Let’s Get Growing

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!

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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

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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:


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 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!









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

Barney’s Blog 5 – Busy summer days

Well, hasn’t it been grand to have a few summer days, at last – long may they continue! Gardening, of course, must continue whatever the weather and so it has.

Taking cuttings

Have a look at these beauties







Our second Grow Your Own session on Raised Beds and Propagation was another winner – we demonstrated how easy it is to put together a raised bed and then spent a little time maintaining the plot that we’d planted up last time around, weeding, supporting the peas and beans and another round of ‘happing up’ the tatties. Dorothy then passed on her knowledge of propagating plants by demonstrating taking cuttings, splitting plants and potting on, as well as a recap on seed sowing. The gang all had a go and took some soon-to-be mighty plants – herbs, leeks and brassicas – away with them. We even had time to plant up another lustrous herb sink.

A busy workspace

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Teamwork in action







The previous Thursday we’d headed down to the Council PARC (Pinefield Assessment and Resource Centre) facility to help them develop a community garden. The support worker Toby had done lots of prep for us, mulching with cardboard and with the help of two energetic young people we got cracking. We planted climbing beans (with cane supports) and lettuce in the old greenhouse frame. All sorts of goodies went into the main bed, as well as some seeds sowed here and there. A most rewarding morning – the staff were most pleased with the transformation the five of us effected! We’ll be back to continue the good work at some point for sure.

Some serious space for veg

It was a busy few days as the following Monday we headed down to Elgin Academy for a packed session, working with lots of classes from Biology and Home Economics across the day. The kind teachers chipped in too and between us all we weeded and maintained the existing six 3 -metre squared plots, harvesting some treats, as well as building another six of these monster beds! The kids got really stuck in, there were many keen DIY’ers and budding gardeners amongst them and some were brave enough to taste some rocket flowers and oriental green leaves. Tastier and fresher than the stuff at the supermarket down the road…

Warm wishes to you all until next time.

Barney’s Blog 4 – Grow Your Own

A couple of months in and I keep encountering new types of sessions in my post: my first raised bed party, the first of our Grow Your Own courses and my first meet up with the steering group. That’s what I call interesting variety in a job!

Just finishing off the paths

Just finishing off the paths

Sow and Grow was the focus of our first session down at Elgin Gardenshare on Forteath Avenue last Saturday. In no time at all we converted an empty 3 metre by 3 metre square of soil to six wee beds with loads of different veggies and simple woodchip paths in between.

Where shall we put them?

Where shall we put them?

We showed how easy it is to implement a simple crop rotation – for brassicas, legumes, aliums, roots, squashes and some salad crops thrown in for good measure. In a crop rotation we move around the group of crops in a particular area of our garden plot each year – this ensures healthy plants as it minimises the risk of diseases that attack certain crops e.g. potato blight and clubroot on brassicas, from building up in the soil. Also, each type of plant uses different nutrients and some – the fantastic legumes – actually add nitrogen based nutrients to the soil from the atmosphere. Nature ain’t half clever.

Hard at work

Hard at work

Brassicas include cabbage, broccoli, kale and cauliflower; legumes are peas and beans; aliums include onions, leeks and garlic. Roots are – as the name suggests -those we eat the roots of, such as carrot, beetroot, parsnips and tatties. Also spinach and chard are in this family. Tatties often have their own place in the rotation as we want to allow space for lots of them. The squash family includes courgettes, pumpkins and summer squash. Crop rotation with salads such as lettuce, rocket and (my favourite) the oriental greens is less important, you can even stick them in before and after your main crop.

A taste of the Mediteranean

A taste of the Mediterranean

Participants learnt some good techniques for sowing seeds and planting out wee plants into their final destination. We built structures to support the plants and covered plants with netting where needed. And for good measure we put tatties into the adjoining square of ground, just digging the weeds and grass into the trenches so as to add some lovely nitrogen into the soil and avoid weeding first – so quick and easy.

 We finished off by planting up a Belfast sink with a selection of Mediterranean type herbs, making sure we mixed a good bit of gravel in with our lovely peat free compost to aid the drainage.

Drill For Victory!

Drill For Victory!

Last week I joined in my first raised bed party with the Elliot family – we built one of our metre squared beds made from decking and filled it with a variety of plants and seeds, finishing off with netting it from the cheeky birds; even me snapping one of the willow hoops didn’t spoil things – a roll of tape is always good thing for a gardener to have to hand for such moments! A mint filled welly also joined in the fun.

And a return to Action for Children yesterday – assembling two raised beds with the kids – to be filled and planted next time – before carrying out some evaluations with them to get a taste of how they’re finding the sessions.

I’ll keep putting in a few tips or ideas of my own into the blog – but of course there are as many opinions about gardening as there are gardeners… if you have any good tips you’d like to share please do get in touch.

The second Grow Your Own session is this Saturday 27 June 10am at Forteath Avenue – focusing on raised beds. Worth getting out of bed for!

Barney’s Blog 3 – oot n aboot

Hello good Moravians, it’s been a wee while since my last installment.

A helper at Home FarmLast time I told you a little about our preparation for the Open Day at Home Farm, Pitgaveney. A cracker of a day was had! Sheepdog trials, sheep shearing, a farmers’ market and bicycle powered smoothies were just a few of the attractions. Our raised bed and (especially) our herb spiral drew countless admiring glances and tempted many folk into the marquee for a blether. They were most chuffed to hear how quick and easy these are to build. Free seeds and factsheets on the above as well as composting were particularly popular take-aways. We learnt lots ourselves, hearing some great tips and stories and a good number of people were keen to get involved and signed up for our mailing list.

Signing up folk at GreenfingersDorothy and I were ‘oot and aboot the previous day too. We were down at the Greenfingers project at Cooper Park nurseries, for a sale of lots of very healthy looking plants straight out of the polytunnels and cold frames. Not surprisingly, the folk from Elgin and beyond were there in their droves, picking up a bargain or ten. And so we got in on the action, spreading the word about how easy and tasty it could be to put aside even a wee part of your garden for growing your own grub, to accompany all those bedding plants…. Folks took away some seeds for germinate – of ideas as well as veggies.

Seed sowing at Greenwards PrimaryA few days after our weekend bonanza we headed down to Greenwards Primary School to spend the morning with Miss Taylor’s year P4/5 class. We went on a Where in the World? journey with them, tracing their supermarket food back to source and looking at the many contributions to its carbon footprint in getting from field to supermarket shelf. The kids showed great geography knowledge when looking at the labels, and were surprised that food was coming from as far afield as Vietnam, Chile and Kenya! After that we headed out with them to the Allarburn Farm Shop, where there was such a contrast; local butchers selling their products from Huntly, garlic from Nairn and local veg grown in farms just a few miles from the shop in Elgin’s Edgar Road.

There was a return to Action for Children last week; unfortunately I was laid low with the lurgy but Dorothy and Ann had a fine time by all accounts, filling pots with herbs, rocket and strawberries, transferring veg into the filled raised beds we made last time – so there’ll be plenty of lettuce, cabbage, leeks, onions and kale soon. Patrick and Kaden found a 1936 one penny in the soil, treasure, what a great find! Then the lashing rain put paid to our raised bed party at Pitgaveney last Sunday – please summer, come soon – but we’ll be heading back for the rearranged fixture shortly, as well as starting the first of our four Grow Your Own gardening courses at Elgin Gardenshare on Forteath Avenue this coming Saturday 13 June from 10am – 12noon. It’s called Sow and Grow and we’ll be on hand along with some other gardeners to give a gentle introduction to people doing it themselves. To book a place just contact the REAP office. This course will run every fortnight taking you through sowing to harvesting. See you there?