Floating Garden Flourishes on a Barge

floating boatBonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0

Just because you live on a boat doesn't mean you can't have an allotment garden. This community of barge boat residents solved the problem by starting a vegetable allotment garden on an abandoned and derelict barge.

It's a story of community and dedication. CHUG, Canals in Hackney Users Group, is a 25 year old community marina with about 20 boats. The floating allotment was created in 2009 on a converted hopper barge that they acquired through charitable organizations.

floating boatBonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0

It wasn't easy to transform. The barge had to be filled with 4 feet of gravel to stabilize it and act as a filter, then earth was added but it was dense clay and builders' rubble. However canal water is apparently an excellent fertilizer and as it drained through the dense soil it added nutrients and fertiliser. As did the endless compost that was added.

floating boatBonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0

The barge has a working area of 50ft by 12ft 6ins. Through trial and error, the volunteer gardeners have learned which vegetables do well and which do not. This year's bounty included potatoes, lettuces, spinach, leeks, w
ild rocket, chard, onions, carrots, peas, celery, cauliflower, and a series of herbs

Since they are feeding for a large community they focus on vegetables and produce that grow quickly and repeatedly. That means lots of salad leaves, spinach and raspberries, brussel sprouts and broccoli.

The vegetables are grown in raised beds now, with a central path down the middle so that they can be reached, and watered more easily. The water comes from the canal and irrigates back into it.

It's nature so not everything always works as planned. The gardeners tried zucchinis in large grow bags along the towpath, but they fried and died in the sun.

floating boatBonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0

It's a close-knit community, as it must be. The marina is self managed, with everyone doing some sort of work. Resident barge dwellers include architects, journalists, a chef and hypnotherapist.

The boats are privately owned. The age of the boats ranges from iron boats from 1900 to new steel boats just 4 years old.

floating boatBonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0

The area is changing rapidly, just in the past 5 years. What used to be derelict old store houses have now become condominiums. Not all are sensitive to the location.

floating boatBonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0

Part of their goal has been to make their part of the Hackney canal become a natural habitat for insects, birds, bats, and fish. So they are spreading the gardening out beyond the boat. They have applied to a charity for 150 trees to plant along the shore so that they can create an edible hedgerow along the towpath.

There was a duck pen, with ten happy ducks supplying eggs to the community. Sadly a fox got into the pen and that was the end of that. Hopefully next year they will try again.

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