This event was hosted by the Arran Horticultural Society, with Eco Savvy, at the Arran Community Land Initiative.
By Jess Wallace, sustainable food coordinator at Eco Savvy
On Saturday the 4th of January the Arran Horticultural Society hosted a ‘Get Growing’ workshop organised in conjunction with Eco Savvy at the Arran Community Land Initiative. An enthusiastic group came out on that windy and wet day to learn more about how to get started growing your own food.
We met at the hub where we were introduced to Nick from the ACLI and Kathy and Carol from the Horticultural Society. Kathy introduced the workshop and told us what to expect from the day – which was a lot of brilliant tips on how to get going with a productive food garden! We heard from Nick who explained a bit about the ACLI history and their future plans. He told us about the allotments and the ambitions the land initiative has to plant and harvest more fruit trees and bushes. We heard about the success of their Friday gardening club and that it will be continuing in 2020. Keep up to date with their upcoming developments on their facebook page.
We were then invited to go and look at the current allotments. It was very inspiring to see how people designed their growing spaces and the different plants that were still g(r)o(w)ing strong in January.
Kathy then took us to one of the polytunnels to talk about getting started with gardening. She discussed all the considerations that need to be taken into account when choosing a spot for your vegetable or fruit plots. This ranged from site location to available sunlight to soil quality. During this session she advised us on how to make improvements to soil and offered some affordable tips on how this can be achieved. Gardener’s lime and bone meal are key!
This thorough introduction was followed by Carol’s session on which plants she has had success growing on Arran. She touched on rotational planting as per Monty Don’s guide in “Gardener’s World”. This is where you annually rotate the crops that you plant alternating between brassicas and greens (brocolli, kale, cauliflower), legumes (beans and soil nitrogen fixing plants) nightshades/other veg (tomatoes, potatoes, squashes) and roots (carrots, onions, beets). Her 7 most successful plants have been; potatoes (including Arran heritage varieties!), dwarf french beans, courgettes, onions, lettuce, radish and leek. Carol’s advice to grow what you love to eat is so important as this will keep you enthused about your garden and able to enjoy your harvest!
We took a short refreshment break then got into the gritier (sorry!) details of soil structure with Kathy. She discussed the importance of healthy soils not only for food production but to sustain life on earth. We all agreed with her organic gardening approach and the importance of promoting a healthy soil microbiome by feeding it with the nutrients it needs to flourish. We saw a wormery and learnt how worms are a sure sign of healthy soils. Kathy then showed us homemade and store bought compost and it was clear to see the homemade version was more ‘alive’.
We then headed outside to learn how to make a successful home compost heap (see the picture below of our youngest workshop participant, Noah, helping make the compost heap). This was done by layering carbon (branches, cardboard, straw, newspapers) and nitrogen (grass cuttings, fruit peelings, vegetable scraps, seaweed) layers and then covering them with carpet or tarp to allow the heat generation required for decomposition. Her tip in thinking about the carbon materials as the food for the living nitrogen materials (and the associated bacteria/microorganisms within them that ‘eat’ the carbon rich materials) was really useful in understanding how the composting process works.
Our final session was looking at fruiting plant varieties and advice on how to plant them. Bare rooted varieties are the cheapest option if you are thinking about purchasing some fruiting trees! Kathy spoke of her success with blueberries on Arran (which was wonderful to hear as they’re my favourite soft fruit!). We touched on some pruning methods but soon realised that this might be another workshop in itself.
All in all it was a brilliant day and all of us felt we learnt a lot and gained some real insight into how to start gardening! Many thanks to Kathy and Carol for running the workshop and for taking all of our questions. We look forward to future workshops to delve deeper into some of the introductory sessions we had on Saturday!