Category Archives: Social Space

June 15th and 16th

The previous evening (June 15th), Ella Montt had travelled with William Morris up the river to visit a group of humans who wished to hear Morris speak at a social space. The place was where it is oval down by the gasworks, a short walk from the river. Whilst Morris spoke, they had left his rowing boat tied up by a bridge in Vauxhall. The humans at the social were a mixed group of individuals who sort alternatives to the labour machines that they were reliant upon. William Morris explained the folly of over production or mass production of the commodity as opposed to the process of hand-printing wall paper and fabric in complicated 32 colour block designs. It was not just the aesthetic; the process of which although exacting was nevertheless purposeful and time consuming, but in terms of employment in time hours it allowed an hour or two left over in the day for cultivation of plant matter at the allotment. After the social event, Morris was sleepy and Ella Montt had to row back down the river, so she switched the boat to fast forward mode and they returned in no time. William Morris rolled himself in his carpet and slumbered peacefully under the Mulberry Tree. Ella Montt left him there and tuned into an electronic headset and processor.

June 16th – At Allotment Plot at MERL, Ella Montt removed the net that had been surrounding the Peas, then harvested Broad Beans and Peas. It was no accident that the words “botany” and “starch”, kept repeating themselves over and over again in Ella Montt’s head, she was under the influence of prescheduled programming and imagining the starch molecules moving inside the living plants. If she stared hard enough, perhaps she would see them. It is the plant starch that is part of photosynthesis that is keeping us all alive. The ability of plants to convert light, oxygen and water and to absorb carbon dioxide never ceased to amaze Ella Montt as she worked in the garden.

Eve Balfour strolled across the garden to check on her Potatoes and ask about the Oak Trees seedlings that Ella Montt was collecting from sprouting acorns at Plot 326. Beuys was interested in Ella Montt planting them in the field at the Farm to replace the collapsed 1000 year old tree. More plant residue was removed from one area of the Plot and placed in the Brick Composter to become another part of the Plot, an evolving ecotope. Ella Montt planted out Celery Tall Utah and Celeriac Ibis seedlings echoing the action that had taken place at Allotment Plot 326 on the 11th June. 1 x Koralik Tomato plant was planted within the row of Tomato plants beneath the large Bamboo Tripod.

John Ray, Carl Linnaeus, Philip Miller were standing across the garden discussing loudly their theories and evidence that constructed the science of plants. The Three had recently watched a BBC television program on Botany that presented their work to a 21st century audience and they were somewhat excited about re-comparing their findings even though they were several hundred years old. Tansley (also a Botanist), appeared at MERL’s reading library window. He climbed out and crossed the lawn so that he could converse with The Three on Ecosystems and the plant as a machine.

Meanwhile, Ella Montt had shifted 6 x 9ft dark Bamboo canes to MERL’s garden to become part of the Plot. One 9ft cane was added to each of the six smaller Bamboo cane arrangements so that they individually now contained four sticks of Bamboo. Ella Montt tied each Bamboo cane arrangement together with stripes of strong plant material that had been taken from a tropical plant near the fixed-up-greenhouse at another location. The Bamboo constructions became stronger and connected to the energy levels above the Plot.

Ella Montt removed slugs and snails from the Peas and placed them in a different area of the garden. Pot Marigold and Borage flower buds were starting to open. The visitors to the garden drifted off to their resting places. Then a vent in the sky opened and it rained.

Harvest: Broad Beans = 4oz = 100g; Peas (various mix) = 1lb = 450g.

Plot 326

Plot 326 tenancy started on 24th August 2010. The key to the plot arrived in the mail on 27th August and the first visit to the new Plot took place on the 28th August, subsequent visits to the Plot have taken place since then and will continue on a regular basis. The whole Allotment site is extensive and the waiting list for this particular site at Bulmershe is long and now at the numerical figure of 88. When Ella Montt signed up to the waiting list in November 2010 the waiting list was half the number as it currently stands, this would suggest that there is a fairly active turnover of Plot holders, but it may also suggest that individual flux is a reality in society as a whole and that static living is not a common factor for many.

Allotment Plot 326

Gaining tenancy was and still is an exciting moment for Ella Montt who now became an Allotment Holder. The experimental Plot at MERL will now have a research area not just in the historic garden at MERL, but Ella Montt would also become part of or linked in to Allotment History on a town site that has been in existence for many years, a space that has much history of its own. Ella Montt will share the people’s rights to growing space for food. Allotments in the United Kingdom were originally set up for the working classes, poor or unemployed people when they were denied access to land through the Inclosure Acts. The parliamentary Acts were a gradual process from medieval times but the passing of these Acts accelerated around the 18th to 19th Century. The rich often appropriated Common Land that was once open to all and the people were denied access to growing space or to forage for fuel wood and food. A mass exodus from the rural areas at this time, because of lack of work and means of support coincided with industrial revolution, towns and cities began to grow rapidly, and space was needed as part of both the rural village and urban areas for the workers or unemployed to grow food for subsistence.

Allotment 3/9/10

Various Allotment Acts were passed over many years to allow the right to land with in a given area. Much like strip farming of medieval days this land was divided up and rented to the Growers. During the 1914-18 War, because food was needed, the demographic of allotment holder grower changed to be not just the poor, but also anyone who was able to implement this action. In WW2 1939-45 Allotment land was converted from any land, garden, or park space that could be made available. The need for food is universal, so this was a parallel affect in other countries affected by war at this time.

The popularity of access to Allotment space comes and goes. For some individuals they have asserted their right to this growing space for many years. In recent years awareness that being able to grow ones own food can be beneficial in many ways. It is an enjoyable way to maintain health through outdoor activity, food can be grown without the use of pesticides or genetic modification, biodiversity and wildlife can be encouraged through companion planting, one can grow food without contributing to air miles, the food tastes better than anything bought from a supermarket, the food is fresher, one will know how it is grown, it can be an act that deflates the power of the supermarket through autonomy, but does not support individuals who are in business as Growers. An Allotment site is a social space, in order to maintain an individual Plot and achieve vegetable self-sufficiency it takes planning and labour.

Allotment Plot 326 3/9/2010

The first visit to Plot 326 was the start of a new adventure. On entering the big iron gates a series of social interactions was initiated, including welcoming deposits of runner beans and over sized courgettes from various other Allotment Holders. Ella Montt’s Plot was at the furthest end of the field site. A timely reminder was noted that panniers would be needed on the bike for transporting various items both to and from the Plot. With assistance from a map of the Allotment space and another Allotment Holder the Plot‘s position was defined. A survey of the new Plot discovered that it was cultivated in a small percentage area by the previous tenant, but the majority of the Plot space was covered in weed plants with bountiful seed heads and brambles.

An Apple Tree is at one end of the Plot. The tree is over grown and in need of pruning with some of its boughs trailing onto the floor. When the tree was flowering in Spring it must have been covered in blossom, because now it is covered in Apples, which unfortunately, because of it being over grown and over capacity, means a lot of the Apples are being wasted on the ground. Some of the fruits have since been gathered but as yet it is too early for them to be ripe and because they are eating apples they are not fluffy when they are cooked, but they are usable for cooking. It was reported from the Allotment Holder at 328A that last year there was only one Apple on the tree and in October it was very tasty.

Apple Tree on the Allotment

Working on the Allotment Plot has revealed the soil seems good, but the Plot is known to flood in the winter. Gradually the Plot will be dug over, a choice was made not to rotovate it, because although rotovation would break up the soil quickly it would turn the seed heads and brambles under the soil, which will create even more work at a later date. The next few weeks will see more space clearing when time allows in preparation for over wintering vegetables and fruit planting.

Allotment 06/09/2010

MERL Allotment and Plot 326

At the Allotment Plot on 27th August 2010, after a few days of consistent rain, Ella Montt observed that the Climbing Beans had not yet taken full advantage of the horizontal bamboo canes that were erected on a previous visit. The Beans continued to reach for the sky in the style of a Jack and the Beanstalk action. The Fenugreek seeds have sprouted and are growing.

Beans Reaching for the Sky

Fenugreek Seedlings

The day was a historic for Ella Montt in terms of the Allotment Plot and Allotment history. A new part of the Plot revealed itself. Earlier in the week, an electronic notification in the form of email had declared to Ella Montt that Allotment Plot tenancy was imminent at one of Reading town’s Allotment sites. On the 27th August before arriving at the Plot at MERL the tenancy agreement had arrived in the mail, along with the new Allotment key for Plot 326. At the time of signing up to the Allotment waiting list in November 2009, there were at least 38 individuals on the list for this particular Allotment site; in early August the numbers on that list for that site had risen to 75. The numeric nature of the list suggests that Allotment holders come and go, some have the same plot for years, others are in transit and the Allotment is a fleeting part of their reality. Allotment history is written into the tenancy agreement the dates of Acts passed in 1908 and 1950 it seems are still relevant today. The Allotment Plot and the work of Ella Montt will expand to work both the MERL Allotment and Plot 326.

Ella Montt adjusts the focus of the Plot to examine the growing activity on the Plot at MERL. Small Sweetcorn ears are forming. The Pepper plant looks like it was a one Pepper wonder, the weather conditions are defeating the plant, it is perhaps to cool now at night to allow the plant to flourish and produce more flowers for fertilization, the Aubergine is also not succeeding to produce fruit even though it flowered a few weeks a go. All other vegetable plants are achieving produce, but not at an accelerated rate. A surprise Cucumber is discovered. Cucumbers can be a resilient and pro active in their growing procedures. A Blue Lake Climbing Bean has decided to grow using a Sunflower as a physical support. Beneficial insects are actively enjoying the Pot Marigolds and the Sunflowers.

Pot Marigold and Insect Sunflower and Insects

Harvesting commenced: French Climbing Beans Blue Lake 14oz = 400grams; Blauhide = 3oz = 90grams; Rainbow Chard = 2oz = 60grams; Tomatoes = 13oz = 370grams; Courgette 1.5oz = 40grams; Kale Pentland Brig 1.5oz = 40grams; Pot Marigold seeds = 1oz = 20grams.

Garlic Harvest a Performance

Allotment (1) took place on 8 July 2010 at Allotment Plot @MERLReading; the Garlic and Radar Onions were harvested. Please note this action was filmed as a Performance and will be shown in exhibition format at a later date.

Onion Radar

Before the performance Ella Montt was sitting in the shade of the Mulberry tree and made the following observations about the Allotment Plot. The day started off slightly damp and cooler to the previous high temperature, but by 11am on arrival at the Plot, the clouds had started to drift apart a little to let the sun break through. The humidity in the Garden at MERL had rocketed and the atmosphere was sweating. Borage and Pot Marigolds continue to flower and bees are visiting. Cosmos and Nasturtium flowers have also blossomed, but the plants growth seems somewhat stunted as does much of the vegetables, presumably because lack of moisture in the soil. All plants are steadily yet slowly growing. Brassicas are recovering under the influence of the heavy metal CDs, which have deterred or maybe thwarted the Pigeons appetites. Tomatoes are beginning to flower and fruits form, the side shoots will not be removed from the plants, they will be allowed to bush out in all directions.

Squash Flower allotment107

During the Garlic and Onion harvesting Performance sentences from Deluzes & Guattari book A Thousand Plateaus – Rhizome were recited pertaining to the Rhizome and plant life. The book became buried under the Garlic and Onion bulbs. The recorded results for the harvest were as follows:

Onions Radar originally planted 36 sets. Onions Radar harvested 20 bulbs with stalks = 1lb 8oz = 680grams once stalks were removed bulbs weighed 1lb 5oz = 600grams

Garlic Thermidrome, 14 cloves were originally planted. Garlic Thermidrome harvested 13 cloves which weighed 12oz = 320grams.

Garlic Sprint, originally planted 15 cloves, harvested 14 cloves which weighed 13oz = 360grams. Garlic Sprint 14 Scapes harvested which weighed 4oz = 100grams.

Some Rainbow Chard was also harvested which weighed 6 oz = 180grams.

Garlic Harvest

This week Detroit featured in an interesting article on urban regeneration through food growing in empty spaces. The decline of the car industry in the town has made way for food cultivation. Any where that can grow plants that can be harvested as free food for local people is shaping how we can live outside of business consumed society.

Allotment July2Allotment July

Allotment Before Significant Snowfall

On Tuesday 5th January the allotment was visited before the subsequent significant evening snowfall. An hour after the visit, the snow started to fall. By morning Reading was covered in a thick blanket of 8-10 inches of snow.

At the time of the visit all the vegetables were remarkably still alive. The broadbeans and garlic looked very healthy, but the peas looked like they are suffering from frost damage.

Peas and Broadbeans

Three days later, the snow has not melted. The UK and indeed much of the northern hemisphere have been engulfed by freezing temperatures. Business is not as usual for many in the UK, because roads are hazardous with snow. The largest snowfall in thirty years in the UK or the freezing winter temperatures were unpredicted, these conditions are the weather, they do not indicate climate change is not warming and if anything are all part of that, because the southern hemisphere is experiencing higher temperatures than ‘normal’ for this time of year.

How weather conditions affect society as behavorial patterns adept to limitations of conventional activity through commerce and consumption is played out through profit and loss. Vegetations slow growth, in winter’s freezing and snowy conditions, lies dormant. However if the plant is not one that over winters this can result in demise and crop failure.

The winter spinach plants on the allotment plot were not planted earlier enough to provide food for winter, but their growth may increase if the weather becomes warmer.

Spinach Seedlings

Allotment Frost

Snowfall – Winter on the Allotment

Winter arrived at the Allotment in the form of snowfall during the night of the 17th December 2009. The snow was beautiful in it’s natural state creating an unexpected winter wonderland, however the streets and pavements of Reading became a treacherous mess for human activity. On Monday 22nd December further snowfall in and around Reading resulted in the town grinding to a halt in gridlock. Pre Christmas consumerism and everyday necessity meant that there were many cars on the road and the snow’s affect resulted in hazardous conditions. The snow soon turned into thick ice that was left unattended and remained that way for almost a week before rain melted it and washed it away.

MERL has been closed over the festive season, tomorrow it will reopen and plant growth observation can recommence. Will the peas and beans have been killed yet by the frost? Winter is known as the gardeners slow time in activity. It is a time for planning for the months ahead. If one has winter vegetables, which are a vital source of nutrients, harvesting can go on throughout the year. The frost and snow increases the sweetness of the leafy greens and root vegetables such as parsnips, however if the ground is frozen solid, digging the latter can become problematic.

Snowfall on the AllotmentSnowfall in MERL's Garden

Snowfall on Peas

‘Farmville’ Perception of Virtual Food Growing

Arts and Ecology posted a link to the doors of perception today on twitter about “Farmville” the largest game application used on Facebook, 62 million people have signed up to the application since June 2009, 22 million people on average are logging on everyday to see how their crops are growing. The idea behind “Farmville” is that one has one’s own virtual growing space, one can plant seeds, harvest the crops before they die (the plants growth times are all time controlled), and one is able to give fruit trees and other gifts to friends and neighbours. Given the amount of individuals using the application, what does this say about human activity and growing space? It is a virtual reality, but is a major clue to social reinvention.

Allotment Undug Method

Guerrilla Gardening

Yesterday I went Guerrilla Gardening. The location was at the end of Cumberland Road just below School Terrace in Reading. The project was to weed a big neglected concrete tub, then to plant bulbs and other garden vegetation in it. Whilst I worked on the tub, various people spoke to me, most of them thanked me for what I was doing, a couple of kids ask me whether what I was doing was legal and I told them that I was the “Community Gardener”, (I think I should get a jacket of some sort with that name/ title printed on it). The soil was pretty good, I may take some extra peatfree compost down there at some point. I planted a selection of bulbs, including daffodils, tulips, and irises. I may add some other plants in the next week or so for more immediate interest.