The story of Old Wood Organic is a covid lockdown story of extraordinary transformation.
A bracken-filled clearing in a small area of woodland has made way for a productive, organic garden, and is already beginning to supply restaurants and individuals in Lincoln with just-picked organic salad and veg, delivered by bicycle. I think that counts as zero food miles, do you?
Living in Harmony with the Land and Nature
Ben and Atma’s woodland garden is a project of “reclaiming our natural heritage; living in harmony with the land and nature.”
Spending more time in the woods, and growing food there, is deepening their relationship with the land. There is much to learn, much to observe, and a thousand ways to interact, experiment and explore.
It is a journey of reimagining and rediscovering how to live, not just in the woods, but as part of it.
Remembering that we humans are part of the ecosystem.
The 5.3 acres of woods have been owned by Ben’s family for 35 years, and once adjoined his childhood home. It was – and still is – his playground (and their soon-to-be-born child’s playground) as well as their workplace. The house is long sold, but not the woods.
The idea of organic growing – in particular, the no dig method advocated by Charles Dowding – has been on their minds for some time. They noticed how much money they were spending on organic food from shops and organic veg boxes, and far it had travelled to get to them, and how disconnected they felt from the growers.
Then Covid happened; Ben’s previous work dried up.
The no-dig garden
Lockdown came as a prompt and an opportunity: to make the dreaming a reality. And the Spring and Summer months of 2020 have brought them a long way.
The clearing in the woods is big enough to ensure high levels of light, but it is also very sheltered. On a windy day (I should know – I cycled here myself!) there is barely a breath of breeze in the garden.
I contrast this to a couple of the windswept allotments I have visited recently. It’s a productive spot for growing. And an idyllic spot for working – warm and calm. My coat and cardi were off in no time.
There are mountainous piles of bracken slowly becoming next year’s compost.
There is a greenhouse, gifted by a neighbour, and cleaned up and rebuilt to accommodate dozens of seedlings – it is alive with the second Spring.
There is a grassy area, left wild, where rabbits play and feast.
And there are rows and rows of veg.
The intercropping is arranged neatly and with care in the black soil, and there is neither a weed nor slug-damage in sight.
The traditional arrangement of the three sisters – corn, beans and squash – is well appropriated.
Carrots are intercropping with thriving endive.
Marigolds bloom amid the tomatoes.
Salad veg line up alongside beetroot and potatoes.
Ben lifts some potatoes. They spill copiously from the crumbly soil, almost clean and smelling wonderfully earthy.
Young apple trees grow within the veg beds, too young to cast much shade, but their roots reaching much deeper than those of the young veg growing in the thick layer of compost around them.
Planning for Zero Waste
The planning of the garden is thoughtful, deliberate, and also dynamic and experimental. They show me the first draft of their plans (which betray the artist’s hand – Ben is also a painter).
“You always have to think ahead, you have to be planning and sowing about six weeks before space in the beds becomes free,” Ben says, “I think I need a circular plan!” Or perhaps a spiral one…
Nature creates no waste, and the aim here is for a waste free, circular ecosystem. There’s a compost toilet among the trees, and water storage is in a reclaimed IBC.
Ben and Atma are discovering uses and inventing new purposes for everything. The bracken that is in such great abundance here becomes rich compost, and also thatch or cob for the building of the forester’s hut that they are also working on. Bottles also get integrated.
At the moment, the forester’s hut is a rough timber skeleton, circular, with a reciprocal roof. The traditional building methods are slower, more painstaking than modern building, and I’m well aware that this represents a lot of work. I enjoy the beauty of the materials and organic form. It’s going to be gorgeous!
Ben and Atma welcome visitors – if you’d like to pay them a visit or buy some produce, contact them via Facebook, and give them a Like and a Follow to keep up with their work. You can also eat Old Wood Organic salad at Bailgate Deli, Stokes and the Tower Hotel.
Ben’s tips for getting started
As always, I ask for top tips for beginners, and Ben’s tips are from the heart of the no-dig approach:
1. Build your own compost
First, start building compost. This is pertinent to dreamers even before taking on an allotment or growing project. Do it now. Everyone can do this right away. Get a kitchen bin for (uncooked) food scraps and peelings. Also, get a Charles Dowding book.
That’s a verb, but the way. Use a thick layer of cardboard and cover it with six inches (15cm) compost. If you use well rotted compost, you can plant into it right away (hence the priority order of these tips). If you don’t have rotted compost, you can cover it with a deep layer of leaves, grass cuttings, bracken, whatever green waste you have available to you.
To find more tips and inspiration from local growers, check out our blog.
If you are growing or making good use of food in Lincoln, and would be willing to share your story and help inspire others to grow and eat good, local food, I’d like to hear from you.