Fruit Tunnel at Hopwood Kitchen Garden

The Hopwood Kitchen Gardens is an extensive five acre site, it is presently being brought back into life with plans to supply our local kitchen. We want to make our food a go to destination and this is starting to happen with an influx of volunteers to work beside the students learning to manage the kitchen garden and getting a qualification at the end of it all. The students here are being given the opportunity not just to manage areas of the kitchen garden but to plan, deliver and implement a sales package to bring fresh produce to thousands of people. We know we are covered for vegetables in our outdoor production but we have sat down and spoken with the college chef, and he's mentioned fruit and herbs a few times - we've decided where the herbs will go but the fruit? In rides the Lone Ranger to point from his horse the open sided polytunnel that sits at the top of the site. He knows the way the sun rises, he says, he knows where it sets. He knows orientation. He doesn't need a compass, he just needs soft fruit and a desire to make do and mend. He jumps from his horse, Trigger, into one of the drainage ditches on the site, pulling in several students to help him and he returns to with several floor beams, a railway sleeper and missing parts of the open sided polytunnel. He's our man, he's the Lone Ranger*. The Lone Ranger by night is a spore hunter, he rides into the forest and looks for ferns, he wants to ride out of here one day and straight into Kew. He has ambition. Now he has the new fruit tunnel and that means learning a new skill. He gathers students to him, with swift hand signs and smoke signals, he tells them: clear open sided polytunnel, take kale to animals, take what is left to the compost heaps - reuse, recycle and repurpose. He's big on the latter.

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We need mulch, lots of mulch, we've emptied one large compost bay, shifting around twenty tons of well rotted manure and now we're into the second bay and another twenty tons of the good stuff. Good until we hit a rhea egg, an intact and fetid stink bomb that is broken in two by a sharp spade. The stench hits you down wind, up wind and within a five mile vicinity. Yet, the Lone Ranger stays calm, measuring tape in hand he is surveying the open sided polytunnel, he makes notes in his book, tests the soil between finger and thumb, and reacts to the stench like he's batting away a fly. The reactions from the rest of students nearby float back to us, they range from the dry gagging we can hear coming from the compost heap - the epicentre stench being so great that they have skipped vomiting to the aftermath - to two people tending to the ponies around ten minutes stern walk away who scream and promptly faint. The egg has to be tactfully and at arm's leg offered back to the wild before a quick sprint back to a civilisation that lingers with that rhea stench. The Lone Ranger tuts and talks of blackcurrants to be dug up and moved. There is pruning to be done after the mulch has ended. The mulch will come to an end, in a few days we will hit the back of the compost bin wall but the first bay is already half full again and in six months we will have more compost.

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The heavens open and washes away the rhea egg smell to reveal a wonderful rainbow over the kitchen garden and the Lone Ranger just shrugs, for him it is all about the soft fruit now and how much each plant will cost, each berry, each leaf, each flower that will become something to take into the kitchens here. He has no time for such things, he is of the earth now, he rolls in it in his sleep, it haunts his dreams.

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The Lone Ranger watches the rainbow fade away and then he sends smoke signals to his cowboy friends and they are there, spades in one hand, blackcurrants in the other. The Lone Ranger shows them how to plant, where to plant, why to plant now (and we should all be planting soft fruit now). Get out into the garden now, dig a hole, plant some fruit!

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The after effect is startling, the Lone Ranger mounts up, handing down a list of plants he wants, he needs to fill this tunnel, help Hopwood Kitchen Garden to take shape, and with that he is gone as the first storm blows in.

*please note for the purpose of safeguarding we never use the real name of students or show them in close up. We'd like to thank a great team of students and staff who are helping to change the direction of the garden. Thanks for your patience and support.

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