We have begun to harvest cauliflowers, so the shop is filled with that lovely brassica smell. As you can probably tell, we are proud of these, caulis are not the easiest thing to grow.
Some pictures of some of the more exotic things we are growing, peppers and aubergines.
We Need Some Help
Seeing all the tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and cucumbers growing in polytunnel two gives me a real sense of satisfaction. If all goes well we should have an abundant supply right the way through the summer, but we have hit a snag.
Although we got the polytunnel ‘skinned’ a few weeks ago, one end has never been finished. This was fine in nice calm conditions but the recent windy weather has taken its toll and we need to get things secured fast.
Because of the pressure to get the ‘straw bale build’ finished in July, skilled joinery hands have been in short supply around here lately. I totally understand this, having the build finished on time is critical to the farm’s success.
So, I am putting out a special appeal to anyone handy with a hammer and a few nails to give us a hand to finish things off.
I will be back on site on Friday if you have the time to spare or even just to make arrangements to get things finished. Either email or give me a call on 07803 925446.
Letting Gravity Do The Work
Having polytunnel two on a slope provided us with a problem at first. We found that any efforts to keep the plants watered resulted in streams running down the paths between the beds with very little water penetrating the soil for the plants.
Inspired by a trip to Greece a few years ago where I saw a grower channeling water around his plants, I decided to use the same technique.
We are now using gravity to our advantage having sculpted out a series of cascading ponds that run down from one end of the beds to the other. We put the hose pipe at one and and watch the water slowly make its way down the little waterfall watering each plant in turn during its descent. Only time will tell if it is the right answer but it seems to be doing the trick for now.
Goodbye Mr Chard
We decided that our last remaining over-wintered Swiss Chard plant had finally had its day and gone to seed, so must give up it’s space in polytunnel one and go to the great compost heap in the sky (well, just outside the polytunnel actually).
This monster has given Roger, the occasional customer and I several meals over the few months that I have worked here. Each time we had hacked a meal off it, it came shooting back with more ‘bigger’ growth. It wasn’t very pretty but chopped up and steamed or stir fried it went down a treat. A great example of what a vast amount of food one seed and the right conditions can provide.
The Veg Range Keeps Expanding
News of our increased crops seems to be spreading and we have been getting some good feedback from our customers. Potatoes, mixed salad leaves, lettuce, pak choi, radish, spring (green) onions, coriander leaves, parsley, kale, chives and carrots have all been selling through the shop in the last couple of weeks. And, there is much more to come. This calabrese is nearly ready so expect it to appear in the shop soon.
Here are a few comments that have been fed back to me recently, coincidentally both about our Beetroot:
From Nicola Whitehead (resident of Glossop, but visiting this area): “Beetroot are very nice. I’ve never had the golden ones and the taste is very delicate and less earthy.”
From Pat Whitehead (resident of Baltimore, USA, but visiting this area): “Bought some organic beetroot here in the States – not a patch on the ones I sampled from Greenslate Farm last week.’
We’ve created an artificial environment for our plants to live in (Poly Tunnel or Glass House) so have to manage that environment for them. This means regulating their temperature and controlling their supply of water, playing God if you like.
Greenhouses in this country are mainly used for ‘season extension,’ starting things off early in the season and extending the growing period into the winter. They also have the advantage of giving protection during weather extremes that can strike in any season (strong winds, pelting rain or hail).
Because the ‘greenhouse effect’ is at work in our artificial indoor environment, any sunshine that falls on the structure causes a rapid temperature rise inside. A closed up poly tunnel can easily reach temperatures above 50 degrees Celsius. That is bad for the crops we want to grow in the poly tunnel. Ideally temperatures between 20-28 degrees are what we want.
Rule number one: keep it cool. If the sun is shining, especially in the summer, those greenhouse doors and windows need opening. Besides lowering the temperatures inside, opening doors, windows and vents also stops excessive humidity building up. High humidity is perfect for fungal disease to develop.
If you wear glasses and you walk into a closed poly tunnel and they instantly steam up, it’s evident that you have excessive humidity.
From the instant a poly tunnel cover goes onto the frame, rain no longer reaches the soil beneath it; it becomes a desert that we must control. Everything that we want to grow in the poly tunnel on the farm needs water and we supply it.
The smaller the container in which we grow plants, the quicker all the water contained within it will dry up. So, smaller containers like seed trays and small pots need much closer monitoring than large pots and growing beds in the soil of the poly tunnel. In sunny hot weather, seed trays may need watering 2 or 3 times per day to stop the compost drying out and damaging the plants.
The soil beds on the floor of the poly tunnel can usually keep moist enough with a good soaking every couple of days.
The key to all good growing is ‘ATTENTION TO DETAIL’ and monitoring the moisture of the soil or compost that your plants are growing in is all you need to do. Stick your finger in the soil or compost, does it feel dry or moist? The more the sun is shining, the more frequently you need to check if plants need watering.
Rule number two: monitor your soil. Check and monitor how damp your soil is, the sunnier the weather, the more frequently you must do this.
With a climate like ours sunshine, cloud cover, chill winds, wind direction; these all change all the time and many times in one day. Living on an island next to a large ocean, our weather changes quickly and frequently. Perhaps this is why the British are so obsessed with talking about the weather. If protecting your crops and thereby keeping fed relies on this, it’s logical it should become a national obsession, part of our culture.
Keeping things watered is a good thing, but we all know that you can have too much of a good thing. Watering everything, if it needs it or not is a bad thing to do. Because of those changes in weather that I mentioned earlier, it isn’t unusual to have a cool period during the day when a plant’s water requirements will reduce drastically. Adding more water will just cause the plants roots to get saturated simulating the conditions of a swamp; not many vegetables we eat would thrive in a swamp. Too much water excludes air and the growing medium becomes ‘anaerobic’ killing off your plant.
Pots or trays that have been sown with seeds not yet germinated should be kept moist, not wet. Wet compost can cause seeds to rot before they have even germinated.
Rule number three: don’t over water. Don’t get into the habit of watering twice a day no matter what. Too much water can do as much damage as not enough, so monitor the soil before deciding if you need to water.
There is an old saying; ‘the best plant fertiliser is the shadow of the grower.’ In other words, if you are frequently checking your plants and casting a shadow over them, you are doing more for them than providing fertiliser.
Keep an eye on things and look after plants like they are animals (don’t cook or drown them whilst you want to keep them alive) and you won’t go far wrong.
If you leave your dog in a closed up car on a sunny day, they could be dead within an hour or two. Treat plants in the same way.
It has been a hot one today, not the kind of weather for hanging around in poly tunnels but sometimes a job just has to be done. The tomato plants have got a hold on life now they have been in a week or so and they have really got growing, so it’s time to string them up and give them some support.
Not having ‘crop bars’ in this adapted poly tunnel has called for some inventiveness but I think we have come up with a workable solution. It involves rope, lots of string and lots of knot tying.
I’m really looking forward to when they start cropping.
Our produce is starting to gain momentum now and we will have our first stand at the farmers market today. Not a great volume of stuff is ready yet, but we will have some new potatoes, Choggia white beetroot, salad leaves, pac choi and coriander. Expect a lot more as the season develops and we get over the ‘hungry gap.’
The eight lambs born at Greenslate Community Farm only a couple of weeks ago are becoming real stars. They form small gangs who go running and jumping around the field together. Their mothers then come chasing after them trying to split them up back into their little family groups again; kids eh.