Monoculture vs Polyculture

IMG-20140328-00834 copyForgetting all the hard scientific evidence that diversity of crops is good for soil health, bio-diversity, productivity, combatting pests and disease problems, offering pollinators a food source throughout the year, spreading crop/economic failure risk… I think this picture says it all. In the sun this small wobbly herb beds between two polytunnels shows French sorrel, lovage, oregano, garlic chives, thyme, winter savoury and lavender; plus some cultivated patches where nasturtiums will go in. Aside from all the good reasons above to grow a wide range of crops – I just like looking at it.

What I Did On My Holidays

IMG-20140317-00799 copyI’m starting to get back in the swing of things after a brilliant week’s work/holiday out in California last week (San Francisco & San Jose area). While in San Fran, I took a trip to Alemany Farm to poke around and nose about: it’s a brilliant project, where volunteers help grow food for low-income local residents, encouraging them to get involved too – pus any surplus produce is passed on to other food projects around the city. So locals get free, healthy food (which is really needed for so many people in dire straits – San Fran makes you appreciate the welfare state in this country, no matter how much it could be improved); and residents also get to enjoy the gorgeous surroundings of the ‘farm’. They are encouraged to pick the food when it’s ready, and signs in Spanish and English are placed in beds that have crops ready to harvest.

IMG-20140317-00802 copyIMG-20140317-00803 copyIt’s a not a huge site (just over four acres), on the side of a hill/cliff, and right next to a very busy freeway; but it’s also integrated with a nature reserve at the end of a public tree-lined park, and walkers are encouraged to stroll around the paths. There is a large pond with huge rushes, housing exotic (to me at least) colourful and noisy birds; and there is a permaculture feel to the lower slopes, with broad beans, fruit bushes, rainbow chard, herbs and flowers all inter-mingled.

IMG-20140317-00800 copyThere are also some clear delineated beds though, and some raised beds next to the houses; with tall flowering broad beans (IN MARCH!), brassicas such as collard greens, garlic and strawberries. I couldn’t resist a poke in the greenhouse; but most things had been planted out already (IN MARCH!). The higher slope also housed a new top fruit orchard coming into blossom. I asked long-term volunteer John whether this sunny ‘banana belt’ spot had trouble with slugs – incredibly he said yes. IN CALIFORNIA! But that the garter snakes and lizards did a good job keeping on top of them (puts my lazy toads to shame).

 

IMG-20140323-00823 copy IMG-20140323-00821 copyI also couldn’t resist checking out the huge farmers’ market in Campbell near San Jose later in the week, which one of my best friends visits with her family most Sundays and says is always heaving – the market takes over the whole of the town centre, and offers a range of organic fresh produce from many different growers, as well as breads, cheeses, pestos, cooked corn on the cobs, chill sauces… I am extremely jealous of pretty much all of their produce: so much and so early in the year! Also two types of sweet potato, which I’d love to grow here. It was a bit weird seeing spring crops such as massive radishes and beetroot alongside leeks and Brussels sprout (sprouts are strangely popular there; and avocados so plentiful you can buy six for less than a dollar).

IMG-20140323-00822 copy It was tempting to check out the land for sale up the road in Half Moon Bay, the fertile floor of the valley; but then of course I wouldn’t be able to whinge about the weather. Although they have had a terrible drought, so I could complain about the lack of rain? Blimey, imagine that…

Seedy Friday

Beautiful salad burnet seeds
Beautiful salad burnet seeds

Today was a lovely seedy day: more sowings of tomatoes, peppers, nasturtiums (for leaves/salads/flowers), red amaranth, salad burnet, green purslane (fleshy summer variety), and climbing French beans. Brilliant fun, sowing away in the warm module tunnel, listening to music and PG Wodehouse: gorgeous. Bit of a panic on because I’m off to San Francisco tomorrow for holiday/work/seeing friends for a week, so trying to get ahead a bit now so I’m not too far behind when I get back. I think that’s what life is like generally for gardeners and commercial growers; trying lots of cheeky tricks and tips to get ahead, full in the knowledge that something will probably happen to stymie you down the line – so if you’re ahead already, it won’t matter too much. An optimistic pessimist; or pessimistic optimist? Maybe a realistic optimist.