Tuesday, 1 July 2014

big yellow taxi reversing

In a quiet back street close to my building, a small car park has been turned into a community food-growing project. Apparently a few local residents have been trying to make this happen for the best part of a decade; I heard about it last summer when a planning notice went up and I put my name down straight away. When the raised planters were installed in January I was delighted to be given a tiny individual plot.
While I was busy working there one day in the spring, I noticed the Joni Mitchell song playing in my head, and laughed; 'paradise' might be stretching it (though we do have an apple tree) but we're certainly bringing a little bit of life back to this grotty old parking lot. What was a car-dumping, fly-tipping, drug-dealing sort of place is now a veg-growing, skill-learning, food-poverty-reducing, connection-making sort of place instead.
27 June
Although we're very fortunate to live in an area with ample green space - shared lawns right outside the building and a large park just around the corner - there's no outside space here to call our own: not even a windowsill. I have houseplants, of course, and have tried growing salad leaves indoors, but that can never compare to the rich experience of real gardening, can it? My little plot may be just six foot by three, but it has weather (good and bad) and bugs (good and bad). My composting problem, so long-running that it was mentioned in my first ever blog post, is now solved as well.
Weekly progress 4 April - 20 June
I'm trying out the square foot gardening method; I've managed to find plenty of guidance online rather than buying the book. I'm not being absolutely strict, for example I've just used the sandy topsoil that was in the planter already (enriched at the outset with a bit of rotted manure and recently mulched with municipal compost), but it seems like a good way to keep my plot organised and it allows me to cram in far more plants than I could with conventionally spaced rows. Although the space is very small I've got plenty of variety, and it takes just enough work to be enjoyable rather than too much for my limited energyWe're already eating home-grown veg at least a couple of times each week, and hopefully there'll be a lot more produce in the coming months. (For anyone who wants more gardening details like plant names, bug sagas, and produce, I'm keeping a weekly log on Flickr.)
Peppermint and a little radish
And then, of course, there's the community aspect of it. I often enjoy the peace and quiet of being at the garden alone, but there is nothing like a shared project to get people chatting. I think we all want to live in friendly neighbourhoods where people talk to each other, but without something to talk about it can be difficult to create that sense of community. This gardening project makes for easy, natural conversations between the gardeners (even when there's a language barrier - an elderly woman who only speaks Portuguese hugged me last week when I told her my name!), and it doesn't stop there: passersby are fascinated by the garden and very often stop to ask me what I'm growing, how the plots are divided up, or who can join in. My local council gets a lot of things wrong, but the investment they've made here (working with the charity Groundwork) is definitely money well spent.

The project seems like a great example of the "think global, act local" idea. While I'm not suggesting that growing a few cabbages with your neighbours is going to save the world, I do believe that tiny projects like this can feed into much bigger causes in subtle ways. With the very small scale of the growing that we're doing, all of us will still have to buy vegetables, so the impact on 'food miles' won't be enormously significant. I think it will affect people's thinking, though, and that's always where real change has to start. If you need bees to pollinate the broad beans that you've lovingly nurtured from seed, the news stories about the bee crisis and David Cameron's plans to overturn the EU neonicotinoid ban might hit home for you a bit more. Unusual weather patterns attributed to climate change become directly relevant when they're making or breaking your gooseberry crop. And the personal interactions between people from different backgrounds, who might otherwise never speak to each other, can't do any harm for wider social justice and peace.

But mostly I'm in it for the veg.

A few gardening links:
Alys Fowler's Edible Garden television series
The Real Seed Catalogue
Incredible Edible Todmorden

Friday, 28 February 2014

one of those friday link lists

I'm trying to write a knitting follow-up to my sewing supplies post but it's not going too well. You know when you just can't shape the words right? I'll keep at it. In the meantime, here are some good bits of internet - not necessarily hip new bits:

Ballet dancers do sewing [video]

The secret of the British cycling team's success seems like it might work for all kinds of things, including crafting

Some stuff that everyone in Britain needs to know about the floods (hope you're keeping dry)

Dudley Moore, always and forever [video]

One of north London's best-kept secrets was named Museum of the Year 2013 - and it's free to go in

A Buddhist take on perfectionism [audio] (and a crafter's take on it as well)

Just in case you, too, forgot to go to Harvard

Obligatory cat video

Have a good weekend, people!

Friday, 31 January 2014

happy new year!

Becky says you can wish people a happy new year throughout January, so I thought I'd sneak in under that deadline this evening and say a quick hello. [Not that I'm hugely into the whole New Year thing because it all seems a bit arbitrary; was it a Roman emperor or someone who decided we'd change the numbers at that point every year? I would get much more into it if we celebrated on the solstices.]
Pipes in a back corridor of Ally Pally
It's been a while, hasn't it? I haven't done a huge amount of sewing for myself lately, although I did do a lot of very last-minute Christmas gift-making. I also pulled all my fabrics out onto the floor, re-folded them, and put them back in the sideboard, and I might have bought a pattern or two in the sales... As ever, lots of dressmaking plans and not much actual dressmaking. Have you seen Sarai's Wardrobe Architect series on the Coletterie blog? I'm following along with interest but not always entirely doing the homework. I want to be someone who doesn't spend too much time thinking about clothing, fashion, etc. But I also don't want to be someone who looks like they never give a thought to what they wear. Is there a sweet spot somewhere in the middle, where you can have nice clothes, that suit your life and feel good and maybe even express something positive about you to the world, without having to put a huge amount of time and energy into it? To what extent is fashion/style an acceptable preoccupation for a feminist? I think there's probably room for these kind of questions in the process Sarai's suggesting, and if it can lead to more well-directed crafting then it's got to be a good thing. Sometimes all the ideas and possibilities for sewing can feel overwhelming (and lead to no sewing at all, or half-finished projects), so I'm interested in the Wardrobe Architect project as a way of working out what I really want to make and which ideas might best be let go.
Some of the lovely scraps Megan gave me (she also brought
a gorgeous handmade tile from a pottery in Ann Arbor)
This month I had the chance to meet an internet craft friend in real life - the first time I've done so. Megan got in touch to say she'd be in London for a few days, and would like to meet up if it wasn't "too weirdo". We already knew that we were both sewing, baking, music college graduates, and Scorpios to boot, so it seemed a safe enough bet - and we were right, it wasn't weirdo at all and in fact we met up twice. Megan also did some piano practice at my parents' house (she was here for an audition) - quite a treat for that poor piano that is usually subjected to my and my dad's amateur clatterings (cello is my main instrument and I just dabble in piano; Megan's a proper pianist who dabbles in cello!). All round a very good first experience in meeting up with craft buddies from the interweb - have you met online friends out in the real world? How did it work out?