Summer Fun

IMG_20140831_104944 copyRecovering after a lovely sunny day yesterday at the Hartley Farm Summer Fayre – the day went by so quickly I didn’t get much of a chance to take all the events and stalls in! I was in the enormous awesome tipi with a load of other stallholders, and it was great to catch up with some of the usual regulars too. I did catch sight of Alice in the distance doing some hula hoop classes to the delight of parents and children alike, and managed to catch a stroll around the beautiful and immaculate Not So Secret Garden (puts my scruffy patches to shame!) before grabbing a tasty chicken burrito from chef Gary. There was also storytelling in the gazebo, and booked out tractor/trailer rides which were really popular – Richard and Tom were doing sterling work as tour guides too!

Most of the foodie stallholders were giving out samples, and my various cherry tomato samples were popular – I had to go and pick a fresh batch a couple of times as I was running out! That’s the beauty of selling from the place you grow the food: not far to go for fresh refills. It was brilliant to see so many people come along and enjoy the sun on the farm; I’m terrible at guessing numbers, but there must have been several hundred people around at any one time. It was also great to chat with new and regular farm visitors, and swap veg tips and stories. I heard an interesting idea from one gentleman about using a water/hot chilli spray around to keep badges away. Must try that in the field by the courgettes and squash next year…

Summer Fayre @ Hartley Farm Sunday 31st August

10410454_10152875468214879_13790043088369767_nPop on down to the farm this Sunday to say howdy and exchange veg tips! As well as us local food producers offering samples, there will also be tractor rides, brewery tours, coffee sessions, hula hooping, farm trails to try plus barbecue nosh and the usual farm fun!

Polytunnels, Swearing & Perseverance

IMG_20140719_113725 copyIMG_20140719_113838 copyWe are just about starting to recover after a mammoth day of polytunnel action on Thursday. Him Indoors & I hired a van (eek, already stressy when you sign an agreement that you’ll pay £1,000s for any damage etc) so we could drive to Wallingford and take down 2 polytunnels from Close To The Veg there (Clare there is selling up); then transport them back to Hartley Farm – in the same day. Just the 2 of us. Err…

All was going pretty well: we started on the larger tunnel (20 x 60ft), with 11 hoops that come apart into 4 sections, plus the ridgepole down the middle, and side rails at the top of the elbows on each side. After slashing away the plastic (feels like such IMG_20140821_150417 copya waste; although I’ve salvaged some for stone bags); dismantling was relatively straight forward. The excellent Him then started taking down the smaller tunnel (10 x 30ft, 9 hoops, really simple lightweight design) pretty much alone, while I got on with digging out the ground tubes of the large tunnel. This was when I realised we wouldn’t be done by 5pm like I was hoping.



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Left: large tunnel; right: small tunnel

The tubes were driven in around 3-4ft on the lower sloping side, so it took much digging and swearing – especially in the concrete-like dried soil inside the tunnel – plus the higher slope had the bolts connecting the ground tubes to the uprights below ground level – so you had to dig to get at them if you’ve given up the idea of digging out the whole ground tube as well as the upright. But then because they were below ground level, several of the (ridiculously long) bolts had rusted and couldn’t be dismantled. Plus the slope also meant that these ground tubes were driven in even deeper, into possibly the world’s stickiest clay.

By 7pm and 1 snapped upright later, we had to cut our loses and leave some of the ground tubes where they were, using a combination of gritted-teeth digging for the rusted tubes, and lots of WD40 for the better bolts that would come off the ground tubes. I’ll have to try and sniff out some suitable ground tubes from somewhere – I do have some scaffold poles already on site,  but not sure the internal diameter is correct.


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Look at that clay level! Blistered digging hands are go…

Aaaannnyway, by 7.30pm I was way past caring about these triffling details and would gladly have spent over £100 on some spare ground tubes, so we loaded up and headed back towards Bradford on Avon, very tired, aching and bruised; to unload in the dark and leave the poles vaguely near my shipping container; and then go back drop the van off at the hire centre. I moved the tubes out of my way yesterday and stacked them pretty neatly away, but will probabably have to wait some weeks before I can face looking at them again and even consider reassembling them…

The GM Arms Race

IMG_20140814_145642I do worry about the direction of some scientific research at the moment. Surely every right thinking person knows about evolution, right? Survivial of the fittest? Is any of this sounding familiar?

So why are people still surprised that spraying more sophisticated chemical pesticides leads to more sophisticated weeds, who are resistant to the weed-killer? Is it just me, or is that pretty obvious? Yet so many millions of dollars are being poured into making crops resistant to weedkillers, so that more chemicals can be used to kill the weeds around them. How can people not see the inevitable evolution of weeds that will resist the sprays? Come on people! Like Mugatu in Zoolander, I feel like I’m taking crazy pills! Why are people still doing it?

Is it really sensible, or even economic, to carry on investing in producing more crops that are oblivious to ever increasing amounts of pesticides just to keep on top of these evolving weeds? Here’s a radical thought: why not ditch that idea of racing to chemically arm yourself quicker than the weeds evolve, and only have chemicals in your armoury: why not, oh, I don’t know, use something that actually physically takes the weed 0ut? That way there are plenty of other benefits too: no chemicals to affect wildlife, and they can make use of the weeds before they’re taken out; once weeded out the plants can be left as a mulch to protect the soil from drying out/more weeds germinating/protect the soil structure from the elements; then they get broken down back into soil organic matter. So let’s have more investment in manual labour systems that hand-weed; or tillage attachments for tractors; or even the exciting machinery being invented as we speak all around agricultural and engineering colleges? Think Lasers, super-light-weight tractors, robotics…

Yes this is getting a bit Sci-Fi; but I do prefer this version of the future of farming with things you can see and handle (safely), rather than noxious chemicals. These pesticide vs weed war games aren’t getting us anywhere.

Strange game. The only winning move is not to play.

Veg Demo Day: Hartley Farm Saturday 9th August

10488109_10152903146159879_3950646979254690057_nPop up to Hartley Farm this Saturday to see the fabulous Rachel Demuth giving a mouth-watering demonstration of some gorgeous vegetarian summer dips to try out: and enjoy them with my own freshly picked crudités: cucumbers, courgettes and sweet peppers; plus some fresh herbs in a salsa verde! We’ll be outside on the terrace at the farm shop from 9am-1pm – the demo is free, so stroll up for a sample, chat and some veggie inspiration!

National Allotments Week 4th-10th August 2014

GFP FC 21It’s National Allotments Week, so hurrah for allotments, allotmenteers and home-grown producers of all kinds! Allotments are the perfect way to add some variety, independence, health and interest to your family life; as well as an invaluable tool for educating kids about how and why to grow your own produce. When I had an allotment (before I promoted myself to 2.5 acres!), it was brilliant and really family friendly, and most weekends there were kids of all ages buzzing about – many of course enjoyed the picking & eating side of it (especially strawberries and raspberries!), but most also enjoyed helping out, frolicking around with the watering cans, digging away, finding wildlife, making friends with the other kids, sowing seeds, planting out transplants… We had an allotment group which was great for socialising and swapping strories of pigeon and slug woe, as well as sampling strange gin mixes. Many of us had a shed (I love seeing allotments with lots of different sizes and colours of sheds, shelters and random contraptions) which we could shelter in if spring lashed us with a hailstorm, and we could natter with other allotmenteers over a flask of tea and biscuit in the dry.

The long waiting lists for some council-run allotments has also meant that enterprising farmers and land-owners are getting involved too, offering up a field for division into community allotments – a swell idea. These kind of plots also usually offer the advantage of not have the restrictions that some council plots do when it comes to selling your surplus. While swapping gluts is a grand idea, sometimes people tend to grow the same kind of produce; so it’s well worth considering selling your extras to a local shop, pub or café. Plus if you really get the growing bug, then you could find that your surpluses turn into a nice little part-time business – plus you’re feeding your local community with fresh local veg too! Growing veg is a perfect part-time business that you can fit into childcare or other part-time work – the weeds don’t care when you take them out, so no matter if you’re running a bit late; plus the outdoor exercise means that you won’t need to visit the gym! If this does appeal, check out Gardening For Profit for some ideas on how to get your veg business started.

To All The Veg Growers

Hurrah for all the gardeners,
Who grow such lovely veg
Yes yes to the allotmenteers
With chard-based edible hedge.
We salute your early mornings,
Endless workings of the soil
To make mouthfuls more flavourful
Your hip-flasks rewarding toil.
Three cheers for muddy peasantry,
Who fill our plates with life
Whose hands make food from nothing,
And keep us all from strife.

May your marrows prosper and vines be full of vigour.


Beautiful Lazy Gardening

IMG_20140724_101600 copyIMG_20140724_121357 copyA post in praise of the lazy gardener (or should that read “time-strapped grower”?).

As well as the weeds-providing-shade-and-a-moist-microclimate trick (until the fine line tips and they compete for resources too much), being a little lax and prioritising other jobs is very important for biodiversity, and the soul. These endives went straight to seed months ago; but I haven’t the heart to strim them or pull them up because the flowers are gorgeous, the bumblebees love them, and they’re providing a bit of welcome shade to the beetroot and lettuces next door, as well as covering the soil and preventing it from drying out and capping. Likewise, the self-seeded borage is fought over by the honey bees, and I can use the flowers in salads (I keep meaning to try them in ice cubes too).

IMG_20140725_130725 copyThe pile of woodchip is still just sitting there from a few months ago, until I find the time to sort out a proper space for it; but it’s already been colonised by bandling worms (where do they come from?!) and fungi, both busy breaking it down into nice moist brown compost inside. I think some birds are also using the outside of the pile as an exfoliating chip bath. So deep breath: and hurrah for relaxed intentional gardening!