Grow Elgin Blogs

Second Grow Elgin and Beyond 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. 

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 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! 





Grow Elgin Part 3 – Grow Elgin and Beyond!

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!



busy winter with Grow Elgin 2 .

Community Gardening in Cooper Park

We’ve had two of our bi-monthly community gardening sessions in Cooper Park, at the end of January and end of March. Individuals and families joined us to plant soft fruit bushes in a new bed next to ‘our’ raised beds in the park, as well as weeding the existing areas and harvesting herbs and kale still growing in the beds. These sessions are always great opportunities for volunteers to get involved with REAP’s work and community food growing and harvesting as well as learning new gardening skills and ideas for more sustainable lifestyles.

Work with schools …

Our growing and composting work with schools around Elgin continued through the end of the winter. Classes in New Elgin Primary School and the Eco group in West End Priamry school made windowsill planters and newspaper pots from recycled materials so each class could start to grow vegetable seedlings indoors  to be ready for planting out in Spring. A large raised bed in Moriston Road  outside Bishopmill primary school has been adopted by their Eco-group and planted up with herbs and soft fruit bushes (picture below), and next door at Elgin Academy, their Eco-group and a lunchtime youth group have been busy clearing their raised beds for spring, planting more fruit bushes and installing a compost bin (picture below)  to take compostable material from two caddies sited in the school. Seafield Primary School have had a refresher course in composting and have been out sowing veg seed, and Linkwood primary school, Elgin’s newest primary school which consists of one P1 class in temporary  accommodation without permanent garden space have also started growing veg seed in homemade recycled windowsill, as well as outdoors in two whisky barrel planters kindly donated by Speyside Cooperage. St Sylvester’s primary P1s have been busy sowing vegetable seeds in their raised beds and the P4s have taken responsibility for a new wormery to compost  organic waste from the classroom and staff room. And speaking of worms, we arranged a couple of performances of an eco-drama group from Glasgow’s play ‘The Worm’ which held youngsters from VIP childcare and a P2 class from New Elgin Primary enthralled with a lively story supported by imaginative props and music and two enthusiastic actors, as well as a chance to get up close to real worms in their wormery at the end (see picture below)


… and in the community

At the Elgin Youth Cafe we started to re-establish a food growing garden outside their new kitchen extension, by building and planting up a herb spiral with the help of some enthusiastic youngsters, as well as installing some large and decorative plant pots with vegetable seedlings. And on a  beautifully sunny Saturday morning we planted 18 soft fruit bushes (red and black currants and gooseberries) with local residents in the South Lesmurdie area of Elgin. The bushes will nicely occupy the small round vacant spaces left in some decorative cobbled banks, and provide a healthy snack for any passing residents come the summer and autumn.

Food garden at Arrows

Arrows is the Drug and Alcohol support service  of the Quarriers charity in Elgin, and during a very busy and physical day REAP staff and volunteers, assisted by Arrows service users, turned an garden area overgrown with heather and pampas grass around the back of the Arrows offices into four 2m2 raised beds planted with herbs and vegetable seeds, as well as a rhubarb plant and soft fruit area with currant bushes and raspberry canes. Not only will this new garden produce healthy local food, it will also be a great resource for Arrows service users to benefit from the therapeutic effects of gardening and learning new skills. One of REAP’s volunteers will continue to work with Arrows to keep the garden there going too.

Composting with individuals

As well as working with schools, charities and community groups we have also been supporting individuals to reduce their CO2 emissions by, for example making their own compost. As part of our work with primary schools we offered families a free compost bin and kitchen caddy. When we delivered the compost bins to these families we installed the bin in their garden and gave them a little workshop about composting, why it’s a good idea for the planet, and how it will benefit them, as well as the basic ins-and outs of composting such as what can and cannot be composted and how to keep the composting process in the bin active and thriving. We’ve now installed 20 compost bins in private gardens.

Learning new skills

As well as up-skilling people in all the above activities we also ran two more specialised introductory workshops. Nine participants learned all about apple tree pruning under the experienced and expert guidance of Chris and Vicky from Woodland Wanderer. Amongst a lovely small orchard of venerable old apple trees on a small farm just outside Elgin we learned about the theory and what specialist tool to use, and practiced and discussed pruning first hand on apple tree branches pruned from the orchard’s trees.

Permaculture designer Jonny Barton ran an Introduction to Permaculture workshop for 11 participants ranging from novice  to experienced gardeners. As well as discussing the basic principles of Permaculture, participants learned about forest gardening, a low-maintenance sustainable plant-based food production and agroforestry system based on woodland ecosystems, and Jonny spoke from personal experience of building a straw bale house. In the afternoon we visited the Gardenshare community garden to look at community food growing and composting locally, and how Gardenshare ideas and practices related to Permaculture ideas.

If you are interested in REAP’s community gardening, food growing and CO2 reduction projects and would like more regular updates please follow us on Facebook where we usually post weekly about what we’ve been up to and forthcoming events. You can also email us and ask to be added to the e-mailing list for updates and alerts for forthcoming events with which you can get involved.  


Fruitful End to 2016 – December ’16 blog

Fruit seems to be the main theme of the last few weeks of Grow Elgin’s work. We continued to supply and help plant fruit trees, a variety of apples, pears and plums,  and establish little orchards around Elgin. New Elgin Primary school planted half a dozen fruit trees in their school grounds, along with a similar number of currant and gooseberry fruit bushes. On the day we were due to plant the top layer of ground was frozen solid, yet when we postponed planting to the following day the temperature had risen by around 10 degrees and we could plant without a hitch! Moray Resource Centre also planted an apple and a pear tree, along with four fruit bushes within reach of paved paths so that they can be accessible to people with mobility problems. And in Cooper Park we had another community planting morning to add fruit trees to the orchard REAP and volunteers started last spring. A few days later youngsters from EarthTime’s outdoor nursery came along to plant a couple more trees there.  

sam_1416       sam_1417

Our apple press also had a couple more outings, and at the Elgin Youth Café they even used some of the apple pulp which usually gets composted to make muffins and soup.

We’ve tidied up the High Street herb beds and the raised beds in Cooper Park for the winter with the help of a some volunteers who harvested more kale too.

Indoors we’ve taken some plant related craft activities to groups at ENABLE and Elgin Youth Café, making festive, decorative and above all aromatic lavender pouches as well as Christmas decorations and birdfeeders from pinecones. 

And finally Dorothy had a successful Grow Elgin stall at Elgin Academy’s Farmers market, ably assisted by Academy pupil volunteers. This was an exciting opportunity to talk to people as well as handing out information in leaflets about the veg and herbs being grown and available for harvest locally. There was selection of pick n mix seed packets to take away as well as decorative seed sticks and seed mats to encouraged people to go and grow their own. We made lots of new contacts of interested people and ran multiple sessions of our ‘Where in the World?’ activity, with both adults and children. This activity makes people aware of the great distances a lot of our food is transported, from far flung corners of the globe to Scotland where we could be growing  some of this ourselves and/or eating more seasonally cutting down on CO2  emissions and combatting climate change in the process.




Branching out with fruit trees – November ’16 blog

We’ve worked with a variety of groups on a variety of activities, indoor and out this month, getting outdoors while we still can! We helped Spynie carehome build a herb spiral using recycled bricks in one of their courtyard gardens, where the herbs will not only be easily accessible for picking but the herb spiral can also be seen and appreciated from indoor seating areas. Once the plants have established the care home’s kitchen staff will be able to pop out to harvest fresh organic herbs with zero food miles! One of the carers mentioned she might like to make one in her own garden. Have a look at our website at   for instructions to make your own herb spiral.

With young people at Elgin Youth Café we made Christmas crafts with local plant materials including decorative and aromatic lavender pouches and Santa decorations using local pinecones, which they can use to raise funds at  Christmas fairs.


New Elgin primary school’s edible garden is coming on apace. We’ve now helped them build and  install six metre-square raised beds, planted and sown with  onions, garlic and winter salads like ‘Green in Snow’,  Sessantina and Red Mustard. As well a compost bin for garden waste the P4/5 class now also have some new outdoor pets to look after in their newly installed  wormery! The wormery will be able to process some of the children’s food waste from snack times and from the staff room (which would not go in their compost bin) to make nourishing worm-cast compost for their vegetable beds. The children now know all about what goes in their different composting systems and will be doing their bit to recycle compostable waste on site at their school.

tsi Moray organised an indoor pop-up market for social enterprise groups on the last Saturday of the month. Having our stall there was a good opportunity to spread the word about the Grow Elgin project and REAP’s other projects, our upcoming events and where people can harvest local veg and herbs. We had some hand-crafted stocking fillers and decorations for sale made from local plants, and made Christmas stars from willow withies with passing children. We also ran two herb tours around the nearby High Street herb planters, encouraging people to harvest local food.

img_8474     img_8491

November is also a good time for planting trees  and we’ve been busy adding fruit trees and bushes to the gardens where we’ve helped set up raised beds. At ENABLE we planted an apple and a plum tree, and a couple of currant bushes with staff and service users, and also harvested a couple of turnips for the service users to take home – their lettuces were still going strong too!

At West End Primary School we spent a fruit-themed afternoon with their P6 class planting a small orchard of apple, pear and plum trees interspersed with red and black currant and gooseberry bushes. The pupils got stuck in with all aspects of tree planting, digging the holes as well as fitting tree guards around the trunks and stakes to support the young trees and mulching around the bases. ‘It was a whole new learning curve for me, planting a tree.’ commented James, one of the P6 pupils. The fruit trees planted were all varieties which grow well in the north of Scotland, including an apple variety called ‘Beauty of Moray’.


The pupils also had a chance to press locally grown apples by hand using a traditional apple crusher or ‘scratter’ and press and sample the  delicious freshly pressed apple juice. The children learned that growing and making food locally reduces CO2 emissions, and so the impact of climate change.  ‘I loved planting a tree.  I think more people should start planting things like trees, fruit bushes and food. Let’s save the planet!’ said Hayley, one of the P6 pupils involved.


Bumper Blog for Autumn ’16 – time To reap the harvests of our work!

A bit of a bumper blog at the end of this month as we haven’t had an update for a while, though if you’d like to see regular shorter updates the Grow Elgin project has a weekly (usually!) post on our Facebook page.

Busy times for the Grow Elgin project as the balmy summer weather extended into September and a mild and colourful autumn.  We’ve continued our work with the ENABLE charity, returning to help them harvest leafy vegetables, some turnip thinnings and herbs. The taller planters are now in place too and we helped sow and plant them with winter  salads, late potatoes, onions and garlic to grow over the winter. The service users have been taking the fresh produce they helped grow home too and that means more fresh healthy local food being eaten and fewer food miles too. The compost bin is filling up too, with the veg scraps from the ENABLE kitchen,  the roughly chopped garden waste we gathered whilst harvesting and some shredded paper; we gave it a good water before putting the lid back on.

sam_1312    sam_1308

We had a lovely sunlit day out at our Gardenshare allotment with groups from West End Primary school’s P1 class, learning all about the far flung places in the world our food comes from and then seeing how we can grow lots of it right here in Scotland and even on our doorstep. It was great to see the wee ones getting stuck into digging and weeding and planting and sowing on the REAP  community plot, and composting their play piece too. Hopefully they will return next spring to see what their gardening has grown into.

We’ve been establishing a community garden including half a dozen raised beds at New Elgin Primary School too, with the help of Mrs Oakley’s  P4/5 class and the schools  Eco Group  building the 1m squared beds, filling them with peat free compost  and sowing winter veg in them, as well as planting and weeding  the herb garden.  We are looking forward to setting up a wormery and  planting up an orchard in the school grounds following the very detailed plans the group drew up.

The Elgin Youth Cafe wellbeing  group have been making Herb posies, pouches and teas using the herbs gathered from the Cooper Park raised beds and the planters in Elgin High street.  The herb planters now have QR codes on them so that anyone with a QR code reader on their smart phone can now find out all about the herbs and how to use them from a new page on our website.

We’ve also built a herb spiral with Action for Children’s  Krazy Kids Club, a fine 3D addition to their edible gardens. If you would like to make a similar one, it takes about 65-70 bricks to make and three bags of peat free compost to fill, and we have instructions you can download on our REAP web site.

sam_1368    sam_1374

Dorothy and Paul, the Grow Elgin project workers, didn’t get any company on the bi-monthly weed-sow-harvest session at the Cooper Park raised beds, but then the rain was fairly chucking it down! Not to be put off though we weeded the beds and harvested about 1.5 kg of lettuce, kale and herbs each for Elgin Youth Café and the Moray Resource Centre. Dorothy had early harvested some salad and herbs for our friends in the Cobbs Café in the library too. Forget food miles, we’re talking food metres!


The raised beds we put in at the Moray Resource Centre are also thriving since we gave them some protection from the rabbits (!) and the three service users there who have taken on a bed have been learning to sow and plant a variety of winter veg including oriental winter salads, garlic and broad beans. They’ve also been learning about weeding and thinning, and harvested a small crop of radishes to take home.   

And finally we had a very successful Elgin Apple Day in Cooper Park at the end of October. Our apple scratter and press were kept going full time making  fresh local apple juice from apples brought by visitors from their own gardens, or from the bags of apples which had been donated from local gardens around the Keith and Elgin area and from Wester Hardmuir Farm near Nairn.  There was also a display of locally grown apple varieties from Pluscarden Abbey, apple dookin’, a longest peel competition, facepainting, plant-a-pip, apple trees for sale and Elgin Youth Café’s smoothy bikes. We had about 80 visitors during the three hours, and lots of enthusiastic and positive feedback, so hope to have another bigger and better Apple Day next year!

dscn0126      dscn0123

Summer growing in Pictures – July ’16

As a picture is reputed to speak a thousand words, we’ll let some photos we took during July do most of the talking with some short descriptions, to let you know what the Grow Elgin project has been up to during July

At ENABLE (a charity for adults with Learning disabilities) in Elgin making windowsill planters and newspaper flowerpots and sowing them with vegetable and native wildflower seeds, in preparation for the installation of raised beds in their garden.

1       2

Community gardening at the raised beds in Cooper Park, weeding and harvesting kale, strawberries and a variety of herbs. We have these sessions every two months or so, and all ages are welcome (!) to join us for a few minutes or an hour.

3     4

At Aberlour Childcare trust’s Youth Point in ELGIN we’ve worked with some of their young people to make plans for a grassy area to be turned into a garden with a variety of uses – watch this space. We built and planted up a raised bed, made a ‘Lazy bed’ or ‘Lasagna bed’ by building up layers of different organic material on a cardboard base on the grass. This was planted with a few potatoes, and we’ll continue to add layers of different organic matter as the potato plants grow. Similarly we planted potatoes on soil inside a recycled tyre, and will add further soil-filled tyres on top as the potato plants grow.

5    6    7


Herbs in the High Street

It’s been a while since the last Grow Elgin Blog, but that’s not to say we haven’t been busy! The good news is that we have secured funding for the Grow Elgin project for another year, which means more community gardens, more raised beds in schools, more home composting around Elgin and more gardening and composting courses. All this is encouraging more people young and old to grow their own healthy veggies, which will cut down on food miles and greenhouse gas emissions and help look after our lovely planet home.

So what have we been up to? Well, next time you’re strolling through Elgin town centre have a closer look at some of the planters around the High Street. Elgin invited us to adopt some of these planters, and because we are about growing food locally we’ve planted up eleven of these planters with herbs like parsley, marjoram, rosemary and mint, as well as strawberry plants and little black currant bushes. Once these plants get established and take over the planters we’ll be encouraging people to browse these plants and have a nibble. They’ll not just be nice to look at but will become part of an edible landscape around Elgin!

And whilst on the subject of an edible Elgin we ran a successful community event at the start of March planting small community orchard in Cooper Park. About 25 volunteers came along on the day to help us plant 12 young fruit trees which will be bearing home-grown apple and plums for local people to enjoy in a few years’ time.  We also planted the 4 old rose beds with fruiting bushes and herbs for everyone to help themselves to as they pass through the park.

Last week we visited West End Primary School in Elgin. Their Eco club are very keen to grow their own food and compost stuff from the staff room. Having made some plans on paper for their new garden, they were soon outside enthusiastically putting together their new wormery, which will take the teabags and raw food scraps (apple cores etc.) from the staffroom. With a bit of guidance they were soon using electric screwdrivers to put together their raised  beds, filling them with compost and planting some herbs and vegetable plants, whilst learning about how  growing their own organic food will help make their own contribution to  combating global warming. It was great to hear from the kids how many of them were already aware of some of these issues.

west end eco group

In a similar vein we have been establishing local raised beds for food growing at Spynie Hospital, and have we are just in the process of drawing up plans for a small edible garden for ENABLE’s day care centre for adults with special needs in Elgin. Watch this space!



Barney, the Grow Elgin project assistant wrote about Grow Elgin 1 – 2015-16. Read on for a flavour of what happened over the course of a very busy year!

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

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 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!
 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

vertical gardening at its best

You can grow all sorts in a sheltered spot

You can grow all sorts in a sheltered spot

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!




Barney’s Blog 6 – Compost and party time

Well, the sun has gone missing again soon after it finally peeked its head out from between those stubborn clouds. Here at REAP we’re currently taking a couple of weeks’ break from Grow Elgin sessions and either taking a well deserved holiday or getting fully caught up with all our desk based work.

Since my last blog I have however made it out and about a little; two raised bed parties and the third round of our gardening courses to be precise. As a starter, here’s some photos of Pitgaveney:


Work begins on the construction site

raised bed,herb spiral session- pitgaveny house 06.07 (5)(1)

And lo and behold, in the blink of an eyelid

Here's ones we made earlier (back in May at the Open Day, to be precise)

Here’s ones we made earlier (back in May at the Open Day, to be precise)

A cornucopia of delights

A cornucopia of delights!

Round three of the gardening course was all about composting, a subject most dear to our hearts. We started off with some questions: why, how, what, where…

Playing the compost quiz. It’s amazing how much stuff you can compost, though be wary of a few things

Dorothy's compost collection

Dorothy’s compost collection

And then we showed off the great system at the Community Garden, lots of bins in series, each at a different stage of readiness, as well as separate containers for leaf mould and comfrey and nettle teas. Tina the chief composter onsite provided some great tips too. Ta ta for now. 
A fantastic system at the Community Garden - these type of bins are splendid

A fantastic system at the Community Garden – these type of bins are splendid by the way




Barney’s Blog 5 – Busy summer days

potting up

Have a look at these beauties

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. 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

gardening course-27.06.15 (2) rotated

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

Just finishing off the paths

Just finishing off the paths

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!

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.

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.
Where shall we put them?

Where shall we put them?

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.

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. 

Drill For Victory!

Drill For Victory!

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.


Barney’s Blog 3 – oot n aboot

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

A helper at Home Farm

Signing up folk at Greenfingers

Dorothy 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.

A 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. 

Seed sowing at Greenwards Primary

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?


Barney’s Blog 2 – Tuesday epic

Hello it’s Barney again and time for my second installment, where I’m going to tell you about my busy day last Tuesday. It was a day of varied activities (and weather!).

I joined Dorothy in the morning at Home Farm, Pitgaveney just outside Elgin. We were doing the preparation for the big Fun Day they have this coming Sunday 24th May. Get down if you can – there’s going to be a lot going on. As part of it we’re going to demonstrate raised bed construction and seed sowing for windowsill propagation and help the wee ones to make paper pots, sow bean seeds and make bug homes. We’ll be promoting this project too.

We had a most pleasant morning, firstly building a herb spiral from unused bricks which we then planted up with a wide range of culinary herbs. We celebrated its completion with a lovely cup of lemon balm and grapefruit mint tea, freshly harvested and bursting with freshness. We moved on to building one of our legendary metre squared raised beds. We filled this with lovely peat-free compost and then a smorgasboard of veg seedlings and young plants – including kale, carrots, leeks, salad onions, lettuce, mixed leaves, radishes, garlic – to show how easy it is for people to starting grow their own veg. We had some help from Jim Grant the friendly marquee man who gave us a shiny new drill bit. What a man!

Herb spiral being built

Jim helping with raised bed Home Farm

Raised bed building with Jim to the rescue

sprial and flower bed

All done!

After lunch we met up with our manager Ann and new volunteer Sophie at the Elgin Community Allotments site on Wards Road and then went on a tour of possible sites for community allotments and orchards in north Elgin. There is such potential round there to get growing and work towards a whole edible trail.

And then it was on to the final destination, Action4Children on King Street. We joined the kids and staff in preparing the ground for two raised beds, which we then put in place and filled with topsoil. There was just time for a few tatties to go in – more sowing and planting to follow. They all showed amazing enthusiasm and perseverance in the face of some chilly rain and wind. Such keen diggers and shovellers – excellent work guys.
everyone planting

Never mind the rain, let’s get stuck in!

planting tatties

Tatties being tucked into their new bed

A weekend of fun beckons at the Home Farm Open Day after working alongside the Greenfingers crew at Cooper Park for their open day on Saturday. I’ll report back when I can – bye for now.


Barneys First Blog

Hello everyone, my name’s Barney Thompson and I’ve just started as a Project Assistant on the exciting new Grow Elgin project that REAP is running. I’m going to be writing a blog of what I’ve been up to – to give you a taste of the project and maybe encourage you to get involved in whatever way you can.

I’m a keen gardener and composter and love growing food organically, so I’m really looking forward to joining the people of Elgin – young and old – in the activities that we’re going to be running in various locations. Amongst other things, we’ll be developing and maintaining community gardens and orchards, sowing seeds, building beds, composting and, of course, harvesting the tasty produce. We’ll be getting our hands dirty and having lots of fun!

Last week I went on my first visit with my lovely colleague Dorothy. We had an excellent time at Elgin Academy with two classes, Mrs Sutherland’s and Miss Ainsley’s classes from S1.

The Academy already has a food garden underway, developed with our help . They are ready to build some composting bays, so we took time to work with the young people, developing their composting knowledge. We looked at which things from your garden and kitchen you can and can’t put in your compost, as well as techniques for making a good balanced compost mix. Students looked at some compost that we’d already ‘made’, both from a compost heap and a wormery. The worms were more popular with some students than others!

elgin academy 05 (4)

Dorothy explains some of the joys of compost

The Academy has some splendid raised beds and students also sowed some seeds, for many this was the first time they had done this. Beetroot, carrots, potatoes, parsnip s, radish, leaf beets and lettuce will hopefully be making their appearance when they’re ready at the Academy. Students also had a go at pruning fruit trees that had been damaged by the wind.

elgin academy 05 (3)

Seed sowing and chatting about favourite veg.

If you need any help with composting, we have a handy simple leaflet you can download here. There is also other information you can download about about food growing.

That’s all for my first instalment folks. I hope you enjoyed reading and I’ll be writing more soon.