Posted by: ellispritchard | July 14, 2013

3… 2… 1… Rocket Stove!


Our Pizza Oven

Back in 2011 members of Ealing Transition built a Clay Oven out of clay and sand at St.Mary’s Church, and used it at our  first “Family Re-Skilling Day“. After the event, we* moved it down to Village Park, where it has become the focus of many a community get-together, now otherwise known as a ‘Pizza Day’.

(*) when I say we, I mean the Reverend Steve’s strapping young sons, it weights at least 100kg!


Cob Rocket-Stove from Re-Skilling 2012

The oven being so successful led us to think of other things we could do to get people together over food, ideally food prepared with at least some of the ingredients grown on the allotment. At Re-skilling Day 2012 I made bricks out of cob (clay, sand and straw) and made a “16-brick rocket stove“. A rocket-stove is a very efficient stove which uses the stack-effect and a controlled amount of air to burn a small amount of fuel hot enough even to fry things on (I made bhajas, a type of spicy gram-flour fritter, a recipe passed into my family by my Mauritian Aunt).

It occurred to us that having a rocket-stove at Village Park would allow us to do other things: fry eggs, make crepes and pan-cakes, more bhajas… so we thought we’d build a more permanent one, and re-arrange the layout of our ‘patio’ area, which has become rather cluttered with all this stuff at the same time!

We started work on a design, which would incorporate the new rocket-stove, the clay-oven and a shelter to keep the worst of the weather off of them. The rocket-stove was to be a combination of a rammed-earth base, and a cob-sculpted top. I measured up, and with Sarah, who’s a whizz at Sketch-up, we made our plans:

Oven shelter-1

The Plan

Rammed Earth uses natural materials to make sturdy, compressively strong walls and buildings, in our case, using clay and aggregate (they can also me made with chalk, such as the wonderful Calyx Pines building near Dover). The mix is ‘rammed’ hard into the same kind of shuttering used for pouring concrete, but unlike concrete, the technique uses, if not renewable, then at least plentiful materials that can themselves be reused, is relatively low-energy (requires little energy to extract, process and build with the materials), and won’t out-last it’s usefulness, returning to the ground if left exposed to the weather. We’ll be using the rammed-earth to support the weight of the rocket-stove, and it’s cob surround, with two ‘walls’ with space between where we can store wood for the stove.

Cob is an ancient technique, using a clay, sand and straw mixture, which can also be used to build buildings, such as the centuries-old houses still standing in Cornwall, and modern equivalents; it’s not as strong as rammed-earth, but it has the advantage of being ‘plastic’, i.e. it can be moulded to different shapes, allowing organic forms to be created; you’ve probably seen some ornate pizza-ovens around, that’s probably cob decoration. We used some cob to insulate the pizza-oven: another advantage of the material. It’s also low-energy, and straw is a re-newable material, which locks up carbon for as long as the building stands.

The Rocket-Stove will be made using the same technique as the one I made for the Re-skilling day, with cob-bricks, but it will be incorporated into a more permanent cob structure, which will also provide some work-top space.

We started work on the foundations (the least fun bit in my opinion!) in June; the foundations are shallow trenches filled with rubble we collected from the allotment (probably dumped by some unscrupulous builder when the site was derelict, several years ago). The purpose is to isolate the natural materials used in the structure from  damp earth, as ingress of water would degrade them, especially with the actions of frost and thaw.

Once the foundations were dug, filled with rubble, and rammed-home, we relocated the pizza-oven to its new home, reducing its pallet base by about a quarter so it didn’t stick-out so much, and reducing the amount of board able to capture rain which then soaks into the pizza-oven. Moving the oven was a bit of a heart-stopping moment, but between six of us, it was a doddle (!).

The next phase is start the rammed-earth base, that’s where the fun starts; we’ll be having a building session on Sunday 22nd July, from 10am; so please join us!

Posted by: ellispritchard | August 16, 2012

Come and help Grange Primary School get growing!

Grange Primary School, which backs onto the Ascott allotments in South Ealing, is now lucky enough to have it’s own plot there. This Sunday, we’ll be helping them build some raised beds and generally get started, why not come and join us?

Meet at 10am at the Ascott allotments entrance nearest to St.Mary’s Church (Church Place, near the Rose & Crown); a hammer and a screwdriver might come in useful!

Posted by: Ealing Transition Community Garden | June 15, 2012

We’ve got a busy weekend! Come join us!

We’ve got lots of things on this weekend, although there is no dig-day!

Saturday: Hanwell Carnival

Basil growing in a re-used paper coffee cup

You can grow food in practically anything!

We’ve got a little stall at Elthorne Park, where we’ll be showing how to grow food in containers, any old containers, and selling some lovely plants for you to take away. We’ve also got some seeds that want sowing, so if there’s any kids out there who want to grow their own, we’re the place to be! We’ve also got a large quantity of old gardening magazines for you to peruse, and are on-hand for practical advice. You can also find out about Ealing Transition’s other activities: Bees, “Edible Ealing”, our food box scheme, Re-skilling Day 2… Come and see us!

Sunday: Lammas Community Orchard Family Day & “Food for Free” Foraging Walk!

From 11:00-13:00, Lammas Orchard will be a hive of activity, with people making stuff out of wood, and planting up the Edible Garden with some choice veggies! Come along and help out! (Child-friendly, adults can come too!). Map

From 14:00-16:00, Sam Sender will be leading a foraging walk in Pitshanger Park, and showing you how to gather “food for free” from our local abundance. Meet at the tennis courts, bring a basket or bag! Map

Posted by: Ealing Transition Community Garden | June 2, 2012

Food for free – Pitshanger Park, Sunday 17 June

Wild Garlic Mustard, mild Linden leaves, wild spinaches and elderflowers await you by the side of the Brent in Pitshanger Park. Ealing is overflowing with free, healthy, delicious food. It’s wild and free, not in the sense of Woodstock but rather of glittering salads full of exciting new flavours. Local transition town supporter and expert forager Sam Sender will lead a wild food walk in Pitshanger Park on Sunday 17th at 2pm. Meet at the tennis courts, and bring baskets and bags. Cost: Free

Posted by: Ealing Transition Community Garden | May 6, 2012

Join us for pizza, seed swaps and more at our Community Garden open day

We hope you will join us at the community garden next Saturday, May the 12th, 10:30 – 2pm. We’ll be making pizzas in our clay pizza oven, swapping seedlings (provided we can get them to grow in this cold weather!) and seeds, and perhaps digging out our new wildlife pond (bring wellies and a spade if you want to take part in that!).

Come and check out our progress on the plot, see what we are growing and find out about some of our other projects. And cross your fingers for a sunny day.

Posted by: ellispritchard | March 25, 2012

Family Orchard Workshop

We all had a great day down at our Community Orchard in Lammas Park, celebrating its first anniversary!

Lots of drawings were drawn, seeds planted and trees (not our  little ones!) climbed!

The idea of the day was not just to celebrate the planting of our orchard, but also to ask the community to help us to visualise the next phase of the orchard, helped by local community artist, Darcey Williamson, and members of Charushila, a charity that helps create socially, culturally and environmentally sustainable spaces.

There’ll be more news on the outcomes soon, but we wanted to share these photos of people enjoying the day as soon as possible!

Posted by: Ealing Transition Community Garden | March 7, 2012

Three-bin compost system

We are making use of the winter months to tidy up the community garden and doing maintenance work. Last week we sorted out our compost bins, which have been annoying me for a while.

Our original plan was to have three compost bins, as per traditional gardening wisdom. However, our recycled window greenhouse got in the way of the third bin, so we have been living with two bins for the last couple of years. It has worked OK, but not to full composting efficiency. And so finally we put it right…

The theory with three compost bins is that you put your compost ingredients into the first bin (annual weeds, vegetable peelings, paper, etc..). When that is full, you turn it into the second bin, and continue putting new compost into the first bin. When the first bin is full again, you turn the compost from the second into the third, and from the first into the second. With me so far?

Once you have that up and running, you have a continuous production of compost, with ready-to-use compost in the third bin, and just-starting compost in the first bin.

Turning the compost from one bin to the next gets the compost mixed up, so the partly decomposed gets mixed up with the not-so-decomposed. But more importantly, it introduces air, a necessary component of aerobic decomposition. No air means anaerobic decomposition, which = smelly!

The problem with our two-bin system was that when our first bin was full the compost from the second bin wasn’t quite ready to use, but we didn’t really have anywhere store it.

So… making use of the quieter months, we spent our recent work day relocating the compost bins (and compost!) to the opposite site of the plot, where there was room for three. And now we have a bit more space in between the shed and greenhouse for storing miscellaneous bits and pieces we have accumulated that were taking up room on the patio!

The bins are a combination of pallets from the local builders merchant and ex-floor boards. The front boards sit in a groove and they slide out for easy removal of compost.


Posted by: ellispritchard | February 11, 2012

Scones, Snow & Ice

Ice crystals on the greenhouse window

We’ve already had a couple of dig-days in 2012, but these felt more like Spring than deepest winter, so when it hit -8°C overnight in Ealing, and was still -4°C when I jumped on my tricycle this morning, I wondered what I’d let myself in for!

Our dig days are a model of precision planning: we plan the days months in advance, once at a meeting in January, and then again in the Summer, and for each day we allocate a key-holder, who will pledge to be there at 10:30am (a time that’s become known as ‘Ealing Transition Time’), and a back-up key-holder who will also plan to be there (in the inevitable event that I’m late!), ready to welcome the Community Gardeners who come along.

Depending on the time of year, there’ll be various tasks to do: in the Spring, sowing, potting, potting-on and planting dominate; in the Summer there’s more of the same, plus weeding, lots of trips to the water trough, and a bit of harvesting; in the Autumn, more sowing and lots of harvesting, plus a bit of clearing and tiding.

The Winter can be a bit more unpredictable: there’s not much that can be planted in the open in mid-winter, and if the soil’s wet or frozen, it’s not a good idea to dig, even if we did much of that these days (damage to soil structure), and we tend to leave a lot of cutting back of perennials until later, to give any sheltering insects a chance. Thus winter tasks can be a little, um, eclectic!

Back during the January ‘heat-wave’ our task of choice was to collect from the local stables as much horse-manure as we could fit in a small rented van , and bring the stuff back for our hungry veg beds. In two hours, with four in the van, and three on the plot, we managed to fetch one heavily-loaded van of muck, and apply the whole lot, covering just half our beds: we now know we’re a ‘two-load plot’!

Chilly Tasks!

So today, turning up to the allotment still covered in snow, with the ground frozen, but the sun out, what could possibly be on the agenda?  Scones and tea, that’s what! Yes, just as it can be a bit of a surprise, on a community allotment, who turns up, quite often it’s a surprise what they bring with them too! We’ve had people turn up with a patio set, a water butt, some really rather fresh horse manure… but best of all, food for the hungry workers!

So as Christopher and I, in the time-honoured fashion, looked down a big hole that the council contractors have dug for the supply to our new water troughs, it was a delight to have someone who we last saw during the Open Day last year, turn up with freshly baked scones and tea! After enjoying those, and having a bit of a chat, we did a bit of weeding, cleared the ice from the bird-bath, wondered at the recently tided shed (it’s far too tidy: you can see the walls and the floor!), and generally just enjoyed the rare experience of being out in the cold and the snow, on a sunny day, without any rush to be anywhere else. Bliss!

Posted by: Ealing Transition Community Garden | November 27, 2011

Plot management – before and during

Our community garden is situated on two half-plots at Village Park allotments. Having been frustrated by so many of the other plots being unused over the last two years due to the lack of a site manager, we decided to take over the site manager role.

Here’s what the plot looked like when we took over the management:

The plots on the left are generally well cultivated, but the plots on the right haven’t been grown on since we’ve been there, except for the one in the foreground.

In October we arranged a work day, where we encouraged all existing and prospective tenants to come down and help clear the site, supporting the work carried out by the council allotments manager, who did a lot of strimming and cutting down trees.

We sorted the large piles of wood into small and big stuff. We used the big stuff to create a habitat fence in our new nature reserve area and the small stuff was put into piles for later burning.

And of course there was time for tea!

The result? We now have almost all of the plots let out, and people have been very productive, digging and preparing for the coming spring. There is a much more distinctly community feel on the allotment now too.

Stay tuned for some ‘after’ photos

Posted by: Ealing Transition Community Garden | November 27, 2011

Reflections on a year of growing

As the year draws to a close it is nice to look back at what we achieved this year. This has been our second season in the community garden, and like any garden it has had some successes and some failures!

Our beds are now nicely established and edged, which helps to define where to plant and where to walk. Although the way we have laid out the plot with edged beds reduces the amount of growing space we have compared with if we just dug up the whole plot (as you might if you were just working the plot yourself), it works well for our community plot where there are lots of different people working on it at different times.

Each of our beds has a name, which helps us to keeps notes of what we have done and where, and to communicate with each other by leaving notes in the notebook in the shed, and on our map of the plot.

As we started completely from scratch, we had to build compost bins and start our compost heap from nothing. In our first year we had very little compost to use, but by this year we have got into a nice cycle – one bin of compost is ready to dig in just as the other compost bin is full and ready to turn, which means we have a good supply of lovely compost. As our soil is very clayey, compost is vital to improve the soil structure and make it more friable. In the very dry spring/early summer that we had this year, the ground got very hard. It will probably take a good few years of digging in compost to improve the soil, but every bit helps! The difference is already noticeable.

We are lucky to have nearby stables, and we have collected manure from there (and also further afield near Heathrow!). The manure tends to be pretty fresh and it is important not to dig it directly into the soil where you are about to plant, as it will ‘burn’ the plants. Instead we leave it to rot down for a few months and then dig it in. The yellow leaves of the squashes below suggests they don’t have enough nutrients, and hopefully by digging some manure into the beds before planting next year will help to improve this.

We also learnt about the difference between summer fruiting and autumn fruiting raspberries. Summer fruiting raspberries fruit on second year wood, whereas autumn fruiting raspberries fruit on the current year’s wood, which means you need to know which they are before you prune them.

With autumn fruiting raspberries, at the end of the year you can cut all of the canes back to near the ground. In the following year, new growth will emerge, and the fruit will form on this growth in the same year.

With summer fruiting raspberries, once they have finished fruiting, you cut back the canes that fruited this year. You need to leave the new growth from this year, because this is what will fruit next year.

This year we made the mistake of cutting back our summer fruiting raspberries as though they were autumn fruiting, which means that we got lots of new growth, but no fruit! Well, it’s good to learn from your mistakes! And next year we should have a bumper crop.

Our globe artichokes did well this year, but we missed picking some, and they produced lovely purple flowers, which the bees adored.

What went well this year: grape vine doing well and produced its first few bunches of grapes, globe and jerusalem artichokes, strawberries (lots and lots), beans, gooseberries, herbs, rhubarb got off to a good start but then seemed to fade away, tomatoes (lots of tomatoes, but unfortunately had to harvest green again because of blight – but Carrie makes great green tomato chutney), sunflowers, carrots in a grow bag (great success).

What didn’t go so well: broad beans (lots of blackfly, this year we are winter-sowing broad beans, which I did at my allotment last year and I found they produced beans early before blackfly took hold), sweetcorn (plants looked really good, but sweetcorn was very hard, not really sure what we can do about that), potatoes (didn’t get great crops, ground was really hard and needs better, deeper digging – although the very dry spell probably hardened the soil as well, compost should help), squashes (we got a few, but not a huge amount, we probably should have planted earlier, and they could have done with more manure).

As the nights draw in and the days get colder (although we are still having some beautiful sunny days – long may it last), we’ll be planning for next year. We are have a head start on where we were a year ago, with broad beans, onions, garlic and peas sown, as well as some winter cos lettuce on the way and spinach doing well.


Older Posts »