Chilly Chilli Shed Masterclass

Chilly Chilli Shed Masterclass

There are several ways of getting warm.  We tried three. The first was to make a small fire.L1020490

The second was to eat cake.

Delicious Victoria sponge made by Debbie Mitchener. The bag of apples is just for show.
And the third was to go into the shed and lick a chilli seed or two and learn a lot more. For our second Grow A Gardener workshop this year, we ran a session on basic seed-sowing followed by a master class by the knowledgeable, interesting and resourceful Raul Couselo.  He grows chillies indoors but it is also possible to grow outdoor varieties in London (bring them in in the winter). Chillies are often difficult to germinate. They need a long period of warmth with a soil temperature of at least 18 degrees C.  Raul has designed a fail-safe seed propagator using a bit of folded cardboard in which you put your seeds, wrap it in a plastic bag and put on somewhere warm.   He gets 100% germination (as opposed to my rate which is about 30%).

Cutting edge seed propagator made from cardboard and staples. Place the seeds in the recesses , dampen and enclose in a platic bag. moisten the cardboard every couple of days.
Once the seeds have germinated, transplant them to pots and place them on damp cardboard in a mini greenhouse made from a croissant box placed on an electric blanket.


Raul runs the beautiful Beecholme Community Garden off the Lea Bridge Road
L1020498L1020497L1020511Raul gave us some brilliant tips.

  • Once they have grown and produced flowers, to get more even, bigger and better crops of fruits, hand pollinate with a paintbrush. It’s much easier than it sounds.  Just move pollen from the stamen to the stigma. Use different brushes for different plants to avoid cross-pollination.
  • Soak cardboard beneath pots to keep plants moist.
  • Add good quality soil to water so that you are watering your plants with nutrients. Comfrey is too strong!
  • Prune chillies. They are perennials and benefit from the stress.
  • Save seeds from shop bought chillies as well as your own.They may not come true but you can experiment. You must! 

The Importance of Community Volunteers

Our small community garden is maintained entirely by volunteers. We run it with enthusiasm (mostly) and a belief in the power of gardening to bring people together – as well as improving the environment of course.   We have learnt that amongst our gardeners we have a variety of skills – composting, seed-sowing, planning, raising veg, PR, samosa-making, taking photos, organising things – but most people have other things to do – other lives – and sometimes we need a boost to help get things done.

Our first big volunteer day in February 2011 was to build two big beds. Local people and students from the London College of Fashion turned out on a bright (but cold) day to shovel, carry, dig and construct. We found that getting together to drink tea at the beginning, middle or end of the volunteer day was as important – maybe more – as getting the job done – especially if we try to make tea on the camping stove. The waiting makes it taste so much better.



Our biggest ongoing project so far is what we call the Slow Shed. We’ve built it almost entirely from reclaimed materials and voluntary labour. With a general lack of building skills amongst us it is a slow business with lots of set-backs but it has brought lots of people together and provided everyone with an enormous sense of achievement. The Slow Shed – like a Herculean task – is never finished so we always have jobs to do on it.

Putting up the frame of the shed.
Putting up the frame of the shed.

We got a big boost when a corporate group came for a day last summer. They helped weave the front with willow, painted some lockers we’d found in the street and put up some shelves.

Sarah and Benedicte from Locktons helped us weave the shed.
Sarah and Benedicte from Locktons helped us weave the shed.

It’s usually not usually money we need — the garden is cheap to run and we raise money through cake and plant sales and subs cover most of our day-to-day expenses. Occasionally we need financial help with a specific project (like the willow-weaving where we needed to buy materials). More important to us is energy and enthusiasm – and a keenness to drink tea together.

For such a small organisation like ours, it’s wonderful to get an injection of vigour and good will from people who really don’t need to help but do anyway.  We’re looking forward to seeing more groups from our neighbours in the business world and beyond.




Golden Turnips and Grey Skies

We’re getting quite good at our open days and sales but this weekend’s Country Show took us to a new level.  We squeezed every ounce of goodwill from the gardeners to produce rain cover (the forecast was bad), fantastic raffle prizes, music, children’s craft and face-painting, shed decorating and amazing cakes.  Not to mention the competition entries – vegetables, cakes and preserves and our more creative category which included a self-portrait with vegetables and the vegetable most like a mayor.  Our three judges, Scarlett Cannon, Eloise Dey and Gavin Jenkins took their task very seriously and assiduously.  The icing on the cake (though I doubt he’d like to be described as any kind of cake decoration) was Joe Swift who was generous with his time, gracious, charming… and, of course, down-to-earth.

Squash carved with self portrait
Freya’s magnificent self-portrait carved into a squash.
The 'Tyre' family girls reading out the raffle prizes.
The ‘Tyre’ family girls reading out the raffle prizes.
Golden beetroot with rosette
Dellores’s golden beetroot won a golden turnip for best in category.
Large cabbages
Cabbages. This magnificent display came from one allotment (organic) in Tower Hamlets – Winterton House.

three judges
Judges (Eloise Dey, Scarlett Cannon and Gavin Jenkins) being judicious.
Face-painting by Charlotte and children's crafts with Katie.  Kept 'em busy.
Face-painting by Charlotte and children’s crafts with Katie. Kept ’em busy.
Joe Swift and scissors.
Joe Swift opens our shed!
Jams and Preserves
Jams and Preserves
Joe Swift gives a golden turnip to the Wilton Estate.  They won SIX rosettes.
Joe Swift gives a golden turnip to the Wilton Estate. They won SIX rosettes.
Jane and Dell, the magnificent cake women.
Jane and Dell, the marvellous cake women.
Table with tomatoes, cucumbers and other produce
Competition table for grown produce.
Zinnias and dye label.
Nat’s beautiful labels explain what we’re up to.
Damian receives a replica shed (made by Jonathan Faiers) to thank him for all his works.
Damian receives a replica shed (made by Jonathan Faiers) to thank him for all his works.

Three plaster turnips sprayed gold.
The golden turnips presented to the best entry in each category. Hackney was renowned for its turnips in the 17th and 18th centuries.