Eden Antics

First written and posted on 30th October, 2012. Please click here if you would like to read the original post on This and That.

It’s been ages since I last updated my blog, such a lot has happened in the space of two short months – I can’t believe how much my life has changed.

If you read my past few posts then you’ll know I’ve started an apprenticeship in horticulture at the Eden Project. I’ve been there for six weeks now, it’s surreal how quickly the time has flown by – I feel like I’ve been living in Cornwall for years!

I’m learning loads, more than I ever thought I would. Everyone at Eden is so welcoming and friendly, even though I’m the newbie they still make me feel included and part of the gang, which is what is making this apprenticeship even more amazing than I thought it would be.

The Green (horticulture) team is split up into eight different teams who all look after and maintain different areas of Eden. I will be spending six weeks in total with each team, going round them all in three week blocks – so far I’ve been working with one of the outdoor biome teams and with the Mediterranean biome team.

I’ve been doing a wide variety of things, homing in on skills I already have and learning completely new ones as well. The first three weeks I was outside with Kevin and his team – Duana, Rose and James. That first week was pretty mad, not only was I settling into a whole new way of life but I was also meeting new people, familiarising myself with a new routine and learning the ropes of a new job. I was introduced to so many people my mind was swimming with faces but I couldn’t remember the names of anyone!

As well as doing the usual chores like weeding and cutting back (a lot of pruning is done at this time of year) I’ve also learnt how to use a strimmer and a scythe! My team supervisor, Kevin, is an expert in scything – he even appeared as a scything peasant in the film Anna Karenina!

He’s been training everyone in the Green team this skill in an attempt to reduce Eden’s reliance on fossil-fuel-powered strimmers – he uses this technique to manage his 10 acre smallholding without machinery. It’s not as easy as it looks, there’s a definite and precise technique to scything, I’ve discovered!

Kev makes it look effortless, sweeping through the grass with a smooth rocking motion – almost like tai chi. I imagine it’s an art which, once you’ve got the hang of, is very therapeutic and relaxing to do – not to mention efficient and safer than strimming.

In September there was a special Harvest week at Eden, and I was delighted to get involved with it by helping hold a talk on garlic plaiting and onion tying with Duana – she is one seriously skilled horticulturist!

We demonstrated how to do it first of all (Duana was the plaiter, I was the tyer – I can barely plait my own hair let alone garlic!) then managed to get people enthused enough to have a go themselves, which was great.

In half an hour we had a boxful of expertly plaited garlic and tied onions – once you’ve got the method right it’s a really quick and effective way of storing onions and garlic for the winter.

James is in charge of an area of Eden called Global Gardens – it’s one of my favourite parts I worked in whilst I was on Kevin’s team, because it’s such an inspiring place for keen grow-your-own gardeners.

Each section of the garden is based on an allotment from a different part of the world – hence the global bit! Luckily I worked there plenty of times, planting up spring greens for next year and doing a never-ending job for any gardener – weeding!

I couldn’t believe how fast those first three weeks went, I was quite sad when it was my last day with Kev & co. Being in the Mediterranean biome was a complete contrast to what I had been doing outside which I loved – the variety of things to do at Eden has been keeping me on my toes!

Catherine and her team, Shirley, Rose and Matt were brilliant – they are all so knowledgeable and keen to pass on what they know, even if I didn’t know something really basic they were never patronising or made me feel stupid for not knowing something, which didn’t make me afraid from asking questions.

The Med biome is split into different areas which showcases specific plants – South Africa, Mediterranean, and California. I worked in all of those different areas, doing things from watering to stock-taking, pruning to pest checks!

The camaraderie in the whole team was great, Matt in particular was absolutely hilarious and such a laugh to work with – I felt like I fitted in after just a few days.

We even had a team-bonding morning where we all had a go on Eden’s famous skywire – it’s higher than the biomes and when I sailed straight over the top of them I could see right out to St Austell bay. I’ve never seen the sea from that angle before!

My favourite job I did whilst in the Med was stock-taking, without a doubt. Everyone except Catherine thought I was mad for liking it so much, mainly because it’s quite fiddly and is one of those jobs you have to finish once you get started.

We have a list of all the plants which are in every bed in the biome and basically we go through each bed and look for every plant which is on the list, and record what is, or isn’t, there, and then update the plant records.

The best part is scrabbling around in the beds looking for the labels to go with the plants – I felt like Indiana Jones at times, scrambling under trees and round bushes!

My knowledge of Latin plant names improved dramatically when doing stock-taking, it wasn’t as if I was simply learning the names from a book either, I could match the plant with the name which made it a practical and theoretical useful job to do.

The other thing I liked doing was checking the plants for pests and diseases – as they are under cover in the biome they are more likely to get infected with aphids, scale, mealy bug, red spidermite, leafhopper and caterpillars – I found all the former at one point or another within those three weeks!

Once we’d made a note of which plants were infected, we went round and distributed biological control – bugs which eat bugs, the predators of aphids etc, instead of using harsh chemicals which not only kill the pests but can also damage the plants as well.

Again I felt like I hadn’t had enough time in the Med biome, I could quite happily have spent forever in there! Catherine was a brilliant supervisor, she knew everything about anything plant-wise – she needs to write a book!

At the moment I’m on the Science team, which is a whole new experience in itself – I’ve just started my second week with them, so far I’ve checked soil for mycorrhizal fungi spores, measured the PH levels in compost and done a survey on root systems. Just an average day in the life of an apprentice!

As well as settling into my apprenticeship I’m also fitting in and making new friends down in Cornwall. The other apprentice, Tom, is a proper jack-the-lad and we get on like a house on fire! The place I’m living in has anther tenant, John is a permanent member of Eden staff and works in the Rainforest biome – he did the same apprenticeship scheme I’m doing when it was in its first year.

He is a real character and although he is old enough to be my dad(!) we still have a lot of fun times sharing the bungalow together. I’ve never met anyone like him before which I think is a good thing!!

Now that I’ve found my feet in my new place I hope to continue updating my blog as I was a few months ago. Watch this space for more Eden antics!

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