I feel that people are so focused on food, with fad diets and putting your dinner on Instagram, but so disconnected with how it’s produced. The food system is broken when we can eat cucumbers, tomatoes, and French beans 360 days of the year. Current expectations to have whatever food you want, whenever you want and the corporate food culture of supermarkets has left us with bland tasteless vegetables.
They have erased our seasons, so the selection is extremely monotonous, as it’s the same in August as it is in December. Most people can’t trace their food back to the place and people that grew it. They don’t know what they could grow in their own back garden.
So, I started Reddy Lane Market Garden, and began growing and sourcing organic veg and selling it locally. Being a market gardener is hard, it can be isolating and lonely due to the long and unsociable hours. Running the community sessions was a wonderful way to counter this and connect to people through food. Reddy Lane is here for the long term and I will be working the land for years to come, so I hope we can continue to run the community sessions and continue to connect through food.
Summer is here 🙂 And I am tentatively optimistic about the season so far. The first maincrop 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 planted 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.
So, what do burnt out market gardener’s do in Winter? They go on holiday. I went abroad for the first time in years. And intended to totally forget about the stresses and strains of running the farm.
I wandered around Malta’s museums and cathedrals, ate ice-cream, and enjoyed the Spring like sunshine. The capital Valletta has fantastic alleyways and cafe culture, Medina is a tiny walled town, and Marsaxlokk has fresh fish to eat by the sea.
But I am a market gardener, and couldn’t quite separate myself enough not think about Malta’s farming. Especially as it appears to be a country of market gardeners. With fresh crops growing everywhere I looked, in small fertile pockets and terraces, and larger spaces with cloches and polytunnels. And it was really small-scale, nothing bigger than a few acres, and often much less. And higgledy piggledy in a way I love, everything on different levels, due to the inclines in the terrain.
I saw (and ate) lots of strawberries, garlic, courgettes, tomatoes and
broad beans. And also some pea and potato plants, onions, cabbages, and one stall had rocket. The markets, stores and supermarkets were full of freshly grown local produce. The small stores also drew attention to the freshness and localness of their Maltese veg.
Due to the small size, the cultivation was done by small rotovaters, which is what I largely use
at Reddy Lane. They are small tractors that you walk behind to guide. They are small to manoeuvre, and plough up the topsoil, giving you a weed free tilth to work on. But they do not disturb the subsoil or compact the soil in the way a tractor does. In Malta, growers were also using a very small one that weeds in between your rows of crops. This gives a quite distinct style to their market gardens, as everything looks very neat and tidy, and straight rows are an absolute must. I do not do this at Reddy Lane, which often does not look neat and tidy, so its something to think about. But its a lot of effort simply to make something look tidy, though not necessarily more productive.
I was unable to tell whether the crops were organic with a small O. They certainly weren’t certified as organic, but lots of small-scale providers don’t certify, due to prohibitive costs, they just don’t use pesticide. I saw a couple of gardeners walking down with backpack sprayers, and this could have been a pesticide application, or a traditional compost tea. The aesthetic quality of the cauliflowers, calabrese broccoli and strawberries did suggest pesticide use though.
I saw a couple of women out there with pushing the rotavaters too, and driving trucks to market, and working on the market stalls.
And if you get the chance Malta was lovely in lots of other ways too 🙂
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
So, it’s mid June and alot has happened in the garden. I’m going to try and review each section and crop and where Reddy Lane is at. There have been some successes and some failures…..
The herb garden was covered with plastic last Winter, and I’ve put put about 30 kale plants out, and lost about 20 to slugs in the last fortnight’s rain. I’ve sowed about another 600, for this and the brassica bed. I’ve chosen Westland Winter and Cavelo Nero this year, first time with both of these, and optimistic the second and third sowing will be ok.
The 5kg of Therador garlic bulbs I bought has done excellently over Winter. And I harvested the first bulbs to sell ‘wet’ at Leve Market and in the veg boxes last weekend. There were loads of slugs under the plastic when I lifted one sheet, so I was able to kill about 100 in 1/2 an hour. A bit gross but the carrots next to it were being demolished.
The broad beans planted early next to the garlic will be ready to harvest next weekend. So, actually planting relatively late compared to some growers has only resulted in a crop about 2 weeks later. I have re – sowed and re – sowed in this bed to get it full of plants. And that was even despite it being covered with plastic for a year, and weed free when sowed. The second broad bean bed has taken I think four sowings to fill. And I’ve weeded it probably the same amount of times.
Where the leeks were, I have direct sowed beetroots, parsnips and carrots. I hand watered the whole area a few times, and hand weeded too. The beetroot are doing ok, slightly patchy germination. There’s no sign of the parsnips yet. The carrots are patchy, but there, which is exciting for me as I’ve not grown carrots on this scale before. The row next to the garlic under the plastic has been decimated by slugs in all this wet weather. I am going to try and transplant some of the carrots that need thinning into that bed.
An early sowing of rocket came to success at the beginning of the month. All 133m of it survived the snow of May under the fleece. And Organic North bought 35kg, and Unicorn 3kg, and I sold another 15kg at Levy Market and in the veg boxes. It is the best seller definitely this year to date. But I had to spend a few hours hoeing it, and a few watering it by hand. Also, the last harvest for Organic North had to be done on Saturday night after Levy Market as the temperatures were reaching 25 degrees in the daytime. It had started to bolt and harvesting took hours to select the good leaves. It was too dark to see by the end, and I’m grateful to George for his help.
The other 133m of this brassica bed was sown with phacelia. I thought it may have gotten killed off in the snow, so was pleased that I hadn’t wasted £20 on organic seed, when I saw the furry little stems reaching up. The whole 260m of it is supposed to be being kale. But so far I’m struggling to get the herb bed full of kale.
In the centre of the garden is a section where the old polytunnel was. It was ploughed, mucked and covered with plastic. I have planted out 38 of my own courgettes, and only 3 remain. I ordered 100 plugs at a cost of £42 to replace them, and have about 10 left. The slugs have feasted in the three weeks of constant and at times torrential rain. It is disappointing 😦 A friend gave me 22 of his to replace and I am nurturing them on in pots and hardening off in dry weather, so fingers crossed for some yield. But definitely disappointing. I think I have learnt that commercial organic growers just need to be the kind of people that suffer a setback, and just carry on hoping that it’ll be better next time.
There are two 20m x 9m beds that we covered in plastic at the start of the season. I planted 1000 leeks in plug trays, and lost almost all to slugs while hardening off. I re – sowed another 1000 leeks, and promptly lost them again during hardening off to slugs and torrential rain. I am nurturing the remaining 100, and pondering what else to do with the beds. In the middle of these beds is a 20m x 9m section that I direct sowed with rainbow chard and beetroot last week. I sowed it really thickly, mainly because the smaller disk for the sower didn’t seem to be putting any seed out, probably because the earth was sodden amd jamming it. Any that germinate too thickly I intend to put where the garlic is.
I sowed 80m of French beans on the other side of the polytunnel. It was sodden, so myself and Duncan had to mark out beds, so as not to walk in them. Then stop every couple of metres as the seeder was getting clogged up with mud. I re – sowed a second time in some spaces, but they are looking good at the moment. It took hours to put up the netting. I’d like to get another 80m planted, but it’s too wet to rotavate where last year’s kale was.
The polytunnel has 30 cherry tomato plants in, 15 black cherry and 15 gardener’s delight. I bought them in, as I don’t have anywhere to germinate them under heat. I also have about 100 marketmore cucumbers, in about 5 sowings. Also, basil, coriander and chives finally went in last week.
Then it’s mange tout, which is another disaster really. I’ve sowed twice and had only a few plants over about 100m. Then George took over managing pea germination and has been soaking the peas beforehand to get them shooting their roots. This was going well, and we had hundreds sprouting, but I added extra water and we were greeted by a smell on entering the polytunnel one morning. It smelt like fox scat left in a hot plastic airless bubble but was actually fetid peas in the polytunnel. George bravely swilled them and chucked them wholesale in a bed, we’ll see if any come up. He took the rest of the seeds home to germinate in the garage where he could keep an eye on them. Hopefully we’ll still get a pea crop this year.
To end on a high note, the lettuces have been great. I have four 15m lettuce beds, which is proving manageable. Especially as it is next to the water tank. As in previous years I have had hundreds and can’t keep on top if it. I’ve got lots of Marvel of Four Seasons and a few green Batavia, and with calendula flowers it’s making a good mixed leaf salad. The slugs have knocked a good bit of value off it though as I am having to discard many outer leaves.
Anyway, this Spring update was brought to you by a poorly Lindsay in bed watching Glastonbury. May the next few weeks be a little drier.