Strines falling through

Since meeting the landowners in December, and deciding to go forward with a legal process to rent the site in Strines, there have been numerous delays. There have been difficult negotiations over access and particularly access for volunteers. Planning permission for change of use, and the polytunnels and storage as it is in greenbelt has also not been forthcoming, despite being submitted on 31st January.

It has not been easy but we have had to face facts that this site is just not going to work as we originally understood that it would. This has been upsetting and frustrating. But for us it is important that groups of volunteers can work on the site alongside us. It is also important that we can grow undercover in polytunnels. Therefore we have had to make the difficult decision not to go forward with the growing site in Strines.

We have approached landowners we know in Cheshire, and have agreed to rent ½ acre new site imageof land from them. They are the landowners in Cheshire who owned the land we were renting previously, though it was not them who gave us our notice, but an organisation we were sub-letting from. Renting directly from the landowners gives us security that we did not have before. It is excellent growing soil, it is already organically certified, there is trust between the two parties, and access for volunteers has always been fine. It is so close to where we were growing before that we can see our old site, and the main gate access is still from Reddy Lane, so it’s probably a good job we didn’t change our name!

We have the approximate date of 1st May for seeing the proposed farm business tenancy from the landowners solicitors. Based on previous experience though I am taking a relaxed approach to this deadline.

I have directly emailed everyone who has left a comment saying they were supporting because they were local to Strines and offered a refund. If there are other supporters who only wanted to support because the site was in Strines, but did not explicitly say this, please email me directly on lindsay[at]reddylane.com. I hope that everyone who has pledged their support with our crowdfunder is ok with this. It has been unexpected and disappointing, but you need to be really resilient to be an organic grower. It isn’t the first and it won’t be the last spanner in the works! In the long-term though it is probably better than investing the funding in the site when you are at odds with the landowners from the start.

Please email if you have any concerns.

Thank you crowdfund backers

steering group_crop

Thank you everyone who has backed our crowdfund, which was successfully funded and then some.

After crowdfunder have deducted their fees, we should receive £7302, though it hasn’t arrived yet. It takes 10 working days to arrive. Once it had arrived, we will set about administering the prizes. There are over 133, so please do bear with us.

We are still negotiating about access to the land and volunteers, though somewhat optimistically hope that the site will be set up enough to start running the volunteer sessions by August.

I would like to thank Flourish who believed I could find a new site, and mentored me through the crowdfund process. They support women to create the change they want to see in their local communities. I cannot recommend them enough if you have an idea you want to see happen. They are currently crowdfunding to run the program of seed funding, training and mentoring for another group of women next year. If you have an idea and want to make it happen, attending one of their ‘lunches with’ events and sounding them out is well worth it. It is a £15 prize for a pledge on their crowdfund page.

We hit our crowdfund target

Yes, yes, yes, yes! We did it! With 5 days to spare! Wow! Thank you so much to everyone who has pledged and shared the campaign. It has been a real rollercoaster.

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An unkempt but functional rabbit proof fence

Stretch target
We have set a stretch target of another £1k, which will cover the costs of a rabbit proof fence. We set the target at £7k, as it was an all-or-nothing crowdfunder, so it had to be achievable. But the original costing did not have a rabbit proof fence, and we now think we need one.

Rabbits are notorious diggers and bouncers, which is all very cute, but not when they are eating all your crops. The extra £1k would cover 1/2 acre of four feet high fencing, and the costs of hiring a mini digger and driver to bury a foot of the fence.

In 2015 I lost thousands of pounds worth of crops to rabbit damage. See this blog entry from back then. I would like to avoid that again in the future.

So, please pledge if you can on the crowdfunding site as there are lots of great prizes still available.

It’s going ahead

The new site in Strines is going ahead! After a long Winter of negotiating we are soil tresting cropthrilled that we are close to exchanging contracts to rent the site in Strines. We consider ourselves very lucky to have met landowners that get what we are trying to do. As it would have been so disappointing if all the business and experience we have built up over the last five years came to nothing.

Afterall, last year we grew (and sold!) 1700kg of organic veg.

Top 10 crops for yields
Beetroot 240kg
Leeks 182kg
Kale 113kg
Cucumbers 107kg
French beans 79kg
Tomatoes 69kg
Squash 50kg
Onions 41kg
Garlic 36kg
Salad 35kg

Top 10 crops for income
Salad £656
Kale £522
Beetroot £423
French beans £418
Leeks £387
Garlic £281
Purple sprouting broccoli £203
Broad beans £188
Shallots £153

I have spent the Winter trying to work out how we are going to afford all the new equipment and initial start-up costs to set up the new site. And I’m quite excited to say we are going to try and crowdfund for some of it. More details on this will follow soon.

 

Potential site in Strines

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We have been to see a site in Strines that we are interested in. It is half an acre, and has the Goyt River as its Southern boundary. It is 5 miles from where Lindsay lives, and even closer to George. It is 9.8 miles from Levenshulme Market.

There is a sketch of the Strines site here, and we have been doing soil and site tests to determine its potential as a growing site. This includes looking at the current vegetation, which is buttercup, with some rushes and docks. This suggests its wet, though fertile. We are concerned about the line of Poplar and Alder trees down the centre of the site, and have negotiated to remove them. There is Willow to the West, which we will also cut back.

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Digging the 1m hole.

The soil tests include a finger test, where you roll the soil into a ball, and see how sticky it is. I think we have a clay loam. The drainage test, where you dig a hole 1m deep, cover with a tarp, and then go back the next day. Ideally there will be no water, and indeed there was no water. Jam jar tests where you fill the jar with soil and water, and see what it looks like when it settles. Looks like clay. The soil percolation test, where you dig a hole and saturate with water, then go back the next day and fill again, and see how long it takes to drain away. I am still to go back and check the results of this test.

We are trying to get information from the planning department on costs and timeframes for planning permisson for a polytunnel, and a license for pumping water.

It is not a perfect site by a long stretch, but it has lots of things going for it, and we are negotiating with the landowners. Fingers crossed.

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Lindsay contemplating it all.

Last push for land

The land search is ending in mid-November, so if you have spotted some land you think might be suitable or you have a contact that may be worth pursuing, please get in touch. The link to our home video about the search is here, and the criteria for land is here. It is very location specific (within Stockport, East Cheshire & High Peak). So far, we are in contact with seven landowners with potential land that they are considering letting out, but I would like to be in touch with more.

During the last six weeks, I have written letters and spoken to countless farmers, cold called organisations and emailed them on the off-chance of land. I have pushed it out on social media, and been surprised that two of the seven landowners came forward that way. I still have more of this to do, but the end is in sight, and the to-do list has gotten shorter. I still have two events coming up to attend about farm tenancies organised by the farming community, so we will see what that brings up too.

Lots of people have inquired whether I had land yet, and its great that people are interested. But I would liken the next stage of the process to buying a house, you need to view it, and then a series of checks need to be made. It is a very slow but necessary process.

The sorts of things we will be checking are:
the lands size,
aspect,
exposure,
water availability and pressure,
possible electricity connections,
planning permission restraints for polytunnels,
negotiations on rent,
soil type, depth and drainage,
vehicle access,
lease types,
and plans for the land in the future.

I feel much more optimistic that we will find something than when we started, and thanks for all the support and interest, it has kept me plodding through my to do list. Please do send me any suggestions to follow up, it could be just exactly what we’re looking for.

land image
We are trying to find out who owns this land in Romiley.

Big issue article

The Big Issue in the North published an article by me about market gardening and the land search. The link to the article on their site is here. The text is reproduced below.

My journey to running my own market garden was meandering but ultimately motivated by my desire for a food system that nurtures the health of our bodies and the land. I was the food writer at Ethical Consumer magazine for four formative years, before setting off into the world to learn those practical useful skills that were so necessary to a more sustainable life.

It was a ten year journey taking in living and working in Morocco, Spain and Ireland, studying horticulture for two of these years and visiting around 20 organic growing projects before an opportunity in Cheshire came up. I’ve been farming a half-acre organically certified site at Reddy Lane near Altrincham for five years, along with George, my dad.

During the growing season, George and I farm three days a week. The other two days I sell the veg we produce at Levenshulme Market and in our veg boxes. People can pick up their veg boxes or arrange a delivery.

My days farming with George are my favourites. We love watching and listening to the birds. There are friendly robins and pied wagtails, who come to look for worms in the soil we have disturbed. Once a fledgling tree sparrow flew out of the hedge and got caught in my hair for a couple of seconds. We see buzzards circling up high daily, and occasionally have seen them perched on the water tanks.

You get a real sense of a person when you spend the entire day weeding with them. The repetitive work is calming and encourages the mind to drift. I used to spend my weeks desperate to get into the countryside to get some space from the city and time alone, but now I just go to work. I love the autonomy – to work when I want to work and to just make a decision and act on it.

I have been trading at Levenshulme Market for four years now, and I really love being a trader there. There have been times like three years in, when we lost our crops due to rabbits, everyone else growing at the site left and I had just been diagnosed with endometriosis, when it would have been easy to stop. But I had built up the stall and got to know my customers. Their delight in the veg we have grown really kept me going.

Many people are drawn to the stall or the box scheme due to ethics, but they stay for the taste. Crops which have grown at their own pace and been harvested when they are mature taste better. They are a protest against the homogenisation of our food.

For Reddy Lane, selling our crops direct at the market and via the veg boxes is the only way to make my livelihood as a small-scale organic grower possible. I feel that the direct relationship increases people’s understanding of the real cost of our food. We need small-scale independent growers, as most farmers in the UK are on the cusp of retirement, without succession plans for their farms.

It’s a critical time for Reddy Lane Market Garden – we need to find a new site for the next growing season

I would like to see more support for people producing food in a sustainable way, as opposed to the current system of subsidies that pays landowners for owning land rather than using it to produce food. The recently published People’s Food Policy manifesto challenges the current approach to food policy making, as it articulates the kind of food system we need and puts value on the people who produce our food.

It’s a critical time for Reddy Lane Market Garden as we have been given notice to quit our land and need to find a new site for the next growing season. I am spending the next few weeks trying to connect with as many landowners, farmers, organisations and local authorities as possible, to see if there is a suitable piece of land out there for us.

Our criteria is on our website reddylanemarketgarden.com where I blog about farming, I tweet at @reddylane about the farm and the land search as it happens. I can be contacted on 07875 242608 and contact@reddylane.com with leads for land. The more I farm, the more I want to farm, and I really believe I can create a viable farming business.

Land search update

We are spending a couple of months casting the net as widely as we can for suitable land, so this continues. The link for the video is here, so please share it if you haven’t. A couple of offers have come in through Facebook, so it is really worth spreading it about on social media.

In the real world I am in the process of sending out lots of letters to farms in the right areas. I am in touch with the local National Farmers’ Union and an organisation that matches farmer’s with entrepreneurs. I have a list of people to call that I am plodding through. I have spoken to some landowners, but would definately like to speak to some more. The list of areas we are interested in is at the bottom of this post.

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Basil planters

Whilst doing that, I’m also running the farm, and the market stall and the veg box scheme. We spent all of last week weeding the chard and the brassica salads, and now the last job of the season is to take down the tomatoes in the polytunnel and plant out the Winter lettuces. I’m also potting up some lovely Basil planters to sell on the market as gifts in the run up to Xmas.

veg_crop
Heritage tomatoes, French beans and a Red Oak lettuce

But some off the cuff are: 1.2 tonnes of organic veg grown and sold already this year. This was last years total for the year. This is made up of 184 cucumbers, 200kg of beetroot, 103kg kale, 28kg of purple sprouting broccoli, 116 lettuces, 78kg of French beans, 65kg of tomatoes and 89kg of courgettes. Some of these are still cropping too!

So, please do what you can to ensure we find a farm. We are looking in: Heald Green, Timperley, Altrincham, Bramhall, Woodford, Adlington, Styal, Wilmslow and Handforth. And further out into the Lymm area of East Cheshire. Sale, Didsbury and Cheadle are possible too. Also, the Marple, Romiley, Middlewood, High Lane, Hazel Grove, Poynton areas of Stockport. And Strines and New Mills are of interest too.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.