Sunny Saladings

IMG_20140911_090032 copyI’m still enjoying the ‘catching my breath’ feeling from last week; although there is some weeding still to do (there’s always weeding still to do), it’s not desperately urgent, so I’ve been concentrating on tidying up a bit and taking stock. These cooler mornings are really great for picking, as the leafy things are quite happy in the cool damp mist, and the sun doesn’t come out until nearly midday, so leaving me plenty of time. The routine is currently: pick salad stuff from the tunnels first (just in case it does warm up), then go to the field and pick squash/pumpkins/courgettes/fennel/beetroot/radishes/kale/chard/lettuces/parsley/coriander/bronze fennel leaf, then back to the tunnels to pick cucumbers/beans (yes they’re amazingly still going!)/tomatoes/peppers/chillies/aubergines, then lastly herbs in the beds between the tunnels, such as savoury, garlic chives and nasturtiums.

IMG_20140915_154551 copyI’ve also strimmed and turned in the green manure (Persian clover) in the Fivepenny tunnel, and today I’ve planted the first lot of the winter salads (chicory, radicchio, claytonia, Bulls Blood beetroot) – it’s a great feeling to know that they are in now and will be enjoying this warm autumn to get growing. I also decided to drill a couple of rows of spinach next to the old row of salad burnet, since it was there in the way and meant rolling up the Mypex anyway (it’s still going too well to justify pulling it up just to put some other salad ingredient in). I will then be able to pull it up with the spinach when it finishes in winter, and pull the Mypex down and plant any leftovers that need to go in. The celery we planted last month next to it is looking pretty good too; hopefully not too long before it’s ready…

Bath Good Food Awards

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 18.24.54I spent a happy few minutes yesterday voting for my favourite foodie people and places round Bath, in the Bath Good Food Awards. As well as Hartley Farm’s shop and café (natch), I also hope that the Bath Priory, Yammo!, Beyond The Kale and Seven Stars do well – plus I snuck in a vote for my local (amazing!) Indian, The Bengal Bear. Voting is really quick, and the shortlist is made from votes by average proles like us, before being judged on by top Bath foodies – so what you say really does matter.

There was a Best Local Grower category when I voted yesterday too – although for seem reason I can’t see it now – but if it reappears and anyone is feeling generous and enjoys my tasty local veg, a vote for Grown Green @ Hartley Farm would be much appreciated!

Secret Autumn Lover

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Nice to see the veg under the weeds, which are now mulch

At last, now it’s September, I can confess my undying love for autumn. Summer, yes you were nice of course, and there were some lovely hot days brilliant for growing; but during July and August there is so much to do in the field and polytunnels that I end up only being able to concentrate on the job in hand (usually fighting the bloody weeds), and the millions of jobs still to do. It gets rather depressing when you see the weeds reclaiming patches almost as soon as you finish them. As soon as it’s the 1st September however, things seem to pause for a moment: the bulk of the urgent weeding is done and the weeds aren’t growing so quickly, plus the veg crops are bigger so can out-compete them better; and smaller jobs can be attended to, such as sowing winter salads, turning the woodchip pile, planting out the last lettuces, sorting out the messy module tunnel. Summer can leave me feeling a bit bleached out and faded; but September’s cooler mornings mean more shadows and depth, being able to see the bigger picture, and plan ahead again.

 

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Each butternut over 2kg so far

I also love autumn veg. September is the time to start picking my fennel (huge!), squash (huge!) and leeks (plentiful!), and the smells of trimmed leeks mingling with kales, parsley, coriander and fennel fronds as you carry your haul back to base is amazing. I hope we have a nice warm, sunny autumn, with just the hint of woodfires, roasted butternuts, and leek and potato soup to partner the chillier starts and evening. Love it.

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.