Growing Through Changes

Some years ago the inspirational Tom Martin organised the first ‘Fruit on the Tyne‘ conference, bringing together the myriad groups and individuals with an active interest in growing fruit. One of the speakers was then headteacher of Wylam First School, home to Wylam Community Orchard (complete with award winning meadow).

Wylam is an affluent leafy village on the north bank of the Tyne a few miles upstream of Newcastle, it’s First School has large grounds with one section which slopes fairly steeply away from the school; making it difficult to monitor at break times and unsuitable for many sports and acivities, and so it proved suitable for a new community orchard. I anticipated hearing how the orchard transformed low-value space into valuable habitat and now provided a learning resource for science, inspired art and literary works, created new opportunities for various food related activities, perhaps a little horticulture, and formed bridges between the living world and the world of mathematical concepts.

Consequently, i was unprepared for the Head’s more brutal assessment; she did not focus on such potentials, but instead began at the start and identified the single greatest benefit as being the improvement to the children’s mental health and sense of well being, which had been suffering.

As responses to the pandemic demonstrate, we can be adept and face up to invisible deadly challenges; rapidly forge new links, innovate and create new food systems which respond to need, providing timely and appropriate solutions to imminent threats. Wylam Community Orchard makes a small but valuable contribution to food supply in Wylam but goes far beyond that in showing us the potential for the rejuvination of community spirit and life’s complex web (as evidenced in their biodiversity surveying and reporting).

Graph showing increase in wildflower species taken from WCO’s 2019 Biodiversity Report.

We’re continuing to work to promote and support the community growing of fruit trees in the region, whilst the search goes on to find a permanent site suitable to house our collection of several hundred cultivars which we hope may serve as a ‘genetic library’ for the region providing access not only to the fruits, but the means of propagating and growing them, spreading their cultivation whilst providing opportunities for further study.

Will you join us?

‘The Perfect Blend’

It’s probably about time to put together a few words about our compost, and as anyone who has ever grown anything has come to learn this is a highly variable and contentious area, primarily because there is no such thing as ‘the perfect blend’.  In our experience it has been necessary to produce our own blends, tending towards a John Innes inspired, if not exactly replicated, formula.

Whilst the grit/sand has been easy to find, we are aware of the fact that it has an origin and that it isn’t sourced without causing damage somewhere to something.  It has been a challenge to source really good loam, and then there’s the fibre – coir or peat?  Either way it will involve and element of compromise.  So how do we sleep at night?  Well i suppose there is a degree of pragmatism involved and if we grow the trees on well then they may go on to bring benefit to the environment, so the initial use of anywhere from three to ten litres of blended compost to establish a tree and get it planted in the ground may not be such a bad investment in the longer term.

Certainly it would be a costly exercise to use a John Innes type compost for planting out; thankfully at this stage we’ll look to change blends again and vastly increase the quantity of locally produced compost and we’re lucky to have an excellent source close at hand.

Preserve Genetic Diversity And Allow It To Grow!

One of the driving principles of Honest Graft is to share an active appreciation of our inherited diversity, albeit a very small slice of that, we do not seek to create a moribund artifact but something which is alive, vibrant and dynamic.
Whilst there is unquestionable value in a seed vault, this story underlines one of the weaknesses of seeking to preserve diversity in this manner alone, and reinforces the value of our growing project.

Welcome to the Future!

Thanks for visiting our new website, we hope you’ll find the information here and at our linked sites useful, we’ll be using this blog to keep you up to date as our project develops and to let you know any news from the wider network of local groups and individuals who are carrying out similar work.

We’ll also be using social media, so you can either check in and comment here, like our group on Facebook or follow us on Twitter and we’ll keep you updated.