OGA AGM 2016 March 19th

Beets, pak choi & salads
The propagation area
Peppers on the heated benches

Last weekend saw a congregation of organic growers descend on the Sussex town of Westham near Eastbourne, for the Organic Growers’ Alliance annual general meeting. After a delicious lunch provided by Hankham Organics (and the local chip shop, yum), we managed to get through all the necessary paperwork in almost record time – only over-running by 15 minutes. Then it was time to leave the memorial hall and head over to Hankham Organics for 5pm, for the much-antipicated part of the day: a tour of the huge glasshouse, followed by social round the fire and more delicious food, barbecue and salads.

Pete explains the average work day
The glasshouse rotation

I hadn’t been to Hankham since visiting on a seminar trip as part of my Future Growers apprenticeship seven years ago, but could remember how amazing the glasshouse was; and the water reservoir and sand filter system, to provide the glasshouse with rainwater irrigation (using mains during busy and dry periods). Although my polytunnels are producing salad well now, and I’ve already cleared out some bolted over-wintered salads to make way for new crops such as early carrots and radishes, it’s still awesome to see so much produce at this time of year. Hankham has also now taken on more (outdoor) land out the back since then, to add more field-scale veg to their box scheme and wholesale deliveries later in the season. It was great to catch up with fellow growers and swap stories and tips; followed by some sea air at Eastbourne and Beachy Head the day after, before the long drive back to the south west.


March Hungry Gap

IMG_20160307_103158These cold and windy days do seem to drag at the moment: the temperatures aren’t warm enough to really get going with the next round of seed-sowing or ground preparation, and any other jobs I could be getting on with – such as weeding and mulching the perennial herb beds, clearing brassica stalks from the field, making a new raised bed or taking off the plastic from the Vole Tunnel and getting it ready for its new skin – all really don’t appeal in this weather.

So it’s a case of filing VAT returns, catching up on paperwork, planning tunnel crops meticulously and trying to find motivation and inspiration online from the office today. I’ve picked 4kg of salad this morning, packed and delivered it; but although it’s brilliant having salad all year round, some customers (and myself!) are hankering after more exciting veg due later in the year. It’s enough to make me want to sow climbing beans and cucumbers right now; but looking at the forecast for the next couple of weeks, I know I’ll regret it. The trouble with the Hungry Gap these days is that most people aren’t aware of it: we are used to having a wide variety of fresh fruit and veg all year round: tomatoes in January, strawberries in March, leeks in June. Gone are the days of surviving on stored roots and some early green pickings if you’re lucky throughout the winter; now we expect our palettes to be tantalised by more than cabbages and potatoes from January to April. So I can’t wait until the radishes are ready (perhaps three weeks or so), then the spinach, then the beetroot, then the spring onions, then all the summer madness; meanwhile the plucky salad leaves will still be going, offering us fresh and healthy flavours no matter what the weather!

Winter Update

Peas start waking up
Snug in the module tunnel

Well if January turned out to an oddly busy month due to the milder temperatures (still picking outdoor leafbeet mid-January, weird); then February was also a funny month in terms of lots of things on the go. Today however, following the freezing hail thunderstorms, I’ve decided to hide inside and have a breather, while planning all the next batch of monthly jobs.

I’ve been turning the hotbed – which has now really dropped in temperature, so I’m hoping there’s enough energy left in it to

Hotbed: manure well colonised by white fungi

keep my poor tomato seedlings warm enough in these coming cold nights. Horticultural fleece is currently my friend during this cold spell (reclaiming piles of it from under the tables in the propagation tunnel, where it had been colonised by sneaky mice), and will hopefully do enough to keep the tomatoes going; as well as bringing on all the seeds now sown in the module tunnel: lettuces, spinach, spring onions, rocket, micro leaves, kales, kohl rabi and peas for shoots.


I’ve drilled a few rows of early beetroot in the Little Tunnel too, which started to come up nicely last week, but now seem to have been razed to the ground by something or other: could be mice, could be slugs – yet there’s not many hiding places for either in the tunnel. Where’s the CCTV cameras when you need them?

Grump toad
Compost delivery

I’ve also taken delivery on another truck-load of green waste compost: over 5tonnes of this lovely black soil conditioner was dropped off next to the polytunnels, and I’ve already shovelled around 20 barrowloads onto some of the herb beds, raised beds (disturbing a very cross-looking hibernating toad as I did so); and into the Vole Tunnel (having cleared out the salad there) – then wheel-hoeing it in before drilling early carrots in there (Purple Sun, White Satin & St Valery – Yellowstone seed was unavailable but apparently is on its way now and will go in asap).

Carrots drilled in the tunnel

I’ve also squeezed in a couple of rows of coriander next to them too. This tunnel has been pretty much decimated in the last year due to the storms, and needs re-covering desperately: I’m just hoping the plastic stays on long enough to get the carrots established, so I can them cover them with more fleece when I have to take the plastic off. Then it will be a case of waiting for a still, sunny day (HAH!) to re-skin it. The skinning of the tunnel should only take a few hours, and will be a fun volunteers’ day, probably in early April, with free yummy lunch from the café for all my lovely volunteers. If you’d like to come along and join in, and also learn how to cover a tunnel, email kate.collyns@gmail.com, and I’ll keep you posted about when the likely day will be!