In My Wildest Dreams

As part of our future planning we are asking you to tell us what you would like to see happen in your wildest dreams. This exercise by us at the farm happens to have coincided with a conference called Feed Coventry about food poverty and looking at ways to solve this complex issue which includes a large element of sustainable urban farming so I though I would bring these two things together and give you my personal wildest dream for Coventry and the areas of Warwickshire around the farm. Most of the things I mention are already being done in other places

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The year is 2026. Five Acre Farm at Ryton, set up 15 years ago, was just the start of the development of local food production in Coventry,  Rugby and villages around them.

The Farm started small and continued to flourish gaining more land a few years ago to allow a wider range of activities to be run on site.. We have a permanent building with accommodation and a training area so we are able to have trainees staying with us as well as running a range of classes for local people on growing, cooking, preserving and a range of traditional crafts. Schools come on regular visits and we visit them in return to help them grow veg at school. We even have a horse to do the plowing and to pull the cart for farm tours and deliveries.

We helped several more CSA’s to set up in the area, including one over the other side of Rugby, one to the North of Coventry and a few more farther a field.

There are now firm connections with other small local farmers and this makes it easier for us all to reach local customers together. We have a great local food network where local growers and producers are able to help and support each other. Customers can come to a one stop on-line shop to order things and have them delivered or arrange to collect them.

Within Coventry and Rugby there are a range of urban growing projects. These range from a flourishing allotment system to spare land and roofs being used to grow fruit and veg, community orchards and empty buildings being used for mushrooms. Backyard chickens are common as are communal pig schemes in villages and a few people have even started running aquaculture set ups growing fish and salads in a closed system.

Urban growing has been particularly encouraged in more deprived areas and people on low incomes have been given support and help to start growing both for their own use and to sell. Many new city centre buildings have been designed to include green roofs where veg can be grown to be used in the cafes below them and surplus food from supermarkets and so on is used in pay as you can afford restaurants in residential areas.

Improved communications and marketing mean than it is easy to find the grower or producer nearest and most suitable for you be that someone round the corner selling surplus from their garden , a CSA down the road or the nearest small independent baker. Buying from local suppliers is encouraged and the councils, universities and other big businesses have changed their procurement set ups to allow them to buy local first.

All of this has also be mirrored with a similar improvement in other areas such green power production, improved insulation, transport, flexible education and working conditions and other local initiatives.  There is a flourishing sense of community and people are actively helping each other and looking out for those near then who might need support on occasion.

by Esther Reeves

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This is MY dream… what’s yours???

Please consider filling in our survey 

or email us your own wildest dream, if we get a few I will create a section on the website for them all to inspire us.

This summer on the farm

aberginesWe have had a good summer on the farm, with help from a regular team of volunteers, though we can always use more, Julie working part-time with Becca and a work experience student from France. We will be looking to get more work experience students next year as it worked so well..

The new polytunnels and biodegrable mulch sheets on the field have both helped improve the crops and many varieties have cropped very well this year. For instance we have already harvested 100kg more tomatoes than last year, double the amount of aubergines, more cucumbers which are bigger, double the weight of turnips, carrots in tunnel: last yr 193kg, this yr 264kg. Broad beans: last yr 120kg, 180kg this year.

polytunnelWe have harvested 1.8 tons of potatoes so far this year compared with 2.4 tons last year BUT we are only halfway through. We have so many storable veg we have run out of space and need to rejig the storage to cope !

Not everything has grown as well however, the courgettes have struggled more but we should have some good squash and a couple of new and interesting types of Kale are growing well for a little later in the year. We will shortly be planting the polytunnels with winter crops including salad leaves, oriental greens, cornsalad, winter purslane, rocket, spinach, spring onions etc

We hope you have enjoyed the veg this summer and as always if you have any questions or suggestions just email us (info@fiveacrefarm.org.uk) or talked to Becca on the farm.

Weather and the Hungry Gap

This is a repeat of an article published in our newsletter.

One of the things those of us who grow things are very aware of is the weather, both because we are outside in it and because it has a huge effect on how and when things grow.

For our members at this time of year the main thing is how the weather effects the Hungry Gap. For those new to seasonal veg this it is the time when the winter veg has finished and the summer veg hasn’t really got going. This year will be our fourth Hungry Gap. The first in 2013 was very easy as most things panned out and the winter veg hung on till the summer veg was starting. The last couple of years we have had more of a gap with the winter veg finishing early.

This year we have had an extremely warm winter until this last few weeks, so warm that the Cauliflowers which should have been ready in April were ready at Christmas and the oriental greens in the polytunnels have been bolting (trying to flower). Becca can plant more of the fast growing salad leaves but things like cauliflowers take months to grow.

On the flipside we have not been able to plant the summer seeds early, at least those that are temperature sensitive as we have been concerned about the reliability of the heating in the greenhouse so have been waiting on a seed incubator system we can use within the greenhouse as a extra protection for the more tender seedlings like the tomatoes and so on.

The last few weeks have got  colder as I’m sure you have all noticed. http://www.bablakeweather.co.uk which has comprehensive information on the weather in Coventry says this Feb has been colder than average and over 60% wetter than average. The field drains very well is a plus in wet weather though more challenging when dry.

We are keeping an eye on how things are growing and we will keep you informed once we know what the hungry gap is going to be like, the hardest time is normally April/May.

Christmas, the New Year and preserving

New Polytunnel

New Poly-tunnel

As we do the last couple of harvests before the Christmas break we hope you are all enjoying this time of year. We have had quite a lot of rain and in generally it has been pretty warm in the final few weeks of this year though a couple of cold days have reminded us that it is winter. I don’t know about you but I look forward to the coming weeks when the days start to lengthen even though most years it also get colder for a while.

We have an new large polytunnel for this coming year so hopefully this will allow us to grow more things on the margins of the seasons especially in the hungry gap (Apr – May) which those who have been members for a while will know can be a problem depending how the weather treats us.. I half expect it to be perfect growing weather this year like we had in 2013 with the winter veg finishing just as the summer veg comes in just because we have the  extra polytunnel but given this autumn has been so mild some things have flowered which shouldn’t be doing so till spring I think we may need it !

Those of you who are members remember  last collections are 19th Dec/22nd Dec and we restart Jan 9th/jan 12th  depending of course on if you collect on a Saturday or a Tuesday.

The first event of the New Year is our Winter cooking and preserving
event on 14th January. We hope you will join us and the event if open to none members as well as members. We plan to cover things like Lacto- fermentation, such as sauerkraut and Kimchi as well as dehydration, low energy cooking and a few fun kitchen tools some of us enjoy using.   We will also be running a short members meeting on the night just to give the annual report of how we are doing.

Squash Harvest

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We had to harvest the squash before the social morning because of the risk of frost damaging them. We still have plenty to harvest this Saturday though so do come over to help or just to see all these squash in person !

Don’t forget we are having a barbecue so bring a dish, something to throw on the barbecue or just come for harvest soup (veg soup made from produce from the farm) and to socialise.

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Social morning and Barbecue

Come and join us on Saturday 3rd Oct for a social morning and Barbecue and Harvest soup. We plan to be harvesting the squash and pumpkins which are always fun to collect in and the kids, and many adults, love to see the different shapes and sizes.

Afterwards we will have gathering for some social time and to share a meal, bring food for the barbeque, something pre cooked to share or just come for some soup we will make from the veg on the field.

As we come to the end of summer and a special offer.

It’s been a while since we did an update, the summer is always busy with doing events to advertise the farm to get new members and of course growing the veg and weeding, always weeding. Read farther down for a special offer.
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The veg has generally been good this year, we had MASSIVE onions compared to the very small ones from last year a combination of planting at the right time, weather and possibly most importantly growing though mipex to keep the weeds at bay has helped a lot.

11855646_800897453364098_5057431368594747074_nWe have also had many many courgettes. Conversely we have had very few peppers and aubergines because we had problems with them going down with something.. I forget the name of it.. you can tell I’m not the grower can’t you !

We have also invested in a new polytunnel, the first one we can truly call our own as all the others we use belong to Garden Organic. This should mean we have more ability to balance the seasons and fingers crossed have less problems in the hungry gap though that is always to some extend dependant on the weather even with polytunnels.

We have had a good few new members and are celebrating the fact we have just had our 150th person sign up to try out the veg or become a member of some type.

To mark this occasion  we are offering 5 weeks for the price of 4 for all new trial members. If anyone wants to join straight away as a long term member they can have a free week too.  As an extra incentive any current member who recommends someone will be entered into a draw for a veg box cook book.  Just get the new person to tell us when they sign up. This offer will run till the end of September 2015 so if you have been considering joining or know a friend who has now is the time to do it.

Esther

Hungry Gap

planting

planting

One of our basic principles is that we supply to our members seasonal local veg grown on site.  In most cases this means we harvest just before our members pick up from us but we also use some traditional storage methods to allow us to supply a wider range of veg when possible.

Most people assume the time of year we have least veg is the winter but actually this isn’t the case.  Many plants happily stay in the ground over winter and grow all be it sometimes slowly.  We can also store things like potatoes, garlic, onions and pumpkins for months if kept cool but protected from frost which we do in the barn protected by hay bails and old duvets.

When we get to Spring everything starts growing again, this is fabulous as we can start off all our new plants for the summer but it also means many of the things which grow over winter flower and set seed which means they stop being useful for food.

All this means that the time when veg is least available,  called the hungry gap, is between spring and summer.  In our first couple of years the weather was good to us and we didn’t have that much space between when the winter veg finished and the summer veg started. However last year and this we have had some warm weather followed by colder weather which means the winter veg was triggered to flower by the warm weather but colder weather has stopped the summer veg growing as fast. This April we had at least one frost every week which means the hot weather plants have to be protected and will grow slower than if it stayed warm.

While there are plants that would have been traditionally harvested to fill the gap many of them are not grown as commercial crops in the same way.  We are looking to put in some perennials such as rhubarb for the coming years  and to grow mushrooms but both these will take a while to get going.  If you have access to some ground where native plants grow, often as weeds, then you can harvest many young fresh leaves which are often high in minerals these include young nettles (pick with gloves and purée or cook to remove the stings), dandelions, sorrel, hedge garlic, chives and even some hedgerow leaves.

Esther

Frosty Mornings

As you kale1can imagine at this time of year it can be quite nippy on the field, however it can also be very beautiful as these photos of various type of Kale show.
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Kale is a very hardy plant so doesn’t mind the frost, however other plants need to be covered or grown in the polytunnel at this time of year.

kale3Even when it is cold there are still jobs to be done around the farm and before long we will be starting the new season with lots of seed sewing, followed by planting out once the weather warms up.

Of course we still have a few weeks where it could stay cold or even snow but we could also have some really lovely crisp clear days or even some mild ones. This is Britain after all, last winter we only had 2 or 3 frosts all winter!  If you fancy some time outside or possibly in a polytunnel, do consider popping over on a Tuesday or Saturday morning as those are our official work mornings.  There are generally people around on Friday as well as that is when the harvest is done for Saturday.

Spaghetti Squash

I was going to write the first squash of the year is a Spaghetti Squash but of course I’d be wrong as we have been having squash all summer in the form of courgettes.  So how about the first winter type squash we are having is a  Spaghetti Squash.

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It doesn’t look quite like a pumpkin which is the sort of winter squash we are more familiar with and that gets even more true when you cook it but then it’s actually in the same species as courgettes but keeps better on the shelf than they do as it develops a harder skin, not that it looks much like a courgette either.

The special thing about a Spaghetti Squash, and where it gets it’s name from is how it looks once cooked. You generally cook it in it’s skin because once cooked it falls apart into spaghetti like strands.

To cook – Cut in half and remove seeds (or stab holes into to it and cook whole). Place in a baking tray and either brush with a little oil and add any seasonings you like. Roast for about 45-50 mins depending on size, longer for a whole one, till the flesh is tender but not mushy. Fork out the strands, add butter and herbs or any pasta sauce you like.

Can also be microwaved or boiled apparently but we have never tried those methods.

Here are few links you might find useful

Some lovely pictures of someone’s first time cooking one

This one shows cooking it whole

Some serving ideas from Martha Stewart

Esther