Over the past few weeks it's been very wet which I'm sure you are all very aware. This consequently means we are very behind with our outdoor planting and also we can't quite keep on top of the weeds. When the soil gets saturated we simply can't get out there with our tractor mounted cultivators, transplanters and weeders as it just makes a mess and can cause serious compaction which is hard to counteract. The amount of rain itself is causing compaction on the areas I've already cultivated which is making planting difficult and the plants are not going into soil in the best condition as it's becoming anaerobic due to waterlogging. Anarobic soil looks slightly grey and is smelly, like estuary mud and the biology at work in anarobic soil are not the beneficial organisms needed for good crop growth so not ideal. What can you do, we can't control the weather!! However, this past week it's been dry and we've been out there at every opportunity getting Leeks in and doing what weeding we can. As Ive said, not being able to run through the crops with our tractor mounted weeders means that the weeds could potentially take hold but luckily Freya and I managed to whip through our sweetcorn and squash with the steerage hoe just before a torrential deluge that flooded the tops of our polytunnels. The glasshouse where our Tomatoes are also flooded which they won't like but again we just have to hope they dry out. As you can see, the weather is not really on our side so far this year. Things are really slow to get going due to lack of sun shine and heat and the muggy conditions mean we suffer a lot more from rots, mildews and funghal conditions. As always we have to celebrate the succeses and learn from the failures but right now I'm sat here on another incredibly wet Sunday thinking, "how on earth are we going to get everything planted now"!!!!!!! Another plan potentailly scuppered!!!
All our sugar snap peas which we started nice and early are now coming to an end. They've produced well, not only the pods but the shoots and flowers that we sometimes add to our salad mix. I undersowed all our peas with a Green Manure called Trefoil. Green manures are crops we use to build fertility and to protect and improve soil structure. Undersowing is when we sow a crop such as trefoil between/beneath the actual vegetable crop.Trefoil is a member of the legume family which fix nitrogen from the atmosphere in a symbiotic releationship with a certian bacteria in the soil. The result of this process being the formation of nitrogen nodules on the plants roots which will then be made available to subsequent crops. Trefoil is ideal for undersowing as its is low lying, weed suppressing and can stand trampling when the crop is picked. We also use it to undersow beans and sweetcorn outside. Once the peas are out we'll leave the trefoil to continue growing, mowing accasionally until we incorporate it and plant winter crops into it in the autumn. The nitrogen will be ideal for our winter salad leaves. Our early fennel is also coming to an end but I'm sure you'll agree its been a great crop.
Early this year we drilled Kale again in the glasshouses and polytunnels and it's still going strong after multiple cuts. We initially use it as baby leaf or tender kale and once cut we thin it out so we get sturdier re growth and we can then crop it two or three times after that. It's starting to bolt now but it's done really well. Our Courgettes are producing lots now, green, yellow and round ones and the plants look strong and healthy. We sometimes have problems with aphids and although I took out one infested plant the aphids are there but not out of control. We need some aphids so that the aphid predators such as ladybirds, hoverflies and their larvae have something to feed upon. Also, our pepper plants which last year got completely infested and suffered greatly due to this are looking strong and healthy. The aphids are there but in check. Various things both that we've done and that have occured naturally will have added to this. Firstly alongside all the flowers around the site such as comfrey we've planted a lot more flowers including calendula and borrage in the tunnels and glass houses to attract the beneficial insects in. We've also allowed overwintered crops to flower like our corriander. The small white flowers of the umbiliferfamlily including corander and dill are loved by hoverflies amongst other things. You can see them buzzing about when you stop to look. Also, when clearing a bed of aphid infested bolted lettuce I noticed it was also teeming with ladybird larvae so we collected loads of them up and redistibuted them to our pepper and courgette plants. Early on we introduced some parasitic wasps which lay there eggs in the the aphids and whos larvae then parasitize the aphids. Gruesome but amazing at the same time. Now when inspecting the pepper plant leaves you can see mumified aphids. So, it's on the whole looking good, a well balanced system with nothing out of control. The place is quite literally buzzing with insect life.
I watched a bee pollinagting our cucamelon plants the other day. This is the first year we've tried cucamelons, a small fruit that looks like a tiny watermelon but is more like a guerkin. It's all too easy to take for granted all these processes but it is all these creatures and their actions which we rely upon so it's good to stop once in a while, take note and say Thankyou!!
Our Tomatoes are doing ok.......They got off to a shaky start as the beds we planted them into had in places been flooded during the winter. We spent time opeing up the soil with our broad forks but still some the plants went into cold, wet, compacted soil which is just not a good scenario. The plants take longer to establish and will ultimatley be unhealthy and stunted as their roots just can't venture out to gather the water and nutrients needed for growth. Our Aubergines suffered this too. Upon first glance the plants looked starved of water with wilted leaves but in fact they too were sitting in cold, wet soil meaning they were not getting established, their roots unable to bring in the sustenance needed for griowth. They are ok now though! In the Tomatoes there's quite a lot of a funghal disease called Botrytis and with all the rain there's the potential for the water bourne disease called Blight which can be devastating. I know of other farms that have got blight so we are all in the same boat, struggling against adverse weather. We just have to be vigilant and go through the crop every day removing any affected foliage to prevent the spread of the disaeses which these muggy conditions are just ideal for. The Tomatoes are bountiful though and are begginning to go out in our weekly veg boxes. We've just planted our 2nd batch of tomatoes which will crop later on if ultimately we have to remove some of the first batch due to disease.
The variety within our salad bags changes throughout the year. We are now in the summer salad period. You'll notice there are none of the salad brassicas such as rocket or the oriental salad brassicas with their strong flavours such as mizuna, mibuna and giant red mustrad. This is because at this time of year these crops are impossible to grow organically without being severely damaged by flea beetle. A tiny black hopping beetle, hence their name, that leave tiny holes all over the foliage. Although entirely edible the damage makes these crops completley unmarketable. We do try using fine mesh nets and also using slightly tougher varieties of rocket such as dragons toungue or wild rocket that don't get quite so badly affected but really, its pointless to try until the end of July early august.
So, we have to get creative and look for other crops for this time of year ofwhich there are many. We grow various members of the Amaranthacae family which contains approximately 2040 species and is a widespread cosmopolitan family. Two leaves currently in the salad bags are Orach with its purple, fleshy leaves and amarynth with its marroon leaves. Orach has a subtle flavour, amarynth stronger so that you dont want too much in the mix. Both can be used in the salad but also more mature leaves can be used as you would spinach. Also the seeds of amarynth can be used as you would quinoa. We've also got goosefoot or tree spinach coming on, similar to orach in leaf shape but light green in colour with a pink edge so look out for that. We also have golden purslaine or summer purslaine with its succulent golden green leaves and orange stems. It has a slightly citrussy after taste which I love. French sorrel will sometimes appear in the mix which you can't fail to miss as it has an intensely citrussy flavour, quite like a sour apple. Again you dont want too much but I think its great. Now and continuing we have chicories and endives such as palla rossa with its lovely dark red and white sturdy leaves, bitter but so attractive and along with the frilly endive leaves a great addition. A new leaf I've never tried but that is coming on is called buckshorn plantain, a relative of the plantain that commonly grows wild here. The leaves as the name suggests look akin to a bucks horn and apparently have a taste with hints of parsley, spinach and kale but sweeter and nuttier so look out for that too. We will also be adding small amounts or herbs such as basil, dill and chervil so an altogether attractive mix that although missing the robust flavours of the brassicas is still varied and tasty.
Hopefully you'll start getting our peppers and aubergines soon and also the french beans are now starting to produce well. It's been slow to get going and the weather still isn't really on our side but we're trying our best against the adverse conditions.