Yesterday was the One Planet Food Project volunteer day at Occombe Farm. Stephen used to volunteer for the Coast and Countryside Trust over at Cockington so when we heard about this project that involved weekend volunteer days and the chance to take part in a community growing project we knew we had to get involved.
We arrived apologetic and late after walking the four very hilly miles between our flat and Occombe. Before I moved here It was hard to imagine how far four miles really could be... not any more.
As we arrived jobs were being given out. The beautiful onion sets, shallots and Jerusalem artichokes pictured above were all to go out yesterday. And yes, that is some oca nestling amongst them.
Our first job was a decorative one though. One that my balcony only experience had actually trained me for. We washed (yes the inside and the bottom too, despite Stephen's objections) this wonderful tub. It's a reclaimed mixer bowl. And yes, we drooled thinking about how much bread we could get in that.
We put in some rocks for drainage (although at the time we couldn't find many. Later when digging a bed over we wondered were they had been) followed by some grit and lovely Devon mud. The soil here is very much clay. And red. The idea is that a layer will help retain water in the pot and, unlike the rocks, there was plenty of soil knocking around. Although it was mainly stuck to our tools, clothes and wellies.
Then it was time for the compost and the lilies. We covered it with grit and stuck in some twigs to remind us where the plants are going to appear. So at the moment it just looks like we are growing baby willow. But wait.
Our next job was to dig over bed number 14 ready for the shallots. This is were we found all the stones. We also found out that Stephen is a natural with a folk and I am useless with a spade. After digging over we topped off the bed with a bit more compost and buried the shallots up to their necks. It would have been much easier if we weren't being watched...
By these cuties! Some very, very, very mucky pigs. They were a major distraction. At least halving productivity, especially when they were being fed. After the pig watching we teased a baby bay tree into one of the beds.
So on to the job that took most of our day and our strength. We planted a Victoria plum. As far as we're concerned planting a tree is incredibly exciting. Like weekend in Paris exciting. We found out that it's also very exhausting. Like weekend up Everest exhausting.
Our first job was to fill the raised bed. On top of the soil we put in manure and compost, mixing it all together. Then we got to the fun bit. Digging the hole. We took turn at digging, dislodging stones, digging again, dislodging yet more stones. Okay, perhaps there wasn't even enough to build a very small rockery but it was still tiring. The last four or so inches we needed help. A man with better tools, not to mention body strength.
At last the tree was ready to go in. Add a stake (and later a bunny guard) some protective fencing and some mulch and we were done.
While we were planting the tree the whistle blew for lunch. We snacked outside with our picnic box full of yum. Including banana cookies from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar.
Of course lunch didn't go uninterrupted either these chickens legged it over to our bench. They had been comically running about the farm all day and we where more than happy for them to join us.
After the tree we needed something with a little less sediment so we helped one of the young volunteers sow the salad bed. Lettuce, radishes and spring onion. Afterwards we covered them in a blanket of fleece to protect them from the birds and give them a little boost.
I feel a bit bad. This is a very one sided account of what was done yesterday. We couldn't have done half of what we did with the help of all the other volunteers never mind all the incredible stuff they did. It's amazing to be part of a project like this, we'll definitely be going back to watch it grow up and, of course, to do some more digging. But like any volunteer effort what we did as individuals was just a drop in the ocean. It's when you see what we accomplished together that you get a sense of how incredible it is.