About Barney Thompson

Posts by Barney Thompson:

Energy Champions Autumn update

Hello folks, as the nights draw in and Jack Frost starts to come a’ knockin’, our Community Energy Champions team have been getting busy getting out spreading the word of how to save money on your fuel bills and getting to the heart of our project.

Leaflets and freebies galore for the knitters at Elgin Community Centre

We have run two drop-in information and training sessions: in Elgin in September and Forres in October; with Buckie Community Centre (22 November 10am – 1pm, free lunch!) and Elgin Youth Cafe (5 December 3.30 – 5.15 pm) to follow – booking advised. We cover deciphering your fuel bills and switching tariff and supplier, how much different home appliances use, different heating and hot water systems, factors in Moray that contribute to affordability of domestic fuel bills and heat loss in the home, amongst others. It’s a basic overview, nothing too complicated but extremely useful!

As well as our intrepid Community Energy Champions who’ve stayed for a good while – with the allure of a certificate, the lunch (!), goodies, a follow-up bespoke home visit and the feel-good factor of then passing on the knowledge in their community – other folk have dropped in for a wee blether and to grab loads of different handy leaflets and freebies for saving energy. So something for everyone. Want to find out more? Then come on down!

In the coming months we will be visiting organisations such as tenants groups, sheltered housing units, groups supporting the elderly and vulnerable, and community and interest groups such as Men’s Sheds to put on these sessions – do you know a group who would be interested? We are targeting Buckie, Dufftown, Elgin, Forres, Keith and Lossiemouth in the main. Please contact us.

Mini wind farms at Seafield Primary

And we’ve had tremendous fun visiting Seafield and St. Sylvester’s primary schools in Elgin, Anderson’s in Forres and Cluny in Buckie, with more schools across Moray in the pipeline. In highly interactive sessions, the children have been finding out where their energy comes from and how it links to climate change, as well as simple steps they can take to help tackle climate change and save the grown ups who pay the bills at home – and for their school! – money. Lindsey Jackson from The Moray Council and her solar-powered critters and gadgets have gone down a treat!

Just a couple of the twenty-odd Summer Scorcher families at Mortlach Primary

 

And lastly, while summer can now seem a distant memory, in Elgin, Buckie, Forres and Dufftown, families loved dropping in to make simple solar ovens from pizza boxes in our Summer Scorcher events when we launched the project.

We’re looking forward to the next events!

Warm wishes to you all,

Barney and Lynne

 

Free Energy Champions training hits Forres next week!

As winter approaches come and find out more about saving money on your home fuel bills, with a free Energy Champions session put on by the friendly folk at REAP. The session runs in Forres on Tuesday 24th October, 10 am to 1pm, with free lunch and refreshments and travel expenses covered. We’ll be covering topics such as changing fuel supplier and tariffs, simple energy saving measures you can take and other help you can get. You can then spread the good news amongst your neighbours, friends and family. There are further sessions coming up in Buckie (22nd November) and Elgin (5th December). To book or for further information call 07835 068481 or email energychamps@reapscotland.org.uk. Look forward to seeing you there!

Second Grow Elgin blog

As promised, here’s an update on the amazing range of activities that Dorothy has been up to over the first months of this project. Where to start…?

I have had the pleasure of helping Dorothy out the two bimonthly volunteer days at Cooper Park, we’ve hosted so far. People can just pop along and help us maintain the splendid stone edible beds. You can come along and sow some seeds, learn about propagating, planting out, seed saving and, of course, eat and take home the delights on offer. These have included strawberries, blackcurrants, peas and salad leaves so far! A great place to meet others with similar interests. The next one is Saturday 7th October, 10.30am – 12.30pm.

And just last week I joined Dorothy down at the Gardenshare, to lend a wee hand for one session of her popular two-part gardening courses, which was a lot of fun. We learnt all sorts about composting, which included how to make nettle and comfrey liquid feed ‘teas’ – easy-peasy! You can can dilute these in your watering can to give your plants lots of nitrogen (nettle) and potassium (comfrey) as well as other minerals, great for leaf/stem growth and root/fruit growth, respectively.  We propagated herbs from cuttings, saved some seeds, ate some edible flowers, made a fresh rosemary, thyme, calendula and lavender tea (rather zingy!), ate a freshly harvested salad and made some fresh juice using our new cute portable juicer – you can just taste the healthiness..mm. And that was all in one session…Check the website posts and posters for more details of the third round of these, in September – book soon!

I enjoyed covering for Dorothy on her electric bike tours round Elgin (when she recently took a well-earnt holiday), picking up food waste and dropping it off at one of our community composting hot-spots around the city. We’re always looking for more businesses and organisations to donate their fruit and veg peel, tea bags, coffee grounds and shredded paper for us to collect – and all to make lovely compost to then grow food here in Elgin! Contact us if you’re interested.

But that is just the tip of her iceberg, in June Dorothy hosted a wee Eco-Gathering at the Gardenshare where a monster salad was harvested; Elgin’s first Big Lunch with a selection of her home-made soups from locally grown veg; and a stall at Moray Resource Centre with other home-made treats like beetroot hummus and garlic bread, using produce from their beds. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting hungry just writing this!

And she’s been busy raising awareness of the importance of bees, seed saving and composting with the wee ones at West End Primary and heading off with Greenwards Primary into the trees at The Wards, finding food for free and ID’ing trees. What fun we have! 

First blog for Grow Elgin part 3!

Hello there, Barney Thompson here, I’m back in the blog-writing seat, as one of the two Outreach Workers on phase three of this exciting project, aka Grow Elgin and Beyond; the other being the Community Gardening Queen of Moray, nay, Scotland surely (the world even?) – the inimitable Dorothy Allan. It has been a pleasure to get back involved with this particular project, even though I must offer my apologies for the tardy first installment of the blog – what can I say, we have just been so darn busy getting things rolling…

A lot has been going on and in this first blog I’ll report on what I’ve been up to; hot on its heels I’ll post a second blog letting you know all the splendid things that Dorothy’s been doing.

This year we have a focus on therapeutic gardening and a major part of this is developing food growing activities at Maryhill Health Centre. People can get referred by their GP or other health care professional to come join us in building the garden and growing tasty fruit and veg. Us REAP folks are well aware of the many ways in which doing this can be good for the soul – and one’s mental and physical health well-being – and we look forward to others seeing the benefit by joining in. I have been busy preparing a design for the garden, which we recently displayed at the surgery for everyone’s feedback – activities start next week!

AYP’s freshly planted bed

I’ve been doing sessions with many of the other groups I work with. Two Friday evening sessions at Elgin Youth Cafe as part of their summer programme proved lots of fun. Thanks to the hard work of the young people, there are now four new raised beds in their backyard space, sowed and planted up with french beans, peas, brassicas, pumpkins and various salads, to name but a few. Over at  Aberlour Youth Point, the young people and staff have been really proactive in planning what they’d like in order to reinvigorate their garden – a couple of sessions there have resulted in lots of weeding with a wide variety of brassicas going in – such as purple sprouting broccoli, various kales and Brussel Sprouts – with various faster growing salads sown in between for a quicker harvest without being shaded out. We refreshed ourselves with freshly picked strawberries and blackcurrants – mmm…

And time spent with the mums and much tinier ones at a couple of summer sessions (one of which was put on by our friends at Earthtime) at Step-by-Step’s new home at Winchester House proved equally rewarding. We ate a local lunch of broad bean pate to give us strength to blitz some weeding (my, were they quick…) and planted out and sowed a good variety of veggies. As well as collecting poppies for their seeds, I left the workers armed with various veg and salad seeds for more sowing and am looking forward to going back soon to see progress and to put all the ready compost from their bin (collected by the previous occupants, Action for Children) into one of the beds, ready for sowing – truly closing the loop! Talking of composting, the youngsters at Seafield Primary had a fun afternoon totally revamping their composting system and looking for beasties, along with some tidying and planting, but I suspect their most favourite part was eating the freshly harvested strawberries.

The elder folk of Moray have been involved too – we had a lovely time at Gurness Day Centre doing some indoor planting up of containers and tattie bags, finishing off with a delicious fresh herbal tea tasting session – lavender, calendula, rosemary and sage makes for a tasty blend. I’m looking forward to tasting the rhubarb chutney they made on another occasion…

And I’ve been on the road with colleagues at a couple of summer events, promoting the project, giving away seeds and other freebies and putting on some workshops – lots of fun!

So it really has been a summer of working with people of all ages – fantastic to connect with you all!

Make your own sun-powered oven with the bairns!

Would you and the bairns like to make a super-quick and easy DIY solar oven – which uses only the power of the sun to heat food? What about taking part in other fun crafting activities relating to home energy use, whilst having a blether about how to save cash on your fuel bills?

Well then, come along to our free Summer Scorcher roadshows:

Elgin  – outside the library entrance, on Tuesday 18th July 3pm – 4.30pm

Buckie – outside the library entrance, on Tuesday 1st August 3pm – 4.30pm.

 

There will be a marquee to keep dry just in case it isn’t a scorching day. Just drop in wheneverno need to book. It’s all free!

These sessions are part of REAP’s Community Energy Champions project; this also includes putting on free training to up-skill people in being more savvy about their home energy use, so they can pass their knowledge on to family, friends and neighbours. We’re now on the look-out for budding Energy Champions too – could it be you?

For further information about the event or our project please contact the REAP team on info@reapscotland.org.uk or 01542 888071.

Learn Permaculture Design in Moray!

Local expert Ludwig Appeltans of Earthways and guests will be teaching a full Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) over six weekends between April and August this year.

The course will be set in the beautiful grounds of Newbold House, Forres, where you’ll carry out a group design as well as benefit from teaching on a huge range of topics. You’ll come out with so many great ideas for designing your garden, allotment, community project or anything in life! And it ends with a Permaculture Festival…887109158_183cf7959d_o

Here at REAP we’re a big fan of Permaculture – based on sound ethics and learning from nature, you can design and implement sustainable and productive environments that yield you lots and for the minimum amount of work. Everyone’s a winner!

 

It looks like great value; full information can be found on the website here and the Facebook page is here.

I (Barney Thompson, REAP staff) learnt so much fascinating stuff and really developed my design skills (and the way I look at the world) on my PDC. I would wholeheartedly recommend studying one to anyone and also would certainly recommend Ludwig as a great person to take you on the journey.

Forgard2-003640px-Permaculture_chicken

[Images courtesy of www.flickr.com/photos/hardworkinghippy, Graham Burnett and Bill Mollison]

Barney’s Blog 10 – School orchards galore

They say all good things come in threes. Or is that bad things? Or buses? Well, since the topic in question is my blog – with three in a couple of days, no less – then surely it is the former…well, the many thousands of people sending emails missing their fix and begging for their resumption can’t be wrong! In the previous two I have gone back in time to the balmy days of British Summer Time. However, in this one we’re firmly rooted in November, though strangely in weather more reminiscent of summer.

Team Greenwards

Team Greenwards

Sunglasses and shirtsleeves made an appearance during the glorious couple of days spent last week at Greenwards Primary, Bishopmill Primary and Elgin Academy. Dorothy, Lynne and I were joined by orchardier John Hancox, who had come up the A9 trunk road with a car jam-packed full of young fruit trees and shrubs, stakes, ties, guards, as well as an apple juice press and a selection of his apples. And a rather splendid spade I cast envious glances at, plus a mallet, for banging those stakes in.

Elgin Academy kindly provided the large array of spades and forks; plenty were needed as the kids were out in force to help us. There was no way we could have done without their help, with ten trees plus soft fruit shrubs to get in in each session!

John and the gang

John and the Greenwards gang

Miss Bailey’s eco-schools group at Greenwards were first up on the Monday, a lovely bunch of little ‘uns, thirty or so of them, along with a crack team of student reporters. Lynne got them warmed up in her magic way and then they split into groups of three. We laid out the trees in rows so the lawn mower can navigate easily through to cut the grass. And we positioned them a good four metres apart – remember, although they are wee little things now they’ll grow a lot bigger and we don’t want two trees getting tangled or shading each other. Did you know – the final height that a fruit tree will grow to depends on the type of standard rootstock that it has been grafted on to? This will control the vigour of the tree, as well as potentially improving disease resistance.

The apple trees are in place!

The apple trees are in place!

tree planting (20)

Nice work!

And so a rather nice, if we say so ourselves, fledgling orchard appeared right near the entrance, with a variety of apple trees suited to the Moray climate, such as Katy, Laxton’s Fortune and, yes, Beauty of Moray. The odd plum and pear tree provided a bit of variety, as did some young gooseberry, blackcurrant, redcurrant, tayberry and raspberry shrubs planted close to the trees to give them a bit of company.

The following morning we were at Bishopmill and an even bigger group of cute wee ones, led by Mr Stewart and Mr Stuart. We sited our orchard on a slope to the side of the school for the parents to see and near to their biodiverse play area, again with a selection of apples and other top fruit, plus a row of soft fruit bushes, next to the path.

A pause as the worm hunt intensifies

A pause as the Bishopmill worm hunt intensifies

tree planting (14)

Applying the finishing touches (the camera does actually lie sometimes -it is actually vertical, honest)

Digging here was tricky near the bottom of the slope, where the soil was very stony, especially for wee ones, but they did a sterling job, whilst being careful to handle the tools safely. We were digging out a square about 80cm wide (half that size for the soft fruit), first putting the turves to one side, then digging further down and removing the soil to about a spade’s depth. Then we put the turves in the hole upside down; ‘why?’ you ask. Because the soil near the surface and the grass is rich with nutrients but we don’t want the grass to grow. Then we position the stake and the tree, before backfilling the hole with the remaining soil.

Bishopmill posse - look at the cameras!

Bishopmill posse – look at the cameras!

The final shebang was after lunch, next door at Elgin Academy, where Mrs. Campbell’s class took to the field. Again we were on a slope, adding to the existing fledgling orchard which is part of their brilliant food garden, and facing stony soil in places. The teenagers did well and their stakes were well done, put in with some gusto. It’s important to have a stake in place for the early years of a tree, in order to support the wee thing against the wind and dreich weather. When we put a stake in, it’s not in the middle of the hole as that’s for the tree but close enough so that they can be tied loosely together with the special ties. And we must put a guard around the base of the tree to stop rabbits, deer and other pesky furry critters from munching the bark, otherwise it’s game over for the tree…

Up on the slope at the Academy

Up on the slope at the Academy

And did you know (I didn’t until John explained) that research has shown a square hole is better than a round hole? This is because the roots find it easier to grow into the corners of the un-dug (more compacted) soil.  There was just enough left in the Academy’s water butt to ensure the trees started their new life with a good drink. The trees should start producing fruit in the next couple of years, so not too long to wait.

Lynne takes a breather to tell tales of her fishing trip

Lynne takes a breather to recount her fishing trip

As a small bonus for all the pupils, they got to have a go at using John’s stylish vintage apple press to get some juice; enough for a wee dram for everyone – so much better than your carton stuff!

It was fantastic to see all the pupils engaged in outdoors learning and planting trees for many in the future to enjoy and get healthy free food, and all on the school doorstep. Big thanks to you all – and your teachers – for your hard work and enthusiasm. And thank John!

Good things do come in threes!

Good things do come in threes!

Barney’s Blog 9 – Permaculture a success again

Gooooood morning Moray!

I trust November finds you well. As the days draw right in, this can be a fine time to go inwards to reflect and contemplate. But of course also make sure to get outside to see the fantastic autumn colours before all the leaves fall. I really enjoy being out gardening at this time of year, taking in the precious daylight and feeling the garden and nature slow down.

However, today I’ll tell you a wee bittie about a fine classroom experience I had back in October, thanks to the inimitable Jonny Barton.

SAM_1099Jonny is a Permaculture Diploma tutor from just over the border near Huntly and he has headed to Elgin twice in recent months to deliver an Introduction to Permaculture day workshop for us. On the second one I was lucky enough to help hold the session and soak up his knowledge and enthusiasm. I completed a Permaculture Design Certificate back in 2012 and this was a perfect refresher for me, learning from a highly qualified and experienced tutor.

What is permaculture? is a common question. I’m not going to attempt to properly answer that question in this short blog! Perhaps, I could just say that it is short for permanent agriculture or permanent culture. It combines an ethical framework and an understanding of how nature works with a design process; and the whole point is to provide practical solutions to support the creation of sustainable, healthy and agriculturally productive settlements. I hope we all agree that this has got be a good thing!

Jonny went through the ethics (Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share) and the various nifty principles inspired by nature that underpin it all. A permaculture approach can be helpful with many aspects of life. It’s not just about, for example, growing ‘low effort’ perennial crops or designing your garden better; it could be how you invest your money, how you build or retrofit your house, your approaches to medicine, health and education, how your business is set up etcetera etcetera…SAM_1102

Questions and issues relevant to each participant were looked at and for the last bit we headed out to the Gardenshare site to see some permaculture in action and get our hands dirty.

There is the splendidly marvellous UK Permaculture Association, which has a wealth of information at www.permaculture.org.uk.

But what you probably need at this point is a bit of Jonny in person to really inspire you and get you started down this road – that millions round the world are now travelling on, with a smile on their faces.

And good news…Jonny will be back by popular request, early in 2016, dates to be confirmed – if you contact info@reapscotland.org.uk you can get yourself on the waiting list for a place and of course get further information. I thoroughly recommend it!

Barney’s Blog 8 – Summer at Spynie

Hello, yes…I am still alive! I’ve been holding back on a blog I wrote a few weeks ago until we got permission to use the photos; no joy yet so let’s just post it and I’ll add the photos later. So, here you go:

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I write this fresh back from a trip to Sypnie Care Home, on what is a proper summer’s day , in very late September! About time eh? Bring it on!

It was a lovely morning with the staff and residents, spent in two of the courts provided for outdoor enjoyment for the residents. Pauline and all the staff had already spent plenty of time getting the space in lovely shape with many an ornamental plant – so time for the REAP posse to cruise in to ‘food it up’.

To start with we broke into two teams: half us of us – in little more than a blink of an eye – rustled up a 2 x 1 m raised bed and filled it with peat free compost, free top soil from the flood alleviation scheme and chicken manure pellets; and the other half planted a brace each of apple trees and blackcurrant bushes, giving a decent amount of space around them to grow into. We spent a bit of time looking at where the sun would be at different times of day and in different seasons and which plants might shade others (which could be a good as well as bad thing, say, in a hot summer). These are things people often forget and then regret afterwards….

We joined forces for the planting up (and seed sowing) in the raised bed with all sorts of hardy plants to grow into the autumn and beyond: oriental greens like mizuna, pak choi and ‘green in snow’ (the clue’s in the name!); a selection of classic brassicas such as spring cabbage and kale; aliums in the form of chives and onions; and the ever popular spinach and parsley. A smorgasbord to ‘cut and come again’ for the dinner table as the nights draw in. We put the longer lasting and/or taller plants where they wouldn’t shade the others from the precious autumn and winter sun.

What a lovely site this is, sheltered from the wind on all four sides but with plenty of sun due to its good size combined with the low height of the buildings around. A microclimate that is a growers’ paradise!

We finished off here by whacking in (not literally) a compost bin for their fruit and veg peelings, teabags, cardboard and shredded paper. We gave the lowdown on good practice and again we sited it carefully – in an area with plenty of sun to get the bin nice and warm and near to the building door to make it convenient for people to nip ‘oot to pop in their contributions.

We then trundled over to t’other court –  somewhat a different kettle of fish being much shadier and with stonier soil. But a lovely spot in its own right, very pleasant for quiet contemplation. Also there were a sheep, pig and chicken hanging out there – miniature plastic ones, (un)fortunately.   Blackcurrant bushes are quite amenable to the shade so in they went along with a few strawberries desperate to get in the ground. Let’s see how they go on in comparison to those in the other location – gardening is always an experiment. (I’m hoping they do well as I am a fiend when it comes to blackcurrants and strawberries and now I know the door code…)

A big thank you to the staff and to the residents – Peter, John and Fred amongst others mucked in as much as they could and supervised most excellently when the kneeling got too much. We look forward to coming back to see how it’s going!

Barney’s Blog 7 – Dorothy’s magic

Well, September has come around quickly and a blog is well overdue!

In later August Dorothy and I were reunited in true celebratory style at raised bed parties across the fine city of Elgin. Here’s a couple of photos:

Down at Pauline's

Down at Pauline’s

Getting the earth prepped

Getting the earth prepped at Jane’s

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve also been getting involved in a side project developing a new community garden at SACRO’s young person’s accommodation in Covesea Road, as well as continuing visits to Action for Children, both with Ann and unfortunately with no camera in tow!

vertical gardening at its best

vertical gardening at its best

You can grow all sorts in a sheltered spot

You can grow all sorts in a sheltered spot

Instead, photo-wise I have some of the delectable Dorothy spreading her magic, developing Elgin Youth Cafe’s splendid new backyard garden and leading the final of our Grow Your Own workshops on Harvesting and Preserving.

Gather round

Gather round

Amazing homemade jams and pickles

Amazing homemade jams and pickles

Bike-powered smoothies were the order of the day at our final session, courtesy of the leg work of some of the younger attendees but all got to indulge in the fruits of their labour. And Dorothy rolled out a selection of classic locally made preserves and pickles for a taste test; naturally they passed with flying colours! My, was I kicking myself for missing this session!

Bicycle smoothies!

Bicycle smoothies!

Cheers!

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Saturday is the first of our Introduction to Permaculture days – more from me soon on this…