It feels a long time after the crowdfund, but we have finally begun construction on our 100 foot polytunnel.
Polyunnels on this scale are really expensive, and it costs the same again to have it constructed for you. So, after a lot of ummming and aaahhhing we decided to use all the crowdfund money for the raw materials, and construct it ourselves. This meant we got a larger polytunnel and a very daunting task for October. It has been keeping us all very busy, and we’ve definately had some tension in the group, but it does look rather wonderful already. We have learnt alot!
It is quite a task to construct, and there are many stages. One of the first tasks is taking delivery of it all, and trying to work out what it all is. It seemed so much timber and packets of ironmongery.
Then you need to very accurately measure it out, and dig 32 holes for the 16 hoops. The base plates then sit inside this, and are anchored on to tubes, and then backfilled. Measuring and levelling them took forever. Personally I nearly cried this day….
But then you can really quickly construct the hoops and something rather wonderful begins to take shape.
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 email@example.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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.