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Give it a Grow: Herbs

Basil

Have you ever bought a pot of basil from a supermarket? How long has it lasted? Well here’s a tip to prolong the life and usefulness of this delicious herb.
Take it out of the plastic pot and you’ll see just how many basil plants are crammed into this one space; they long to be freed! Basil prefers to have space and thrives with just one plant per pot, so carefully prise apart the tangled web of congested roots and plant one to three plants into a fresh pot of soil. Any indoor plants need a pot with holes in (for drainage), which is placed in another container/ pot, to enable watering. [Pop into our local charity shop for a wide selection of containers/ pots, which can be used for this purpose.]
Leave on a sunny window sill and water frequently but do not drown it (as they don’t like to sit in water), and watch it grow. The leaves have a lovely scent, will become much larger and can be picked off individually to be enjoyed in salads, mixed with pasta, and are especially nice with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and olive oil: a treat on a warm summer evening. [Also, if you pinch out the new shoots from the top of the plant, it makes the plant bushier, so the more you eat, the more the plant will produce!]
If you don’t have access to soil or pots, you could ask a neighbour if they could spare some, or you could experiment with placing a few of the basil plants in a jar with a small amount of water in the bottom, changing the water frequently to stop it stagnating/ going smelly.

Chives

A garden herb that ticks all the boxes! Edible leaves and flowers, attractive to pollinating insects, beautiful purple and green colours, comes back year after year (even in cold weather), has pretty seed heads which spread easily (or can be saved for new plants next year), can be encouraged to flower twice a year (May and August, if cut low after flowering in May). If you’re unsure where to get hold of some chive plants, ask your local Master Gardeners; they may even be able to give you some for free, to get you started!

Emily's chives

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Don’t let the weather get to you!

Master Gardener volunteer Radha Bellur has had a very busy week, despite the weather!

I had various ‘gardening schedules’ this week and the bleak weather forecast did nothing to inspire me on how to ‘action plan’. It is going to be a ‘wash out’, I thought, as I woke up on Monday morning. How wrong could I have been!

 

 

 

 

Monday (p.m.) 15th of May – at the Dementia centre , Kennedy House, South Wigston, Leicestershire.
There was respite from the downpour for the entire afternoon and we had a very productive session with the students of South Leicestershire College.  Remember my last blog in February, when I reported on planting seeds at the college?  Well, we managed to plant the seedlings that were ready, so as to get the ‘herb garden’ going this week.  Please see photos below of the students at ‘work’ or should it be ‘play’!

 

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Tuesday (a.m.) – 16th of May – Brocks Hill Country Park, Oadby, Leicestershire
Cloudy skies, but the weather held out for the whole session. Students from the college arrived enthusiastically and we were able to ‘clear the nettles’ to pave the way for a raised bed on top of the hill that needed some TLC! Pictures below show what we accomplished. We also managed to plant ‘marrow, pumpkin, yellow and green courgettes that were ready to go into the soil. A new student who was on ‘a trial week’ to see if he would enjoy gardening seemed inspired enough to seek our reassurance that he be allowed to ‘stay on’.

 

 

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Tuesday (p.m.) – 16th May – Manor High School, Oadby, Leicestershire.
At this point, we were not so lucky; the clouds had started to assert their status; but not even that could stop the eager students, who were looking forward to planting seeds directly into the ‘prepared’ raised bed at the school. Here are pictures to show their enthusiasm and ‘keen effort’. For an ‘after school’ club, you will admit, this was a triumph. We planted peas, runner beans and spinach. When it started to ‘chuck it down’ we took shelter in the green house and the children created little plant pots with sunflower and beans, to take home.
Moral of the experience – never let the weather stop you! Oh, and the bonus – we did not have to water the plants!

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Wednesday – 17th May – My garden
The notice board reads – ‘CLOSED FOR THE DAY’!

 

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The Power of Peas

Pea Shoot girlPeas shoot salads have become a signature activity for the Leicestershire Master Gardeners.  These tasty pots of green goodness are incredibly quick and easy to grow on a windowsill, even in the depths of winter.  The chunky marrowfat peas we use are easily handled by small children, people with impaired manual dexterity and those with visual impairments and they burst through their compost in little more than a week, giving very quick rewards for impatient gardeners.  I have a succession of pots on my kitchen windowsill, which supply our many stalls at events around the county, where their bright green tendrils have even persuaded some very unimpressed teens to plant some of their own at college freshers’ fairs. the intense pea flavour has persuaded many children that it may be worth giving green salads a go.

This week I was told two wonderful stories about pea shoots grown by children, which demonstrate their value as food growing motivators:

In Great Dalby, local primary school children have been sowing pea shoots with Master Gardeners Bob and Sue Hobbs.  Bob was stopped by a parent in the street recently and asked if he realised that these peas had become a focus for some Facebook based competition between the children and parents in the village as they compared their successes.

In Hinckley I visited St Mary’s Primary School with Master Gardener Judith Warner, who has just taken on support for their growing.  The school’s ‘head gardener’, a year 6 girl, came in to report to her teacher that the pea shoots they had supplied to the school kitchen for a lunchtime treat had almost all gone.  This first achievement came from a simple suggestion to the teacher leading their gardening before Judith had even volunteered to help, so we look forward to seeing what they can achieve with their own Master Gardener to guide them.

If you’d like to ‘Give Peas a Chance’ and try your own windowsill salad, click here for some instructions and have a look at our events section to see when our volunteers will be at an event near you, sending everyone home with their own little pot of peas.

Growing Pea Shoots Sheet

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South Leicestershire College Students Help to Develop Community Gardens Around Oadby & Wigston

 

Master Gardener Radha Bellur has been working with students from the South Leicestershire College to do some gardening in community growing spaces around Wigston:

 

 

6th March – Kennedy House Dementia Group

A very productive afternoon at J & S services which operates the dementia group at Kennedy House. I joined an eight member group from South Leicestershire college, including their support team headed by Joanne Smith, to meet with Julia who runs the place.  It was really encouraging to see that the students had done some research on ‘dementia’ before arrival. It was an introductory afternoon as we were quite a few of us. We got to learn a bit about the space as we raked the old leaves off the lawn and tidied up the borders and the raised bed. Dave Cliffe from Voluntary ACtion Leicestershire kindly helped to ‘fetch and provide’ the tools to keep the event flowing. It was a glorious afternoon and the enthusiasm of the students made the task seem effortless and fun. We are all looking forward to our next session in a fortnight, 20th of march when we hope to continue with ‘digging n planting’! The garden offers offers a unique opportunity to design something special for people with dementia.

 

7th march – Brocks Hill Country Park

I joined Hollie in supporting the south Leicestershire students with learning disabilities on the project to revive the raised beds at brocks hill. It was an introductory session which revealed the interest and commitment of the students and their support staff. The weather was gorgeous and we used this opportunity to conduct most of the session out in the field! We included the activity on getting to know our creepy crawlies with the ‘friends n foes’. The half hour spent on this was educationally relevant and proved to be both stimulating and fun. Holly then introduced them to the tools and ran a session on  ‘safety’. So now we are all set to begin ‘digging n planting’ in a fortnight’s time, which is when we meet again. The aim with this project will be to create an environment that encourages wild life, stimulates an interest in the students about healthy eating through organic gardening practises and to instil a sense of community sharing when the produce is ready to harvest.

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SEED PLANTING AT SOUTH WIGSTON COLLEGE

SEED PLANTING AT SOUTH WIGSTON COLLEGE

It was a pleasure to represent Master Gardeners to help support a ‘seed planting workshop’ for students with learning difficulties from South Leicestershire College in Wigston, Leicestershire this week. There were four students, each with a coach to help with their learning needs. The students, with sparkling eyes reflecting their interest and beaming smiles showing their enthusiasm, planted close to one hundred pots with seeds, including mixed herbs, basil, lavender, rosemary, nasturtiums and veggies like peppers and tomatoes.
Once the plants are ready, we aim to move them to various community garden spaces already identified such as those located at Wigston station and at Bassett Street.
Each student participated in the full range of activities in seed planting:
• Categorising the seed packets into types
• Checking packet for details on ‘when to sow’ ‘where to sow’ and ‘how to sow’
• Filling the pots with multipurpose compost,
• Sowing the seeds, creating labels for each plant and then gently watering them before placing them under cover for nature to take its course.
The students were focused throughout and even helped to tidy up at the end, before Susan, their teacher, announced that all this hard work called for a well- deserved ‘tea break’. Jessie from TCV and Pat from the Pride of the borough, who are more experienced in supporting community projects, commented on how inspired they were by the commitment displayed by the students. It was nice to be shown the students’ social space before we said goodbye to them.
I am already looking forward to being with the students again on the 6th of March, when we aim to get the raised beds ready at the South Wigston Station, to see how we can sustain their interest and love for gardening.

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Thursday was a big day for the Leicestershire Master Gardeners, when we got to show off our volunteers and their supported growers to our new Head of Organic Horticulture, Chris Collins, and they got to meet a former Blue Peter gardener, Head Gardener at Westminster Abbey and all round gardening celebrity.

When he joined Garden Organic back in June 2016, Chris heard much about our volunteers’ achievements in getting Leicestershire growing and asked us to arrange a tour of some of the projects they are supporting, so that he could meet them in person.  It was no mean feat to find a day that suited so many people, but luck was on our side, and the best day for everyone happened to coincide with a volunteer celebration event being run by the Waste Team at Leicestershire County Council and to which we were invited in the evening.

The day started at 10am in Loughborough, with the 3 Close Tenants ‘Garden Gang’ and as ever we were welcomed like old friends with mugs of tea and much laughter.  Chair of the group, Josie Falconer, led us around this housing association estate, which has been transformed from a ‘problem area’ formerly known as Colditz, to a thriving community with its own kitchen garden, providing fresh fruit and veg for sale in the community flat.  All around the estate we saw small gardens created by the residents, who take enormous pride in their home.  Chris was shown the giant compost area, created by the probationers who come to the site once a week, as well as numerous raised beds still containing crops like kale and garlic, despite it being the depths of winter.  We saw the cherry trees that residents have been harvesting to make jams and pies and the first flush of pink as their rhubarb emerges under someone’s living room window.  The Leicestershire Annie Elizabeth apple, planted in 2015, has been transferred from a pot to the ground and is flourishing, promising even more opportunities for pie sales in the future. 

Our full account of the 3 Close Tenants’ successes can be found by clicking here.

All too soon, we were on the road again, Chris talking animatedly about all he had seen, and headed for the Boulter Crescent Community Flat in Wigston.  Here we met our Oadby & Wigston Master Gardeners, who have been a vital part of the creation of the new Incredible Edible Oadby & Wigston project (IEO&W).  We were also joined by community inclusion officer Jane Morris, who powered the early creation of community growing spaces at Elizabeth Court and Boulter Crescent, and Dave Cliffe from Voluntary Action Leicestershire who has been central in establishing IEO&W.  Boulter Crescent lunch club organisers Sheena and Pauline had prepared a delicious stew for us all, after which, Chris gave some impromptu advice for the residents on developing their growing space and promised to come back in the summer to see how they get on. 

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There was too little time for conversation about growing plans for the Kennedy House migrants’ hostel, the railway station and South Leicestershire College’s involvement in IEO&W before we were off again -to see the various sites around Wigston that already have food gardens.  We saw upcycled tree planters provided by the Oadby & Wigston Borough Council, containing rosemary, kale, chard and thyme, the new beds behind the Wigston library, proudly tended by the staff, and local residents, and a brand new set of raised beds at Bennett Way council estate.  Here, Chris gave more advice to a resident who leaned out of his kitchen window to ask what they could do about the local cats’ interest in their new beds (netting being the key at this time of year and then enough planting to cover the bare earth once the spring arrives).

 

For more about our Oadby & Wigston activities click here, here and here.

Once again it was time to hop in the car, this time for the drive down to Great Oxendon in Harborough, where the Master Gardeners supporting the Waterloo Cottage Farm Community Garden were waiting for us.  We were met by farm owner, Kirsty Clarke, who charmed Chris with her week old litter of piglets and young, hand-reared highland cow.  It was a somewhat muddy walk across the farm to the garden site, where Master Gardeners Alex, Judy and Mark, joined by Master Composter Judy, showed us this wonderful garden with its neat veg beds, polytunnel and young orchard.  

This project is a joint collaboration between the farm and Sustainable Harborough and you can find out more by clicking here.

 Judy and Mark were presented with certificates by Chris, recognising the many hours they have put into the project.  Having established this site in a little over 2 years, they now have their sights set on supporting a new project in Market Harborough too, creating a community garden on a care home site and supporting staff to grow with residents. They also plan to establish some intergenerational contact by bringing in local residents to grow on the site with the residents. 

After a lengthy interview with the Harborough Mail and a photo shoot, the light was fading and so we obediently followed Kirsty into her downstairs wet-room to sluice off the mud from our wellies before the drive to County Hall for our evening volunteer celebration with the Master Composters, Love Food Hate Waste and Real Nappy Advisers.  A quick change was in order, to avoid the embarrassment of appearing in mud spattered jeans in the Councillors’ lounge.

The County Hall celebration was the perfect way to round off a wonderful day of showcasing our volunteers’ achievements and treating them to a buffet and awards ceremony as more certificates were presented.  WE were particularly proud that we have had to create a new series of certificates for 60+ hours and 100+ hours and that four of our volunteers have now clocked up more than 200 hours.  It was a long and happy day and a much needed tonic amongst all the current economic and political gloom: a real reminder of all the unsung heroes quietly working away to improve their own small part of the world and share their knowledge, skills and passion for growing with others.  Well done to everyone and here’s looking forward to a re-run in the summer!

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Living With Dementia and Windowsill Salads

Living With Dementia and Windowsill Salads

This morning, the Leicestershire Master Gardeners visited the Melton Mowbray Memory Café, to run a hands-on gardening workshop for people living with Alzheimers and for their carers.  This was one of a series of such visits around the county to memory cafes run by the Alzheimers Society and, as ever, was a joy to attend with much laughter, mess and reminiscence about gardening and food.  Master Gardener Marian Curry and I arrived laden with compost and potted herbs and were warmly welcomed with tea and biscuits.

Early conversations about learning to grow mundane spuds and turnips during the war quickly moved on the joys of homemade fruit wines and slow gin!  Very early in the visit the topic of the current crisis in supplies of fresh veg from Spain was raised and concerns expressed at the rising costs of fresh veg.

“Did you know, my local supermarket is limiting people to 3 lettuces a week?”

This led on beautifully to our first activity.  I had brought along a well known brand of seeds for pea shoot salads, priced at £2.95 for  250g  and compared these with a pack of dried marrowfat peas at 80p for 500g, which are perfect for home salad growing.  We planted these in paper cups to grow on the windowsill at a cost of a few pence each.  These will produce 3 or more crops of salad leaves, if the lower leaf joints are left to grow, and are happy on a sunny windowsill even in the depths of winter.  A fist full of peas can produce as much salad as you might buy in bags for £3.00 or more (pre-Spanish  crisis price!).  They can be used in fresh salads, stirred into soups and stews or nibbled on as you pass by in the kitchen.  This was of particular interest to one frustrated carer who has been trying to find ways to sneak fresh vegetables into her recalcitrant husband’s meals and, as a mum with similar concerns for my children’s 5 a day intake, we compared strategies.

“I learned to garden from my mother during the war, when my father was away. She did all the digging and everything until I was old enough and then she taught me to do the digging.”

The cheap and cheerful theme continued as we divided pots of supermarket  ‘living herbs’ and potted them on for stronger windowsill growing and possible transplanting into the garden in the spring.  A potted parsley or living lettuce salad can give you dozens of spindly plants that, when given space in their own pot or used to edge a flower bed, can produce vastly more greens than one person can eat, and look beautiful at the same time.

I learned from my granddad when I was a child. I could keep up with him because he’d lost a leg in the First World War. He planted onions on the top of the ground and I followed behind and re-planted them all underground because he’d got it wrong.

We passed the pots around the group, who chatted animatedly as they pinched and rubbed the leaves to release the aromas and had a nibble at each one.  The session finished with a gardening crossword puzzle, set by Joanna, the group’s leader, which triggered much merriment at some of the answers that hinted at who would be nurturing their new salads:

Crossword question: what would you use to mow the lawn with?

Answer: the wife

By the end of the session, even the least enthusiastic members of the group were proudly carrying their ‘Give It A Grow’ bags home and talking about watering their new crops.

If you’d like our volunteers to come along and run a session like this for your Leicestershire group, get in touch with us by clicking here.

If you’d like to have a go at your own pea shoot salad, click hereLeics MG_20150707_12_28_59_Pro Growing Pea Shoots Sheet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Glutton for punishment

Is it too late to say Happy New Year? If you are anything like me you’re getting itchy fingers and wanting to get growing now christmas is over, I’m trying to be patient but I’m thankful we have some super hot Trinidad scorpion chilies that need starting for a good long growing period.

it seems I am a little crazy as between work, children, school volunteering and some emergency fostering I have very tentatively taken on plot number 3!!! This is fantastic for many reasons, we sold it to ourselves by reasoning that this plot was between our current 2 and so, in its unkempt state, it was only us that were suffering all the dandelion seeds. However, the real fist pump moment comes from my husband. He that stated “you have no time, its a ridiculous idea”, yes this very same man suggested we take it on. He’s got the bug guys!! (Big Cheer) and so now our weekend afternoons are spent in our little patch of heaven that is aptly named the Darwin Garden, as between the dog, the kids trampling things, the insects and the weather only the strongest survive (seems a shame to eat them really after all their effort of not keeling over).

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Strawberry Runners

In this video I show one of the way I grow strawberry runners and have a chat about my experiences growing them… https://youtu.be/DHjCQQ6jtFI The plants shown will be used in my new Community Garden Project at Wykin, Leicestershire.

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Community Garden Project (WYKIN Leicestershire)

Community Garden Project (WYKIN Leicestershire)

It’s official folks, my new project is starting next to Wykin Community Park in Hinckley Leicestershire. We are looking for locals to volunteer. Here is a brief of the project..
An unusual new project is starting up soon at Wykin. Many people of all ages are now involved in looking after disabled or elderly people. We all know at least one person who looks after elderly parents, and it can be a full time job.
Carers, like the people they serve, need somewhere to relax and ‘chill out’. One way of doing this is to learn new skills – and there’s nowhere better to do this than in a community garden, finding out how to grow flowers, vegetables and fruit from people who have done it before.
We are therefore looking for people to become involved in this project – and not just carers. People at work know how deadly it can be socialising with colleagues – and it’s the same here; we need a significant number who are NOT carers so we get an interesting mix and not too much ‘talking shop’.
If you would like to be involved, please get in touch.
All being well we should be up and running at some point in the next few months. We are looking for people who would like to participate REGULARLY in gradually turning a grassed area into a community garden containing flowers, fruit, vegetables, herbs; we would like a few people with gardening skills to keep us going in the right direction but the main quality we need is enthusiasm.
Further details will be posted with a video explaining the project in the coming days/weeks. The project will be documented from day one with photo’s and videos.
Other news is I am currently on training with Master Gardeners and will be running the project with their assistance when I require it plus I will be involved with a new avenue of videos. Please check out Leicestershire Gardening Network website or Julie’s Allotment on YouTube.
The piece of land looks like this at present, it’s only part of it…

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