Diploma design for ‘Muddy Boots’ – Helps

IMG_1805Participants at the second Muddy Boots session 16th May 2014 (33 people came!)

I have started my ‘Muddy Boots’ allotment playgroup now, we have had two sessions to date, which were a great success. Before they began I thought about the ‘helps’ for this design, this is the second anchor point in Looby’s design web. Looby describes this stage in her book as follows;

Identify the things that are going to help… Value what you already have…identify the groups internal resources. Honor the experience of others and what they can contribute.                                                                                                                       L. Macnamara in People and Permaculture  2012

I have been considering ‘helps’ for Muddy Boots and I think these are the main five ones.

The location The allotment is a great resource for teaching children about food growing. It is run as a community allotment by a committed group of volunteers. I think Community allotments are a great idea as they spread out the responsibility for an allotment and make food growing less of a chore and more enjoyable. On my PDC I designed the education space for the allotment with Muddy Boots in mind. So the space is perfect for this group to use immediately as well as providing lots of scope for future activities.

To explore this further, I have used PASTE to analyse the helps within the location.

 PLANTS – Within the education space there are lots of strawberry plants, runner beans growing up a den structure, an apple tree planted with a guild of supportive plants, flowers in pots, a pizza pot containing tomatoes, chilis, peppers and herbs and welly boots planted up with annual flowers. The wider allotment plot contains a young forest garden and about every type of vegetable you could wish for.                                                         ANIMALS – I have seen foxes on the site, also there are chickens on other people’s plots plus the usual wide array of birds, insects and pond life.                                                       STRUCTURES – We have a large summer house type shed and another shed to store equipment. We have a gazebos. There are two polytunnels on site and a small greenhouse and another large shed. There is a toilet block and hardstanding for parking.   TOOLS – I have access to lots of children’s hand tools for gardening plus small-sized spades, rakes and folks. I have two small wheelbarrows, gloves, watering cans, art materials, compost, plant pots and a good stash of seeds.                                                  EVENTS – The education space is used by the adult gardening group too every Tuesday. The volunteers also use the paces when they have their tea breaks. The space is also used occasionally for educational workshops, events, meetings, seed/plant swaps, the allotment open day and celebration events.

My skills and experiences I have worked in arts education for many years and more recently have been gaining experience in environmental education. I have skills in teaching, project and event management and leading workshops. I am keen to further my skills in these areas, so taking on Muddy Boots as one of my Diploma projects seems to be paving the way for a possible future career path once my children get a little older.

Materials and resources from previous years I have been gifted lots of resources from the previous two years of Muddy Boots sessions. When Vicky left her post she ensured we had lots of the ‘stuff’ we needed to carry on the group without being out-of-pocket.There is a shed we can store everything in, children’s tools, some seeds, some books, tea making facilities, hand washing stuff, a first aid kit etc.

Freedom  As I am taking this on in a voluntary capacity, I am free from the constrains of being under a certain business or organisation. I am free to steer the ship how I (and the participants) wish to. We have a lot of freedom as long as we abide by the rules of the allotment society and follow the H&S rules set by the insurance provided by TCV.

The participants The group of parents and children attending sessions tends to ebb and flow throughout the seasons, with a few families forming a core group. Amongst these people there are many skills, ideas and experiences. I wanted to harness these wide-anging skills and encourage them to help with the group as much as people felt willing or able to. To gather information from the participants I designed a set of four questions based on ones in Looby’s book. ‘People and Permaculture’ Looby mentioned ‘gains and gives’ and I added grins and groans. I drew up these questions onto large sheets of card and asked the group to note down their thoughts in a type of brainstorm. I started this activity when I saw some members of the group at a spring lunch at the allotment. I continued it during the first Muddy Boots session on 2nd May.


Gains – What do people want to get out of the group? I was hoping that comments here would help with my planning and give something to measure successes against. Comments showed that people wanted opportunities for messy play, a chance to meet like-minded parents and for their children (and themselves) to socialize. They also wanted to be outdoors with their children and to be inspired by food growing activities that they could replicate in their own homes and gardens.


Gives– I wanted to find out what people were willing to contribute towards the group; time, skills, leadership, plants, seeds, toys, money, ideas etc. I am really pleased that to date, four parents have offered to run sessions. People have also offered to donate plants, seeds, compost and their time in setting up and packing away. I have also had help with tea and coffee-making, washing up and everyone seems very happy to contribute towards the shared snack time. We ask for a small financial donation towards each session. £2.00 for 1 child and £1 for each additional child is suggested. This goes towards running costs and materials. I actually think we could put up this charge next year to make the group more sustainable in the longer term.


Groans – What didn’t people particularly like? What could we tweak or change? What wasted time, energy or resources? I found people were very unwilling to write on this one! The only comments were that maybe we should cancel if its rainy, people would like to plant more seeds and they disliked having to travel to the session ( a few families come from quite a distance) I have a few comments of my own to add here but will wait until my next post on the anchor post ‘Limits’


Grins- This asked what were people’s favourite things about muddy boots, what were the most successful activities last year and what the kids enjoyed the most. I got lots of comments here. People liked letting their kids get messy, they loved the relaxed, safe, inspiring and welcoming outdoor environment. They liked sharing food, harvesting food and flowers and story time was popular too.

The four g’s activity was successful and a great starting point for my planning. The only criticism was that people were very new to the group and so quite shy about expressing opinions, particularly criticisms or anything negative. This was slightly frustrating for me, as I actively waned to hear what people didn’t like so that I could change it! Maybe a more private type of feedback would have led to more involvement?

A posy from my garden


Today’s posy is as easy as it gets, using just two flowers, Roses and Geraniums. I did pick lots of other flowers and foliage to include in this arrangement, but after playing around for a while, I decided that I actually like the simplicity of just two flowers best of all.

Late Spring flowers

My garden is so green this month. Everything is growing rapidly and the new growth looks so fresh and vibrant. At first glance there is not a lot of colour in the garden, just a few pink and purple flowers coming through in the boarders. I love to see lots of tightly closed buds holding the promise of more colour and interest in the weeks to come.

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Rose buds




Apple blossom







My garden in May

IMG_1565Apple blossom

Harvesting. We have eaten SO much wild garlic, its been such a welcome spring green but has now flowered and set seeds, so the leaves are turning bitter. So I shall soon leave the remaining plants to die back to feed us another year. I made wild garlic and basil pesto recently, I will blog about this soon, it was very tasty. We can harvest a salad everyday now should we wish to. We have radishes, various lettuces, parsley, basil and pea-shoots. We had some onions and mangetout from the school garden this week and rhubarb from our garden.

Planting I have been busy sowing seeds, potting on and planting out. There is always something to do in the garden and we have reached that time of year where it is difficult to keep up. My list of seeds that need sowing does not seem to be getting any shorter however much time I spend in the garden.

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Thinking. The weeds seem to grow a foot each time my back is turned, especially the bindweed, I am fighting a loosing battle with this tenacious monster, but I intend to keep on fighting! I have been thinking about getting some woodchip for months, to mulch some beds, cover paths and put inside the chicken runs. I was struggling to find anyone who would give me half a van load and I was reluctant to pay for it at the garden centre. Yesterday I saw a local gardener chipping wood on the street next to mine, so asked if I could have the chippings. She seemed very glad to agree to this and so now I have a monster load of woodchip covering my driveway. I also have a fractured finger ( but that is another story) so moving it is going to be a difficult and big job. Luckily my husband has promised to help me shift it over the weekend and my neighbour wants some woodchip too, so I should be sorted.

Feeling. I am feeling full of energy and ideas for the garden. I am, as always feeling frustrated by the lack of time I have to put these ideas into practice. However the kids love being outdoors, so I am practicing the ‘little and often’ gardening technique!  When they are happily playing, I grab a moment to myself pulling a weed, watering a pot or popping some seeds in.








Weather stats Thursday 15th May 2014

Sunny and warm with a small amount of cloud. Very still, bad for hay fever.

High 18, Low 12

Sunrise 05:09  Sunset 20:54






Chicks at 1 week old

All six chicks are doing well and the chicken co-parenting is happening, we are such a progressive, liberal household! The mummies took the chicks out for their first walk on grass today. They wobbled down the ramp and spent a few minutes outside the broody coop. Happy chickens!

In a few more weeks we plan to move them into a sectioned off area of the main chicken house run, to give them more space and freedom. We will wait a few months to introduce them to the big chickens, but they will be next door neighbours, so hopefully they will have plenty of opportunity to get used to each other.

More chick pics!

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Plant Love – Bluebell woods

We are so lucky to have use of a little wooden cabin in a bluebell woods close to where we live. We spent a few days there recently and had a blissful day to myself. Totally alone, no kids, no husband, no phone, no computer, no car – wonderful!

I took a long walk through the woods and was wowed by the bluebells in all their glory. Every year I am amazed at how fabulous they are. The wood was a carpet of blue (with a few white and pink ‘blue’ bells thrown in for good measure too)

I hope you enjoy the pictures I took.

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Food from my garden

From May till October, I hope to keep a record of what I grow and eat from my garden. Over the last few weeks we have been enjoying …

Rhubarb crumbleIMG_1555

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Omlette with wild garlic


Salads with parsley, lettuce, radish and wild garlic flowers


And also Fresh Lemon balm tea and fresh mint tea


Twelve principles for twelve months – May – Obtain a yield

My principle for this month is ‘Obtain a yield’ Also expressed as ‘make sure you are getting valuable results’ I am going to focus on two aspects of application of this principle;

1. The yield from my garden. I will be attempting to fulfil one of the SMART goals of my garden design by eating something from my garden on at least 4 days out of each week. As we are only just entering May, I expect pickings will still be quite limited for this month, but I expect to have a good supply of eggs from our hens, various salads, pea shoots, wild garlic, rhubarb, herbs and hopefully some broad beans and radish by the end of the month. There may be extra goodies from the community allotment too. I shall keep a record of what I harvest from the garden and what I cook with it. I have extended this to also include the yield of flowers. I love fresh flowers in my house and am aiming to cut a posy once a week to keep a supply of beautiful flowers without having to buy any.

2. The yield from my diploma activities, namely Muddy Boots outdoor playgroup and my involvement in the PDC. I shall be reflected on why I felt drawn to volunteer my time for these two projects and what yield this gives me.


Reflections on April

My principle for April was ‘Integrate rather than segregate’. I found a little time to reflect on this between child wrangling and Easter egg eating! I looked into companion planting and guilds. I am working on improving the apple tree guild at the community allotment and writing up an info board to explain what plants are included and why. Quite a few of the parents who attend Muddy Boots, don’t have a clue about gardening, so I thought I would educate them! And those that do garden, well I plan to convert them to the ways of Permaculture!photo 4The apple tree guild as it looked yesterday after I weeded it to discover which plants remained after two seasons of neglect. I spotted daffodils, wild garlic, fennel and comfrey. I will be adding to this patch soon.

I started making another web of connections diagram to show good and bad companions amongst plants that I am growing. I admit to getting too busy to complete this, but here is the picture of it as a work in progress.I should have increased the size or spaced the annual vegetable tags out more, as it is rather too crowded to read with ease.

IMG_1721I am using companion plants and polycultures in my garden. I am leaving in quite a few of the more useful ‘weeds’ and lots of the volunteer plants that have self seeded into my patch. So rather than the sea of brown that I see at many allotment plots, my garden is already a riot of green growth with a wide variety of colours, leave forms and plant structures. Some will be weeded out as and when I am really to pop in seedlings, other plants will be left to grow on and put to good use in the garden or the kitchen. All ‘weeds’ are food for the chickens, so where others see a front lawn full of dandelions, I see a crop for the chickens to eat!

I have made a number of patchwork quilts for my children using fabrics from clothes they have grown out of. I thought this was a lovely way to integrate what would be wasted or passed on. It’s also lovely to look at their quilts and be reminded of them in their younger years wearing those dungarees or that pretty dress.IMG_1718

I feel I am integrating the diploma into my life rather well. I am trying to make my diploma projects be about activities that I would be doing anyway, but Permaculture is helping me to do them far more effectively. It is also giving me the confidence to do things, like managing Muddy Boots, that maybe I wouldn’t have felt brave enough to take on otherwise.

My neighbour, an elderly lady with mental health issue has had a gardener erect a 6 foot fence along the boundary of our gardens. We felt really sad about this and asked if she’d consider a lower fence and a trellis to keep the light and views from being blocked out of our garden. She said no. She has fenced in the other side too and seems to be wanting to block everyone out and alienate her neighbours. I feel sorry for her. In stark contrast to this, our neighbours the other side have great. Our kids are constantly in and out of each other’s gardens, we have put a gate between the two gardens which is always open. We all hang out together a lot. It’s a really lovely sense of community. These two stark contrasts of neighbourly relations seemed to me to highlight the importance of the principle ‘integrate rather than segregate’ and the yield you can obtain if you do so effectively.

Our chicks have hatched!

Six little bundles of fluffy yellow feathers have hatched! Not bad going really from nine eggs. The chicks all hatched within 12 hours, starting on Friday night. No late deliveries in the chicken world! They all seem to be doing well so far. The only complication is that Ethel has one chick, while Peach has five. We have put them into a coop together, as we know from experience that one chick alone does not do well. We are hoping that the hens will co-parent. Unlikely as this sounds, this happened for us last year, so fingers crossed it works out again. The kids, Joe and I have been trying our hardest to stay away and give them some peace and quiet, but they are very cute, so that is a hard task!

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