Barney’s 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!

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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.

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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.


DIY Draught Excluder

What with the cold weather setting in, I thought it would be the perfect time to make a draught excluder.

We have a knitting pattern for a draught excluder that can be downloaded here. But if you’re like me, and you can just about tell one end of a knitting needle from the other, here is an alternative method using the leg from a pair of old trousers.

Step 1. Cut the leg off the old trousers and turn it inside out. 


This gives you a tube of fabric that you’ll stuff.





Step 2. Lay the tube flat then stitch the two edges of an open end together.


This will form a tube that is closed at one end. How neat you make it is up to you, but the important thing is that the stitching is secure so to keep the stuffing inside. If you’re like me and are not great at sewing it can look a little rough, but that doesn’t matter because it will be hidden when you…



Step 3.  …turn the tube inside out again.

Step 4. Stuff the tube with a suitable material.


I used the polyester filling from an old pillow but shredder newspaper, plastic shopping bags, polystyrene beads, and bits of old garments also make good filler.




Step 5. Close up the remaining end.


I sewed it but  it would have been quicker to fold over the ends and secure them with safety pins. That way the stuffing could be removed and the fabric outer washed if needed.

And that’s it. It took me about forty-five minutes from start to finish, with the sewing accounting for most of that, and it works pretty well.



Things I will do differently the next time:

If aesthetics are a factor I’d use a more attractive piece of fabric. I pulled the polyester for the stuffing apart and this caused a lot of mess. Next time I will cut it into small chunks or use one of the other materials mentioned above. I also used too much stuffing resulting in the excluder being too firm. You want it to be a little soft so that it sags and increases the contact with the floor and where it touches the door. And finally, I’ll use safety pins for the reasons mentioned above. It would also make it easier to take out some of the excess stuffing and cut down on sewing time.


Here’s our wee slideshow with just a few photos from the Apple Day. Roll on next year!

If you click on the play button it will take you to the Smilebox website where the video will load and play automatically.

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Apples, apples, apples…

You can freeze, refrigerate and wrap apples to store them. You can bake them, roast them, juice them, mull them, make pie, crumble, muffins, tarts, chutney them, dry them in the oven or airing cupboard to make apple crisps or jelly them alone or with other flavours. Apple loves bramble, greengage, cinnamon, rosehip, chilli, cheese, lavendar, rosemary, sage… The list goes on. They are so versatile and the perfect portable snack.

Here are a few of links to apple recipes – please get in touch if you’d like to add yours.


wee appleThe Fife Diet has recipes galore here – see Applicious Autumn for All to get your tastebuds tingling.
For a range of seasonal recipes and ideas, why not join The Fife Diet? Membership is free, and in return for pledging to cut your carbon FOODprint, you’ll be kept up to date with all sorts of goings on and receive 4 lovely seasonal recipe books over the course of the first year. See for more information.


wee apple

Love Food, Hate Waste is always a good spot to stop for recipe ideas to use up bits n bobs.
There are plenty ideas for dealing with an apple glut and using every bit. Click here for a link to a refreshing apple peel drink.


wee apple

BBC Good Food website – recipes are tested and commented on by real-life cooks.
You can search for things that are quick or easy or vegetarian or low calories A is for apples and there are over 300 apple recipes here!


wee apple

The Royal Horticultural Society has a list of seasonal food recipes  – with a couple of apple cakes to start you off.








Seeds are like stories…

… they are meant for sharing not for keeping. That was the big message from The Fife Diet Seed Truckers during a tremendous day spent in Keith.

The house ceilidh in Longmore Hall was a lovely evening with sharing of stories, song, music and poems. There were tears and laughter and it was a pleasure and a privilege to get a chance to hear so much local talent. Keith Heritage Group brought along videos of The Keith Country show from 1951 and 1994 that played as a captivating backdrop.

Superb hosting!

Superb hosting!

Thanks also to the Scouts for their excellent service, good humour, and managing to resist eating anything till after all the refreshments were served, especially the beautiful home-made cupcakes.

Fergus and the Seed Kist

Fergus and the Seed Ki

The famous Seed Kist came along to the ceilidh too, and Fergus from The Fife Diet spoke about the importance of saving seeds, especially Scottish varieties, which are more likely to thrive here. The kist is full of seeds that are swapped or donated. The Fife Diet collect information on how they grow, as well as gathering recommendations on other varieties. It is hoped one day to have a Seed Kist for Scotland and this is certainly an idea we’d like to see go forward.


Fife diet allotment visit 030It’s very easy to get started with seed saving, and we’ll be putting a simple guide online soon. Earlier in the day, Dorothy from REAP ran some workshops including basic and some more advanced seed collection and storage techniques, and we donated seeds to the truck for them to take to St Fitticks Community Garden in Aberdeen. If you’d like to know more about seed saving, we can deliver a free workshop to your group, so long as you’re based in Keith and Strathisla. It’s an easy way to grow sustainably and work in harmony with the environment.

Another workshop featured a herb spiral built with help from allotment volunteers, made from re-used bricks and donated topsoil.



Meanwhile, Penny did story telling and nature activities for children.

Fife diet allotment visit 023

There were were busy bees flitting from flower to flower in the bee game and one or two hunts for giant, enormous turnips, rumoured to be growing in the allotments.

There was also a chance to mill and take away your own flour, with every step of the process explained from winnowing to grinding, while Mrs Mash made delicious pancakes with some of the finished product.

The bakery van

The bakery van

We would like to thank Moray Beekeepers who brought their virtual hive, and a virtual encyclopaedia of knowledge and fascination; Duncan from Waste Aware with kids’ activities and a very active wormery; Mr Les Coull for bringing along his stunning vintage Model T bakery van, very eye-catching and gleaming red, it was a big draw and a great chance to sit in the cab and imagine driving out with the day’s loaves on board.

REAP volunteer Charlie had the electric bike on show, as well as a vintage grocery bike kindly loaned by Annands

Community Food Moray were there with some lovely fruit platters and thankfully, apple and orange juice cartons. They are also in the North Church Hall, Mid Street, Keith every Thursday from 9-9.45am with fruit and local veg for sale.

Thanks also to Clive Coney (landroverlad at hotmail dot co dot uk), who supplied some very attractive seating made from local wood.

It was a day of glorious sunshine, great conversation and lots of sharing of seeds, food, knowledge and fun. The Seed Truckers would love to go on tour again next year and we’d love to see them back in Keith

You can see more photos on our Facebook page find out about what happened on tour here.



A Farm in the School

Inspiration from Inverness High

The growing space at Inverness High School really has to be seen to believed! It is a majestic sight and packed with inspiring ideas for projects large and small.
It’s a fantastic set-up, beautifully and cleverly managed. It ranges from veg plots with tatties, salads and herbs, to fruit trees, bushes, elderflowers, pollinators, wild and cultivated flowers and even has a pond stuffed with tadpoles and pondskaters – just the thing for biology classes.


Beds, polytunnels and woodchip paths

Beds, polytunnels and woodchip paths

The Geography department have been using square metre farms. Groups of pupils have named their farms and planted crops – hard to choose between the inventive titles but I think ‘Guinea Pig Groceries’ might just be our winner!


The farm is managed by staff member Morag and two dedicated volunteers, Anne and Sandra, who work there every weekday morning.


It doesn't get much fresher than this!

It doesn’t get much fresher than this!

Learning support pupils and the Rural Skills classes of 15-20 pupils use the garden and there are plans to further integrate it into the school and partner up with the Home Economics department.


Meanwhile salad bags and herbs are sold to staff members with fees going to the school fund. Pupils are in charge of picking and preparing the bags, putting them in the wheelbarrow shop, emailing teachers and delivering the bags.


The salad bags are delicious and brilliant value, full of a variety of different tasting lettuces, mizuna, rocket, dill, coriander and chives, with nasturtium flowers when they’re available.


Even a small bed in a polytunnel can supply a massive amount and be sown and harvested in rotation. Morag takes care to water the plants the night before and cut them early if the day is going to be hot so they last well and are less likely to wilt. In fact these bags will last 5 days in the fridge. In autumn, the bags change to soup packs with root veg.

Expert salad bag prep at the garden sink

Expert salad bag prep at the garden sink

Preparing the bags is carried out at the sink on site – just what every self-respecting garden needs! A final wash just before eating and these lovely leaves are ready to go.


Other crops include beetroot which will be made into pickles and chutneys, pumpkins, mange tout (a favourite of pupils as you can eat the whole thing), peas and broad beans – a handy early crop. It’s important to have things to keep interest throughout the year.


Some of the herbs are allowed to go to flower to make nectar rich beds for bees.

Bed of sage - heaven for bees

Bed of sage – heaven for bees

Top tips

  • Make it impossible to fail. Use small areas of ground – like the 1 metre square geography farm or even a square foot for younger pupils.
Super-efficient weed control

Super-efficient weed control


  • Dig over ground and cover until ready to use. Roll back the cover bit by bit as you are ready to use it.


  • Make friends with a tree surgeon. The paths are all covered in woodchip supplied by a local tree surgeon – who would normally have to pay to dispose of the wood – and topping up the paths is a great autumn job. The tree surgeon also gives a bit of time maintaining trees, pruning and teaching classes.


    When the weather turns in winter, continue Rural Skills classes indoors with making windowboxes and wreaths, and potting up spring bulbs and herbs.


  • Because cows chew their food more, the manure has less weed seeds in than horse manure so is the best low maintenance fertiliser!


  • And finally – don’t forget to close the gate on your way out!
All you can eat buffet for rabbits on the other side of the gate.

All you can eat buffet for rabbits on the other side of the gate.

RIDANs, Rockets and Green Johannas

Composting for the 21st Century!

Modern composters make it possible for schools (and businesses) to compost almost all their food waste without any smells, flies or hassle. Today’s composters are sophisticated, neat and tidy. Run well they can reach 40-60º C, which kills harmful bacteria as well as fly larvae to produce clean compost for growing food.

There are a range of systems to suit every size including, for example:


RIDAN composter

RIDAN composter

… Rockets …

Rocket composter - requires electricty

Rocket composter – requires electricty

… and Green Johannas

Green Johanna - a sealed composter with an insulating jacket See for details

A sealed composter with an insulating jacket

Funding may be available for cost, delivery and installation of a composter. There may also be a local organisation that can offer support in carrying out an audit and getting you going.

It’s best to start with a waste audit of how much food waste you are producing now. This gives you a baseline measurement to show how much things have improved, but it will also help you decide what size of composter will be needed. One that’s too big won’t work efficiently – they are hungry beasts and need to be fed! Carrying forward 1 or 2 achievable actions from all the information you’ve gathered, and keeping it all a manageable size means you’re more likely to succeed and keep up the momentum.

It can be a good idea to start small-scale until you establish the manpower and support to make sure you can keep up the composting, before investing in something more long-term. Starting off with non-avoidable food waste like veg peelings can be an easy first step, as can using an insulated compost bin like the Green Johanna.

Only use food waste produced on site (not donations from other people) and only use the compost you make to grow things on site. As soon as you get into the ‘import-export’ business with composting, you need to comply with strict legislation. Making and using the compost yourself means you don’t need to.

It’s important the composter doesn’t get too hot, or the helpful microbes that break down food will be killed too. If it gets too cool, it just needs more carbon rich food (sawdust) and a good stir to get it going again.

Potatoes can be problematic. Chunks of raw potato can come through unchanged and sprout in the compost bin. It might be worth keeping them out too.

Fuelling your composter – composters need carbon to get hot. Sawdust and woodchip are good sources and you may be able to get them from a school technical department, tree surgeon or sawmill. Ideally sawdust would come from untreated wood. If not, you’ll have to think about the likelihood of treatment chemicals getting into the food chain and how you can avoid it.


Visit to Charleston Academy, Inverness

Inspecting the compost maturation bins at Charleston Academy

Inspecting the compost maturation bins at Charleston Academy

Charleston Academy has a medium (200 litre) RIDAN composter, capable of taking 100kg a week of food waste, and some compost maturation bins.

Food waste from the canteen (about 25kg a week) goes into the RIDAN with and equal volume of sawdust from the technical department, and gets a minimum of 5-6 turns each time a load goes in.

The geared handle is easy to turn. The internal paddle system means waste doesn’t fall forward along the body of the RIDAN until it’s nice and dry.

The composter works at optimum efficiency when it’s three quarters full.

Leaving out wet slops like soup and custard avoids having to add excessive amounts of sawdust to balance up the compost mix. Around two weeks later, a lovely, dry mix pops out the other end.

It then goes to the compost bins to mature. It can be layered with straw or crushed cardboard at this stage and can sit in the bin for 6-12 months. It’s also possible to dig the fresh compost into soil in autumn and let it mature over winter

The compost relies on a few pupils weighing and collecting the canteen waste. Finding the right volunteers is key and leads to interest from others.



Tomatoes in compost filled raised beds

Tomatoes in compost filled raised beds

Thanks to donations of plants and seeds from Simpsons, a local garden centre, the pupils started with some so fast-growing plants such as salads and herbs so they can see rapid results. They’ve also grown slower maturing plants such as tomatoes, and have even rescued some wild strawberries which are absolutely thriving in the raised bed frames have been made by a member of the technical department.

The growing area is used by different classes and pupils and there are plans to incorporate it into Enterprise Projects next year. Teacher Richard Smith told us, “It’s a great way to get pupils to plan long term, something that can be challenging.” Composting and growing fits into many areas of the curriculum – from weighing and measuring to discussing nitrates in soil

With thanks to Charleston Academy, Inverness and ROWAN (Ross-shire Waste Aware Network) for their time and advice.