Urban Growing

A call for veg-share volunteers!

By Dan Nettelsmith

Our latest story is from Dan Nettelsmith, who has leased an acre of council land in Hengrove and is growing vegetables using no-dig growing methods. Dan is looking for veg-share volunteers to join – not only to get stuck into growing, but also for bookkeeping, marketing, CSA experience, community outreach, cooking and soil and compost testing. Read on to discover how you can get involved.

Hello, I’m Dan and I started leasing this acre (affectionately known as ‘The Patch’) from Bristol City Council about two years ago. With some help, especially from a few wonderful and committed volunteers, we have turned The Patch into a small but abundant market garden. This is the second season of no-dig growing on about 50 beds, each 23 metres long, and now the soil is alive with life and the vegetables are happy… but more people power is needed! We’ve made a good start and our aim is to continue improving the soil health and to welcome more wildlife (especially pollinators and predators). We’d like to get better at sharing this wonderful place and connecting more people with the soil. We would love you to join us!

The site is a green haven in Hengrove, sandwiched between the Fortfield Road and Oatlands Avenue allotments and was once used by the Severn Project to grow salads. We have inherited much abandoned infrastructure, including the hoops you can see in the photo, which create an excellent post-apocalyptic feel!

Adding to this impression is that The Patch is part of a larger site, much of which is quickly turning to scrub. This makes it an amazing refuge for wildlife which is a joy to be surrounded by. It can be a challenge to extend this gratitude to the pigeons who are currently discovering that their very favourite food is the sugar snap peas.

The Patch site in Hengrove

Doing the best for the soil is an important component of the vision for this place. The soil health principles, aimed at increasing microbial activity, are guiding this work. We are doing a good job of incorporating many of these key principles but are keen to further encourage living roots in the ground for more of the year, and increase the diversity of crops and green manures in a bed at any one time. We are also looking for an efficient way to integrate our Patch neighbour’s chickens – bring on the chicken tractor! As well as all this, I’m itching to develop our composting and to experiment with compost extracts and teas as soil amendments and seed coatings.   

We have been selling the vegetables we grow here to a few veg shops and we have a small veg-box scheme going too. We’ve also donated hundreds of kilos of vegetables to many Bristol charities including the FOOD Clubs, and Fareshare, often with the help of the excellent Bristol Gleaning Network. Making high-quality fresh vegetables available to people who wouldn’t normally buy them is another pillar of the vision here. The dream is to introduce everyone who eats the vegetables to the soil in which they are grown. We are also actively exploring the possibility of becoming an official Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm. 

So how about joining us? We’re looking for volunteers to join a small friendly group on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10am to 4pm. Lunch will be provided and you can take home a box of the veg that you helped produce. Wednesdays are mostly focussed on picking and packing, and Thursdays will be more about sowing, planting, composting and of course weeding. Please get in touch at lushgreensbristol@gmail.com if you would like to be involved.

There will always be lots to do! Your willingness to get stuck in and the initiative to help with what’s needed at any given moment are important qualities to bring. The work is necessarily relatively physical, especially on Thursdays, and needs to happen in all weathers so please bear this in mind. We’re also open to hear from you if there are things that you can bring other than your physical labour, such as book-keeping, marketing, CSA experience, community outreach, cooking the lunch (ingredients provided) and soil and compost testing (we would love to know more about the microbial activity that’s going on in there). Also if you’d like to help but can only do the occasional weekend day then please do still get in touch at lushgreensbristol@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing from you.

By setting the wheels in motion now, together we can transform the future of food in our city, building in resilience over the next decade. So, what change do you want to see happen that will transform food in Bristol by 2030? Do you already have an idea for how Bristol can make this happen? Join the conversation now.

Join the conversation

So, what change do you want to see happen that will transform food in Bristol by 2030? Do you already have an idea for how Bristol can make this happen? Join the conversation now.

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