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

Saturday Morning: Winter Staples

With the clocks going back it feels like winter has arrived but at Five Acre thoughts have been turned to the colder months for a while already.  As part of our work to help out on Saturday mornings we have been sorting potatoes.

It was a couple of months ago that we helped harvest all the potatoes from the field, packed them into sacks and stored them away but that isn’t the end of the story.  It’s pretty much inevitable that the odd bad one is going to slip through, and some are fine to eat but with a blemish or two aren’t likely to make it all the way through the winter so need to be used up first.  That means sorting through the stored potatoes and pulling out any that are starting to go rotten as well as setting aside those that will be used up first.  It also provided an opportunity to compete to find the weirdest looking potato.DSCN1257

Peculiar potato nominee, in my defence it looked a lot more like a duck in person

All this sorting should mean we have a good supply of organic potatoes through the winter so we can continue to roast, boil, chip and mash our way back to the warmer days of next Spring.

Saturday Morning

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You might think that with the weather starting to turn and so much of the harvest in the work is almost over for the year but there is still plenty to be done and there are always jobs to be found for anyone who can turn up on a Saturday morning.  This week, with the cold closing in and plenty of rain about, Susan kindly directed us towards the poly tunnels to keep us warm and dry.
In the last couple of weeks we have helped to clear out the tunnels of this summer’s crops, pulling up the spent aubergines and peppers as well as pulling the chilli plants and hanging them to dry and harvesting the tomatoes from all the heritage varieties that were given to the farm earlier in the year by the heritage seed library.  There were plenty of tomatoes of different sizes, shapes and colours to pick and it is amazing to realise just how much variety is out there once you get past what is available on the supermarket shelves.  With all the crops cleared and some salads planted to keep our collection nice and green for a while longer our task this week was to clear the weeds that were left, dig over the beds (especially the central bed which was very compacted after being used as a path for the last month or two!) and then spread some compost for the crops that are to come next.
It may be cold outside now but the poly tunnels are still doing a good job of keeping it warm and jackets and jumpers were quickly discarded.
For those of us who hadn’t yet seen the harvest of squashes there was also time to admire this years haul and start thinking about all the delicious things that will be made from them! I think there will be at least one pumpkin pie from mine.
If anyone would like to come down on a Saturday morning to spend anywhere from half an hour or all morning don’t be shy, there is always something else to be done and the veg always tastes that little bit better when you’ve had a hand in getting it to the table yourself.
See you at the farm!

Community

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Things are going good*, we have had a good season and our members have received a good share of veg through the summer and into the autumn and the field and the room are packed with super vegetable goodness :-). So you can be safe in the knowledge that you will keep on getting a good deal in the months to come.

Midlands Today were angling for me to say our veg is very cheap. It is not necessarily much cheaper (averaged over 12 months) than you could buy elsewhere. I believe it is better i.e. tastier, fresher, more varied, safer (no chemicals), less harming of environment and people.  We aim to give you good value for money as we pay no middle man but you are also paying your grower a living wage (£8.50 p/h) rather than the pittance that many agricultural workers get both here and abroad.

But look at it like this. £6 equates to about an hours work. That is not bad for a bag of veg, I challenge any of you to grow it for less time in your garden!! (which is the only way you can get equivalent veg in my opinion)

But enough about money. How are we really different from a “normal” veg box scheme.

Well for me it really is about the community. I want to take this opportunity to share with you some of the web of community that I see every day.

Veg and pick up

Because you have to come to the farm to pick up people meet each other and chat while gathering the veg, often the talk is about vegetables, the shared link, but also about family, friends, school, work, hobbies etc. My favourite thing to overhear is when someone says “..just let me know when and I’ll give you a hand with that”. So do break the ice when you are picking up – you never know where it may lead!

Our little library

In my life books come and go. Many return. By using our library we can share things that make us laugh, smile, think, learn, grow or just be entertained, so keep using it!

Volunteers

People volunteer for all sorts of reasons. The social side, the fresh air, the exercise, to feel valued, to give back, to learn, to teach, to get out of the house, to take their mind off things and many other reasons that are unique to each and every person.

By coming along to the field, helping on a stall, sharing your specialist skill, or doing some admin you are strengthening the fabric of the community. Sharing a little load, and all those little loads make the difference between a surviving community farm and a thriving one. In many ways that is what community is about – sharing the load just as we share the veg. And I do like how people seem to have as much fun as I do on the field!

Wonderful Workshares

Currently we have Richard, Jonathan, Julie, Gareth, Rachel and Nathan coming to the field week in week out in return for their share of the harvest. Their contribution has made this year possible (half of them are growers in their own right). But on top of that they all give me a regular lift with their enthusiasm, ideas, support and commitment to the farm.

Steering Group

The role of the Steering Group in the first place was to Make It Happen.
So however big or small our experience of the community at Five Acre we have this little group (Esther, Gareth, Guy, Jo, Joanna, Jonathan, Louise and Rachel) to thank for it.

Other visitors

We have had stacks of other visitors from school children to corporate volunteers to European visitors from similar projects, academics, and of course members mums, dads, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and friends. It is always lovely to show off what we do and you are always welcome to show your visitors around the field with or without a hoe in their hand – it is your farm after all and we should be shouting about it!

* this is high acclaim from someone from Yorkshire, normally the best you get is “not so bad”

Job opportunity! (Now filled)

As most of you will be aware, after a very successful 18 months with us Susan is moving on to new challenges. We therefore have an exciting new vacancy for a main grower! Full details can be found in the job description at http://www.fiveacrefarm.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/main-grower-jd-20132.docx

Please e-mail us for further information.

Bringing in the harvest

Bringing in the harvest

After weeks of 30+ C and postman starts, followed by very welcome heavy rain, this morning there was a new smell in the air. Whether it is really a smell or if it is temperature related or visual I couldn’t say but the early morning risers will know what I am talking about. That something in the air that reminds you that the summer won’t last forever and that it is time to stop gorging and get your winter stores ready.

As a grower you never stop thinking about winter veg* and August is quite a key month for sowing the leafy greens. Too early and they mature before winter, too late and you have nothing to eat. But that is for me to worry about and you to enjoy.

What was really preoccupying my mind this morning was bringing in all the wonderful veg that will not stand the winter and need to be stored in clamps inside. These are big jobs and many hands make light work (you can see where I’m going with this?!).

So in order of play we have

  • Garlic – started last Thursday and completed today by our wonderful workshares J
  • Onions – in about 2-3 weeks? We got them planted in a day – can we get them out in a day? There are some whoppers – well done guys!
  • Potatoes – September probably take a few weeks
  • Squash – September/October? – depends on the frost?
  • Beetroot, celeriac – October/November, might try leaving some beet in the ground

There is something about harvesting (particularly potatoes) that really connects you with the land and on a field scale it really is something special so I would encourage everyone to try and get down for a harvesting session this year as it is one of the perks of your farm. With the help of our friends in the met office, I will give as much warning of dates as I can, via the board in the room/the mailing list/facebook etc.

Susan

Being Organic

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For most of us being an organic gardener means not spraying nasty chemicals on our plants to make them grow bigger, kill the weeds or kill the pests. Instead we can increase our yields by improving our soil fertility with organic matter and green manures and we can deal with weeds by manually removing them and/or using mulches. So far so simple (if hard work!). Pests on the other hand are far from simple. At Five Acre we mainly rely on the barrier method:

Perimeter fence – rabbits

Netting – pigeons, crows, caterpillars

Fleece – carrot fly, leek moth, rabbits

Of course things like fleece can make an area more attractive to slugs as we discovered last year with the beans, while protecting from bird attack the slugs decimated the emerging plants! And the netting probably increased snow damage on the purple sprouting.

We can also use biological controls (e.g. worms and mites) which attack the eggs/larvae of the pest. These have been used on occasion in the glasshouse where we raise our seedlings.

Increasing bio diversity can also help – encouraging birds and frogs to your garden may significantly reduce slugs and crawlies and ladybirds are great for aphids.

I am currently watching the aphids in the cucumber polytunnel slowly be removed by the ladybirds and other predators – I am sure that the insect hotel has helped!! Do pop in for a looksee as it is real David Attenburgh stuff!

The other option for slugs, snails and caterpillars is direct action – picking them off one by one – with slugs this means in the dark with a torch for the serious gardeners!

But for those of you who can’t bear the nightly ritual of squashing the caterpillars on your brassicas my sister has a magical solution to ridding this pest… I wonder if this works for slugs too??

Do caterpillars make good pets?

Having read the great leaflet ‘50 things to do before you are eleven and three quarters’ (https://www.50things.org.uk/) I realised that at the grand old age of 37 and three quarters I had never raised a butterfly from a caterpillar.  So my four year old daughter and I decided we would adopt a new pet.

As a busy (and lazy) gardener I saw many advantages to such a pet:

– Easy and cheap to get hold of, a quick trip down the veg patch and hey presto you have a new pet!

– One less caterpillar eating my brassicas

– It doesn’t make a mess in the kitchen like a dog

– It doesn’t make a mess in the vegetables like a cat

– If for some unforeseen reason the caterpillar doesn’t make it is easily replaced by another identical pet without any awkward conversations with above four year old

So we set up a plastic box, carefully made enough air vents, lined with damp sand and placed in some brassica leaves supported in water to keep them fresh.  So far so good, however some disadvantages soon became apparent:

– Far from eating less brassicas I was protecting the caterpillar from birds whilst allowing it to munch in luxury on brassicas I had hand picked

– As pets, caterpillars don’t really do a lot and my four year old has already lost interest

Then this morning disaster struck when I found the caterpillar had inadvertently fallen into the water and drowned.  Never mind I thought – a quick trip down the veg patch and I can pick up a new one.  Suddenly the Law of Sod struck, for the first time there is not a single caterpillar on my purple sprouting!  Now I am wondering where I can get a caterpillar from before my daughter regains interest and can’t be persuaded that the original pet is ‘just sleeping’.

On the plus side the vegetables are doing nicely!