Muddy Boots allotment playgroup begins!

I completed my to-do list in the nick of time and ran my first session at the allotment this week. It was fantastic! Both morning and afternoon sessions were fully booked and almost everyone turned out despite it drizzling with rain for the entire day. I am so please (and relieved) to have got to this point. It always is a HUGE effort to get the group off the ground again each spring. Now comes the fun bit of running sessions every friday.

I was rushed off my feet all day, so didn’t manage to get any good pics of the site all finished and prepped, but will aim to do this next week. Following are some pics that I did take of the participants enjoying the activities and the re-vamped site.

Advertisements

Muddy Boots garden re-design CEAP. Plan a schedule of implementation,maintenance, evaluation and tweaks.

IMPLEMENTATION PLAN

MONTH TASK DEADLINE?
February Re-measure and photograph the plot Early feb
Spend a few hours up at the allotment doing observations, sketching and planning the new layout Early feb
Sketch out a base map and play around with possible layouts of the main features Early feb
Get quotes for all building materials and decide where to source these from. Early feb
Buy building materials for fence/gate/play kitchen Half term
Take down the south wall of the existing fence and put up new one Half term
Put in the new gate and tower posts Half term
Put the new bolts on the gates By sessions start
Research mud kitchen ideas and re-do this feature End feb
Clear the movable objects from the newly enlarged space so I can see the layout more clearly End feb
March Draw out my finalised plans Early March
Tidy the shed and do a stock check. Make a list of any equip or materials I need to buy for this seasons activities. Early march
Begin saving tin cans for the allotment planters Early march
Move the sandpit End march
Buy more sand and fill it up By session start
Mark out the triangular bed Early march
Make the willow den Mid march
Cut the grass/ rake over to clear debris Mid march
Buy the marine ply board for the blackboard/ painting board/ spotted board/ welcome signs End march
Install the blackboard/ painting board etc and paint them in situ End march
Define the boundary of the strawberry bed and apple tree guild bed End march
Buy more plastic plates and another thermos flask End march
April Drill holes into the tin can planters Early april
Install the tin can planters and plant up with pansies By session start
Select, print and laminate some photos or pics of fruit/veg/flowers to decorate the picket fence. Put these up with staple gun. By session start
Mow lawns again By session start
Test out gazebos and decide which one to use Early april
Gather ground sheets, blankets etc Early april
Take home and wash and return all snack and drink utensils By session start
Buy washing up liquid, tea, coffee etc plus sponges, wash up equip By session start
Final checks before first session on April 15th By session start

CARRYING OUT THE IMPLEMENTATION

FEBRUARY

We spent three bright and cold days at the allotment over half term. We re-made the fence line and installed a new gate leading out into the wider community allotment.

Day 1 – moving the fence and beginning to re-install it. IMG_1235IMG_1233

Day 2 – completing the fence and putting in the gate

IMG_1240IMG_1238

Day 3. Moving the blue planters, moving a cherry tree, making the triangular corner bed and beginning work on the mud kitchen.


 

The P of CEAP is for Plan a schedule of implementation, maintenance, evaluation and tweaking.

But where is the actual design bit? This seems to come up a lot for me when using Permaculture design process systems. There is lots of detail about how to prepare for producing your design, but it never actually says “now draw your design” why is this?

So I have chosen to draw my design at this point in the design process. As at this point the space was more open and I could visualise the layout more clearly. I sketched out a rough plan for the new design while at the allotment and then worked more on the design at home.

So this is the design that I feel most happy with at the moment, but I am open to making more changes as the project rolls on and the space tells me what it needs. So I’ve kept the design loose, still using pieces of paper on the base map and not drawing it out in full yet.

IMG_1321

UPDATE – Here is the final design drawn out and coloured in!

img_5253

and a  close up to show some of the details.

img_5254

Twelve Principles for twelve months – September – Produce no waste

IMG_7707Plastic packaging is a pet hate of mine and unfortunately it is often what fills the majority of my household bin.

September is a month of abundance. The trees are raining fruit down on us by the bucketful. This is wonderful as long as you can manage to keep up with the deluge. Often I pass trees that have dropped all their fruit and it litters the floor beneath them, rotting on the ground and feeding only birds and wasps. I totally understand that September is a busy month and the task of harvesting fruit can fall to the bottom of people’s lists. But it always breaks my heart just a little.

I am as guilty as anyone, this year I have completely neglected to harvest one of our plum trees. The fruit ripened while we were away in Cornwall and it needed immediate attention on our return. My attention was also needed elsewhere (as always) so this year we have not eaten a single homegrown plum. I am trying not to make the same mistake with the cooking apple tree. I am collecting the windfalls and bringing them into the house, where they sit in a wicker basket and slowly turn brown, then are fed to the chickens. My intentions are to make wonderful crumbles and puree but again real life is getting in the way. I hate this waste but I accept that life is so full currently and sometimes I just have to prioritize what is most demanding of my attention on any given day and ‘let it go’.

Reflecting on this has made me more forgiving of the wasted produce I see at the community allotment and school garden. Cucumbers left to rot on the vine, courgettes grown monstrously huge and bolted spinach everywhere. At our first new school year gardening club this week, we spent a good hour harvesting and sharing out vegetables amongst the children. This felt good. So many people don’t have enough to eat, not only in far off impoverished counties, but also in our own neighbourhoods. Wasted food seems like a terrible sin. I think often gardening projects concentrate on the growing of produce and make the mistake of neglecting the harvesting, processing and eating side of the equation. I intend to do what I can to address this in the gardening projects I am involved with.IMG_8331

This month’s principle ‘Produce no waste’ is a difficult one to excel at. So I am going to aim for ‘produce a little less waste’ I am going to make a meal plan for the week each sunday and shop accordingly. I am going to try to buy foods with less packaging, I am going to try to cook the correct amount of food and use up any leftovers the following day. I am going to keep on recycling all my kitchen waste to the chickens or into the compost heap. And lastly, I am going to try not to waste my most precious resource of all – time.

Diploma design for ‘Muddy Boots’ – Limits

Identify the things that might block your path or keep it slow and small… an opportunity to recognise energy leaks, concerns, emotional ties and individual and cultural beliefs… Acknowledge these influences to design around them… Voice concerns and highlight potential problems…Begin putting strategies in place… what do I need to say no to? Recognise that limits will change over time.”                                                                       L. Macnamara in People and Permaculture  2012

IMG_1618

I have considered ‘limits’ for Muddy Boots in terms of four specific areas; myself, others, space and resources. I asked lots of questions of myself without really feeling I had to strive to find the answers at this stage. It seems like a big long list of anxieties and questions, however it is useful to put them out here and get them out of my head!

MYSELF – Do I have sufficient time, energy, confidence and skills to steer this project on my own? Can I keep up the momentum for the group? Will my own children enjoy it or will they find it difficult with their mummy being so busy during the group sessions? Have I got enough support from other group members, other allotment users, my husband, my friends, the Permaculture community etc? Can I come up with fun ideas to keep everyone engaged? Are my ideas age appropriate? What about the safety aspect of using the allotment? Are we covered for insurance/ first aid/ theft etc? Is this too much pressure to place onto myself? What paperwork will I need to complete?

OTHERS – Will people want to come along at all? What would people consider a suitable donation to pay? Will people be willing to contribute in other ways, such as donating plants, seeds, compost, time? Will people want to participate in the running of the group? Should i set up a steering group? Will the people be nice and understand what we are trying to achieve with Muddy Boots? Will they expect too much? What if no one/ too many people come? How would I cope with that? Where and how should I advertise the group?

SPACE – Are the other users of the community allotment happy for us to be there, using the plot and making changes within the education space? Will there be an anti-youth feeling? Will Sue and the other major users feel that I am stepping on their toes? How will I manage these relationships? Will I be able to get the space ready on time for the first session? Will I be able to keep everything weeded and watered when I have very little time to actually spend down at the allotment? Can I ask the Tuesday group for help with this? Is the space safe and suitable for the group to use? Have we got the scope to develop as I would like? What about use of the sheds? Can I get keys’ cut? Am I happy to be the key holder? Do we need to contribute to the site insurance costs? Is there anything we can’t do on the site? Are there restrictions on the hours I can gain access?

RESOURCES – Do we have enough tools, plants, seeds, compost, toys, books, art materials etc? If not can I really expect them to be donated? Or should I try to fund raise? Can I get help with this? If other people are leading sessions can I ask them to be responsible for their own resources? Can I let go of the control and trust them to do this? Would it stress me out too much? Have I got space to store things at home? Or should I try to keep everything at the allotment in one of the sheds? Where can I find interesting resources and ideas for workshops?

How will I find the answers to these questions?……………………………………………..

This has felt like rather a negative exercise so I will end by looking at some of the positive outcomes of having, or conversely, getting rid of limits.

1. We only have a limited number of sessions, probably around 14 spaced every two weeks from May till October. So the project has a limited lifespan, although I’d hope to repeat it in years to come. This time limit should keep up energy levels and keep focus on achieving good results within a restricted time frame.

2. Each session is only 90 minutes long and the target audience is pre-schoolers. I need to keep both these facts in mind to ensure I am not overly ambitious in trying to achieve unrealistic results.

3. Muddy Boots is no longer managed by a company, it is managed by myself and the participants. So we are free to take the group in whatever direction feels appropriate. To be unrestricted and unlimited like this is great, unusual, liberating and should be enjoyed.

4. The garden space is limited with lots of uses required from it, so the parts we can actively ‘garden’ are limited. This should hopefully make it less of a daunting task if I do end up doing a lot of the maintenance work on my own.

5. Young kid’s imaginations and ambitions are unlimited by the constrains of society. I’d like some sessions to be very loose and take the lead from what the children express an interest in. This has already began to happen in one of the first sessions as explained below!

IMG_1811

We try not to limit how the children interact with the planned activities. The idea was for a barefoot walk. The children were to hear the story ‘We are going on a bear hunt’ then walk barefooted around a path with different materials underfoot. When it came to walking through the water trough and feeling the cold water on their feet, a few children much preferred to sit in the water, it was a hot day, so who could blame them!

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.

IMG_1863

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.

IMG_1864

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.

IMG_1865

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’

IMG_1862

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?

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.

My PDC design

IMG_1539

In 2012 I did a PDC (Permaculture Design Certificate) These courses, which are run all over the world, introduce the concepts central to Permaculture. I found the course that I attended ever so inspiring. Courses are run over an intensive two-week residential course or as 12 separate days. My course was on one weekend per month from January till June. This suited me well as it fitted in with family life and gave lots of time for additional study around the sessions.

One of the requirements of the course is that you complete a design and present it to your peers. This process is guided by your tutor and structured around a Permaculture design process. I used OBREDIMET.

The images below show the processes I used and the plan for the final design. I chose to design an education space for the community allotment that I am involved with. I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time and created a design that was actually implemented. It was an exciting project and great to see my ideas come to life. This inspired me to go on to further study and consequently the Diploma in applied Permaculture design that I am currently working on.

I have decided to post about this design now, as I am just picking up this design again two years down the line. I hope to implement more elements of the design this spring and summer. The garden of the community allotment is the location in which ‘Muddy Boots’ outdoor playgroup is held. I mentioned this play group in this previous post Muddy Boots The running of this playgroup is the focus of my next Permaculture design for my diploma. I intend to crack on with writing up this design over the next few weeks and months. IMG_1446IMG_1447IMG_1448IMG_1449IMG_1451IMG_1452IMG_1453IMG_1454IMG_1455IMG_1456IMG_1457IMG_1458IMG_1459

IMG_1539IMG_1460

IMG_1461IMG_1463IMG_1464