaps by (as has been suggested) around 1/3. It saddens me in some ways (because I love to treat our members well), but I know it is the right thing to do. We never started this journey expecting to earn much (or nothing in the first year as it happens), but if we can’t even earn minimum wage for the harvest days, it really doesn’t hold out much hope for all the rest of the work that leads to the harvest. And believe me, there is a LOT of work. I’ve been so happy to be doing this sacred work, and will continue to do so, but we have to make it sustainable, so that in the longer term, we can feed more people.

So all of this work has proven to me why good quality food grown in this way costs what it does. It’s because it takes a lot of time, resources and work, and many land workers are working for less than minimum wage. They (we) do it for the love of it. There may be some labour-saving tools out there, but these just save a little here and a little there. Wherever we can make things more efficient, we do. Now for us to be able to afford to grow food for our community, we have to charge what it is worth. This would be obvious to most business people, but I have never thought of myself as creating a business. Time to face facts.

Thanks for reading. And if you want to join us, please get in touch. You’ll get a good amount of veg for a reasonable price, that is worth every penny.

Spring Has Sprung!

Hello folks. Isn’t it lovely when winter finally fades, and the leaves come out and wave? The birds are singing, sun is shining, and it’s time for our green fingers to un-glove, and get to work. It’s just magical, planting a seed and watching it grow. We are incredibly lucky to be able to do this for our local community, and grateful for all your support.

If you’re wanting to become a member, you’ll be as pleased as us to see our seedlings coming along nicely, being nurtured for the last few months in the greenhouse, before they end up at their final destination, delivered to your door each week (if you’re in Redruth and sign up of course) – and I can’t wait to see the pics of your culinary creations. We will have a member’s Facebook group to share this stuff.

So what have we been up to? All sorts. There was a lot of tree planting in Jan-Feb, one of us had covid in the last month, and then we were busy on an environmental campaign for a couple of weeks, so it has been hectic. It feels great to be back in Cornwall!

This week we delivered lots of veg from the beds planted last year, to a local CIC (Community Interest Company) called Food Troops – which helps struggling families with food in Redruth. This felt great, and the right thing to do, and we will continue to support local struggling people on behalf of our members. If you’re struggling to put food on the table, please send us an email and we will help if we can.

What’s left to do? So much! The polytunnel trench needs some more work, and we are hoping to put a skin on in the next few weeks, and then fill it with tomatoes, aubergene, peppers, and all sorts of heat-loving plants.

So far, if you’re curious, we have planted (from the top of my head) aubergene, many different speciality carrots, 2 varieties of cucumbers, lots of chicory, green and brown (used for dhal) peas, several different beans, a few types of beetroot, turnips, spinach, chard, 4 types of kale, kohl rabi (if you haven’t tried this, you’re in for a treat), endive, so many colours and flavours of lettuce, 3 types of tomato, edible flowers for the salad mix, 3 types of garlic, 3 types of broccoli, leeks, spring onions, radish, asparagus, and probably many more that I’ve missed. We still have so many favourites to plant in the next few weeks, like sweetcorn, courgettes, and a dizzying array of salad leaves and flowers! I’ll add pics of the seed packets we have left after our recent flurry of planting – quite a selection! I felt the need to stock up after the seed shortages in the last couple of years, just in case. We are using heritage varieties, and will save an increasing amount of our own seed as time goes on.

So here are some pics to show you some of all this. Thanks for reading folks! Please get in touch if you’d like to join us, whether as a member, or as a work-share volunteer, or just to say hi.

Tunnel Love!

I wanted to blog here and personally thank some friends, the welly wangers (it’s meant to be endearing), for kickstarting me with getting the polytunnel up. It’s far from finished, but we at least removed some saplings that needed to be rehomed, installed lots of ground tubes, and got 1 hoop up!

I’ll actually have to take it down again to add the right fittings, but I wanted it up to celebrate the milestone. The tunnel has been in bits since I bought it 2nd hand last summer, and it’s been one of those vital jobs that just gets put on the back burner – do you have those? Well finally, we’ve made a start, and although I’ll need to get the digger back to change the trench location and lots of other things (I was rushed last time), we should be up and running with a working tunnel before the growing season starts. Fingers crossed.

Oh, and I laid hundreds of metres of landscape fabric, ready to plant some wind shelter trees and habitat! Happy days. Now for the long slog of planting hundreds of cuttings and bare-rooted trees before spring comes.