Shipton Mill Garden Update - 2020
by Emily Thomas
I’ve been invited to bring some news, and hopefully some cheer, from the garden at Shipton Mill. While the Mill has been extremely busy keeping home and community bakers baking through lockdown and continued uncertain times, we’ve been ticking along at our usual rhythm in the garden.
After an initial flurry to get hold of more vegetable seeds, along with so many other home growers, and a few tweaks to how Debbie and I work alongside each other, we have been able to continue much the same. It is both reassuring and grounding to be in a daily conversation with the rhythms of the natural world and especially whilst Covid 19 has stormed through the human world. I have always loved gardening but I have rarely felt so grateful for this steadying work and feel the privilege and medicine of it as so many others have been locked up indoors unable to access a piece of green. It is my personal belief that the more we can access outdoor and natural environments the healthier we are.
Spring came, albeit early with some unusually warm weather, and despite some late frosts we were able to get the growing season off to a good start. Summer also came early and also unusually dry. I don’t recall ever doing so much watering in May just to keep our annual crops and newly planted trees alive and well. The upside however, fewer slugs!
Debbie was given the task of upping vegetable production for staff and residents at the Mill, and I optimistically continued to sow and grow our annual cut flower crop in the hope that shops would reopen and I could sell the produce. Thankfully they did, and just as my main crop of blooms were ready, phew! I am sure the cut flower industry at large were also sighing in relief. The medicinal herb garden has come into its own this summer and I have been growing, processing and supplying a local apothecary and herb school. I love that the garden can provide nourishment, beauty and medicine to our local community, many of whom we know personally.
A big highlight for me this season has been the arrival of the bees! We have had an empty hive awaiting bees for the last couple of years but this June I had the opportunity to collect a swarm from a garden nearby. Thankfully I was ready with my suit and turns out it was a particularly big swarm! With a pounding heart I shook them off the tree in which they’d gathered and introduced them into an empty brood box, left them overnight to regather themselves and then drove them before dawn, (and before they woke up), back to the garden at the Mill to set them up in their new home. Wonderfully, they are still there busy pollinating, growing in numbers and making honey. As a new beekeeper I’m realising just how much there is to learn but I am keen to keep them in a way that mimics their natural behaviour as much as possible. It is a blessing to have these pollinators resident in the garden, and if there is surplus honey to their needs next summer I will gratefully harvest some.
Being set amid some well tended countryside we are very lucky to see some wonderful wildlife in and around the garden. At the beginning of Spring a visiting barn owl hunting in the field adjacent to the garden, a resident heron, flashes of kingfisher, an occasional otter sighting, deer, and rabbits. But as the cooler weather and longer evenings draw in we are very happy to garden alongside the robins again, and we have one in particular that is very attentive, especially to our lunch breaks and the crumbs that come with them!
As Autumn rolls in, the apples are ripening and the land softens and exhales slowly into harvest-time and the end of the season. I am reminded again of the steady turn of the seasonal wheel. Organic September is the Soil Association’s campaign to raise awareness about the many benefits of organic growing and farming. In the face of climate change and widespread decline in wildlife, a large scale move to organic food production is urgent. We work with organic principles here in the garden, practices that work resourcefully, sensitively and reciprocally with the land. We notice the rewards in diversity of pollinators, a sense of well-being and balance in the soil and garden as a whole, and not least the vibrant, if sometime imperfect, produce that it gives. I so hope organic horticulture and agriculture becomes part of our ‘new normal’. Do have a look at the campaign and consider supporting the Soil Association’s work.
(Pics snapped on my phone throughout the seasons)