The Millennium Square Urban Allotments are a really exciting project to be involved in and one that we here at Incredible Edible Bristol are extremely proud of. The project is one that is collaborative in that we are working with At Bristol, who own the land and who created the idea and Almondsbury Garden Centre who support the project with both time and sponsorship. They began as a series of 5 raised beds that were full of sad and sorry shrubs and trees and the work required just to remove those was huge and carried out by professional landscapers with big diggers and other machinery. We then set about some soil improvement by adding approximately 2 tons of compost to each bed before we even thought about planting.
Being aware that we had removed some large trees, albeit quite unwell specimens from the space, our first concern was that we replant trees where they had been lost. With this in mind we set about planting apple and pear trees, all of which we ensured were UK grown and so able to withstand any particularly Bristish weather that might throw itself at them. Our plan was always that each bed would have a particular theme, but we also knew that the beds would require height as well as green and these trees, in the next 5 years, will create that. Already in spring this year, when they were flowering, they created a stunning display and that will improve year on year. The trees are on fairly small, but not dwarf, root stocks so will cope where they are without becoming too large and cumbersome, but still provide height in the space.
The themes of the beds are fairly self explanatory and are stil being worked on but the basic idea is that there are 2 vegetable beds, one herb bed and one soft fruit bed that at the moment is mainly strawberries with some rhubarb. The bed with the solar tree is destined to be a bed for pollinators now that At Bristol have their bee hive on the roof, so that we can be sure there is food available for the bees so they come along and pollinate our crops.
When we were discussing the beds we discussed how to deal with pest and disease and it was decided that however bad things got, we would use non chemical ways of dealing with these issues. We haven’t had much to deal with so far other than blackfly on beans which was eventually dealt with by the arrival of an army of ladybirds, and some fungal infection on the apple trees, but our ongoing promise is that all the beds will be managed without chemicals. With this in mind we went on to talk about what we would do if things struggled or failed and we quickly decided that we wanted the beds to be a learning experience for people, rather than perfect show type gardens, and so, with this in mind, we have left things alone to see how they would work rather than over gardening and replacing anything that might have looked a bit iffy. So if you see things in the beds that are looking less than perfect, we will let you know either on the boards or on social media what is going on with them so you can watch to see if they survive whatever is attacking them. We will also concentrate more next year on more focussed social media and blog posts around the beds and what is going on in them.
We know that food growing is a year round job and so we have worked quite hard to ensure there is something in all of the beds over the winter. There is a bed full of kale and cabbages, which hopefully the pigeons will leave alone so we have crops to harvest in early spring and we have planted lots of onions and broad beans. The broad beans are, of course, for early crops next year, but they are also an important green manure as they create nitrogen rich nodules on their roots which feed nitrogen into the soil in spring, when the new crops we are sowing will need it the most. Hopefully next year we will sow more green manures throughout the year in patches that are looking to be free for a short while, so that we continue to look after the soil without having to do too mch moving of tons of compost.
However, on a really positive note, At Bristol have installed a composter on their roof which is turning all of their food waste from the cafe into a beautiful, rich compost for the gardens. We are really excited to use that as both a mulch and a soil improver both overwinter and to mulch our crops next year.
As with all our projects our aim with the urban allotments is to create a space where volunteers can come along to regular work sessions and learn about food growing, and be inspired to take that knowledge back to their communities so that we can create more incredible food gardens around the city! Next years programme of work parties will be published soon and we look forward to sharing the next years growing with you as well as At Bristol and Almondsbury Garden Centre!!