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.

Rocket.

Spring review

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.

Wet garlic.
First of many harvests of ‘wet’ garlic trimmed up for Levy Market.

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.

Rocket.
Rocket just before harvesting in early June.

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.

Tomato plants.
Tomato plants in their pots just before planting out at the end of May.

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.

Lettuces.
Lettuce leaves being harvested for mixed leaf salad.

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.

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 🙂