Best season ever!

So, Reddy Lane Market Garden is having its best season ever. The dry Spring meant we could crack on with planting, and the coolish Summer with intermittent rain, has provided us with a field full of crops. It is the first year when we have used all of our 1/2 acre. And already this year we have grown and sold locally 650kgs of organic veg.

broad bean cropThe only crops that have finished for the year is the broad beans and the shallots. We harvested and sold 80kg of broad beans, up from 55kg last year. Shallots were a new crops for us, but I am happy with selling 138 bunches, from 2.5kg sets. We have lifted all the garlic, and have sold 21kgs so far, but there is lots left.

We are still harvesting beetroot, though we’ve sold 117kg already. Our total beetroot sales for last year were 106kg. We are still harvesting kale, though we’ve sold 77kg already. Our total kale sales were 37kg last year.  We are still harvesting purple sprouting broccoli, though we’ve sold 14kg already this year. We are still harvesting tomatoes, though we’ve sold 28kgs already. We have some catching up on last years yield though, which was 78kgs total. We are still harvesting cucumbers, though we’ve sold 62 already. We still have some way to go to catch last years yield of 138.

toms crop

If you were wondering how yields relate to income, kale is the winner so far, with twice as much income as the second best crop. In second place its broad beans, and third is garlic, though there’s plenty more to be sold.

cuc plants crop
Our cucumbers flowering just before fruiting.

The French beans, maincrop onions, runner beans and carrots are nearly ready for harvest. The leeks are some way off yet.

The only outside sowings left to do are the Rainbow Chard and the brassica salads, but it has been too wet for the last few weeks to get the rotavator on the soil. It’s not too late in the season though. The Winter salads go in the polytunnel when the tomatoes and cucumbers have finished.

Summertime

Summer is here 🙂 And I am tentatively optimistic about the season so far. The first garlic-cropmaincrop of the season, the garlic, has been harvested. And its a whopper, definately the best yield we’ve had from our 5kg plantings yet. We’ve sold 10kg ‘wet’ so far, and there must be at least another 50kgs drying in the polytunnel.

broccoli for web
Purple sprouting broccoli.

We’ve had some seriously hot weather and droughts though, which resulted in the 60m of brassica salads bolting 😦  But the hundreds of kale and broccoli’s have survived, and we have been selling them. They are slightly drowning in Phacelia flowers, but I am also selling the flowers too.

The 40m of carrots are coming along well. But sowing 8 rows in a 1m bed has not worked. This is Joy Larkcom’s ‘How to Grow Vegetables’ advice, as the dense planting is supposed to crowd out weeds. Well, days and days of finger weeding, say this doesn’t work on our soil. Weeds flourish and there’s no space for my hoe. If (and I mean if) I grow carrots again I will revert to four rows, with twine down them so you can see where you sowed, and space to hoe.

I started selling from the first 60m sowing of beetroots. The seeds used to fill in the gaps in germination have germinated too, so there should be a good succession too. They look and taste fantastic. Last week I sowed another 60m of purple beetroot and 60m of chioggia (pink/white) too.

The broad beans are almost ready, and we’ll be harvesting at the weekend. Not even had a taste yet myself.

The first shallots were harvested last weekend for the veg boxes. They are delicious, and should easily cover the high cost (£24) of the sets.

The 100 white onion plantlets and 100 Red Baron plantlets are doing ok. There has probably been a 30% loss, with the trauma of being posted (see early crops), then planted, but this is within acceptable parameters.

frenchbeans
French bean seedlings

The French beans are germinating and all their netting is up ready. There are some Fat hen weeds coming close to them too, so if it is nice tomorrow, we will be hoeing them. The Mange touts did not germinate well, so I have ordered some Runner beans to sow instead.

The 40 tomato plants are doing ok. I tasted the first tomato a few days ago, so hopefully many more will follow. The yellow cherry ‘Mil de Fluer‘ variety is living up to its name, with more flowers on a vine than I have ever seen. I have had to use crates to keep the low ones off the floor, so should probably have nipped this first vine out.

The cucumbers are all planted out in the polytunnel, and the first gorgeous yellow flowers are appearing. I have tied up some of them, and pruned out their side shoots. But due to the heat this has been tricky. Rain is due tomorrow, so will get on with sorting supports for the remaining cucumbers.

The squash and courgettes have been planted out through the plastic. Some were lost to slugs, but most have survived. I have a few more still to go out. I may also sow more, which I may just about get away with, while its raining tomorrow.

I have ordered 144 leek and 144 lettuce transplants for planting out, as my sowings with these crops were not very successful. Well, you can’t win them all. Hopefully we find time and breaks in the rain to get these planted out when they arrive.

 

Early crops

This is one of the easier weather starts to the season that we’ve seen in the last few years. We have 40m of rocket and 20m of red mizuna planted. It is ready for harvesting now, and will be on the stall at Levy Market and in the veg boxes this Sunday.

We have planted out 200 kale and 200 purple sprouting broccoli. They are protected from pigeons by mesh, fleece or netting. They seem to be doing well.

We have two 1x20m beds of carrots, and they have just germinated. We have had to spend  many hours finger weeding the weeds, as they are very susceptible to weed competition at this early stage. We have sown 8 rows in each bed, so are hoping once they are bigger, they will crowd out the weeds. More established market gardens would use a flame weeder.  20170524_180338

The 60m of early beetroots have germinated, and are looking healthy now. I went down the rows, and sowed extra seeds in the gaps yesterday, as it is quite patchy germination.

The broad beans have germinated, and we have taken down the bird netting and old CDs that were protecting them. We use this because birds pull them out thinking the little shoot is a worm. Myself and George have spent a good amount of time digging out couch between the plants, so this isn’t exactly a crop success, they would have been better in a section with better control of couch. But weirdly we have found this digging quite satisfying.

I have done a trial of shallots, and bought 2.5kg in sets, at a staggering £24 (they have to be organically certified). It felt quite futile, and a waste of money, but they seem to be doing ok now. They have about 10 shoots coming off each one, so should produce 10 small shallots. I did check Joy Larkcom’s bible ‘Grow Your Own Vegetables,’ and apparently if you want larger shallots you should thin to 6 shoots. But I think I have left it too late for this, so small ones we will have.

crop
Bare rooted onion plantlets

We have also planted out 100 white onion plantlets and 100 Red Baron plantlets. I ordered these bare rooted from Tamar in the Winter, and they arrive beginning of May. When they arrive there is a million other things to do in the garden, and they arrive live, wrapped in wet newspaper and will promptly die if you don’t get them planted asap. I did trench them in some pots of compost to buy myself a few days, and then got them planted out in there permanent beds as thankfully a very large group of volunteers had been scheduled in that week. They are still alive weeks later, and hopefully will start growing vigorously soon.

The 40 tomatoes are planted out in the tunnel. They were not growing so much in April and early May. But in the last couple of weeks, as the temperature has increased and the days have lengthened, they have shot on.

Most of the cucumbers have germinated, and some that have their first true leaves, were 20170524_180237planted out yesterday in the tunnel. The rest will be planted out, when we get round to rotavating in the muck in the rest of the tunnel (which will be soon!) We have traditionally lost alot of these sowing to mice who eat the seeds before they germinate. But we have trialed placing crates with there handle holes taped over, on top of the seeds. When the seed germinates it is then moved from under the crate where it is darker than in the rest of the tunnel. It has had a 100% success rate, and is nicer than using mouse traps, which we have tried in past years.

The courgettes and squashes have all been sowed, and in the same way placed under the crates. The ones that have germinated are being kept outside now, as its very hot in the tunnel, and nighttime temperatures aren’t going to be below freezing now. Next big jobs are getting the beds ready for french bean sowing, and sowing more carrots and beetroots.

Where did Autumn go?

Wow, where did Autumn (and Winter) go? I’ve been meaning to write a blog entry about how the maincrops did for months now. Well, I guess it’s probably to be expected in terms of the demands of a market garden. The torrential rain of early Spring finally subsided, it got very busy, and we finally began to harvest some decent qualities of crops.

The herb garden
This section was covered with plastic last Winter, as perennial herbs weren’t proving viable afterall,  and had 30 kale plants put in. 20 were lost early in the season to slugs, and the final 10 succombed to Diamond Moth which is ravaging brassicas around the country. So, far this has been the most unsuccessful part of the garden over the four years, and nothing has changed this year.

Roots
The 5kg of Therador garlic bulbs I bought has done excellently over Winter. And I managed to sell lots ‘wet’ and then dry the rest for the veg boxes. They have stored well, and have been very popular with customers.

The beetroots, parsnips and carrots were all direct sowed using the seeder on the 27th May were variable. The carrots were my clear favourite, as I’ve not grown them on this scale before and they were good, I definately want to scale this up next year. The beetroots were ok but approx one half of the crop was taken out between mice and slug bites. The mice damage was worse here than it has been in other parts of our site. I put some dog hair down to deter them, and this actually did seem to reduce damage.

I did a sowing of beetroot in June, direct sown from the seeder, and these did really well. Normally I use a setting smaller than the suggested setting when sowing with the multiway seeder. But these were sown on the actual beetroot setting, and far too many seeds do fall out, but this does work ok for beetroot. You can select your biggest ones to sell as baby beets, and the others grow into the spaces.

The module tray parsnips were unsellable. They were so forked and disfigured, that I don’t even think Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall could have sold them. The direct sowed parsnips were delicious, but germination was so poor and the price is so low for them, that I wouldn’t bother with them again.

I filled the gaps in with chard transplanted from another bed which had been sown too thickly. They looked like they weren’t going to make it, and had to be hand watered a few times, but did fine and cropped well. They looked very pretty mixed in with the carrot fronds, beetroot stems and parsnip tops. But it’s a market garden not an allotment, and having odd plants dotted about randomly, wasn’t a time or cost effective way of

george-brassicas
George hoeing the rocket.

harvesting.

Brassica family
Inevitably our fantastic rocket started to bolt, and we rotovated, and planted out Westmorland kale and Cavelo Nero (Black kale). The other half stayed as phacelia and self seeded itself. As the kales were taking off, it became late summer, and on I direct sowed 100s of metres of Rocket, Mizuna and Purple Frills (formerly called Red Mizuna). These did crop well, and were successful for us, but were planted a little too late.

Curcurbitae

courgette
Courgettes planted through plastic.

After a disappointing start with the courgettes, over 100 lost to slugs, the remaining 22 did ok. They are always popular on the stall, so will try to get more through to fruition next year. The uchiki kuri squash planted out later did much better, and we had the right amount for the stall and the veg boxes.

Beets and chard
I also planted two rows of chard and three of beetroot in late June. The chard did well, producing 70kg, and I’d like to increase this for next year. The beetroot did well too, and this was the best sowing date, of the three sowings. They also seemed to succomb to mouse and slug damage less despite being closest to the mice nests. On the whole though, we didn’t do as well with beetroot as last year, but that suited me as I had over-eaten them previously.

Legumes and lettuces
The broad beans planted in March did well, but the second sowing on 25th May was disappointing, and I wouldn’t try and sow this late again. We only got one harvest of any mention from them. And when we were clearing them there were lots of nitrogen fixing nodules on the roots, which it was a shame to be pulling up.

We had 160m of French beans, and they did reasonable, but nowhere near as good as they might have done. The first sowing was sowed in very wet ground, and I think they developed a fungus disease due to this which meant many beans had a brown discolouration on. The second sowing was far too late and barely cropped at all.

The third sowing of mange tout finally came good, and we had a good sized cropping well into October. This crop was large enough to wholesale some too. It took a long time to harvest though, and whilst £5/kg wholesale price seems good, actually I’m not sure that this is a viable crop. Or not at our speed of harvesting anyway.

The spring lettuces over 60m were great, as the damp and cool weather gave them a good start. I was unable to maintain this as the temperatures and other demands of the garden increased though. Despite sowing successionally through the summer, nothing else notable came from these beds. From late summer I had also done module sowings, so had a good amount to go into the tunnel.

In the polytunnel
The polytunnel had 30 cherry tomato plants in.

summer-tunnel
Full size Cherry tomato plants on the right.
cucs
Marketmore cucumbers just starting to flower.

Despite a poor start in the cool spring, which was resulting in squishy skins and insipid flavour, they did perk up in summer. Yields and flavour were good eventually, and 30 plants gave us 78kg to sell. Just 30 plants in 1/4 of the tunnel still represents our second best crop income wise.

I grow my own cucumbers from seed, but these didn’t perform anywhere near as well as the tomatoes. Over half were sown far too late, in mid May to early June, and these barely yielded at all. Those sown earlier did far better, and cropped heavily, and were popular. But the value of them is much less than the tomatoes.

winter-lettuces
Module lettuces being ‘cut & come again’ in the polytunnel.

The whole tunnel was planted up with winter lettuces from modules when the tomatoes and cucumbers came out. These did really well as they were really well established plugs when they went in. Then brassica salads were also direct sown, and these were great for the last few weeks of the veg boxes when outside brassica salads and indoor lettuces had finished.

End of the season
As ever I ended the season in December burnt out and exhausted. I was very much looking forward to resting, spending weekends relaxing catching up with friends and jobs around the house. Farmers must be the only people who look forward to the Winter. It is the only time they can actually take a real holiday, which is what I am doing later this week.

July’s not so belated post

July has still been very busy in the garden, and characterised by cool weather and rain. Which means crops (and weeds!) are growing slower than usual, and I have only had to irrigate outside once, and have been fine to leave the polytunnel for a day unwatered.

In the garden
The herb garden has finally been rotavated and I’ve had to concede defeat to the couch grass, and laid some black plastic to plant through. George and I laughed wryly at our plastic paradise garden as we surveyed the area. A garden of plastic was not my dream for the herb garden, but I cannot keep on top of the perennial weed couch grass, and keep losing my herbs. I have planted nasturcian, borage and calendula plants through the plastic, and have direct sowed some of the same and some cornflowers. I have also planted out Rosemary and sage plants in the plastic, and have direct sowed some yarrow too.
I have spent six days weeding the beetroot after letting it get totally out of control twice, so have implemented a new weeding regime. I have committed to hoeing all the crops at the beginning of the week, rather than letting the weeds progress and then having to spend much longer on weeding.
Some of the sections have got totally out of control with Fat Hen, but the upside is I have been eating and selling some to Manchester Veg People (MVP) and in the market/veg boxes.
The mange tout are being eaten by rabbits and there is no sign of them growing much, or producing a crop 😦
I still haven’t managed to get the leeks planted out or the kales planted out from the cage.

Selling
I am still selling oregano and sage regularly to the Unicorn Grocery and MVP. Unicorn are also20150725_103351[1]buying dill and tarragon plants from me. I have sold some edible calendula, sage, oregano and coriander flowers to MVP, but haven’t been able to provide a consistent supply. The sage were popular at the beginning of the month, and I have lots of oregano at the end of the month, but nobody is very keen on them. Manchester House restaurant said they were “aggressive.”
I am still selling my beetroot, garlic and fat hen at Levenshulme Farmer’s Market and in the veg boxes.

Buying
I have been buying the Kindling Trust’s strawberries for Levenshulme Farmer’s Market and the veg boxes, and they have been fantastic. They have symphony and honeoye varieties. But largely other crops from local growers are slow and there hasn’t been as much local organic crops available as usual.

Musings
I saw this post about a project growing microgreens in underground tunnels for restaurants in London. Therefore cutting food miles considerably.
http://thefreethoughtproject.com/worlds-urban-underground-farm-opens-business-londons-wwii-tunnels/
I don’t think this would work in Manchester though, as there aren’t enough of those high end restaurants that would be able to use (and pay!) for microgreens.

a cool, damp May

Wow, this May has been cool and damp. And the garden reflects this, as have my spirits at times. Everything is behind, much hasn’t germinated, and flowers are battered. I am also injured, I put my back out digging couch grass in the herb garden, and it made me realise how much lifting and bending I do. I have been prescribed codeine and ‘light duties’ for a week or two and I should be fine. Fingers crossed.

The first tiny little tomato appears
The first tiny little tomato appears

Growing
The polytunnel looks totally different this month, with the tomatoes planted out, and the gaps filled with green batavia lettuces. In the end I bought 25 tomato plants from Glebelands, as
mine were so far behind with the cold weather.

This little blob is a Ladybird larvae turning into a Ladybird.
This little blob is a Ladybird larvae turning into a Ladybird.

I have treated the aphids twice with soft soap, and had to use a Soil Association approved supplier, which £17 for 1ltr! The ladybird larvae are chomping them too.

The 114m of beetroot are finally germinating and growing, though very slowly. It is being nibbled too, possibly by rabbits.
The 77m of mange tout are yet to germinate, which is very concerning, but I’m hoping its just because we haven’t had high enough temperatures. The 57m of lettuce has been lost, as it was under fleece to protect from very low night time temperatures, and created a haven for slugs. I re-sowed 19m and left the fleece off.
I don’t think all 3800 leeks have germinated, but lots have, and any gaps I will probably fill with onion sets.
I put out my 100 purple sprouting broccoli to harden off, and a bird must’ve gotten in and ate the lot. I re-sowed 40. The Westphalian kales are hardening off under a more robust system (hopefully!).
I have also sowed 18 dunja courgettes, 10 passandra cucumbers, 68 marketmore cucumbers, 100 buttercup squash, and 15 uchuri kuri squash. And the mice have been nibbling and moving seeds around, so I am replanting and re-locating ones I find in other parts of the polytunnel.

New Spring crops finally coming through. And my lovely blackboard....
New Spring crops finally coming through. And my lovely blackboard….

Selling
I’ve increased the veg box customers, and even did 14 one week, though 11 is about the average. Levenshulme Farmer’s Market every Saturday is going well. I have been selling my cut herbs, though the cold weather meant there was a three week gap in supply of salad as the polytunnel leaves finished and the mizuna under the enviromesh wasn’t ready.

Herbs being bagged and tagged for Unicorn.
Herbs being bagged and tagged for Unicorn.

I have sold potted herbs and strawberries, which have gone really well. I am trialing the Strawberry plants in Unicorn Grocery this week, and they are taking my cut fennel, oregano and sage too.

Musings
I went to visit Alan from Growing with Grace on the Fylde coast, which is an organic market garden. They run a box scheme, farm shop and sell some wholesale crops. It was a really useful experience, and Alan certainly crammed alot of talking into the afternoon! They grow on 3 acres. He buys from all the other great organic growers on the Fylde,  and they co-ordinate on crop planning etc. His polytunnel was humbling, it was so productive, his peas as tall as me, and a carpet of Little Gem lettuces.
I found it a useful pep talk in what can feel like an unrewarding environment, financially and otherwise. He reckoned I was doing the right thing, building up my own customers,and in some ways swimming against the prevailing tide 🙂