Its an exciting time of year as everything starts to grow again after laying dormant over winter. On my cycle to the farm now I’m greeted by daffodils and primroses that line the country lanes. Finally our fields have dried out enough for us to start preparing the land for the year ahead. As I mentioned in the blog last year our soil is heavy in clay and so easily becomes and remains waterlogged for long periods when we have excessive rainfall. The overwintered crops such as our Kale and Leeks have suffered due to this waterlogging and we are now seriously considering installing Land Drains (lengths of pipes with tiny holes in them sunk into trenches dug across the fields and then backfilled with gravel and soil) to combat this annual problem but, it’s an expensive process. The waterlogging is worse in our “Chapel Field” which was taken on after the initial nursery site but, the “Top Field” which is part of the original site has Victorian Land Drains which still make a noticeable difference. And to think, these would have been dug by hand!! We’ll do it all with a trenching machine.
We have been spreading compost with our muck spreader that broke last year but that Adrian has managed to fix this year. Maintaining machinery is a job we try to get on top of each winter but that somehow always gets pushed aside by other maintenance and building work such as building our lovely new compost bays! It’s very important though because a vital piece of machinery breaking at a crucial time of year or weather window can have dire knock on effects!
We spread compost each year. This year we are starting a little earlier because the conditions were favourable and its good to get a job out of the way when we have the opportunity. Along with Green Manures (of which I’ll go into more detail at a later date) adding compost to the soil is one of the most important processes in Organic farming. We are essentially feeding the soil. Healthy soil is jam packed with life from earthworms to countless micro organisms. In one teaspoon of soil there are over a million micro organisms and up to 20,000 different species which all make up a complex food web of which plants are the central feature.
The organic matter we add to the soil is broken down by bacteria that are attracted to the area around the plant roots known as the Rhizosphere. They congregate here because the plants exude food in the form of sugar and carbohydrates and in return the bacteria decompose organic matter making nutrients available for the plants. The bacteria are then eaten by larger organisms and so on up the food chain. It’s an amazingly complex and diverse system that has evolved over hundreds of millions of years. By spreading compost we are nurturing the life within the soil. The life that in return for our care will help us to produce healthy crops. I think this is an important point because often when we consider “Organic Food” we think solely of its benefits to us as Humans but we should also consider its benefits to the soil and the life within it.
Alongside the spreading of compost on our outdoor areas we are gradually clearing the overwintered beds in our polytunnels and glasshouses to make way for new crops. So far we have been planting Spring Onions, Butterhead Lettuces, Leeks and Sugar Snap Peas. These were all sown in our propagation glasshouse on heated benches which allow us to get things going that bit earlier. We also have some new beds of Kale and Salad Brassicas that I drilled in early February almost ready for cropping now.
The term “Drilled” is used when we sow the seed directly into the soil rather than sowing seeds in the propagation house and then transplanting later. We have found at this time of year when the Kale outdoors and the winter Salad Brassicas are coming to an end these early drilled beds supply us with fresh, tender leaves that are very welcome at this time of year. In the propagation now we have our first batch of Courgettes and Spinach which will be ready to plant next week and even some crops for the summer salad that have just germinated. We are making a real effort to improve variety in our summer salad bags this year and so we’re getting prepared early!
At this time each year we use a technique called “Forcing” which involves growing certain crops such as Rhubarb, Chicory and Sea Kale in warm, dark conditions which coax the plants into rapid early growth. The product of this being much more tender and succulent than usual again, a welcome treat in a fairly slow period. We forced a whole ridge of Rhubarb this year and it’s done really well. However, the process does exhaust the plants so after picking the forced plants will be left to recover but, the unforced crowns are now growing well!
Last but not least we have just planted our first batch of tomatoes. These are fairly early and we will sow another batch that will be for later cropping. This will allow us to clear the first batch earlier to make space for Green Manures which will build fertility for subsequent crops. As I’ve said, I will go into more detail about Green Manures at a later date. So, thats where we are so far this year. There will be regular updates about what’s happening on the farm and more insights into Organic Farming to come. Thanks for reading!!