Archive for the ‘Gardening’ category

Compost giveaway by WODC

June 15th, 2014

West Oxfordshire District Council are hosting another Compost Giveaway on Friday 27 June, at The Leys in Witney (down near the public toilets.)

More information on this blogpost.

WODC give away more compost in late June; plus freebies!

June 15th, 2014

West Oxfordshire District Council are hosting another Compost Giveaway on Friday 27 June, at The Leys in Witney (down near the public toilets.)

Times stated are 12pm–3pm, although the previous one at Cogges did arrive a bit earlier than that. We’re not saying camp out, but look sharp! Residents just need to bring their own containers, to get the compost on a first-come, first-served basis.

Also available for free will be food waste bins and caddies, kitchen caddy liners, recycling box nets and recipe books from the Love Food Hate Waste initiative. There’ll be discounted home composting bins too: half price, at just £10 each.

When it’s gone, it’s gone. So, gardeners: stick 27 June in your diaries!

Pick your elderflowers for cordial soon

June 3rd, 2014

Elderflower cordial, made from wild elderflower heads, is a really easy “food for free”. But you’ll need plenty of elderflower “heads” to do the process justice. Right now, elderflowers aroundd Witney are absolutely at their peak—some have even “gone over” and are showing tiny, unripe berries—and when I went out to pick mine yesterday, the air around Deer Park practically whiffed of them!

If you’re interested in scavenging, then as long as you make sure there are enough heads left to produce a decent crop of berries, you should head to the nearby parks and paths; but do make sure you’re not picking on private land! As with any scavenging, you must make sure you know what you’re looking for: big, blowsy 15–20cm umbels made up of dozens of tiny cream-coloured flowers, each smaller than a pea. They should smell of elderflower cordial, basically; and if you haven’t had elderflower cordial, then oh boy! you’ve got a treat ahead of you…. But if in doubt, go with a friend who knows what they’re after. Also, try to pick them at the end of a sunny day, as damp flowers can smell a bit pungent.

Bowl of elderflower cordial ingredientsFor making the cordial, any recipe will do: here are two from BBC Good Food and River Cottage. But they’re all the same, really! Dissolve 2kg sugar in 1-2l heated water; add 20-30 heads-worth of washed, mostly destalked flowers; add 2-3 lemons along with their rind pared off, and 40-80g citric acid; steep for 24 hours, then filter. Only the quantities vary from recipe to recipe, and you should feel free to experiment with that for your own preference anyway.

So get picking; get steeping; bottle it up, or freeze it into ice cubes: and enjoy a taste of late spring all through summer, well into the autumn, and beyond!

Witney’s Bee World

May 25th, 2014

Last June, we held a successful Bee Cause Campaign meeting jointly with Friends of the Earth. Now, a site at Deer Park in Witney has been designated as one of FoE’s national “Bee Worlds“.

The site is managed by Witney Woodland Volunteers, and many local volunteers have since been busy preparing the ground for sowing the special bee-friendly wildflower seed, sent courtesy of FoE, along with a plaque to install at the site to mark its importance to the campaign to save our bees. I’ve also written to David Cameron, informing him of what is happening and inviting him to come and see for himself. His Diary Secretary is working on the possibility of a visit.

On the wider scale, following pressure from FoE and others, the Government has developed a National Pollinator Strategy. It remains to be seen whether this will counteract the loss of habitat, use of pesticides, monocultures, pests and diseases and climate change with which bees have to contend. In the UK we have over 250 different species of bee and we want them all to survive and flourish.

Tomato cane support – from pallet wood again!

March 29th, 2014

Not content with building a raised bed out of pallet wood, we’ve been doing yet more pallet-based construction in the garden this year. This time, inspired by a review of the plant supports at RHS Harlow Carr conducted by quondam Oxford gardener Julieanne Porter, we built a decidedly functional one, ready for the tomatoes that we hope will eventually grow from what are currently very small seedlings.

» Read more: Tomato cane support – from pallet wood again!

Free compost this Fri/Sat for local residents

March 9th, 2014

If you live locally and want free compost, you should get down to Cogges Manor Farm this Friday and Saturday. In return for everyone giving WODC green-bin waste for processing, there’s now compost being delivered free!

Edit: breaking news; the compost will be delivered at 12 noon on Friday!

Each of the two days, a lorry will drop off the compost at the disabled car park for Cogges Farm. If you’re local to Witney, you’re welcome to bring your own sacks and get some free compost, for your garden or allotment. Bring your own sack and take it away.

But do look sharp: when it’s gone, it’s gone!

Thanks to WODC and SW’s Sian Stokes for organizing: if there are more compost drops in the future, we’ll definitely keep you posted, so why not register for updates?

Free compost: available from Cogges Farm for two days only

March 9th, 2014

Free compost, made from green-bin collections, will be delivered by WODC to the disabled car park of Cogges Manor Farm, from 12 noon, on Friday 14 and Saturday 15 March.

Local residents (including allotment holders) are invited to help themselves to a sack of free compost: bring your own containers. First come, first served!

Got into the garden yet?

February 13th, 2014

Between the floods still clustering along the Windrush, and the sleet hanging menacingly in the air, you might not feel ready to begin a season’s gardening. But, trust me: spring is just round the corner. If you’re thinking of growing your own this year or even next, then a few small jobs completed in the next month or two could reap big rewards.

If you’ve got an allotment, you probably already have a list of tasks as long as your arm that you know your have to tackle. There are plenty of non-growing tasks, although the local garden centres (usually so keen to hurry onto the next season) don’t have much in the way of spring supplies in yet: trust me, I’ve tried! But you can also already start planting hardy veg like carrots, and broad beans, and even kick off your leafy greens, tomatoes and herbs indoors: have a look at sites like for more ideas, and don’t forget that past editions of Gardeners Question Time are available in perpetuity!

If you don’t have an allotment, or indeed much existing space to grow your own, you’ve still got time to build a square-metre raised bed from waste wood (the best garden investment I ever made.) And if that doesn’t suit, then Edible Gardens meet every second Monday of each month in the coffee bar of the Methodist Church on the High Street. They’re a local group who aim to help bring grow-your-own to everyone, with a public veg bed project in the town centre alongside the flowers, and plenty off ideas about how you might, say, share growing space with someone, in return for helping out with digging….

Finally, don’t forget that this Saturday is the pre-season volunteer open day at Cogges. Along with 2014’s first volunteer-run “Big Dig” in the Victorian kitchen garden, there’ll also be an opportunity to chat to existing volunteers from all areas of the farm museum. There’s no better way to learn gardener’s lore or essential skills than by actually gardening, alongside other gardeners, and hearing what they have to say. When you do decide to take the leap and grow your own, a stint helping out at Cogges might give you the edge in that first season!

After all, they might say the best gardening is done with pen and paper in the kitchen; but surely the best result is to have managed, all by yourself, to put food on your plate for next to nothing. 2014 could be your year for doing just that.

Raised bed update: successes and failures

September 7th, 2013
This was one of our first decent-sized carrots

This was one of our first decent-sized carrots

A few people have mentioned recently the raised bed we built out of pallets at the start of the year; a couple have even inquired as to how we’re getting on with it. So this is a quick post to keep people updated.

As you can see in the image here, we grew some mighty carrots, with little or no trouble. Some of them did turn out remarkably small – one or two grains of rice, or at a pinch kidney-bean sized – but generally they were fat and healthy, if occasionally stubby. The height of the bed – 40cm – might be the reason why we’ve avoided carrot-fly.

Anyway, here’s an earlier photo taken in May, showing the bed really starting to take off:

Raised bed really taking off

Raised bed really taking off

The vibrant-green leaves are (perpetual) spinach; the grey-green ones are broad beans; the little jagged ones are carrots, and you should be able to see some coloured stalks of rainbow chard (it took much longer to come through.) Overall, we had great early success from leafy veg. The broad beans, on the other hand, were tasty, but not very many of them given the number of plants.

Later on, we made the mistake of planting two tomatoes in the bed: Gardener’s Delight and Alicante. When we got them from the stalls at the front door of Cogges, they were rather small and unassuming. After a week or two after planting, they had gone wild:

Carrots grow big, and tomatoes really start to take over

Carrots grow big, and tomatoes really start to take over. A sunflower droops far right, and a couple of straggly nasturtiums try to escape

The tomatoes have since grown much, much bigger. We’re pruning them like crazy, to try to stop them from branching. But along with the now straggly carrot leaves, they crowded out pretty much everything else. But there are at least a large number of (still green) tomatoes on them, so we’re looking forward to a decent crop. And then rapidly getting rid of them.

The biggest failures have been brassicas: curly kale and purple sprouting broccoli, two of each plant given to us as presents. Because of the crowding from the rest of the plants, we were simply unable to protect them from butterflies with any netting or structures early enough. First we noticed eggs under the leaves, which we dutifully got rid of; then we noticed caterpillars, which were flung to the far end of the garden; but then leaves started disappearing. In the end, we gave up the fight; a few days later, they were all stripped to stalks.

We’re ending the season with a squash plant, running slightly late (it had a check when we transplanted it into the bed; not sure why), many radishes which should happily be ready in a month or two if we can keep the caterpillars off them, and a number of leeks, which I’m hoping to winter but – as they’re still seedlings – might simply expire.

It’s all been a big experiment, and for every disheartening development there’ve been two or three moments of glee, as we’ve picked, cleaned and cooked our own vegetables in mere minutes: as fresh as you can get them. And there are bound to have been setbacks in our first year of growing. Next season, I keep telling myself: next season we’ll get it right. I’m sure of it.

Introduction to tree pruning workshop at Cogges

July 20th, 2013

On Saturday 31 August, Cogges will be running a workshop for summer fruit-tree pruning. Along with a tour of the fruit trees in Cogges, you’ll be taught techniques for healthy and sustainable management of your fruit trees through pruning.

Starting at 9.30am, it’s a ticketed event: tickets are £10, but the proceeds will go to a new greenhouse for the garden. Bring secateurs, gloves and something for taking notes!

Cogges August Big Dig

July 20th, 2013

On the middle-most Saturday of every month, Cogges plays host to the garden volunteers for their Big Dig, and you can join them!

This August, they’re meeting up on Saturday 17, 9.30am-1pm, to maintain, crop and plant in the organic Victorian garden. Come along wearing clothes suitable for gardening, and help out. No experience necessary: if you want to pick up some skills, and you’re willing to put your back into a bit of digging and weeding too, then you’re more than welcome!

Please spend a few minutes to help save our bees

June 11th, 2013

Last Thursday, Oxford Friends of the Earth came to talk to Sustainable Witney about the problems facing our bee population. The bees need your help, and below are three things you can do, from the quick and simple to the more long term, to support our bee pals.

» Read more: Please spend a few minutes to help save our bees

Bee Cause meeting and committee meeting this Thursday

June 3rd, 2013

This is a quick reminder that Sustainable Witney is hosting a Bee Cause meeting this Thursday 6 June, at the Fleece on Church Green. Guest speakers from Friends of the Earth will discuss the campaign and what we can do to help bee populations.

Bee Cause starts promptly at 7pm so please get there in good time. There’ll be a committee meeting beforehand from 6pm, to which all interested parties are welcome!

Neat shoots and leaves in a square-metre garden

May 19th, 2013

Those of you who followed my construction of a raised bed from pallet wood might be interested to know that we’ve already begun square-metre gardening in the resulting bed, with some success!

» Read more: Neat shoots and leaves in a square-metre garden

SW hosting Bee Cause meeting on Thursday 6 June

May 11th, 2013

On Thursday 6 June we’re hosting a meeting for Friends of the Earth to speak to West Oxfordshire groups about the “Bee Cause” campaign. This will start at 7pm, at The Fleece.

The talk will cover: an introduction to the campaign; what’s happened since the campaign was launched last year; activities currently ongoing in Oxfordshire (including Witney) and beyond; and what we can do to help reverse the decline in British bee populations.

We’re aiming for a 50/50 talk/discussion and we’d love people to come along and take part!

(Please arrive promptly for the 7pm start.)