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. 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

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.


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.
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.


Hungry Gap



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.


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.





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.


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


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.

Working with Nature

oak trees

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.