Hi, I’m Sarah, I’ve been a gardener all my life, firstly with ornamental plants, designing and building gardens in London, and writing a few garden books, and increasingly focussing on growing itself. Now I live back in the Braziers Park community and grow vegetables in our beautiful walled garden, with the help of some great volunteers. Have a look at what we did last year, or read on for 2023.
We use the no dig method, to preserve the soil structure and retain soil carbon – and also to produce amazing vegetables, I’ve been astonished by the difference since I started it just two years ago. First of all we wanted to feed the community and our visitors, but that is not enough. We have a large garden and 55 acres of land and I believe that at this time, given the threats to our climate and ultimately our economic system, we should be growing much more food (and for more on that have a look at Chris Smaje’s book A Small Farm Future). The next step, which I started in 2022 in a small way, is to produce seasonal veg boxes – and after that? we shall see…
Tuesday January 2nd
The Cavolo Nero in the polytunnel are very cheerful: they don’t seem to have minded the deep freeze they went through – and (along with a few perky grasses and goosegrass, of course) we have lovely winter purslane which seeded itself all around the base of each plant – salad for the next few weeks!
Friday January 6th
The garden after the freeze; it’s actually mild now and surprising how many plants and little vegetables are quietly perking up; I even think I might have to mow the grass!
I spoke too soon; we had several more periods of hard frost and the hopeful remnants have vanished; the garden stands beautiful as ever but slightly forlorn.
A cheeky rabbit came right into the polytunnel and dug a big tunnel! Luckily it didn’t go anywhere – I dug through it to check; have to make sure to shut the door properly at night now.
And this from Sue, volunteering for once outside the Walled Garden – up on the Camping Field:
“We planted the tree saplings we’ve been growing here yesterday, all indigenous to this area of land. They were almost bursting out of their pots, so off we went to the campsite to position various trees: Hawthorn, Wild Pear, Dogwood, Field Maple and more.
Residents and day volunteers planted the saplings and then we’ll leave nature to do her work. They were spaced out considering the type of tree and how we live in that area of land. For example, space for wheelbarrows to pass between the trees and our campsite fire circle nearby. Tools: Mattock, Fork, Spade
‘Dig a hole slightly deeper than the pot. Position the tree in hole and fill with earth, pressing firmly with your foot to prevent air around roots and ensure the plant is stable. Gather some dead grass or weeds around the base of tree to prevent weeds, for a little while at least.’
The main risk to their growth is rabbits and drying out. We might add plastic tubes but will see how the trees get on first.”
Seedlings almost ready to go – maybe not quite, but when they’re just a tiny bit bigger, out they go: cabbage, kohl rabi, various lettuces, all under fleece to protect them. The main worry will be those tiny grey slugs – they did for a row of turnips I put out a few weeks ago; I’ve hoed and cleaned up the beds now so cross fingers.
Kalette, which I tried for the first time last year, was one of the stalwarts which came unscathed through our repeated freezings in the winter – only to get thoroughly pecked by pigeons, which accounts for the green netting you can see. I’ll definitely grow it again, though it is fiendishly expensive and an F1 hybrid so I can’t save the seed.
I popped some fleece over the sorrel and we’ve been eating it for weeks in salads and soups. I’m so pleased with it I’ve divided it up for more.
The broad beans which were sown in November are looking really strong and healthy. I’ll definitely do it this way again, I found it much harder to germinate seedlings in early spring. These went through a tough winter, under fleece, and they’re way ahead now.
Volunteer Chris standing in the irrigation trench looking pleased, as well he might – he’s dug a huge long trench to bring water up from our old brick-lined underground water tank, which apparently holds 80,000 litres. That should help if we have another drought this summer! More on this when it’s finished…
Volunteers Ambre and Jamie in the greenhouse. It’s time for tomato planting: Jamie is tying up bailer twine to support the tomatoes; we tie a knot in the string and it goes at the bottom of the hole.
Ambre plants them so carefully, with a good load of compost, right on top of the string so they weight it down and we can twine the string around the stems as they grow; they get very heavy when laden with fruit later. We’ve grown Moneymaker, which always does well, a variety called Tarmina, the yellow Ivory Egg – and best of all our own saved seeds of Purple Ukraine, which is dreadfully ugly brownish purple but the most wonderful flavour.
Applause! Geoffrey testing the standpipe, with water from the mains (we have yet to put the pump in) – to clapping from Kelly, Jamie, Karla, Emily and Amber.
I don’t know why, but our lettuces are always ace. I just pop in the module plant and off it goes. In this bed, I had got so fed up with the slow and gappy progress of the Greyhound cabbages that I planted lettuces all round – now it looks just great!
And the cabbages are plodding away among them.
Garden day: there’s Mary pruning the plum on the wall, Peter is weeding and pulling bindweed from the squash bed and putting cardboard down to help keep in the moisture and suppress more weeds. Penny is planting lettuces in the gaps where we’ve harvested a crop.
I’m saving seed this year. I was inspired by one of the sessions at the Oxford Real Farming Conference in January; it was on Shumei’s Natural Agriculture: they don’t rotate, they grow each vegetable in the same place every year, and only use their own saved seed. Apparently ‘the soil gets to know the plant’.
It sounds great and the results seem wonderful; I haven’t visited – there’s a farm in Wiltshire – but I’m having a go. So this is parsnip, which has been the devil to germinate this year; lets see how we go next spring with our own seed.
Oh I love this time of year in the vegetable garden! Everything looks so good, it’s a proper cornucopia ! There’s Uncle Bert’s Purple kale with Cavolo Nero beyond, some greyhound cabbages finally fattening up (they took their time…). Lolla Rossa lettuce behind; we’ve been picking those, bottom leaves upwards, for quite a while. The green netting at the back – and black netting which you can’t see in the photo – is over the precious Kalette, the stars of last year’s dreadful winter; this year I have a whole row planted. And in front are the big leaves of Atena, which is a yellow courgette that always does very well here.