Great bodies of water have passed under the Lea Bridge since lines last lapped onto this blog page. Some troubled, some tides of comfort. Still we garden, we re-create. As Tomas Remiarz, the permaculture teacher-activist whose life and work forms part of the rich rhizosphere at OrganicLea, put it last year: “The conditions change, but the task remains the same”.
That task – the reawakening of community and the transplanting of it back into natural substrate, continues, at the slight rate of our oak trees, even as the salads and asparagus now grow before our eyes. It’s been a good start to the growing season: April was suspiciously warm and dry, allowing us easy access to the land for clearing and weeding. Just as drought impended, the pendulum swung and May’s welcome rainfall inched the needed moisture back in to the clay.
This weather pattern has been kind to the garden as a whole, then, and the Spring Field in particular. The Spring Field is named not for its workability in that eponymous season, but rather, for the gurgling influence of what clinical agronomists would term poor drainage (and also for a little place down the river that has served as a spring board for many OrganicLea folk). This makes our decision to place our latest growing development, the Demo Farm, there, all the more deliciously risky. The idea is to provide a comparative area where the emphasis is on mechanisation rather than human power. But tractors, being heavy, can be detrimental to wet soils. Danny, Theo and Ximena – the Spring Field team, can now look over sweet rows of beetroot on beds of decent tilth, with relatively few headaches and delays en route.
Just next door is the Old Kitchen Garden, with its Ten Year Cycle. This year is Year of the Parsnips. They said we couldn’t grow root crops on this heavy ground and, after a couple of unhappy attempts with carrots, we grudgingly conceded. But last year’s trials of the squat, stumpy-rooted Halblange White cultivar of parsnips showed promise. And anyway, Gary, Vi and I love roasted parsnips. So caution is now somewhere downwind, whilst we complete the sowing of 17,000 pasrnip seeds this week.
I suppose from the outset, this project has been a bit of a stab in the dark with a garden fork. There was little apparent appetite for localised food production, or trend for cooperative organisation, when we started out, but we planted up, set out our stalls and set off in hope. As Gary Younge wrote after last Thursday’s election night: “Hope, when given the encouragement and space, can be a force more poptent then despair. The leap of faith it demands, in imagining a future that does not yet exist…necessitates risk”.
Every season, every week, the community market garden goes forward with new hope, new risks. With an alliance of the young, the veteran, the people-who-haven’t-done-this-sort-of-thing before, the marginal; and with a bit of good weather, here we grow.