As you all know April has been really rather hot, I've even had my shorts on! I started working at Barcombe two years ago in April and it was absolutely freezing, frosts every morning. It just shows how each year can be so different. With the continuing dry weather we've been cracking on with the preparation of our outdoor cropping areas. I did my first proper stint of unsupervised ploughing as Adrian was away. It was great experience for me as I had to really think about what I was doing and consider all the factors that are important when cultivating rather than relying upon Adrian to set it up. It's essential to get the cultivation right because it can dramatically affect the health of the soil, the life within it and consequently the health of the crops. Over cultivation and ploughing to deep can be very damaging to the soil but also, and this is particularly relevant to our soil, when soil has become waterlogged and compacted this compaction needs to be counteracted. Using various tools and techniques the soil needs to be broken up to allow the free movement of air, water, organisms and plant roots. In conventional farming systems fertilizer is sprayed on top of the soil for the plants to take up so the roots do not necessarily need to be able to get right down into the soil. In organic farming the roots need to be able to grow without restriction in order to reach and absorb the nutrients and water they need to grow. As you can see, soil structure and the techniques used to attain a good healthy soil are incredibly important and I'm just at the beginning of this learning process. My Mum has been reading a book called "Life on the Old Farm" and there is a quote she read to me that I think is rather apt here.
"In summer groups of us would walk round neighbouring farms to see how well the other farm lads had done their work, were the furrows straight and were the fields clean by which I mean weed free. That's important by the way. Modern farmers tell you that you need weed killer to get rid of weeds. Well let me tell you, that's nonsense! We used skill not chemicals and our fields were good and clean."
I think this quote shows how these skills were something to be proud of, passed down through generations.
As well as cultivating outdoors we finally got some broad beans in and germinated! Pre-Christmas the seeds rotted in waterlogged soil, post-Christmas one batch got eaten by rooks and pheasants. Now we have a decent batch germinated and looking good!
In the polytunnels and glasshouses we've been clearing and preparing beds for direct drilling of crops such as various salad leaves and herbs such as coriander and basil. First we prepare the beds with a stone burier/bed former which creates a fine tilth and a flat, compact seed bed. We then water and cover the beds with bubble wrap (only at this time of year when the conditions can still be fairly cool) and wait for a flush of weeds to germinate. We then use one of Adrian’s creations, our Flame Weeder, to burn the weeds off.
Eight flame throwers mounted on a two wheeled frame with bike handle bars, break levers and cables that control the flow of gas to the flame throwers. We push this slowly up the bed burning off the weed seedlings and then drill the crop directly into the weed free bed. It may seem rather extreme but it works because once the crop is drilled it gets a head start from any more weeds that germinate and by not disturbing the soil we don't bring up any more weed seeds.
Our first batch of courgettes are flowering and as one variety is self-fertilising we already have some forming which is good as there aren't many pollinators about at the moment. However we have hung honey soaked rags up in the glasshouse and doorways to hopefully encourage some in! Our sugar snap peas are also flowering so soon we should also have some of those to pick. However, I like munching on the shoots and flowers whenever I have a chance as they are delicious and we also add these to our salads. Our Spinach that was looking lovely a few days ago is now looking like a type of mosaic virus could potentially ruin the crop. It's incredible how quickly these things take hold and also quite disheartening but, one has to celebrate the successes and learn from the failures!!
Our purple sprouting broccoli that I thought due to being ravaged by one pest or another would produce very little has actually gone onto to be one of our most successful crops and after 3 or 4 pickings is still going strong! All that hard work planting and weeding is worth it in the end!
Our squash are all sown and germinated and will be ready to plant fairly soon. The squash crop is generally our first big outdoor planting session, almost 4000 plants. They're currently in our propagation glasshouse on heated benches but before planting will need to be moved to our hardening off area to become acclimatized to being outside. They can't just go straight out as it would be quite a shock to the poor little things! Last but not least our peppers and aubergines are in and we planted our first batch of french beans in our Polytunnel yesterday so I'm looking forward to them! That's it for now, there'll be another update at the end of May, early June. Thanks for reading.
Oh......I forgot to mention, part of one of our polytunnel skins got blown off in strong wind so we had to re-skin that!!!!