Midweek Update 30th March 2017

Another short window of weather opportunity opened for us on Tuesday after the lovely dry weekend. We got straight to work getting the ground ready for the next crop that we want to plant, onion sets.

As the soil is so compacted the rotavator had difficulty penetrating the surface so we used the broadfork to lift and aerate the soil. After this the rotavator had a much easier time and was able to break up the soil to a deeper level. We only forked the growing beds, leaving the area in between as paths to be walked on.

If the weather behaves itself and gives us another few dry days we might actually get some crops planted.

The baby leaf salad crops we direct sowed in the poly tunnel a couple of weeks ago are developing nicely and they have now been joined by a row of lettuce grown with the soil block growing system.

Lollo Blond lettuce grown in a soil block
Well established root system

These plants look very healthy and have a good root system established which allows them to get away growing quickly when they are transplanted out. Their transition from tray to growing bed doesn’t seem to cause them any trauma and I am convinced that they had grown overnight when I came in this morning.

We have grown some additional plants which are for sale to other budding growers. Depending on interest, we are looking at expanding this side of the operation, so let me know if you would like to buy plants in the future and what you would be looking for.

We currently have tomato plants, lettuce, beetroot and aubergines. The quantities are low at the moment, but we can scale up if the demand is there. One allotment holder asked us today about growing leeks so we will be sowing some extra’s for him. Email me at: greenslategrower@gmail.com to let me know what you need.

Gardener’s Delight Tomato seedlings. Monty Don’s favourite, apparently.

More Movies

Chester University Film student Elliot Booth has been filming around the farm for the last couple of days, putting together a small movie about Greenslate. it will be interesting to see the farm from someone else’s perspective and I am looking forward to seeing the results. Thanks Elliot.

Spring weather, two tractors and ‘flying’ seedlings


It’s nice to see a pair of Mallard pairing up on the pond at the farm, a reminder of spring.

We have had a couple of busy days trying to take advantage of the small window of good weather that we have just experienced. To make the best of the weather I brought my own tractor to the farm so that Roger and I could cover as much ground as possible before the rain started again. People don’t always appreciate how much the weather impacts on growing, you cannot work the soil when it is too wet, it just causes compaction and ruins its structure.

The Farmer Technical Bit

We need to prepare a relatively large area of ground and in an ideal world this preparation should have started last year.

Our strategy was to use the equiment at our disposal to try and get from a grass and weedy compacted pasture to light  worked soil ready to plant into. This wasn’t going to happen in one day, but we needed to make a start so we can be ready to plant as soon as possible.

The flail mower

The first thing we did was to use the new flail mower. This piece of kit both mows down grass and weeds but also chops them down into small pieces leaving them as a mulch layer on the surface which could be rotavated into the soil during a later process.

The power harrow in action.

The next process was to harrow the ground. Harrows slice and cultivate the ground in a vertical plane breaking up plant structures especially intertwined grass roots. A mat of well established grass holds the surface of the soil together with impressive strength. Rotavaor tines just bounce off the surface, not being able to penetrate.

The power harrow that works with the BCS two wheel tractor has three sets of pointed vertical blades that rotate. As the harrow passes through the surface of the grass, the tines tear down ripping the grass and roots apart and leaving them in a layer on the surface together with the flailed grass clippings.

The rotavator; the soil on the right has been worked.

Finally, it was the turn of the rotavator. The rotavator has tines/blades that rotate in the opposite plane to the power harrow. These blades rotate down in the horizontal plane into the soil chopping and stirring the soil and carrying the mowed and harrowed particles of vegetation that was sat on the surface downwards, burying it in the soil.

Of course these processes can be seen as bad for soil structure, especially if they are over done. But we have used them to help rid ourselves of weeds (grass is a weed in this scenario) and to open up and let oxygen into compacted ground. The top few inches of soil will start to dry out now and further treatment will get it to a fine filth. The land used for potatoes will need to be rotavated deeper to get the necessary volume of loose soil in which potatoes can thrive. The next dry period should see us right for planting.

The Inovative Bit

I don’t know if anyone else has done this before, but I thought of it last year when I wanted to keep my plants away from the dreaded slugs. It is also a handy way of generating more space in the poly tunnel.

I had an old set of ladders at home that were not doing anything so I have brought them in to act as suspended shelves over the summer. Strung up from the poly tunnel roof, these ‘shelves’ should prove ‘mission impossible’ to our slimey friends.

If you have any old aluminium ladders at home that you don’t need, we could do with borrowing some more as our seedling collection grows. Courgettes and squash are especially vulnerable to slugs and snails

Why Are We Here?

Getting a small scale food growing project like ours off the ground is tough. It is sometimes hard to make the economics work and it’s very physically demanding.

So, why are we doing it, ‘why are we here?’

We are working on a community growing project because:

• This kind of food growing is better for the environment.
• It is environmentally sustainable.
• Giving areas over to wildlife gives space for biodiversity and helps our plants to thrive.
• We want our children and grandchildren to enjoy and learn about nature.
• People should know how and be given the opportunity to grow their own food.
• We don’t want to eat herbicides and pesticides.
• Increasing industrialisation of agriculture is harming out planet and decimating many species of wildlife.
• Growing food by hand keeps us happy, fit and strong.
• 70% of the worlds population gets its food from small scale farmers – we think you should have that opportunity.

There are loads of other reasons I cannot remember as I sit here at the breakfast table, but the above is enough to get me out of bed this morning and make me want to get down to the field and get stuck in.

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Direct Sown Brassicas

The direct sown brassicas that I sowed just over a week ago in the poly tunnel have suddenly sprung up. They weren’t there on Wednesday but they were well up this morning. Rocket, Mizuna and Red Russian Kale have all been sown for baby leaf salads, spaced at seven rows across a thirty inch bed. Radish were sown at five rows per bed. The Spinach is slower to germinate so will probably be through next week.

The Kohl Rabi that was potted on into the 2 inch soil blocks on Wednesday looked a bit wilted after their trauma. However, this morning they were standing tall and rearing to go.

A new experience for me will be trying this Salsify, a vegetable that I have never had before. It was given to me by Paul, one of the Greenslate allotment holders straight out of his patch. Apparently it was very popular with the Victorians and is a member of the dandelion family.

And finally, the sun came out just as I was about to go home.

Bees Are Buzzin

It warmed up again today, reaching a dizzying height of 20°C in the poly tunnel. A bumble bee made an appearance and was busy with some broad beans which have overwintered in there and flowering nicely.

The lettuce we planted a couple of weeks ago are starting to look like lettuce with their second set of leaves broadening out, but they are a few weeks away from being planted out. 

We managed to finish off the rotavating in the poly tunnel yesterday and the soil came up to an amazintg ’tilth’ considering it hab been really badly compacted only a few hours before.

We are hoping that these tomato seedlings will fill the place and give us a bountiful crop over the summer.

Poly Tunnel Clearing

Now number two poly tunnel is clear we can get down to sorting the soil out. The ground is compacted like concrete so it will need some work to get it back to a growing medium. We are broad-forking it then working it over with the rotavator. I will be well pleased if we can finish it today.

Thanks Ian for forking some of it yesterday.

More Growing Space

Now the chickens are allowed back in the open we are taking over poly tunnel number 2. The chickens have left us plenty of manure amongst the straw litter, but too much to rotavate in so we are using the opportunity to try out the new two wheel tractor with the trailer attachment. It might not look much but it can shift nearly half a tonne at a time so it will be useful for carting stuff around the place.

We had a good team helping us load it all up and it will makebsome good compost.

The next job is to break up the panned earth and get the rotavator turning the ground over. 

Finally, we will have to change the cover as the white plastic we have at the moment won’t let enough light through for growing veg.