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

Website problems

Sorry to anyone who tried to find the website over the weekend and got an error message. We had a few technical problems which took a while to fix.  We believe they are all sorted now but if you do find anything behaving strangely please email and report it. info@fiveacrefarm.org.uk

Working with Nature

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The two Oak Trees in the middle of the field.

As you probably know we run Five Acre as a fully certified organic farm because the land belongs to Garden organic and has been certified for many years. What organic certification means and what you can and can’t do has been a learning curve for those of us who aren’t experienced organic growers but luckily we have several on the team who are experienced at this.

Today I want to tell you about how we incorporate and consider wild life into our system, which is one aspect of being organic.

As you will have noticed if you have come on the field we have mature hedgerow hedgesall round the field and two big oak trees in the middle.

These along with the wild flowers and grasses we allow to grow in various places help encourage beneficial insects, small animals and birds many of which help keep pests under control, which is important as we aren’t allowed to things like slug pellets or sprays most of the time. Even organic ones we have to get special permission to use from the soil association and it’s meant to be a last resort type thing.

Of course it’s always a balance as some birds for instance eat pests but other birds like to eat the cabbages and how to you encourage one and not get the other? Knowing when to net certain plants is quite important either to stop butterflies laying eggs or because pigeons will stripe a cabbage bare over night if it gets cold and there is less food available else where ! wild flowers

Also nature can sometimes be a bit inconvenient and it can be tempting to just remove it rather than work with it. Our practice of leaving strips of the field to grow wild flowers is very useful and often pretty but it also means there are more weed seeds produced and therefore more weeds, after all a weed is just a plant in the wrong place really.

Those two lovely oak trees in the middle of the field, they have been shading the plots to their left, as you look from the gate, meaning they have been producing less than other plots on the field, and some of that area is particularly weedy which in turn throws out the amounts we have to harvest of whatever type of veg we have allocated to that area in the rotation plan. We aren’t going to cut down the trees so what do we do?

You may have noticed Becca has changed the layout of the plots in that area. We now have one plot near the trees running up and down the field and smaller plots farther away from the trees running in the same direction as the rest of the plots on the field. new_layout

The plot near the trees will have perennial crops in it which don’t need quite as much sun as most of the annual ones we grow and Becca has created a new rotation which works with having different sized beds in different areas of the field.

The same goes for those lovely hedges, they are so tall that in some parts of the field they are creating a significant amount of shade and most of the veg we grow in this country to eat doesn’t like shade. What exactly we will do about that is being discussed over the next few weeks with Garden Organic. We have some ideas which might work but we need to check what we can and can’t do and make sure anything we do doesn’t harm the biodiversity of the hedgerow.

Esther

A chance to win a prize by helping with a research project

We have agreed to help with a research project run by Coventry University looking at the role of online and social media in different types of Alternative Food Networks in Coventry and Warwickshire which will hopefully benefit us as well by helping to pin point what we do well and what we can improve on.

If you are a member of the farm please could you complete the survey below. It will only take a few minutes and all surveys completed by Monday 16th June will be eligible for the prize draw. First prize is a £50 local food hamper, and second prize is a £30 local food hamper.

https://www.survey.bris.ac.uk/coventry/socialmedia_fiveacre/

Saturday Morning: Sowing the Seeds

With a winter which has never seemed to arrive we seem to be sliding seamlessly into spring, but with the new seasons seeds arriving at the farm the signs of the lengthening days are easy to see.

All our work at the moment for the Saturday morning work parties is around getting the new season’s crops ready to go.  The first task is to make sure the ground we are going to be planting into is ready and that has meant lots of weeding over the last few weeks, re-digging the poly tunnels and taking out as many of the perennial weeds as we can from the field like doc and thistles.

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Dug up Doc

Within the poly tunnels the soil has been protected from the last two months of rain and a little counter-intuitively for those of us whose backyards resemble swimming pools at the moment they actually need to be irrigated to prepare the soil for planting.

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Hoses ready to drip

Once we finished making sure the soil is going to be ready to use when we need it the next step is to make sure we have something ready to plant.  Spring Onions were the crop de jour this week and we sowed two varieties (White Lisbon and Ramrod) which should be gracing our veg boxes in a few weeks time.

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Trays ready to grow

There is a lot to do over the next couple of months preparing for the year ahead and all help is appreciated, so if you fancy a morning spent mucking about in the dirt then come down and join us one Saturday!

Saturday Morning: Poly Salads

After a break over the festive season the Saturday morning work sessions are now well and truly back underway and as we start to close in on the leanest part of the year it is a time when our poly tunnels start to work extra hard for us.  Tender leaf salads aren’t a winter veg, one frost and an entire crop can be wiped out, but with the poly tunnels in use throughout the year Becca is able to provide us week on week with a bag of fresh greens.

Of course, providing a nice warm environment for our salads to grow also provides those same pleasant conditions for weeds.  Weeding is one of our regular tasks, though at this time of year doing it in the poly tunnels is a more than welcome assignment.

We have also been fortunate enough to be given use of almost two full additional tunnels so another job has been to clear these up ready for a new crop to be sown.  I’m already looking forward to the extra portions they will be providing in a couple of months time.

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Newly prepared and Freshly weeded tunnels

Saturday Morning: Weeding the Swede

With organic farming relying on non-chemical solutions a lot of time needs to be spent weeding.  Dandelions, thistles, grass and many others compete with a plant for nutrients and water limiting growth and meaning we get smaller veg in our weekly share so it’s important to stay on top of the less welcome organic crop at five acre farm.  The problems caused for our swedes over the last week or two were a new weed related problem however.

With a thick matt of weeds growing up under the netting which had covered them mice were enjoying themselves snacking away on the exposed tops of the swedes without having to worry about their predators.  Well no more, after a mornings work hacking back the weeds in some of our crops the mice will have to be bolder if they want to try for more swede-y treats.

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Weedless Swede

It was also good to see the rocket and spinach emerging from the beds as we worked down the rows and some more tasty salads on their way to our plates for next year.

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Baby Spinach semi-weeded

Saturday Morning: Podcast

The period around April/May each year is known as the hungry gap, when over wintering veg and staples like potatoes, carrots and parsnips are running out but the new season’s crops are yet to arrive on our tables and to make sure we have enough to fill our weekly collections we need to plan well in advance.  One way to make sure we still have plenty of locally grown organic food to eat is through drying some of the farm’s produce to store through the winter and this Saturday we were collecting and podding beans to save through the next few months.

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Drying beans in the slopey polytunnel

The beans have been hanging in one of the poly tunnels for the last few weeks but now that space is needed for new plantings.  It certainly didn’t hurt to be doing an inside job on another ‘fresh’ autumn morning but that also gave us an opportunity to chat to the people who were coming to collect veg (not to mention co-opt a few more pairs of hands to help out for a spell). With 15kg of beans to be podded every bit of help was appreciated and we can now look forward to a serving of beans next year when we are still waiting for our summer favourites to return.

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A green bean bucket