One orchard planted (Prospect Park), one to go (Waterloo Meadows)

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TTR kicked off its project to plant Community Orchards in public spaces around Reading on Saturday, by planting 40 trees near the mansion house in Prospect Park.

We had a beautiful sunny day for it, and the turnout was very good. Oonagh from TCV covered us in the warm glow of her insurance and, after a quick safety talk, we all got stuck right in.

After quite a long journey for TTR to get to this point (dreaming, planning the project, securing funding, liaising with the council, selecting and ordering the trees, digging and delivering the mulch and co-ordinating everything together at the right time), it was great to be out there doing the actual planting and making the dream a reality. The most pleasing thing for me though, was how the practical task seemed to draw in so many like-minded people, and to generate energy and enthusiasm for the next steps and the next projects. It was also lovely to see the social aspect of the planting, which reinforced my belief that the best way to build community is to work alongside your neighbours and friends on something you believe in.

A 50 tree planting is to follow in Waterloo Meadows this month, with a further 3 sites to be planted around Reading over the next 2 years. The Waterloo Meadows planting will take place from 10am on Saturday the 23rd Feb (the meeting point will be Waterloo Meadows Childrens’ Centre, accessed from Elgar Road North by car – there’s a small turning on right just before the barrier blocking the road).

As per previous posts, the bulk of this project has been funded by the Forestry Commission’s “Big Tree Plant” scheme, which aims to encourage and support community groups to plant trees in neighbourhoods where people live and work. The project is also being supported by Get Involved Reading, an initiative from Reading Voluntary Action around increasing community participation, as well as TCV and the “Friends of Waterloo Meadows” Econet group.

We wanted to plant orchards because we believe these can have the greatest environmental impact while bringing the local community together. TTR’s Dave Newman sees many benefits to this approach: “Fruit trees take carbon out of the atmosphere as they grow, and the fruit provides free food for local residents. With local organic food like this, little or no fossil fuels are involved in the food production or transport, which reduces emissions and food miles while making the food supply more resilient to external shocks such as rising oil prices. The planting, maintenance and harvest are good opportunities for building local community, the blossom feeds our ailing bee population, and the orchard sites provide excellent habitat for local wildlife. Apart from all that, there’s just something lovely about eating fruit, fresh from the tree.”

In these tough economic times, we can’t expect a constant stream of grant money, so we’re using what we’ve been given to teach ourselves how to thrive without it. The funding secured for the project covers 5 orchards over three years, and the plan is to build the skills in the local community to allow us to plant further community orchards around the town without the need for further grant money.

We’re using these five orchards to teach as many of us as possible how to graft and propagate fruit trees. After that, we should be able to produce more orchards from the trees we already have, with a little time, care and skill.

We made a start with the grafting training at the end of January when 6 of us attended a grafting course run by the Midshires Orchard Group (and attended the 1st National Scionwood Exchange!). There’ll be a follow-up TTR grafting evening in March, for us to put what we’ve learned into practice and graft the apple trees that we’ll be planting next year in Thames Promenade (i.e. between the Rivermead Leisure centre and the river). Watch this space for details, or get in touch if you’d like to be involved.

TTR are looking for people who live near Prospect Park and Waterloo Meadows who’d like to help plant, propagate and maintain the trees, and to eat the delicious free fruit in the years to come. They’d also like to hear from people in other parts of the town who would like to set up their own community orchards in the future (or who just fancy coming down to the WM planting to see what’s going on).

If you’d like to be involved in the Community Orchard planting, or any of TTR’s other projects, please contact communications@transitionreading.org.uk.

TTReading’s Community Orchard Project

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It’s been an encouraging couple of weeks for TTR’s dreams of setting up community orchards around the town. While I don’t want to take anything for granted, and our application is still in progress, we recently got agreement in principle to fund a project that will see us plant 5 community orchards in public parks around the town over the next 3 years.

If we do it right, that should be just the start.

We applied to Groundwork, who are administering the Big Tree Plant on behalf of DEFRA and the Forestry Commission. Their aim is to increase the number of trees enjoyed by people in urban environments but, unlike TTR, they have no particular focus on edible planting or community-building. That made for a tricky application initially, because the average cost that they are looking to maintain over the project is £4 per tree, whereas the absolute cheapest I’ve been able to find decent-looking fruit trees for sale is around £10 per tree.

I also had doubts when making the application about how to make the community orchards as self-sustaining as possible, in terms of nutrients. Having developed an interest in forest gardening over the last couple of years, I know that modern fruit trees have been bred to be much heavier cropping than is naturally the case, and that this makes them hungry for nutrients. Without significant inputs of nitrogen, and to a lesser degree phosphorous and potassium, they will be unable to sustain these high yields of fruit and will become stressed and susceptible to disease.

In the end, one problem was a natural solution to the other. Probably the most environmentally beneficial way to provide those nutrients (not to mention the cheapest and easiest) is to plant Nitrogen-fixing trees alongside the fruit trees. As well as providing nutrients (and potentially a host of other beneficial functions: providing windbreak, attracting beneficial insects etc) many of those trees can be bought and planted as whips, from as little as £1 per head. By mixing cropping fruit trees and “nurse tree” whips, we were able to significantly reduce the cost per tree.

The other way that we decided to reduce the per tree cost in our application was by learning to graft the trees ourselves. At this point, I probably need to explain what grafting is.

Most of the fruit we eat is grown from known, named varieties of fruit tree (e.g. Braeburn) which have been bred and selected over the course of hundreds of years. Trees are typically selected because they crop heavily (and / or because they’re delicious), but if you breed a great apple tree and you want to make more like it you can’t just plant its appleseeds. Every pip in every apple is genetically different and the seedlings, like children, may or may not share the parent’s desirable characteristics (and you’ll have to wait years to find out whether they do or not).

Instead, to propagate that Braeburn apple tree, commercial nurseries take some of the genetic material from the parent tree (i.e. a twig with some buds on it) and “graft” it onto a young apple tree. It’s like performing minor surgery. The twig grows on to be the top half of the new tree, and produces apples with the characteristics of the parent tree. The bottom half (called a rootstock) largely determines how big the tree ends up being and how disease-resistant it is. It might sounds a bit like Frankenstein, but humans have been grafting fruit tree varieties for literally thousands of years (there’s an apple variety, Decio, that is still commercially available today which dates back to 450 AD).

Now, if you already have a range of genetic material (i.e. twigs on live trees) from a range of good fruit trees, and you know how to graft, you can propagate those same commercial fruit trees for the price of a rootstock (i.e. for £2, instead of £10). If you learn to propagate the rootstocks too, and you have a little land to do it on, you can make new commercial-style fruit trees for free (or rather, with just a bit of work, care and maintenance).

So, our plan to make the project self-sustaining going forward is to plant out two of the orchards with ordinary commercial fruit trees that we buy in, and to use the genetic material from those trees (along with whatever else we can get hold of along the way) to propagate more fruit trees by grafting. If all goes well, we should be able to set up further community orchards around the town every year if need be, with no further funding.

So, what’s the next step?

Groundwork have approved the project in principle, but asked for more information about a couple of areas, most notably about our (reasonably amateur) grafting skills and about the maintenance of the newly planted trees.

To help build our skills, we’ve contacted some of the folks at the Oxford Orchard Project who’ve responded positively, offering to mentor us at grafting skills so we can get the success rate we need.

Now, we’re looking for help with looking after the young trees. The first 3 sites are due to be Waterloo Meadows and Prospect Park this winter, followed by a larger area at the Thameside Promenade (i.e. behind the Rivermead leisure centre) during winter 2013/14. The final two sites, due to be planted around January 2015 are still to be confirmed, but at the moment will probably be in Woodley / Earley, possibly at Bulmershe Park and Woodford Park.

What we need now are people who live near the proposed sites to help plant, water and take care of the trees in the first years, and to join in with the harvest in the years to come. If you’re interested in taking part in the project, let us know at communications@transitionreading.org.uk

Nut Tree Planting, Apple Press and building momentum

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It’s taken a little while to get around to writing this post, but I thought we should have something on the site to say that the first phase of the Palmer Park edible planting took place on Saturday 3rd March with a number of Sweet Chestnut and Walnut trees beingplanted around the stadium by TTR members and some very friendly locals with a little help from the BTCV.

We’d been in talks with the Reading Borough Council parks department about carrying out edible planting projects for a while, so it was great to see tangible results.

The planting was “crowdfunded” by donations from TTR members and from local groups wanting to promote local food and community in the area, such as the Newtown Globe. Many thanks to everyone who donated their time and money to make it possible, and to Alan Stevens and Charlotte Selvey from the BTCV who lead the planting on the day and covered us in the warm glow of their insurance (not to mention providing much needed tea and biscuits). Thanks also go to Oonagh Kelleher for help with planning and risk assessment.

The planting got us a little publicity in Get Reading…..

Edible planting project brings trees to Palmer Park

….which has allowed us to raise our profile a bit and generated a little interest in TTR in the community.

As per the Get Reading story, the council have awarded TTR the funds to buy a community apple press and scratter for us to use at events and which we will lend out to local groups and residents. As well as allowing local people to make use of local food resources, the press and scratter can be a good publicity tool, and should provide a trickle of income to help fund our projects in the future.

I think that TTR will get more membership and be more effective in fostering sustainable communities if we can build and maintain momentum with our activities and publicity (be it through local media or word of mouth). Tree planting projects and the apple press can allow TTR to start building up a calendar of events that we can operate over the year to maintain that momentum.

The apple press will get most use in the Autumn when apples are being harvested.

Tree Planting is largely a Winter activity.

Spring lends itself to activities around growing annual vegetables.

Summer is the time where most of the outdoor events and festivals happen, so can be a chance for us to reach out to people and publicise events from the other 3 seasons, and focus on activities which aren’t so restricted by the seasons (e.g. craft & recycling, energy, insulation).

I think the challenge for TTR is to work together to organise and run those year-round activities and events without burning ourselves out.

Press Release: Palmer Park goes nuts for local food

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Transition Town Reading begins community food gardening project with Nut Tree planting in Palmer Park.

Transition Town Reading, a local community group exploring life after cheap oil, has begun a program of edible planting projects in public spaces around Reading with a nut tree planting in Palmer Park. The planting took place on Saturday 3rd March with a number of Sweet Chestnut and Walnut trees being planted around the stadium by local residents.

“We’ve been in talks with the Reading Borough Council’s parks department about carrying out edible planting projects around the town for some time, so it’s great to finally get planting.” said Rich Waring of Transition Town Reading.” We see it as a chance to provide free, tasty, healthy, local, organic food for local residents, while sequestering a little carbon, creating a pleasant atmosphere and promoting local community.”

The planting has been “crowdfunded” by donations from local residents and from local groups keen to support local food and community in the area, such as the Newtown Globe.

Saturday’s planting follows a number of edible public plantings which have been organised by other local groups in the area, including community orchards in Swallowfield, Twyford, Wargrave and Hurst. With high food prices driven by the price of oil, more people are now looking to grow more of their own food, and to build community resilience by getting their food from local sources. For others, local food is a practical way to reduce their carbon footprint. Other people are attracted by the idea of public growing spaces as meeting spaces where community events can be held.

Transition Reading has further plans for fruit tree planting in Palmer Park to be carried out later in the year, as well as further edible projects in Prospect Park and Waterloo Meadows. They have also just been granted funds from the Reading Borough Council’s capital fund for a community apple press, which will be available for local residents and community groups to make their own fruit juice and cider. With these planting projects, alongside other community food projects in the town, such as Food4Families’ Reading GrowAllot and Reading’s award-winning community co-operative True Food, local residents should be better placed than ever to enjoy tasty locally-grown produce.

For more information about Transition Town Reading’s edible planting projects go to www.transitionreading.org.uk. To get involved or (use the apple press) email treeplanting@transitionreading.org.uk.

Palmer Park Community Orchard

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I’m excited.

For a while, we’d been talking about the idea of planting fruit and nut trees on public land around Reading. In many ways, it seemed like the perfect Transition project: a chance to sequester a little carbon, while providing free, healthy, local, organic food for local residents, creating a pleasant atmosphere and promoting local community. We’d been in contact with Reading Borough Council and Woodley Town Council, trying to get them to let us carry out planting projects on their land, but we hadn’t had any response.

Knowing that the wheels of local government can turn pretty slowly sometimes, we’d resolved to keep politely nagging away at them, but were starting to lose hope until the 29th of September when both councils came back to say they’d like us to go ahead! It seems that Council Parks departments are like buses – you wait ages for one to let you plant edible trees on their land, and then two come along at once.

Following this, Transition Reading had a projects meeting where we decided to start by focusing on one site first and looking to make a success of that. One week ago, Beth and I met with the lovely representative from Reading Borough Council’s Parks department in Palmer Park, to talk about planting a community orchard behind the stadium there.

From the Council’s point of view, they’re keen to draw people in to this under-used part of the park, and they’d like the area to be attractive, while also maintaining good visilibility to discourage “anti-social behaviour”. Beth and I learned that the RBC’s parks dept planted a community orchard in Mapledurham Fields in Caversham last year and this weekend we travelled out to Caversham to take a look at the site – 88 fruit trees neatly planted around a central clearing for community events. It was clear that a lot of thought had been put into selecting fruit tree variants with complementary flowering and fruiting periods and the site seemed carefully laid out and attractive.

We agreed to put together a plan for the Palmer Park site and to take it back to the council for approval. They will then have to bring the project through a consultation period, to ensure that the local community are happy for us to go ahead.

I think now is the time for us to contact local community groups, to get their input about the kind of trees that they’d like us to plant. If we can get people’s input now, I think we can start to build a sense of ownership that will get people using and helping to maintain the orchard later on. It’s also a chance for us to publicise the project and to start to reach out for funding.

In terms of design, I think we can meet the council’s requirements for neat appearance and visibility, and local people’s preferences for the kinds of fruit trees they’d like, while also planning for the site to be self-sustaining in terms of fertility and pest-resistance. It’s going to take some juggling, but I think it’s possible.

Overall, a Palmer Park community orchard seems like a big project and slightly overwhelming, but at the same time, if we break it into little steps and put our evergy into it, I really think we can make this happen.

If you’d like to be involved, come and let us know at treeplanting@transitionreading.org.uk.

Rich

Reading Abundance

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Have you ever noticed trees hanging with delicious looking fruit, only to see it a couple of weeks later lying unpicked and wasted on the ground? There are hundreds of trees all over Reading, some in private gardens, some in public spaces, and tonnes of fruit and nuts that end up going to waste every year.

If we knew where those trees were, and if we gathered a bunch of willing volunteers and fresh fruit lovers together then we could prevent that waste. Instead of rotten fruit on the ground, we’d have great tasting free fruit, jams, juice and cider, not to mention nuts as well, if we can get them before those pesky squirrels!

That’s what Transition Town Reading, in conjunction with RISC, would like to do. If you know of a public tree where the fruit goes to waste, or if you have a tree in your garden and you never quite manage to make use of all the fruit, then please let us know. Private owners will have first choice of the fruit from your garden of course, but also a band of willing volunteers to help you pick it and prevent it going to waste. Importantly we also need volunteers to help us pick, preserve, juice and ferment all that lovely abundance.

Abundance was first started in Sheffield, take a look at their website for more information and inspiration about what we could create here in Reading.  Sheffield Abundance

If you know of a local public tree that doesn’t get picked let us know the type of tree, and it’s location and we can add it to our Google map. Better yet, go right ahead and add it yourself! Just please make sure it’s not someone else’s private award winning fruit tree!

To find out more, or to join our volunteers please contact abundancereading@gmail.com or look up the brand new website: Reading Abundance