The Future of Growing

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Nathan shows us his pumpkin patch

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Troed Y Rhiw cows say hi

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The Farmacy farm shop

I’ve just spent a very enjoyable weekend at the Soil Association’s Future Growers‘ social event, based at Nathan Richard’s gorgeous organic farm in West Wales, Troed y Rhiw. As it’s right by the coast, I think we actually had slightly drier weather than those further inland; although, like most of the country, we stayed pretty wet all weekend, and my tent is still hanging up trying to dry out.

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Future Growers are introduced to Kate from Real Seeds

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Real Seeds Ben shows us how to pollinate squash

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Carrot seed heads drying in Real Seeds’ new barn

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Real Seeds’ amazing hoover-powered winnowing machine

After a interesting tour round Nathan’s place on Saturday (he sells direct from the farm from The Farmacy, has set up markets in local villages and towns, and runs a small box scheme – plus check out his holiday rentals on the farm, really beautiful); we headed to the Real Seed Company, and had a good look around their plot. It was so interesting so see the difference in emphasis compared to a veg business; seed heads are of course encouraged, with just a few select plants of each species and variety crammed in to the polytunnel and beds; it’s easy to forget that of course just a few plants yield a huge amount of seed.

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Anne & Peter explain their philosophy

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Compost turning in action

On the Sunday we headed to legendary Blaencamel, 30 minutes up the road in the Aeron valley; and were lucky enough to catch the famous composting system in action – watching the tractor turn the windrows of fresh material. Anne Evans & Peter Segger have grown veg here for decades; and have got their growing systems down to a fine art. Still they build more polytunnels, and explore new avenues, such as cut flowers (their sweet peas and carnations were just gorgeous).

 

Beautiful flowers in the new tunnels at Blaencamel

Beautiful flowers in the new tunnels at Blaencamel

Most of all, it was great to see so many new entrants into this essential ‘industry’ of growing food sustainably. Ideas and inspiration filled the conversation and the air; and everyone left Blaencamel to go home rather damp, but buzzing and warm with plans for the future.

 

Organic Growers’ Alliance

OGASignatureAt a great social weekend last weekend with the Soil Association’s Future Growers held at the lovely Troed y Rhiw organic farm in West Wales (more anon), I found myself once again singing the praises of the Organic Growers’ Alliance, especially the networking, online forum and indispensable Organic Grower magazine – written and managed on a voluntary basis, by growers for growers. It’s been essential to me while starting my business and learning more, and I’ve been encouraging anyone who’ll listen to join (only £35/year, and even less if you’re a student, trainee or apprentice!). So get involved, learn more, meet experts and get represented!

Quicky Update

IMG_20150715_110220Hasn’t time flown: and the season has been so manic I’ve had no time to post anything here. Oops. So in a 1 minute, this is the update:

Sun, dry, great for growing although leafy stuff starting to bolt (perennial weeds such as creeping thistles not bloody well suffering dammit); had some rain, BRILLIANT, but now a bit chilly at night. Stuff still growing well, and now the annual weeds are also thinking about poking up; fortunately well-timed green manures should keep them under control. Veg coming out of my ears, huzzah!

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Ladybird army moves in

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Pumpkins & squash coming on nicely

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Flocks of swallows & swifts over polytunnels

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Why kohl rabi is brilliant

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Green manure of clovers, trefoil & lucerne under curcubits

 

 

 

Growing Growing Growing

IMG_20150709_154246 IMG_20150710_152655Yep, things are growing growing growing over here at the moment. So much so that there is an endless list of jobs to do: mostly weeding (I HATE BLOODY THISTLES), but also successive sowings and plantings of kales, lettuces, salads, rocket, herbs… the carrots in the tunnel have just come to an end, they did pretty well this year; the rows I half-heartedly drilled outside have pretty much all been munched (serve me right for not covering with a net) and thoroughly overgrown by weeds, so I’m going to cut my losses and just mow off, & either try something else there, or keep mowing and/or cultivating as a kind of green manure/bastard fallow. The squash, courgettes, lettuces, chard, brassicas (under nets because of rabbits/pigeons/cabbage white butterflies) and leeks all look great so far though, so huzzah for them! Also loving the soil in the new field – and distinct lack of creeping thistles there. So back to work then…

Pretty July

It’s been a manic June weeding weeding planting weeding weeding weeding; so a moment to pause & enjoy the flowers which look fab just now (and not just the edible ones either, such as herbs, nasturtiums and shungiko which are going in the salad bags). In particular I’d like to celebrate:

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Cornflower Black Ball

 

 

 

 

 

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Gypsophila Rosa

 

 

 

 

 

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Random poppy which has popped up in the compost heap

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Green manure Phacelia, beloved by bees, creating a wildlife superhighway in the field

Next Volunteer Day: Friday June 19th 2pm

IMG_20150515_154218Sun sun sun! Come & get some sunshine, enjoy a spot of work outside, and make new friends on our next volunteers’ afternoon, next Friday at Grown Green @ Hartley Farm. Possible jobs include seed sowing, planting leeks, planting (& eating!) strawberries, a spot of weeding, sorting out some flowers in pots… and anything else that crops up. Free lovely barista coffee & snacks included, so drop me a line if you’re interested! kate.collyns@gmail.com

Manic May Catch-Up

IMG_20150527_171244Now the Elephant Polytunnel is finished at last, we finally managed to plant the tomatoes last Wednesday, phew! This means that the peppers are in, tomatoes are in, some cucumbers and climbing beans are in (the rest in the next 10 days); so the tunnels have now caught up at last (the tomato tunnel still needs some work asap though, since some don’t have the strings planted under their roots to grow up; and most don’t have straining wire in place for the string to tie on too, since I’m waiting for fixings etc to arrive). I also managed to plant out all the pumpkins and the majority of squash plants in the main field last week, after using Howard the rotovator to go over the patch again (bloody thistles!). However towards the end of the patch, Howard starting losing power (I think the clutch plate has gone again); so I now have the happy annual task of trying to find someone who knows what they’re doing and will help me fix him. Hmm…

IMG_20150518_153517 IMG_20150528_173436Now I need to catch up on all the jobs that have been waiting while the tunnels and crops were being sorted: we did manage to keep the successional sowings (kale, lettuce, fennel, basil) going in between jobs, so that’s not too bad (although I haven’t sown any sunflowers yet); but round the tunnels and fields desperately need a strim (the mower is still not back from the mechanics, argh); the weeds in the umbellifer/beetroot patch have shot up, and the courgettes could also do with a hoe; not to mention planting out the first batch of fennel once the ground is hoed first; I need to drill more spinach and herbs; plus in a couple of weeks the leeks will want to be planted out.

IMG_20150522_151051Oh and really helpfully, we have been forecast 50mph winds tonight and tomorrow, AGAIN. This year has been ridiculously windy, not just the usual wintery gales: I remember the damage the winds did to Vole Tunnel’s plastic back in February, simply bursting through the plastic; and we seem to have had strong winds pretty much weekly since then. So I’ll need to go round making more stone bags to weigh down nets today; and try & work out how to secure the polytunnel doors as much as possible. I’d love to plant hedging right next to the tunnels, but I’m not sure how practical it will be on this rented land, or how effective – we are pretty much right on top of the hill above Bath. I did start planting soft fruit bushes (such as a few red currants, right) behind Vole Tunnel, which I might look into again. Heigh ho and fingers crossed; here’s to a calmer rest of the year: and if anyone still doesn’t believe in climate change… pah!