Category Archives: Community Gardening

Mowing without noise – the power of the scythe

As a lad growing up on a market garden in the 60’s I was often given the task of mowing the grass that grew along the path beside our field to make a small quantity of winter hay for our goats. The tool for this job was an English scythe, a heavy beast with a long steel blade that seemed to only stay sharp for about three cuts. In my dads hands this contraption seemed to glide through the grass with only moderate effort, but as I was 6″ shorter and significantly lighter I certainly earn’t my tea every time I used it. I now own this scythe which has for many years gathered dust at the back of a shed but I confess I had no real inclination to rekindle our relationship, but things change.
With the help of volunteers we have planted over 400 trees, creating Cemetery Wood and these little saplings need some help in the battle for light and nutrients with the well established meadow plants sharing their new home. Hence my thoughts returned to the scythe as a low energy solution to this problem, but with a bit of research I found an alternative to my dad’s old scythe – an Austrian scythe.2014-05-24 14.27.26
I do not remember this type of scythe being available when I was a lad but they are very popular now and I was intrigued to find out more. With a bit of research I found the Dyfed Permaculture Farm Trust were holding a short training course in the use of the scythe and also sold the approrpiate equipment to make a start. With a place on the May course booked and the piggy bank raided I headed for Penyboyr yesterday morning where I met eight other trainees and Phil, a champion mower and our instructor.2014-05-24 14.37.42
I soon realised that the simple scythe is actually a highly sophisticated machine that requires a careful set up and precision tuning. We all practised this and built our mowing machines, gaining a healthy respect for the near metre long razor sharp blade before we made our way to a hay meadow. Phil had set it out so we could work in threes cutting six foot swathes across the field. With a little practise under Phil’s expert guidance the lush grass, wet with earlier rain cut as easily as a hot knife through butter and progress accross the field would easily outstrip a strimmer. With only the gentle noise of the blade swishing through the grass it was easy to maintain a conversation and I found the the whole experience very therapeutic.
Which brings me back to Cemetery Wood where you can help with mowing and mulching and learn a little more about the ancient magic of the scythe. If you would like to help please ring Jo on 01978 821869 or contact us through Facebook. Mowing3 25th May 2014

Let the mulching begin – many thanks Gary.

With the Woodland Trust trees (420) now all planted our attention has shifted to mulching the ground around them to suppress weed growth and retain moisture in the soil. Hopefully with less competition for nutrients and water this will allow them to get established and make strong growth.
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Mr Gary Billington has very kindly given us some wood chip and yesterday delivered a big pile of it to the top of the field where we have made a small start.
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This spring with no grazers in the field it is a riot of colour, firstly with a carpet of dandelions and now another yellow carpet of buttercups providing a veritable feast for wildlife. Purple clover and white daisy flowers are coming out and we are hoping that we are able to record all this diversity and would love your help – email or ring Jo 01978 821869
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Volunteers complete the planting of the pollinator bed 29th March 2014

Pollinator bed planted and mulched March 2014Volunteers complete the planting of the new pollinator bed in Ruabon.
Over 230 applicants from across Wales applied for free National Garden Centre vouchers as part of Keep Wales Tidy’s ‘Have a Wild Weekend for Wales’ campaign.

Funded by Welsh Government, Natural Resources Wales and the proceeds from the single use carrier bag charge, the aim of the weekend-long campaign was to encourage people to improve food sources and natural habitat for pollinators in Wales.

Volunteers from Growing Ruabon rolled up their sleeves, got back to nature and gave bees and butterflies a helping hand in the Ruabon Garden of Rest. They were successful in applying for a £150 National Garden Centre vouchers which they then used to buy pollinator plants.

During Wild Weekend they turned an unloved, grass covered corner of the Garden of Rest into a new shrubbery.

Jo Smith, said, “It was great to see so many volunteers of all ages get involved in this project. ‘Wild Weekend’ has enabled us to make a huge improvement to the pollen and nectar that’s on offer in the Garden of Rest and hopefully this will benefit our local environment and wildlife. We hope even more people will join us on our next adventure!”

Lesley Jones, Chief Executive of Keep Wales Tidy, said: “I am delighted that so many groups across Wales got involved to help our pollinators and their natural environment. They have planted new flowering plants to attract our bees and butterflies as well as giving existing habitats a helping hand. Keep Wales Tidy would like to thank the Welsh Government and Natural Resources Wales for all their support, ensuring that the ‘Wild Weekend for Wales’ has been a great success for people across Wales!”

For more information on improving pollinator conditions in your area, or to get involved with volunteering and fundraising for Keep Wales Tidy please e-mail tidy.towns@keepwalestidy.org or visit the website www.keepwalestidy.org.

Wild Weekend planting in Ruabon Garden of Rest -2014-03-29 11.09.21

Volunteers at work in Ruabon - 2014-03-29 11.09.03

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Planting is great fun for all ages.

A beautiful morning in the Ruabon Garden of Rest

Volunteers planting pollinator bed March 23rd 2014

The day started decidedly wet but improved by late morning with lots of warm sun. Volunteers transplanted shrubs from an old overgrown bed & made good progress on the new bed towards the rear of the Garden of Rest. By mid afternoon everyone was feeling tired but half the work was done but we got an additional yield as Jo was able to stand on the trailer and remove some plastic that had been stuck in the tree branches for months. Come and join us next Saturday to try and finish it off.DSC02462

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Garden of Rest pollinator planting 23rd March 2014
Garden of Rest pollinator planting 23rd March 2014

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Garden of Rest pollinator planting 23rd March 2014
Garden of Rest pollinator planting 23rd March 2014
Garden of Rest pollinator planting 23rd March 2014
Garden of Rest pollinator planting 23rd March 2014

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Community planting event Sunday 23rd March & Saturday 29th March

Put on your wellies or boots, grab yourself a spade and join in a community planting event in Ruabon this month!
Do something wonderful for Welsh wildlife and have a ‘Wild Weekend for Wales’ in Ruabon this March. This is the third year that Keep Wales Tidy has run the successful ‘Wild Weekend’ campaign and we need your help again to take action to help improve conditions for our little friends the pollinators.
Ruabon Garden of Rest is one of 217 projects across Wales that were awarded funding through Keep Wales Tidy’s Wild Weekend for Wales, which aims to raise awareness of the loss of habitat for pollinators in Wales and to show just how easy it is to create local habitats for our bees and butterflies.

Pollinator plants for the Ruabon Garden of Rest
Pollinator plants for the Ruabon Garden of Rest

The campaign aims to improve food sources for our pollinators in the form of pollen and nectar that is foraged from a variety of flowering plants, all from the RHS “Perfect for Pollinators” plant list.
Pollinators are an essential part of our natural environment. Honeybees and wild pollinators including bumblebees, solitary bees, parasitic wasps, hoverflies, butterflies and wasps are important pollinators of our flowers, fruit and vegetables – we need them for our farming, gardening, wildlife and tourism, in our countryside, parks and gardens. By working together on small projects we can make a big difference to improve conditions for pollinators in Wales.
With funding from Natural Resources Wales and proceeds received from the single use carrier bag charge Keep Wales Tidy have given community group, Growing Ruabon, National Garden Centre vouchers worth £150. These have been exchanged favourably at Moreton Park Garden Centre for over forty pollinator plants which will be used to create a new habitat in the Garden of Rest.
Moreton Park Garden Centre
Moreton Park Garden Centre

We need your help on Sunday 23rd and Saturday 29th March to first prepare the site and then plant it up. Every one of all ages and abilities is invited to take part – come for the day or just half an hour for a chat! Ring Jo 01987 821869 or email jo@billsmith.co.uk for details.
Trailer load of rotted horse manure
Trailer load of rotted horse manure

Soil Testing.

Soil is the skin of the earth and probably our most valuable asset but commonly referred to as dirt. As a lad growing up on a Bedfordshire small holding I was taught how important it was to look after soil and was never allowed to refer to it as dirt – dirt was a nasty substance that should be avoided.
Soil acts as an engineering medium, a habitat for soil organisms, a recycling system for nutrients and organic wastes, a regulator of water quality, a modifier of atmospheric composition, and a medium for plant growth. Since soil has a tremendous range of available niches and habitats, it contains most of the earth’s genetic diversity. A handful of soil can contain billions of organisms, belonging to thousands of species.
The pH value of soil is important as when at its optimum level nutrients required for plant growth are freed and made available for the plant to absorb them via its root system. With that in mind, yesterday I processed some samples of soil taken from my garden as a base point.
Soil samples
Four samples from different parts of the garden have been allowed to dry out on the windowsill.

Soil testing kit
Soil testing kit bought from the internet.

Greenhouse bed pH test

Long wall bed

Raised bed (ex Broad Beans)

Orchard bed
The above pictures show that even in a small garden there is variation, this is party because some areas have received more compost than others and the raised beds have been filled with soil bought in and brought to the garden. With the pH level confirmed to be suitable for growing food plants I intend to record the results and recheck in a years time to see if it improves with regular and generous mulching.

Candlemas Day – 2nd February

Today, the 2nd February is Candlemas Day and marks the midpoint of winter, halfway between the shortest day and the spring equinox. The name Candlemas is associated with the Christian festival day (or mass) of the candles. It was the day of the year when all the candles, that were to be used in Church during the coming year were brought to church and a blessing was said over them.
But as a country boy growing up in the 1950’s I was more interested in the weather-lore and proverbs associated with it. People believed that Candlemas Day predicted the weather for the rest of the winter. The weather proverbs express the idea that a fine bright sunny Candlemas Day means that there is more winter to come, whereas a cloudy wet, stormy and cold day means that the worst of winter is over.
Clematis in leaf
“If Candlemas Day be dry and fair,
The half o winter’s to come and mair;
If Candlemas Day be wet and foul,
The half o the winter’s gane at Yule.”

Now I can honestly say that despite have seen well over fifty Candlemas days I have never remembered in summer to check. Today has been a huge improvement on yesterday with much sun and midday temperatures nudging double figures so we shall have see, we certainly have had no winter at all yet, just a very long and wet autumn.
Looking round the growing beds today there are too many signs of spring, leaves already on the Clematis and hawthorn and buds ready to burst on soft fruit cuttings
Blackcurrant cuttings taken last October. Nature has a knack of catching up and I fear winter will be hear, but late again like last year!
“When the badger peeps out of his sett on Candlemas Day,
And, if he finds snow, walks abroad; but if he sees the sun shining he draws back into his sett.”
Hawthorn buds bursting into leaf
“A farmer should, on Candlemas Day,
Have half his corn and half his hay.”
Cherry buds