Allotment playgroup- update and evaluation.

The education space at the allotment playgroup has been growing and developing rapidly throughout 2017. I’ve held 44 sessions over the spring, summer and autumn months. I’ve worked with around 30 family groups each friday over two sessions. Its been great fun. The willow den is really taking shape now but it has been plagued with wasps for the last few weeks and out-of-bounds!

This year the kids decided to plant lots of strawberries, herbs, beetroot, tomatoes, carrot, runner beans and sweet peas. We’ve also harvested apples, soft fruit, potatoes and courgettes. The children have been involved in every stage, from sowing seeds, to weeding, watering, harvesting, washing and preparing produce and of course eating it!

Its our last session this week before the winter break. I’ll be sad not to spend my Fridays at the allotment anymore, but I’ll be using the free time to try to complete my permaculture diploma before summer 2018.

Evaluation

The aim of this Permaculture Diploma design was very straightforward;

“To enlarge the fenced-in area of the community allotment and re-design the space where the Muddy Boots allotment playgroup meets”

I thought I should evaluate the success of my design by looking at my planned actions  against what I actually did.

  1. Enlarge the space with new fencing. YES 
  2. Have a tarp extension onto the gazebos and easy fixings for rainy day. YES but the fixing was not very easy as the tarp was multi use so couldn’t have permanent ropes attached. 
  3. Re-do the willow den – YES its taking really well
  4. Add bench and log seating inside the willow den. YES
  5. Add a wildlife area behind the shed. NO I didn’t get around to this and the neighbour was not keen on allowing ‘weeds’ to grow there and sprayed weed killer in the area – I was very sad and annoyed but for the sake of happy relationships at the allotment I had to let this go. 
  6. Add a blackboard and painting board. YES this worked well
  7. Changed the size of the sandpit to make it more affordable to fill up. YES but it does need re-filling every term and costs me £20-£0 each time so I need to factor this into my budgets. 
  8. Make a new mud kitchen out of pallets and donated kitchen items. YES but the sink only lasted 1 year and the whole kitchen will need replacing soon. 
  9. Add a removable canopy over the den area near the fence. YES I used this for shade on hot days and for a play space. I’ve just been donated some outdoor bean bags, so these will be added to the area for a quite reading and snuggling area. 
  10. Add climbers to the fence. YES lots added and establishing well.
  11. Add soft fruit to the triangular bed. YES added and establishing slowly.
  12. Add a mud pit. YES the kids adore this (parents not so keen!)
  13. Re bark the paths and area around the mud kitchen. YES but will need refreshing every year. 
  14. Add signage to explain what the planting and play features are all about. YES but again will need replacing/ updating every year due to watering.
  15. Add a waterplay area. NO, I did do waterplay and gathered lots of kit for this but did not set up a specific space for this. I’d love to create a water will in the future for pouring and collecting activities. 
  16. To allow more people to attend the group each week, thus making it more profitable and sustainable. YES this definately happened. The morning session was fully booked all year and althought the afternoon sessions were always quieter, they attracted enought people to make them worthwhile. 

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Muddy Boots garden re-design, update on 2016 and looking ahead to 2017

Instead of writing a wordy post explaining how the enlarged and re-designed allotment playgroup space worked, I thought I’d post some pictures for 2016 season instead!

 

I asked group members about how they felt about the new space and got a few lovely quotations.

X and I love it! It affords much more space for the little ones to move around and explore, with separate sections/beds that emphasise the growing plants/fruit/veg. 🙂

So much more space to run around in, my two love it, especially the larger willow den. It will be so magical next year when it’s all green and leafy. 

The mud pit and the sandpit are a big hit for M, she doesn’t stop talking about Muddy Boots all week! I love being able to chat with my new MB friends while she is happily occupied. Thanks Emily, its fab. 

I have a Facebook page which is updated weekly, you can view it here. Muddy Boots. I also have a website which gets a monthly update. It’s still a work in progress, but I’m enjoying it. Muddy Boots website

2017 planning is in progress. I plan on running 44 sessions across the year at the allotment, 2 sessions each Friday from March till october. I’ve already got a long waiting list of people wanting to book in. Exciting times!

Muddy Boots garden re-design. Maintainance plan

everyone gardening

I have now ran 8 sessions at the allotment and its been lovely. I find the sessions challenging due to how busy I am, but very enjoyable. The set ups and pack up are taking a long time, but I am hoping that as I develop strategies it will get easier. I also need to start being OK with asking the group members to help more! I wrote a maintainance plan in April and have just updated it with progress made to date. I have tried to keep it just for activity directly on site, rather than getting too bogged down in the detail of the day-to-day running of the group, however the two things are so interlinked that this is not easy.

MAINTAINANCE PLAN

MONTH TASKS PROGRESS
April Complete all tasks on the implementation plan ready for session 1 on April 15th Done on time
Run Spring season sessions on 15,22, 29 April and complete all prep and admin associated with these sessions. Done
Reflect and review how the free-play activities are working. Do I need to make any changes? Sandpit will need refilling every season, so get another few bags of sand over half term. Mud kitchen may need some introducing to the group, plan some activities around this. Loose parts materials are going down well.
May Run sessions on 6, 13, 20, 27 May and complete all prep and admin associated with these sessions. In progress
Mid May take summer bookings from group members then offer any spare places to waiting list then do publicity via website and FB if required. In progress
Build in weeding, watering and planting activities to my sessions. Aim to plant peas, potatoes, radish, sunflowers and flowers with the groups during May All planned in and some planting already achieved
Visit the site during half term to tidy mud kitchen, weed, water and tidy shed and refill sandpit  
June Summer season begins, run sessions on 10, 17, 24 June  
  Harvesting strawberries, currants, salads etc  
  Weeding and watering  
July Run sessions on 1, 8, 15 July  
  Harvesting beans, peas, grapes  
  Weeding and watering  
  Take autumn bookings before the end of term. Will probably need to advertise for autumn, as MB will lose quite a few members when they start school in September.  
  Evaluations and reflections with people leaving the group.  
August Summer break- need to go regularly to the allotment to keep on top of the weeding, watering and harvesting. Maybe invite group members to join me for a gardening day towards the end of the summer? Share the workload of prepping for autumn season  
  MB involvement in the Allotment open day? 6th Aug? Date TBC, will I be on holiday then?  
Septembe Autumn term begins, Run sessions on 2, 9, 16, 23, 30 Sept  
  Harvest blackberries, potatoes,  
October Run sessions on 7, 14 Sept  
  Autumn celebration event  
  Planting spring bulbs  
  Stock check the shed and tidy up ready for autumn-winter closed season.  
  Documentation, reflection, planned tweaks for next year  

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Muddy Boots garden re-design

I managed to take a few pictures this week of the site all prepared for my session. I am really pleased with the way it has turned out, the extra space is lovely and I’ve had some great comments from attendees. The den, sandpit, digging area and mud kitchen are being well used, so much so that I am having to reduce my ambitions for structured activities to be achieved each session, as the kids are not keen to be dragged away from these free-play activities!

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.

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

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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.

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

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and a  close up to show some of the details.

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Muddy Boots garden re-design. CEAP. Apply Permaculture principles.

Apply Permaculture principles

I did the chart shown in the photo below. I looked at of my most likely design elements in relation to how they fitted with Permaculture ethics, 6 chosen principles, cost, time and practicality. This helped me to weed out ideas that were unethical or just too time/money consuming. It helped me to make decisions and left me with a refined list of elements to include in my design.

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Boundary – picket fencing with blackboard and pallet bug hotel and vertical planting.

Gardening – in low raised beds along the south and east edges next to the boundary.           An area marked off for individual square foot gardens.                                                            A key hole bed created around the current strawberry patch

Bringing people together – Keep the current gazeebo, chairs and blankets arrangement but consider moving this to elsewhere in the site to create the best use of space

Free play – Create a multi-functional playspace out of pallets and fence posts                        Make a new larger willow and hazel living den structure

Task led play– Refresh the play kitchen and sand pit. Add a mud pit. Consider where to place these. Add a waterplay area and a waterbut of hose pipe. Ensure the water run off it put to good use.


I then began designing by drawing out the key features to scale on post-it notes and moving them around on my base map. This was a very useful, simple and time effective way of trying out lots of ideas. I am not sure that any of these designs are quite right yet. I need to spent time in the space once the fencing is done and think hard about how people will move around the garden.

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Muddy Boots garden re-design. CEAP. Evaluate the information.

Evaluate the information

To evaluate the information I have collected I used the following Permaculture design tools; functions and elements; links between elements, random assembly, key functions and setting SMART goals.

I thought about the key functions for the space and what elements could be use to fulfil these functions. I also looked at how the elements could work together. I tried really hard to stand back and think about functions first rather than deciding immediately on the specific element. This helped me to consider things in a new way, for example; Boundary markers (rather than fencing)

I researched picket fencing prices and thought about what I could afford. I worked out that to buy new picket fencing, fence posts and post mix would cost me around £140. Which seemed like a big chunk out of my budget. So I also thought about alternatives to fencing, such as using repurposed pallets, planting raspberry bushes and other edibles to mark boundaries or including a blackboard in the boundary. I really like the idea of the boundary fulfilling more than one function in my design, so I think I will probably mix and match some of these ideas with more traditional fencing.

At this point I was starting to get a clearer idea of what to include in my design. Please ignore the toddler scribble on the second photo below!

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I narrowed my selection down to the elements that I most wanted in my design and wrote these down on pieces of paper. I then began to think about where elements should be located in relation to each other. I used the design tool of random assembly here. Initially I felt a bit sceptical about the usefulness of this design tool, but actually it brought to light some interesting possible combinations and drew great pictures in my minds-eye.

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These were my favourite ideas that came out of using random assembly. IMG_0807

I thought more about the elements and functions that I wanted to include in my design and came up with 5 groupings or key functions that seemed to make sense as shown in the photo below. Certain elements needed to be in two groups, these are shown in orange pen. For example, the vertical planting could form part of the boundary but is also a gardening task. Also the den could be a good place in which to group people together and its also a great resource for free-play.

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This flow-diagram was also useful in ensuring that each of my important functions were supported by multiple elements. I did more work on this below.

FUNCTION                                                                   ELEMENTS

Boundary to define the area and keep kids safe    Picket fencing                                                                                                                               vertical planting                                                                                                                           blackboard and signage                                                                                                               Bug hotel

Space for children to do gardening                          Raised bed                                                                                                                                    Boundary beds                                                                                                                              Key-hole or square foot garden                                                                                                  Digging area and access to tools

Bringing people together                                         Seating area                                                                                                                                  Gazeebo /den/ circle time space                                                                                                  Flexible activity space/ tables                                                                                                      Food and drink area

Activities to inspire free-play                                  Pallet playspace                                                                                                                            Loose parts storage                                                                                                                      Role play-space                                                                                                                            Dens

Specific task play                                                     Play kitchen                                                                                                                                   Sand pit/ mud pit                                                                                                                         Waterplay

I set some SMART goals.

  1. For the redesign to be completed and implemented by Mid April.
  2. For all costs to come in at under £300
  3. To enlarge the space to allow at least five more families to attend to each session
  4. To make better use of the space and create a logical flow of activity
  5. To add three new features to the current layout
  6. To improve the current sand pit, play kitchen and den

 

 

Muddy Boots garden re-design. CEAP. Collect site information.

Design Project overview

At the moment I am re-designing the area of the community allotment where I run Muddy Boots Allotment Playgroup. We were lucky enough to be awarded £250 from a local funding body at the end of last year. I have managed to squirrel away most of this money and plan on putting it towards physical improvements and enlargements to the space.

My Muddy Boots group is entering its 5th year now, but its only really the 2nd year that I have ran it as a businness with the aim to make money and for it to be my career rather than a hobby. So this year I hope to enlarge the space to be able to fit in more people and to run twice the amount of sessions.

The aim of this Permaculture Diploma design is to enlarge the fenced-in area and re-design the space where the group meets. I initally designed the space as the project I undertook as part of my PDC back in 2012. You can view the original design and process here. My PDC design.

I have decided to use the process C.E.A.P to structure my design. This design process has been chosen for two reasons, firstly because I’ve not used it before and secondly because it seems quite quick and easy compared to other design processes. I need this design process to happen quickly due to a deadline of mid April for the changes to be implimented by when the group begins meeting for our Spring season.

CEAP                                                                                                                                                     Collect site information
Evaluate the information
Apply Permaculture principles
Plan a schedule of implementation, maintenance, evaluation and tweaking


Collect site information

To collect site information I used the following Permaculture tools; meeting with relevant people, observed and measured the space, drew a base map, did a client interview, thought about boundaries and resources, did some wild designing, thought about functions and elements, looked at zones and sectors and took observational photographs.

In October 2015 I had a meeting with Sue, the lead volunteer gardener for the community allotment and we discussed my plans for extention and redesign. She gave me the go-ahead to proceed with the proviso that I do all the implementation and general maintainance myself or with members of my group. I am lucky that Sue is also involved in Permaculture and is very supportive, even if some of the other allotment gardeners have not always been so happy to have a large group of toddlers and children rampaging around their patch!

I measured up the space and drew a rough map showing sizes. I considered how much additional space I would need and where this could be located on adjoining land to make the best use of the plot. This showed me how much additional fencing I would need to purchase. I measured up the existing fencing to try to match fencing for the new area.

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I did a client interview with myself as client to really focus in on why I wanted to do this redesign and what I wanted the outcomes to be. I thought about functions of the space, what my boundaries and resources were.

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I looked in more detail at my boundaries and resources;

Boundaries. The main boundaries are time, money, energy and skills.

Time I have about 10 weeks currently till the site needs to be ready (early feb – mid april) I can devote a few weekends and a few thursdays to implementing the design.

Money I have £250 funding plus £50 saved from last years takings, so a total of £300 available to cover all expenses. This must include plants, seeds, compost and this years resources I need to buy in advance.

Energy I have some time put aside to devote to the design and implementation. I will have some help from my husband and can maybe suggest to the group that they can help too if they’d like to. Maybe the community allotment volunteers could do some jobs on tuesday mornings? I need to talk to Sue about this.

Skills I have very basic skills in woodworking. I am good at gardening, creative jobs and garden design. I need help with the heavy lifting and technical stuff. Lots of the jobs will require two or more people.

Resources on site that I can use in my redesign.

  • 1 wooden pallet 100 x 120 cm
  • 4 decking boards 200 x 15 cm (currently sandpit edging)
  • 4 decking boards 150 x 15 cm (currently sandpit edging)
  • 2 tractor tyres
  • 20 15cm square block paving tiles
  • 7 planks 12ft x 15cm (currently made into a raised bed)
  • Possible to prune the willow to make a den or structure
  • Various paving slabs and planks of assorted sizes

To stop myself getting too bogged down in the detail and to see the bigger picture again, I did some wild design thinking and came up with some outlandish ideas just for fun. I have had some time, space, money, help, ownership of the land then I’d love to do some or all of these crazy ideas!

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Then I brought myself back to reality and I thought about what elements were already in the space and what I wanted to keep, remove, change and add.

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Next I looked back at my original basemap drawn for the site in 2012 where I had added notes about the zones and sectors of the site. IMG_1448

These initial observations were pretty accurate, so I used this to do an updated base map showing the increased plot size and what was currently on site. The portion of the space to the left hand side of the dotted line is the new area that we will be expanding into.

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I took some more photos of the site as it is now, 3rd feb 2016 for reference and to help me with my designing.IMG_0857The new boundary will follow the existing fenceline out to almost the end of the dug bed in the middle of the picture then turn 90 degrees and meet the fence. This will enlarge the space available to me by approximately a third.

IMG_0867Looking over the existing fenceline to the area that will now be included. The area currently includes a raised bed, two barrel planters, a small cherry tree, a wire and wood fence and material storage.

IMG_0861The fencing can be reused. I will take down the fence at the east end of the plot and reuse this elsewhere. There are two sections of picket fence here 1 is 10.5 ft long and the other is 12 ft long. The fences look like they have been purchased as individual elements and constructed to fit the site. It should be possible to take them down as two pieces and then remove the fence posts or use them within my design.