It’s a lovely sunny Saturday morning and I’m up early as usual. It’s been a long week up on the farm as we’ve been planting all our tomato and pepper plants in the polytunnels and glasshouses. It’s amazing how quickly things come around! To make way for these we’ve been clearing a lot of the over wintered crops. The salad brassicas such as rocket, mizuna, mibuna and the streaks have now bolted and started to flower and so are ready to be cleared. We do however pick the bolted brassicas before they flower, the bolted part is the same as purple sprouting broccoli, all part of the same family and they are all really good to eat with their own unique flavours. The flowered brassicas look quite beautiful in the polytunnels and are great for the insects so we leave them whilst we can. However its valuable cropping space and there are new crops waiting to be planted so they have to cleared at some point. All the debris goes onto our compost heap so it all goes back into the system. Nothing is wasted.
We’ve planted our first batch of courgettes and runner beans in the glasshouses. It’s a bit of a gamble as its relatively early but hopefully, all things going to plan, they’ll be ok and we’ll have early pickings. Last year it was still very cold in April and our first batch of courgettes was destroyed by aphids, totally infested. It was one of the first crops I planted and so was incredibly disheartening to see it fail. A good lesson though, that growing organically one has to be incredibly resilient and accept that things will fail and that you have to learn from it and try again. It is hard though and often out of your control. We think that the aphid was so abundant last year because the natural predators were not about due to the prolonged cold weather.
This year I’ve been very attentive checking for aphid and yes they are there but the predators are there too so things may well be in balance. We have introduced some of the aphid predators ourselves to be on the safe side. As a certified organic farm we cannot use any form of chemical insecticide but we can use biological controls such as this particular tiny wasp that preys upon this particular aphid that likes courgettes. We get a small plastic vile sent in the post which contains hatched and unhatched insects that we sprinkle around the crop. It’s at times like these that one realizes why such in depth lengthy studies into one particular animal or insect can prove to be so valuable. Ideally we would not have to introduce the insects because if everything is in balance the predators should be there to keep everything in check.
Farming is of course very dependent upon the weather. The ever more erratic unpredictable weather we are now facing due to climate change makes things even harder for farmers. We’ve only just been able to start preparing our outdoor cropping areas due to them being far to waterlogged after the amount of rain we had over the winter. We have a clay heavy soil which holds water for longer so we always have to wait that bit longer after rain before being able to get tractors out in the fields. Now, the unseasonal warm weather is also having its effect. I’ve noticed spider mite that can infest and destroy crops, on our young runner beans in the glasshouse. Usually we would not see this until the height of summer and it may well destroy the crop. A result of the unseasonal warm weather we think. As Adrian says (Adrian Halstead who took over Barcombe Nurseries and converted it to organic) growing such a wide range of crops such as we do is like spinning plates. You have to get a lot spinning and some will fall along the way but some wont and these will be the crops that flourish.
At times I do feel slightly overwhelmed by the challenges we face growing organically but in these moments I have to remind myself why we are doing what we are doing. Farming in any form sets us apart from nature. It’s not natural to do what we do to provide ourselves with food but at least organic, sustainable farming techniques are endeavouring in some way to work within nature rather than apart from it. Before its conversion to an organic farm Barcombe Nurseries was a conventional lettuce and tomato farm. Since its conversion to organic many local residents have commented upon how they’ve noticed many more birds back in the area. More birds meaning more insects upon which they feed and so on. This is because Barcombe Nurseries now provides these animals and insects with habitats and food and yes this may sometimes be the crops we’re growing but why not, we all have to share this planet!