It's been a while since my last Blog entry. Sorry about that! What can I say, I've been very busy! I always seem to say that but that's how it is, there's always so much to do. In fact to deal with the workload prioritizing is one of the most important skills to learn as an organic grower. At times you can feel overwhelmed by all the jobs that need doing and so you have to learn to focus upon the tasks that simply can't wait. For example getting a certain crop sown in time, planted before some rain or weeded before the weeds take hold.You also have to learn what jobs can be left for example our well established corn has a flush of weeds that could be got with a wheel hoe but, this is time consuming and our squash crop has quite a bit of annual nettle and fat hen in it that will go to seed if we leave it. Therefore the weeds that are going to seed are the priority right now. Hopefully the weeds in the corn won't get to the seeding stage! As always its a steep learning curve and each year is different. At the end of the day you just have to accept that you can't do everything.
Since the last blog entry we've concentrating on getting the outdoor crops planted, weeded and protected from pests. We've got everything planted now and on the whole it's looking good. Our early Leeks are being picked already and I'm proud to say that they are pretty much weed free thanks to our steerage hoe. I mentioned the steerage hoe in the last entry as it deals not only with weeds between the crop rows but also between the plants by throwing a ridge of soil covering and killing weeds there too. Thus far hand hoeing and hand weeding have been dramatically reduced which is amazing. However, now at the end of August, early September the amount of rain we've had has stopped us from being able to get through the crops with the tractor mounted weeders and so, its not looking so weed free
Our kale and brocolli are all in and moving fast due to a good amount of rain after planting, so no need for irrigation.The steerage hoe didnt work so well with the brassicas in their early stages as we ended up burying plants, our brush weeder was used instead. We also organised a volunteer day and with a few pairs of extra hands it was possible to hoe between plants manually. Big Thanks to the volunteers!! We have to cover all our Brassicas with mesh to fend off the cabbage white butterfly amongst other things. The sheets of mesh are huge and very heavy and it takes a lot of time and energy to move them about. It's a common method used on many organic farms. It's a right pain though!!
We've also had to erect an electric fence around our entire outdoor cropping area to keep rabbits, badgers and deer out. Again its a time consuming process but one we have to do to ensure that we don't lose the crops we've put so much time and energy into growing and maintaining. Our squash have done very well too and it won't be long now till the annual harvest which will involve another volunteer day. We provide a lovely lunch and a free veg box to all our volunteers so if anyone reading this fancies it, contact the farm to find out when the next one is!
Inside and out throughout the summer I've been regularly drilling crops such as salad leaves, chard, beetroot and various herbs. In the polytunnels and glasshouses our french beans are producing very well. We've got crates full of them and we've not had a problem with spider mite which can be a real problem with crops such as beans and aubergines.
We've kept them at bay with regular damping down as they thrive in hot dry conditions and we also introduced a spider mite predator early on which will have helped too. Another thing I'm learning is that things should be preempted rather than trying to deal with problem when its already taken hold.
Having said that, our pepper plants that were infested with aphids, after introducing a parasitic wasp that prey upon the aphids, have finally recovered. Now, when turning over the leaves there are hundreds of dead, parasitized aphid all with tiny holes in their backs where the wasp larvae will have hatched out. Pretty gruesome but absolutley amazing at the same time! As a result of the aphid infestation we are only now beginning to see ripening peppers which is much later than usual. Our aubergine plants on the other hand have been literally dripping with fruit. It's amazing! I picked one the other day that was pretty much the size of my head!
With less demand for space inside we've been getting lots of green manures in and we will also be getting long term over winter green manures established outside too. Green Manures are crops that are used in organic systems to build fertility, improve soil structure and act as a weed suppressant and cover crop so that soil is not left bare when rainfall may leach valuable nutrients. Legumes such as clovers, peas and beans are all nitrogen fixers. They fix nitrogen from the air through a symbiotic relationship with a certain type of soil based bacteria. In return for food which it gets from the plant the bacteria stimulates the formation of nitrogen nodules upon the plants roots.
When the green manure is incorporated the nitrogen is then made available for subsequent crops. It's natures way of fertilizing, evolved over millions of years. Its only now that we're really beginning to learn about the incredible relationships at work within the soil between plants and micro organisims. There are many other green manures that have different functions. Deep rooting crops such as chicory that break up the soil allowing for the free movement of air, water and soil life. They also help to recover phosphate and potash from deep within the sub soil again making these nutrients available for the next crop. The list goes on.
So here we are at the beginning of September and we're busy sowing and planting our over winter crops such as chard and salad brassicas in the polytunnels and glasshouses. I can't believe how quickly it comes around! I'm just hoping this current period of dry weather goes on for long enough so we can do one last blast with the steerage hoe! Thanks for reading!