Residents learn to grow their own in orchard planting scheme

Photo: Tom Wells

Plums, apples, pears, cherries and apricots will one day be harvested in Haggerston, thanks to the London Orchard Project, twenty volunteers, a bunch of kids from Hackney City Farm and Russell Miller of Hackney based “Tree Musketeers” who demonstrated how tree planting should be done.

Digging proved to be hard work on Saturday morning in the tough urban ground, and the wielding of pick axes was reserved for adult volunteers.

Forming a growing pile of bricks next to the heap of soil, Mr. Miller said: “Most of this park wasn’t here during the Second World War, so there are lots of houses underneath because it was either bombed or flattened when they made the park.

“It’s more like I’m demolishing a building than planting a tree at the moment. You never know what you’ll find when you’re digging in Hackney – let us know if you find a bomb!”

Finding an enormous maggot and several worms, the children were keen to feed them to the chickens, but Mr. Miller intervened in the interests of biodiversity. “Worms keep the soil nice, if we don’t have worms we don’t have good soil,” he said. “What we want to do is encourage lots of insects to live here.”

The Haggerston Park Community Orchard and Food Growing Garden, administered by Hackney City Farm, is already bordered with wild plum trees and dotted with food growing plants such as strawberries. After Saturday’s event with the London Orchard Project, it now has 10 new fruit trees in the park’s burgeoning new food garden.

Carina Dunkerley, Founder and Chief Executive of the London Orchard Project, said: “I think it’s important because we’re actually very vulnerable in the UK to food security issues. It’s really odd that we import most of our apples, when actually they’re perfectly suited to this climate. We’re really keen to try and increase the number of fruits that exist and are harvested in London.”

The London Orchard Project has launched several initiatives in Hackney over the past couple of years, and in August worked with Hackney Harvest to pick the wild plums in Haggerston Park. As well as planting new orchards, the Project also harvests existing fruit trees, many of which are in local residents’ gardens.

“What was really great is that we leafleted streets where we knew there were trees in the back gardens and had an incredibly positive response of people getting back in touch, people inviting us into their homes to harvest their trees,” said Ms Dunkerley.

“I think part of the issue is that the skills have been lost. People don’t really know how to look after trees in their back garden, then the harvest season happens all at once and next thing you know you’ve got 600kg of apples and you’re not sure what to do with them.”

She said the Project also brings together a “big pool of people” for the post-harvest phase, where the fruit is distributed and used in the effort to revive lost skills such as preserving and cake-making.

Lowell Clare, 23, a postgraduate student from New York University in the USA, said: “This project is wonderful. They’ve specifically chosen plants that will work well together, that are low maintenance, so they’re really creating this little biodynamic bubble.”

Tom Wells, a volunteer from Hackney Harvest, emphasised the need for more food to be grown in the city, and said that a “local anchor” is needed when establishing these orchards to keep up with the aftercare.

Ms Dunkerley said: “There’s a lot of enthusiasm at the planting stage, but then there’s a few years where not a great deal is going to happen. We also need to make sure they get watered and are managed properly. It’s a few years of patience before they actually start cropping.”

The project was led by the London Orchard Project, with a helping hand from Hackney City Farm and the Tree Musketeers. It was partially funded by Hackney Harvest and Hackney Council.

For more information on the London Orchard Project visit: The Tree Musketeers will be hosting a tree-planting event on Hackney Downs on December 19 at 10am.

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