Lambeth Food Stories 5: MakeSoil – the case for community composting

We were so pleased to host this packed hour, hearing from people from around Lambeth and beyond about the possibilities for community composting. You can watch the hour-long session on our youtube channel here.

There was so much info raised but here are some of the things mentioned:

Patrick Holden mentioned

Dirt to Soil by Gabe Brown

Do Grow: start with 10 simple vegetables by (his daughter!) Alice Holden

Growing a Revolution, Bringing Our Soil Back to Life by David Montgomery

Zach Bush is a medical doctor who has made connections between our health and our soils

State of Knowledge of Soil Biodiversity – an FAO report

Tom Daniells from the Compost Club mentioned

Elaine Ingham and her compost course

The composter that the Compost Club is using can be found here: (Tom mentioned that they have a discount code)

Di mentioned the film Need to Grow

Another great film mentioned by a participant is Kiss the Ground

There was some interest in the compost bin design that the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership is using – IEL now has the pdf for this, so please get in touch with us for that information.

Lou (aka Rocky the Pug) from New York City has asked us to lobby to save the NY composting project – please show your support on Insta @saveourcompost or Twitter @saveNYCCompost. Lou also mentioned an Emerging Composter Competition which you can find here – you can vote for ‘Rocky the Pug’ here

and if you’re not yet composting: why not join a site? It’s free to sign up.

Planning your food growing

What will you choose to plant this year? Will it be whatever seed you can get hold of, something new, or something tried and tested? Have you saved seed or are you buying it? Or do you have any seed you’d like to share?

We’d love to know what you’re planning – is there one place you always go to for tips? Do you plan out your garden with a drawing? If so, what does that look like? Would you like to share? We’d love to hear from you!

On the seed front, we have been looking into buying seed and we are finding that the quality organic ‘real’ seed suppliers are already overwhelmed – Real Seeds re-opens for business on 25th January, as does Tamar Organics. The wonderful Bingenhaemar is closed to new business. Kings Seeds is also shut down temporarily (it stocks an organic range). Franchi Seeds, a family run seed business with a range of organic (but not open source*, we think) seems to be the only seed business that is trading right now! BUT – don’t worry, we have it covered with seeds that we can donate from last year (may not germinate quite so well) and another source we are working on..go HERE to register your interest in receiving a range of veg seed soon.

Lockdown reading and watching:

Have you seen Charles Dowding’s veg growing books? They are an invaluable resource.

We have been recommended Dirt to Soil: One family’s journey into regenerative agriculture by Gabe Brown

Have you listened to The Dirt podcast – an offshoot of Grow Your Own magazine.

Or have you watched the film Demain or Qu’est-ce qu’on attend? (What are we waiting for?) – both feature food growing in urban settings.

Photo: courtesy Hitherfield School

*Open Source seeds – go here to find out more about how seeds are bred today and why we should all be looking to either seed save or buy from open source suppliers. Find out about Seed Sovereignty

Grow Back Greener Estates

Last month, we announced that we’d been awarded funding. Here’s more news about the project:

We are working with six estates – Ethelred, Vauxhall Gardens, Holland Town, Myatts Fields South, St Martin’s and Central Hill.

Do you live on one of these estates and would like to get involved in greening your estate? If so, get in touch with Poppy today

If not, but you would like to join (or form) a gardening group on your estate, why not get in touch with us too and you can join a growing number of people who want their land managed differently,

We are very grateful to the Mayor of London’s fund


Planting Grocery Garlic

Don’t let that sprouting garlic clove go to waste! Yes, that garlic clove can be grown into a lovely full bulb of garlic and winter is the perfect time to plant it.

Watch the video below to see how to plant your garlic and read below to learn more about how to take care of it, harvest it and store it.

As I mentioned in the video above, there are two types of garlic: hardneck garlic and softneck garlic.  

Hardneck garlic develops a long flowering stem, called a scape and the cloves circle this stem in a neat single row.  They grow well in cold climates and are known to have larger cloves with a tasty mild flavour.  Even though they are delicious, we don’t tend to see this type as often in our local shops because they only keep for about 5 to 6 months.

Softneck garlic, on the other hand, is what we mostly see in our grocery stores due to their longer shelf life – about a year.  They have more than one row of cloves surrounding the centre of the bulb.  These are the kind of garlic bulbs that you might see beautifully plaited together as their ‘necks’ are more flexible.  The cloves are usually quite a bit smaller than the hardneck variety and they tend to have a stronger flavour.

Winter is an ideal time to plant softneck garlic cloves as they need a spell of one to two weeks at 0-4C to trigger proper bulb growth.  So let’s get them in the ground!

One thing before we start, the RHS specifically warns against planting garlic from your grocery store.  This is because there is a possibility they might carry disease.  With this in mind, I suggest planting any store bought cloves in a planter rather than in the ground. This will help prevent disease from contaminating your growing space for any neighbouring or future plants.  If you have purchased certified disease free ‘seed garlic’, these can be put right into the ground.

Site and Ground

Garlic likes a sunny, warm location in rich, well-drained soil. If you have a bit of fresh compost, work it into the soil before you plant.  Also make sure the location you have selected won’t get too wet over the winter.


Planting garlic cloves is very simple.  First, separate the cloves from each other, but do not peel them.  Generally, you will grow larger bulbs from the largest cloves. If space is at a premium in your garden as it is in mine, I recommend planting just the largest cloves.  Now, make a hole for each of your cloves so the the tip of the clove will be about 2.5cm (1in) deep.  Space these holes about 5cm (2in) apart.  Space them further, 15cm (6in) apart and in rows 30cm (12in) apart if you are planting into the ground instead of a container.  Put one clove in each hole with the pointed (or sprouted) end up and cover with about 2.5cm (1in) of soil.  That’s it!  Like with other plants or seedlings, covering these with horticultural fleece will help prevent birds and foxes from pulling up up your newly planted cloves.


Garlic needs plenty of water during it’s growing season between March and June.  That said, make sure not to overwater as high moisture levels and low light can cause leaf rust.  Ideally you want the soil wet, but not soggy throughout their growing period.  Make sure to keep the garlic planter well weeded because garlic has long, thin, straight leaves that make them vulnerable to being smothered by weeds.  Once the green leaves of the garlic stop growing and start to yellow a bit, stop watering.  This will keep the bulbs from rotting at the neck.


Harvesting full garlic bulbs requires some patience as it can take up to 7 months for your bulbs to reach maturity.  You will know it is time to harvest your garlic when the leaves have turned completely yellow.  This will be sometime in July or August, depending on when you planted your bulbs.  Harvest your garlic when the weather is dry and gently loosen them out of the soil with a garden fork as they bruise very easily.  Shake off the loose soil and leave them out to dry on the surface of the soil for a few hours.  Next you will need to dry out (“cure”) your garlic in a protected airy space for about three weeks.  Whey they are nice and dry, you can trim the tops and roots off and store them.  

You can also harvest garlic shoots while they are still green and enjoy them much like you would chives.  Cut off shoots that are about 4 inches tall and make sure to never take more than 1/3 of the plant at a time.  Doing this will likely make the bulb smaller. You can always plant those smaller garlic cloves and use them in this way rather than harvesting them as a bulb in the summer.


Store the garlic as whole bulbs as once you remove a clove from a bulb the broken head will only keep for about 3 to 10 days.  Light and moisture can cause mould to grow on the garlic. Make sure to put the bulbs in a basket or open paper bag to allow for air to circulate around them. Put them somewhere dark, but at room temperature, like a cupboard or pantry. If you have 10 or more bulbs, plaiting them and hanging them makes an attractive storage solution.

A 2020 round up

We thought we’d do a bit of a round up of the year, so you can see what we’ve been up to, so here goes – 

In the days before covid (remember them?), we hosted our annual seed swap at the Garden Museum, with over 50 people attending.

With the help of an initial crowdfund for a pilot and then London Funders Covid Emergency funding, we delivered a pack of 7 or 8 different veg seeds, compost and trays to 170 households throughout Lambeth. We believe (through testimonials) that the resulting seedlings reached a further 700 or so people across the borough. We’ve continued to supply veg seedlings through another wave of funding and are now working with a further 70 new growers. 

Through the platform of zoom, we have hosted five ‘Lambeth Food Stories’ (that have ranged from stories from amazing people distributing food during covid, to the biodiversity emergency – and what we can do about it, to hearing from this year’s food growers, to understanding why saving seed is so important, and finally, our Blooming Lambeth award winners gave us an insight into their gardening year, with an online event which 69 people attended).

With financial support from Lambeth Council, we have distributed 17 one tonne bags of compost to anyone who requested it. Also in partnership with the Council, we ran the ever popular Blooming Lambeth Awards last month, distributing prize money that amounted to £1950.  

All this has meant that our membership has grown by 200 to 490 individuals and from 72 to 103 group members. We really value our members and hope that you too are benefitting from being a part of this growing community. We have ambitious plans for 2021, which we hope you will be a part of, transforming our estates into places where food is grown, where nature will thrive and where communities come together to enjoy the green spaces on their doorstep.

Grow Back Greener on our estates!

We are SO excited to have been awarded funding by the Mayor of London’s Grow Back Greener fund! As one of only 34 projects in London, we plan to create spaces for nature and food growing on Lambeth housing estates. We will develop a template of engagement between housing officers, residents and grounds maintenance which will be a catalyst for transforming how housing land is managed across the borough.

This award enables six estates across the borough (four Council and two Housing Association) to develop their land with these three aims in mind: improve biodiversity, develop a food growing space and, as a result, help reduce climate change.

Our ambition is to bring housing officers, grounds maintenance contractors and residents together to develop a strategy that considers all three aims. We hope that by creating beautiful growing spaces, other residents will notice the difference, be inspired, start to ask questions and want to be involved in a new way of thinking about their community space.

If you’d like to get involved with this project, then read the job description here (this job has now been filled)

We are very grateful to the Mayor of London’s Fund


Planting your Winter Veg

We have been busy delivering winter seedlings to our members who are growing with us this winter. We sent them spring cabbage, mizuna, spinach, and spring onions

For all of you growing with us this winter, we have put together this video and the following instructions on how to plant your seedlings.

Planting Instructions

1. Pre-Water:

Before you plant your seedlings, give them a very good watering.

2. Prepare the soil:

If you are planting your seedlings in the ground, dig planting holes in the garden bed with a trowel. Make each hole the same depth as the seedling’s container and space the holes according to the type of seedling:

Spring Cabbage: 30 – 40 cm apart
Spinach: 20 cm
Spring onions: 15 to 20cm
Mizuna: 15cm

You can plant them a little closer, but most will grow bigger with more space.

All of these veg will do well in containers (though will grow a bit smaller).  As with planting in the garden, dig planting holes with a trowel to the same depth as the seedling’s container.  For the cabbages, I recommend growing one cabbage per 40cm diameter by 40cm height pot as they need quite a bit of room.  If the cabbage is grown closer it may not make a cabbage head, but you can still harvest and eat the leaves.  You can also make a rather attractive edible container by mixing some of the seedlings together (I have done this with my veg as you can see in the instruction video).

These plants will do well in all-purpose potting soil and there is no need to mulch or fertilise them now as they will not require food until spring.

3. Plant:

For the Mizuna, carefully ease the seedlings out of the tray they were growing in and gently tease them apart. For all the other seedlings, carefully hold onto the seed leaves of your seedling and use a pencil or chopstick to ease the plant out of the compost, retaining as much root as possible. Always lift your seedlings one at a time and never hold by the stem or roots, as you can easily damage the plant.  Carefully slide the seedling into the hole you dug and then gently but firmly push the soil in around it until the seedling is well supported.  Do not be tempted to bury the stem to provide more support for these plants as you would with something like a tomato, as that can cause the stem to rot.

4. Water:

Gently water the freshly planted seedlings.  Our family likes to use a little watering can we make ourselves out of used milk bottles.  We poke several holes with something fine, like at pin, into the lid which makes for a soft spray of water that is gentle on your little plants.  

These seedlings will grow slowly over the winter and will be mature, ready for harvest in the spring.

Special notes:

The seedlings would be best positioned in an area protected from wind and the harshest of the winter weather.

Pigeons and foxes love fresh dirt and seedlings!  If your seedlings are in an area where birds or foxes might be able to access them, please try and protect the seedlings by covering them with mesh or garden fleece. 

An example from one of our members:

You won’t need to worry too much about light needs for the seedlings at the moment, but make sure that in the early spring they will be in a location that will get as much of the spring sunshine as possible.

Good luck to all our growers with their seedlings! We look forward to updating you and our growing community with their progress.

‘Growing our Communities’ is funded by the London Community Foundation

Name that winter veg!

For our winter growing this year we provided four different types of vegetables:

Winter Veg Seedlings 2020

Here is a little information about each including the variety (where there is one), growing habits, and a bit about what they might taste like.

Spring Cabbage (Caraflex F1):
Spring cabbages grow slowly over the winter and are harvested from late February through to the beginning of June. They form mild, tender, small heads which are usually conical in shape and loose leafed. They are often also called spring greens or collards.

Spring onions (White Lisbon):
Spring onions, also known as scallions or green onions, are harvested when they are very young, before the bulb has had a chance to swell. They are much milder than other onions and the entire onion, both the bulb and the long green tops, is edible. They are very tasty raw or cooked.

Spinach (Giant Winter):
Considered to be a superfood by many, spinach is a dark green, leafy vegetable loaded with vitamins and nutrients. It can be grown to produce a crop all year round. Just harvest a few leaves at a time once they are large enough to pick.

Mizuna is a Japanese green leafy vegetable with a distinctive peppery flavour. It grows in bunches from a centre stalk with long stems. The beautiful leaves have lots of sections to them and look slightly feathery or fringed. Mizuna is often used fresh in salads or cooked for stir-fries and the young flowering stems can be cooked like broccoli.

Now you know a bit about these seedlings, continue on to find out how to plant them.

‘Growing our Communities’ is funded by the London Community Foundation

Winter and Spring veg seedlings offer

In the next fortnight we will be distributing free winter vegetable seedlings across the borough. Would you like to receive a few trays?

Growing veg isn’t just for the spring and summer. There are lots of different delicious veg that can be grown in the winter too! When lockdown started, we reached out to the community to help us grow food for our neighbours. We were thrilled that 150 of our members took part. Help us continue this amazing success. You don’t have to be an expert gardener. We have already started you off by growing the seedlings for you. We will provide you with 3 or 4 seedlings (Spring Cabbage, Spinach, Mizuna and Spring Onions), along with lots of support through ‘how to’ video clips, easy growing tips and cheap solutions for even more home grown veg.

Sign up to receive your free seedlings.

Registration is now full!

Thank you to everyone who signed up to grow winter veg! We are incredibly pleased to say that our registrations have already reached the number of seedlings available. We have closed registration for this round and will be soon be starting our next set of seedlings which will be ready for early spring. We will send out a notification to our members when the next sign up is open.

Not yet a member? Join us now. Membership is free!

‘Growing our Communities’ is funded by the London Community Foundation

Gentle Gardening at Bernie Spain Gardens

Two women gardening; one holding a trowel

Here’s a chance to learn a little more about this very beautiful garden on the South Bank, on the boundary with Southwark.

Local green spaces bring much needed colour and vibrancy to urban environments. Volunteering in community gardens like Bernie Spain has therapeutic benefits, helping alleviate isolation and depression though the combination of gentle exercise, getting outside, growing plants and social interaction. Read more about why Bernie Spain Gardens are a hidden oasis along the South Bank.

Could you tell us a little about the Bernie Spain Garden and in particular the Gentle Gardening group?

In 2014 a community garden was created within the south park, supported by Bankside Open Spaces Trust. Gentle Gardening sessions are held weekly on Tuesday mornings (but obviously it’s tricky right now with the covid restrictions).

Why do you think it’s important to have this food growing space in this very urban environment?

Because many of the volunteers that join the sessions have no garden of their own and have limited opportunities to grow their own food. This regular session provides a chance to connect with what we are eating, to learn about the seasons – and we think the food tastes so much better if we’ve grown it ourselves.

We feel that food growing is a great way of connecting with nature – we have come to realise that if we don’t look after the soil and the wildlife (we love to watch the sparrows, bees and butterflies), the crops don’t grow so well – we know that everything is connected.

What are your biggest challenges?

The garden is in a public park which means it is open at all times. This means we can suffer from anti-social behaviour, rubbish and occasional theft (we are still mourning a rhubarb plant that was stolen last year). It also means that it is more difficult for us to put in some features that we would like, such as a pond and wormery! 

And what are your greatest successes?

Each season has its own successes, and things that could have gone better!  Recent achievements have been putting in a bug hotel and planting four new fruit trees in partnership with the Orchard Project. The main success is the way the group works together, learning so much about gardening and about the site and what will grow best. The sessions include gardening outside if the weather is good or projects inside in bad weather, over a shared lunch. Volunteers develop skills in gardening and outdoor education, often taking plants home to grow. These sessions make a real difference to the lives of vulnerable and isolated people in the local area and have been described as a lifeline during COVID-19.

What is most helpful about being involved with Incredible Edible Lambeth?

During lockdown, we have all needed to support each other and learn new ways of working. Through IEL, we like having connections with other local gardens, being able to visit and see what they do is really inspiring. 

And what’s next for Bernie Spain Garden?

We are seeking funding from the Council and the Lord Mayor’s Fund for a “Pollinator Garden” which will focus on biodiversity, sustainability and community. It will transform the northern part of the garden. You can support the Gardens by going here