Dispensing some veg box wisdom

We do have a few veg box slots available if you are interested, see this page.

Seven years as a market trader means I’ve heard a lot of observations about organic seasonal veg over the years, and wanted to share some my tips with you.

Firstly, It tastes better, so your cooking will be instantly next level too, I promise 😊

Andrea Bemis who’s books and blog I really recommend

Books
If you’re anything like me, you own a lot of cookery books, but maybe have only cooked a handful of recipes from them. Seasonal veg will make you try some of the new recipes.

Some good ones for seasonal UK veg are Anna Jones and Ottolenghi. I also really like Meera Sodha (Indian vegetarian) and Sabrina Ghayour (Middle Eastern and meat focused). For blogs I like Thug Kitchen, Green Kitchen Stories and Digging up the Dirt. The latter is written by Andrea Bemis who farms in Oregon, and her original recipes showcase the less sexy vegetables.

Food variety in a year, not a week
A seasonal veg box can feel abit like you are eating one crop until it’s coming out of your ears. Just when you are beginning to think not again, it will disappear again to be replaced by something else that feels refreshingly “new.” Asparagus, new potatoes, corn on the cob, beans and courgettes to name a few seasonal stars.
If something really is coming out of your ears I find batch cooking huge meals at a time works for me, and my two freezers testify to this. Great when you come home starving and freezing from a hard day on the farm.

Hungry gap
There is a ‘hungry gap’ in the UK from late April to early June where the stored Winter crops have finished and the new season crops are only just starting to appear. It’s a challenge to source organic UK veg at this time, and the prices reflect that. Hold your nerve, summer goodness is coming, and prices will drop again. 

Veggie tips
Cauliflowers, leafy cabbages, corn on the cobs and calabrese broccoli are sold per unit, and the price is the same whether it’s a good season or a poor season ie. whether they are big or small. As the farmer has done exactly the same work whether they are big or small. Just like farming, you may score a whopper or you may feel abit like you’ve been had.

Red/white cabbages, squash and celeriac are sold by weight, and some of them are huge. For cabbages, if you are feeling intimidated (and I used to), learn how to make sauerkraut, and you’ll never look back.

Making saurkraut with enormous red cabbages

For squash: soup, curry and adding to the Sunday roast are my go to’s. For soup- I add coconut and chilli. For curry- I add chickpeas and spinach/chard. For Sunday dinner, just roast along with your other roast veg, and snack on leftovers through the week.

For celeriac: I make soup and freeze.

If you are not sure what to do with a root vegetable, roast it, and make a quick dipping sauce for it. Great for packed lunches through the week, with a grain &/or salad.

Salads and greens

The veg is unwashed- we don’t have the washing facilities and it’s a whole next level of audit with Environmental Health to sell washed crops. But if you are finding the greens abit gritty, particularly the salad, I do recommend a salad spinner. Ours was just a couple of quid from Ikea (other retailers are available).
We grow alot of salad, it makes everything else viable. Make a simple salad dressing by adding 3 parts oil to one part acid (lemon or vinegar). Add garlic, salt and pepper, and drizzle over your salad. Add things like yogurt, tahini, capers, herbs, blended onion to make more interesting.
There can be a lot of greens like kale and chard, and a good way to get more into you, is to steam then stir fry as they will reduce down. Start stems first as they take longer to cook, then add leaves. Great with soy sauce/ garlic/ lemon juice/ butter.

How to store
Our greens are picked just hours before they are delivered to you. But if they are not in plastic, they will wilt very quickly. If we deliver crops like kale, herbs or chard in a bunch with an elastic band round it, then put it in plastic yourself, and put it in the fridge. They should last for up to 1 week.
If you don’t have a suitable plastic bag, put it in water, like a bunch of flowers.
DON’T just put it loose in the fridge, as it will wilt very quickly.

How long does it last?

Greens in plastic should last up to 1 week.
Dirty root veg should last months, as long as you do not let it dry out. In Spring time though, they will start to try and grow roots.
Garlic, squashes and onions will last for 1 year if stored well (dark, cool, not damp).
White and red cabbages should last a few weeks though the outer layer may start to age abit. This can just be peeled off.
Chillies and herbs can be dried or frozen.

Share your kitchen triumphs

If you do anything cool with one of our veggies, send me the recipe and a photo and I’ll post it with a credit to you. (The photo needs to look good though, and natural light is the best way to achieve this.)
 
Happy eating,

Lindsay 🙂

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.

Reviewing the year

I took a long time over the Winter to mull over the year, and think about the future. It was difficult sometimes, but absolutely crucial to Reddy Lane growing. I am engaging in  negotiations about the future with my landlords, I have spreadsheet after spreadsheet on sales figures & projections, a spreadsheet showing me when to weed/sow/harvest each section of the field, and I am trying to make getting my own piece of land a reality.

20150910_182333
Space saving solutions via string and wood in the polytunnel

Visiting Sagar Lane Market Garden
I went to visit a market garden in Hebden Bridge called Sagar Lane, and took some inspiration. There are two sites, and they started 3 years ago, just like Reddy Lane. Unlike Reddy Lane they sell all their own veg in a box scheme, they do not buy in any veg from elsewhere. They have started small in their fields and cultivated more land as their business has grown. They also do not have organic certification, and therefore save themselves alot of money and paperwork, by simply informing their customers that they do not use pesticides. I also liked that one of the sites is a 20 minute (uphill!) walk from their house. And that their situation is relaxed enough that they have built a bender at the bottom of the garden with a wood burner in for woofers and friends to stay in. Also, a fantastic space saving invention in the polytunnel is hanging wooden shelves up with string. Their page is facebook.com/sagarlanemarketarden

Dishing up the dirt
I came across http://www.dishingupthedirt.com last year, and I love it. Andrea Bemis is farming 6 acres organically in Oregon with her husband, and her blog has recipes and fantastic photos of her meals and her farm. Being a woman and being a farmer can feel like you are a little out on a limb. Peer support is somewhat lacking. So, this excellent blog helps and some of the recipes I’ve followed have been great. I very much aspire to including information on what to eat with seasonal and local produce on this website. Following it on Instagram also signposted me to other organic farms in the US that were posting about their own veg and cooking. Ones I really like are: jbgorganic, high mowing organic seeds, revolution farm, pitchforkandcrow, evenpullfarm, sassafras creek farm, quarter branch farm, happy acre farm, jeffsorganicproduce, icecaporganics and transition farm robin.

andrea bemis
Andrea Bemis shows off her lettuces at her six acre farm in Oregon.