In this new series of blogs we meet with members of the Tower Hamlets Food Growers, to find out about their growing spaces and why they are so passionate about urban food growing.
In July we hosted our annual Summer Gathering of the Tower Hamlets Food Growers with talks, workshops, stalls and a delicious lunch. The theme of the day was how to grow with climate change and how to future-proof our gardens.
Here one of our guest speakers, Genia Leontowitsch from Swedenborg Orchard shares how they use different compost and mulches for different growing spaces in the gardens.
Right plant, right place
At Swedenborg Orchard, we have several types of growing areas all with different conditions that require different mulches. It’s really important that with any growing space you know your plants, vegetables, the soil they are in and the type of mulch best suited to each. It’s an ongoing learning curve for me, each plant, each season.
Mulches and compost
As well as choosing drought-resistant plants, we also make our own compost and mulches using garden waste, branches and even kitchen waste. We also create our own “recipes” – sometimes adding in fresh horse manure.
Here’s a tour of the gardens and how we deal with the different areas:
Woodland shade areas – in this area we use leaf mulch and have planted several drought-resistant plants, for example, Russian Sage.
Fruit trees, we have 47 trees and these are mulched with leaf mulch and chopped-up branches. This combination has fewer nutrients in it, which benefits the tree roots and helps to retain moisture.
Flowering beds, pots and baskets, are mulched from general-purpose green waste mulch, made outdoors from our gardening waste including grass clippings, plus my vetted selection of branches and green material to which we add fresh horse manure. This speeds up the breakdown process; this mulch has added nutrients
Wildflower beds – Our wildflower beds are grown either from annual seed or perennial seed mixes between the fruit trees, and several other strips for the benefit of all pollinators; it works, we are buzzing!
Butterfly habitats, overall, we try to do everything that encourages butterflies and other wildlife – bugs and birds.
We have two different vegetable growing areas totalling 36 raised vegetable growing beds.
We share compost made from locally gathered and donated kitchen peelings, (which contain no dairy, no cooked foods or meat; it’s vegetarian and Halal!) These are composted in four hot bins, and three wormery containers.
This produces good water retention in the soil and adds plenty of nutrients for the vegetables. This material is either used as mulch or dug in, it is also banked up around the stems of tomatoes and pumpkins, to very good effect. We cannot meet the demand here, especially during the summer growing season.
I have started a dry garden area, which I have found does need some topping up with water on a regular basis during dry spells, as it’s too free draining. This means I have to, either prepare the soils differently or select more drought-tolerant plants.
Public walkway flower beds, positioned running west to east in sunny and shady spots – here again thinking about soils, all need better drainage, especially as we have had a wet July this year. So I will either need to select different plants or rework the soil this autumn.
Some useful resources:
Mulch is a covering of ideally biodegradable matter placed on the surface of the soil. It serves several purposes in gardening and landscaping:
Moisture Retention: Mulch helps retain moisture in the soil by reducing evaporation, which is especially beneficial in hot and dry weather. This can help plants stay hydrated.
Weed Suppression: A layer of mulch can block sunlight from reaching weed seeds, preventing them from sprouting and competing with your desired plants for nutrients.
Temperature Regulation: Mulch acts as an insulator, keeping the soil temperature more stable. In winter, it helps protect plant roots from freezing temperatures, while in summer, it can keep the soil cooler.
Soil Erosion Control: Mulch helps prevent soil erosion by reducing the impact of rainwater on the soil surface.
Improved Soil Health: As organic mulch breaks down over time, it adds nutrients to the soil, improving its fertility and structure.
- Garden compost
- Well-rotted manure
- Bark and wood chippings
- Spent mushroom compost
- Leaf mould
- Garden waste mulch
Photo credits to Jim Ford and E1Community Gardeners.