Autumn 2017 Newsletter

It’s the day after our monthly Committee meeting. I still can’t believe we need them every month, nor that we still struggle to finish before 10pm! There is so much to do and a lot going on. The big news items are that we finally have the go ahead for our Civic Centre Community Garden and we have drunk beer made from our own hops!  But it’s all worth it when we harvest our crops:

In September, Hixberry Lane harvested the hops from our ten hop plants and delivered them to Farr Brew.

Each plant owner enjoyed three pints of beer as part of the brewery’s Hop Collective scheme. Much of this was drunk at the Hop Party at the Fighting Cocks as part of the St Albans Food & Drink Festival!

We have been regularly collecting spent hops from Farr Brew to help Hixberry’s heavy clay soil; just look at the result!

If only I knew how to cook them!

We shared our Harvest Festival with Friends and members children who gave us an excuse to update our scarecrow.

On 7 October, all Naomi’s perseverance paid off and FoodSmiles launched its Incredible Edible Civic Centre garden as part of St Albans Food Festival's 'Sustainable Saturday'! Some new faces came along to help us start turning this neglected bit of land into an abundant food garden right in the town centre. If it’s as successful as the Skip Garden I came across just north of Kings Cross station, we’ll be opening a FoodSmiles café soon!

The garden is right next to the main entrance to the Alban Arena so do have a look and perhaps join in our fortnightly weekend sessions.
The promised donations have now been received plus we are applying for grants.  We have already received £240 from Waitrose Community green disc scheme. All help is appreciated and if you'd like to get involved and/or make a donation towards setting up the gardens or if you know someone who might sponsor us, please get in touch:
Non-monetary donations would also be useful from compost, woodchip, stakes, battery operated tools, buckets to old tents. Please think outside the box and contact us if you think you have something useful or a contact who does. Thank you.

Our Incredible Edible site at Russell Avenue is on track to start next spring.

We recently hosted a talk by David Miveld, a local bee keeper, at the Courtyard Cafe. It was fascinating. Did you know that a hive can contain as many as 50,000 bees, and a large swarm could contain around 25,000 bees all of whose purpose is to protect the Queen?  

Our publicity activity is high. Andrew delivered a short presentation about Food Smiles as part of Sustainable Saturday at the Courtyard Café and Janet was on the radio again. Maybe this is why we are enjoying an influx of potential and new members. This is very encouraging and should mean we reach our 35 target by the end of the year. Hopefully, they won’t be too put off by the amount of weeding we are having to do as it’s so much better doing it with others!

...and to finish, here’s Alec’s latest seasonal recipe:

Spiced Pumpkin Soup with Bourbon

500g Pumpkin
200g White Onion
400ml Vegetable Stock
Splash Olive Oil
25ml Double Cream
½ tsp Smoked Paprika
¼ tsp Grated Nutmeg
Pinch of Salt
Parsley for Garnish
Bourbon to taste

Roughly dice the onion and start to sweat off in a pan with the oil. Peel, de-seed and dice the pumpkin and add to the pan. Add the stock and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down and let it simmer for 5 mins. Add the spices, cream and bourbon and use a hand blender to blitz the soup to smooth.
Serve with a swirl of cream and a sprinkle of parsley and paprika on top.

Date for your diary
All our members (this includes Friends of FoodSmiles) are welcome to attend our AGM on 1st February 2018. We would love to see you.

Forest Gardening

Our Incredible Edible Civic Centre garden is off to a flying start, with lots of plants in the ground already, and we've been delighted with the number of people helping out and showing an interest in the garden. But a surprising number of people have been rather shocked at the idea of us growing food in such a location. "You can't grow vegetables under trees," we've been told! "You're doing it all wrong!"

Yes, traditionally the veg patch goes in the sunniest part of the garden. Traditionally the soil is plied with compost and manure until it's rich and bursting with nutrition. Traditionally vegetables are grown in neat rows and square beds. But this is not the only way to grow plants, and those traditional vegetables are not the only edible crops out there... There are more than 50,000 edible plant species! How many do we find in the supermarket or in the traditional veg patch?

Forest gardening is a sustainable and low-maintenance food production system that mimics a natural woodland ecosystem, to make best use of space and resources. It's a permaculture approach, designed in harmony with nature to benefit both nature and humans. Nature has been growing plants a lot longer than we have, and much more efficiently - there is plenty we can learn by looking at how it does things!

Imagine walking through a woodland. The tree canopy above casts dappled shade and sunlight, which changes throughout the year. Between the trees there are shrubs and bushes, and either side of the path a mix of medium-height herbaceous plants and low-growing groundcover weeds. Ivy and other vining plants climb a few of the trees. Everything grows in harmony and plants sustain themselves and each other for many, many seasons without input from any human. There are no straight lines or squares, there's no digging or manure, there's a rich mix of plants growing close together in endless combinations. Now imagine every plant in this woodland is edible...

Diagram by Graham Burnett

Forest gardening has much in common with agroforestry, which is gaining popularity in many parts of the world. Trees are planted in rows between and across fields of more conventional crops, to provide habitat for predatory insects and birds, reduce evaporation, reduce soil erosion and run-off, provide shelter from the wind, provide an additional fruit or fuel crop - and the list goes on. By moving away from conventional industrial farming towards something that looks a little more like nature, farmers are taking better care of the earth and getting more from their land.

Our new garden will contain lots of tasty and nutritious edible plants that you may not have heard of before. Many are perennials (which last through winter and go on for many years), others spread by dropping their own seed to come up the next year, and we will sow just a few 'crowdpleasers' from seed each year. Some are native wild plants that you can actually find in the forest or woodland (wild garlic, wild strawberries, various purslanes). Some are traditional crops and herbs that have fallen out of popularity because they're slightly less tasty or efficient somehow than their modern counterparts, or, more likely, don't keep as well on the supermarket shelf (Good King Henry, sorrel, lovage). Some aren't that unusual at all; many familiar berries and leaf crops can thrive in partial shade. All are chosen to tolerate the shady environment under the trees, and to provide a harvest that's easily shared by many people (no cauliflowers or giant pumpkins!). Planting them jumbled together instead of in rows brings all the benefits of companion planting (attracting a variety of insects, being less vulnerable to pests, using different nutrients from the soil etc.) and means crop rotation isn't necessary. And between them, they'll provide food all year round, and create a richly diverse and interesting garden where there's always something new to discover.

Oh, it won't be perfect. Not every single plant will thrive here, and a few are bound to need some extra nourishment along the way, and I can't promise we'll get the minimal input/zero waste thing right from the word go. But it will find its balance, it will be educational and it will be bursting with good food.

EDIT: Now you can also look up all our plants by name in our Plant Index - please give it a try!

FURTHER INFO: You can find further details on our plants and other 'permaculture plants' in the Plants for a Future database. Plants for a Future is a charity with the aim of "researching and providing information on ecologically sustainable horticulture, as an integral part of designs involving high species diversity and permaculture principles" and is a wonderful source of information on over 7000 edible and medicinal permaculture plants.

For more on forest gardening, read this in-depth article.

For more on permaculture try this excellent free ebook by David Holmgren.

Join us for our Autumn 2017 Open Day

7 October 2017  2-4 pm  Hammonds End Farm, Harpenden, Herts, AL5 2AY

Come along for a free tour of our little farm in Harpenden. Refreshments provided.

At FoodSmiles members grow organic veg together, sharing skills and learning about growing, we share the harvest once a week.  Our main working parties are on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday afternoons.

Paths are uneven, please wear strong shoes.

Come and Grow - Incredible Edible launch!

At long last, we'll be launching our Incredible Edible Civic Centre garden on Saturday 7th October, as part of St Albans Food Festival's 'Sustainable Saturday'! Please come along 11am-2pm to help us start turning this neglected bit of land into an abundant food garden right in the town centre - or if you're not ready to get your hands dirty this time, just to pick up a flyer, take a look, see our plans and find out more. You'll find the garden right next to the main entrance to the Alban Arena.

Anyone who lives, works or plays in St Albans is invited to pick food from the garden, and to help out. We hope that it will bring local people together, provide free food for anyone who would like it, enhance the town centre, provide food and shelter for wildlife, and enable us to teach and share growing skills and promote the benefits of growing-our-own. The garden is small, but will have a rich mix of berry bushes, rhubarb, vegetables, herbs and edible flowers.

If you have any questions about the garden or would like to sign up for more news about both our community gardens, please email us at the address below.

Join us for an expert talk on Bee Keeping

Bee Keeping Talk

At Courtyard Café, Hatfield Rd, St Albans on Wednesday 20 September 10.30-11.30 am

Local bee keeper David Miveld will be sharing his knowledge and experiences of bee keeping in St Albans.

All Welcome – just £5 including coffee

Spaces are limited so to be sure you can join us, please email to book your place.

Incredible Edible... St Albans!

This summer, FoodSmiles will be transforming two unloved spaces in the heart of St Albans into two brand new community food gardens! In the style of Incredible Edible, they will be open to all: anyone who lives, works or plays in St Albans is invited to help out and to pick food from the gardens - and we'll be joining the Incredible Edible Network to promote them and link up with similar gardens. The gardens will bring local people together, and they'll provide free food for anyone who wants to take it. They'll also enhance the town centre, provide food and shelter for wildlife, and enable us to teach and share growing skills and promote the benefits of growing-our-own.

We're still bringing together the last few details, but we hope to be making a start on the gardens during the summer holidays (if not before). We've already been pledged significant donations from three local businesses: Aylett Nurseries will be providing us with tools and seeds to get us started, Carpenter's Nursery are giving us lots of berry, rhubarb and herb plants, and the Hare and Hounds are helping with a generous cash donation and a team of helpers for our launch day! However, we still need to raise up to £5000 for noticeboards and signage, raised beds and compost, and a few other bits. If you'd like to make a donation towards setting up the gardens or if you know someone who might sponsor us, please get in touch.

The first garden is on Russell Avenue, behind the multi-storey car park. A lot of it is shaded by trees so it will be suitable for a forest garden, featuring wild edibles among others, and a shade-tolerant berry and rhubarb patch. We'll also include a wildlife area, herb garden, raised vegetable beds and a flower border to support pollinators and catch the eyes of passersby!


The second garden is in the Civic Centre, next to the Alban Arena and a stone's throw from the council offices. It'll be a great place for lots of people to see what we're up to! It will include a similar variety of herbs, flowers, fruit bushes and low-maintenance veggies.


If you live, work or play in St Albans, these gardens are for YOU! If you're interested in getting involved it'd be great to hear from you. Please email us at the address below.

Join us for an Introduction to growing Asparagus

Introduction to growing Asparagus

At Hammonds End Farm, Harpenden, Herts AL5 2AY on 22 April 2017 1.30-3pm

You will learn about planting and looking after asparagus plants and plant an asparagus seed to take away. Suggested donation £3 per person.

Please wear shoes suitable for the garden. Places limited so please book via email:

Join us for our Community Food Gardens Talk

Community Food Gardens Talk

At Courtyard Café, Hatfield Rd, St Albans on Wednesday 5 April 10.30-11.30 am

Come and hear about the Incredible Edible garden in Dunstable and how you can soon get involved in St Albans. Food and Flowers to share, planted by the Community for the Community, enhancing the town centre and our lives. 
All Welcome – just £5 including coffee
Spaces are limited so to be sure you can join us, please email to book your place.

Join us for our 2017 Open Days

Wednesday 15th March, 2-5pm
Saturday 18th March, 2-5pm
Saturday 25th March, 2-5pm

FoodSmiles St Albans, Hammonds End Farm, Hammonds End Lane, off Redbourn Lane, Harpenden, AL5 2AY. When you enter the farmyard, turn left after the barn on the left and find us through the wooden gate. (Please drive very slowly in the farmyard area.)

Come along for a tour and to see what we do, or bring gardening gloves and get involved with the day's seasonal tasks, which will likely include sowing seeds for spring, planting out seedlings in a polytunnel, spreading manure and insulating the new compost bins. You'll also be welcome to ask questions about growing your own at home. 

Admission is free (though donations are welcome and will go towards helping us to expand).  
Tea will be provided, along with a selection of cakes made with vegetables! 

Strong shoes are essential as the ground can be uneven underfoot, and please bring gardening gloves if you'd like to join in with the work.

We look forward to seeing you there! 

New land!

We're looking forward to a few new projects at FoodSmiles this year, and the first is already underway: we're pleased to be taking on a patch of additional land at the CDA (Community Development Agency) garden on Hixberry Lane, St Albans.

The CDA garden was created on land provided by Oaklands College, and funded by St Albans District Council and other local partners. It aims to increase access to, and understanding of, nature and the environment, to help people develop growing skills, and to help people with economic and social disadvantages, and it already has several plots in use by community groups, a shared orchard, and beehives installed and looked after by a local beekeeper.

FoodSmiles are taking on a space providing eight additional veg beds, and the team has already made great progress preparing them for spring. The veg grown here will be added to our harvest boxes each week, and we'll be using them to boost our winter harvests in particular. We'll also help with the orchard at the garden and benefit from some of the fruit – and we're hoping to grow some hops here too as part of local brewer Farr Brew's 'Hop Collective'!

We're really pleased to have a site in St Albans at last, closer to all our St Albans members – though we'll still need some of them to help work our larger site in Harpenden too! – and we're looking forward to working more here at the CDA garden.