Amsterdam: Full Circle Harvest

January may seem like an odd month to post about urban agriculture undertakings in the Northern Hemisphere; but it’s now that preparations for our community plot are under way. In fact, last January (2013) I first became involved with a new urban agricultural plot in Amsterdam – and inspired by our own resident finch, it’s now called The Curious Finch Educational Garden (its own project blog coming soon…)

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Like many such gardens, The Curious Finch focuses on building community, growing food and growing gardeners. But the educational component is equally emphasised. Throughout the winter and early spring some 20 workshops were offered on topics ranging from seed saving to composting, free for volunteers who committed to work in the garden. The garden also focuses on outreach: to schools, families and “volkstuin” gardeners, about the attributes of growing and consuming local food – the how, the why and the “yum factor”.

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Not to dive too heavy into project details, but as it is a new garden, a few logistical underpinnings may prove useful. Firstly, two Amsterdam based local food and farming organisations teamed up: I Can Change the World With My Two Hands and Cityplot. They sought an available plot, the financial support for tools and workshops and recruited volunteers. We are now some 20 consistent volunteers who meet about once a week. With the land secured, the financial support obtained, the workshops scheduled and volunteers recruited, came the next step: prepare the garden.IMG_7484

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Already in January we started to work on the beds. As it was a new garden, each bed had to be carefully turned, several trees trimmed, berry bushes transferred, wood chips brought in for garden paths, the old compost bin emptied and weeds removed (even in January). January started out warm, but quickly cooled off, making the process of turning
the (frozen or muddy, and thus heavy) beds over a greater challenge – long into April.  Finally in May and June the sun arrived. We could finally go from gardening in snow boots to rubber boots, and fleece to T-shirts.

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Ten different beds were planned, dedicated to 10 different planting styles and crop choices. The individual plots included the following: permaculture, biodynamic farming, a herb garden, a “river of herbs” garden (i.e. wild herbs),
heritage (or forgotten) vegetables, dye plants (for clothing), a mushroom bed, edible flowers, a children’s bed – and of course composting which included an attempt at hugelkultur and a worm bin (a worm bench actually).

With each bed dedicated to a specific technique, workshops were organised with field experts in two parts: a theoretical lesson and planting lesson – such as the use of “preparations” in biodynamic
farming. (Remember, we’re city folk, so while many of us had some gardening experience, we all had something left to learn!)

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Once the beds were planted, we eagerly watched them grow – which with a cold spring and a warm sunny summer, started off slowly but quickly caught up. As crops were harvested, additional seeds were planted, ensuring a constant supply of garden goodies. To celebrate,
several garden parties were organised: from the initial harvest to the final harvest, featuring whatever was currently available from our garden menu.

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Our final garden party occurred in late September. We harvested the remaining treats, cooked our meal and prepared next year’s garden – what the beds would entail, how to improve community outreach and to work together with and learn from other community gardens in  Amsterdam.

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Amsterdam, I’m told has some 50 urban agricultural initiatives across the city of various size, scale and purpose. (And this does not include backyard gardens or roof gardens, like my beloved balcony garden.)  While the harvest party marked the official “end” of the growing season, the garden still had to be prepared for winter – the soil tilled, plants weeded and cover crops sowed.  Gardening Saturdays lingered into late autumn and early winter to prepare for the next season.  Full circle

The beginning of the season...
The beginning of the season… (February 2013)
The transition from empty fields to gorgeous green vines in a few months was impressive.
From empty fields to gorgeous green vines, salads, berries, peas and herbs in a few months was impressive. (August 2013)
Turning the beds over was an arduous task: sometimes in the rain when the claylike soil was heavy and cumbersome; sometimes when the air temperatures were well below freezing and the frozen Earth was less inviting to our sovels. But we persisted, carefully turning every bed, from January- April 2013. (This photo and the finch: Barbara Pavie).
Turning the beds over was an arduous task: sometimes in the rain when the claylike soil was heavy and cumbersome; sometimes when the air temperatures were well below freezing and the frozen Earth was less inviting to our shovels. But we persisted, carefully turning every bed, from January- April 2013.
(This photo and the finch: Barbara Pavie. All other photos by the author.)
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Biodynamic Bed: We planted Phacelia as a cover crop/ green manure to keep the soil healthy before the growing season. We learned to plant by the cycles of the moon and that there are 4 (rotating) crop groups: roots, leafs, fruit and flower. When you plant depends on the Earth signs – each crop group has a different planting and sowing time. (February 2013)
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Seed Saving Workshop: Learning about how to save different types of seeds, for example that carrots take two years in order to save seeds, and to be aware o possible cross-pollination of other seed types. We also discussed the larger geopolitical issues surrounding seed saving and several gardeners attended the Dutch Seed Exchange – Reclaim the Seeds – in early spring. (February 2013)
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Dye Plants Workshop: Learning how to grow and use plant-based dyes for textiles with a local gardener, artist and textile producer. (February 2013)
Permaculture Bed: measuring to see where to plant the fava beans and spinach
Permaculture Bed: measuring to see how far apart to plant the fava beans and spinach. (March 2013)
Sunshine returns to plant the biodynamic bed...
Sunshine returns to plant the biodynamic bed… (April 2013)
Adding "preparations" to the biodynmaic bed
Adding “preparations” to the biodynamic bed (April 2013)
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Finally gardening in T-shirts, at least some of us! (Late April 2013)
Jumping on the Hugelkultur to compact it, before covering it with soil. (May 2013)
Jumping on the Hugelkultur to compact it, before covering it with soil.
(May 2013)
While the season started slowly, we finally enjoyed the first garden treats (May 2013)
While the season started slowly, we finally enjoyed the first garden treats!
(May 2013)
Watching the garden grow...  (June 2013)
Watching the garden grow… (June 2013)
We adopted a used greenhouse, which took a bit of work and logistics, but finally it is up and ready and looking great! (June 2013)
We adopted a used greenhouse, which took a bit of work and logistics, but finally it is up, ready & looking great, complete with its very own rocket stove!
(June 2013)
Harvesting in the children's bed (June 2013)
Children’s Garden Bed: Happy harvesters (June 2013)
One of a gardener's best friends.
One of a gardener’s best friends…
Getting the gardeners started young (June 2013)
Children’s Garden Bed: Getting the gardeners started young.
(June 2013)
Comparing notes: urban agriculture in the Netherlands and China (June 2013)
Heritage Vegetables Bed: Comparing notes on urban agriculture in the Netherlands and China. (June 2013)
Swiss Chard: my favourite. Good for the city plot, and the balcony.
Heritage Vegetables Bed: Forgotten potatoes, colourful peas and herbs; this bed also included Swiss Chard. Good for a city plot or a balcony… hardy, abundant, healthy, beautiful and delicious.
(Harvested all summer long)
Missing my summer meals...
Missing my summer meals…
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Composting & the Hugelkultur: From a pile of logs and garden debris, our hugelkultur transformed into a worthy pumpkin patch.
(August 2013)
End of Season Harvest party (September 2013)
End of Season Harvest party (September 2013)
Harvest Celebrations (September 2013)
Harvest Celebrations (September 2013)
Here we go again... planting a cover crop to be ready for the next season (October 2013)
Here we go again… planting a cover crop to be ready for the next season (October 2013)
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