April News

*Easter Box Scheme Deliveries*

If you have an order due on Tuesday 23rd April it will be delivered the following day on Wednesday 24th April. Thursday 25th April deliveries will be as normal. Wishing you all a very happy Easter!

In the April newsletter you'll find updates from the farm and what the hungry gap means for us, a piece about spring onions, and details of how you can join our new volunteer mailing list. 

April news from the Farm

We are rapidly heading towards the Hungry Gap which means we have fewer and fewer varieties of produce available. The Hungry Gap is the time when the winter crops are finishing but the spring crops are not yet mature and are only just being sown or planted out. In the UK, the Hungry Gap lasts from April until June. The warm spring weather we have been experiencing this year means that many of our winter crops are bolting much sooner than they did last year. It takes us much longer to harvest kales when they start to go to flower. The picture above shows us harvesting Ragged Jack kale while it is in full flower! The flowering shoots are delicious - you can find them at our market stall!

The warm spring weather has also meant that we have been able to get on with early sowings and plantings. Our first outdoor plantings of lettuce and hispi cabbages are now in the ground, and we have drilled the first beetroot and chard. These are covered with fleece and we hope they will survive the cold nights we are having at the moment.

This year, our overwintered green manures have been a real success. Italian rye grass is a green manure which grows at low temperatures. We establish green manure with a content of Italian ryegrass in the autumn to protect the soil over winter and to feed the next season's crops. Now at the start of April, they are already above knee height and growing faster every day that the temperature gets warmer (see above). The higher the plants grow, the deeper the roots and the further into the soil profile the roots are exuding sugars and feeding the soil organisms. What is visible is only a third of the total organic matter fixed; a third being the root mass and another third is exuded through the roots in the form of sugars to feed the bacterial and fungal organisms in the soil, which in turn feed all the other soil organisms. Altogether this makes a lot of organic matter to feed the next crop and enhance the soil organic matter. (So why do people keep mowing their lawns?!!). The most successful green manure we have grown is a mix of Italian and perenial ryegrass, crimson clover and herbs. This has been extraordinary, with far more growth than any of our neighbour’s grass fields, with their artificial fertiliser applications.

We are extraordinarily fortunate to have mild winters and south facing slopes.

Martyn Bragg and Chloe Blackmore

Vegetable of the month
Spring onions (Allium cepa)

It’s spring onion time here at Shillingford Organics. Our own stored onions ran out in January, and we haven’t been able to find an alternative supply of UK onions since mid-March, so spring onions are a very welcome addition as we head into the hungry gap. You’ll find them in your boxes and at our Farmers Market stall on Thursday.
 
Spring onions, scallions, or salad onions are onions bred to be harvested immature at the leaf stage. They have a strong flavour and can be eaten raw in salads, or fried in the same way as a mature onion to bring out a more subtle flavour. They are a staple of Asian cooking and make a delicious addition to stir fries, soups and salads. You can use both white and green parts of a spring onion. The green parts are especially high in iron, vitamin C and vitamin A.
 
The variety we are harvesting at Shillingford is called Guardsman. We planted them in October and they have been in the ground over winter. Some were planted outside through a black plastic mulch to control weeds, and some were planted in a polytunnel.

Do you want to come and volunteer with us?

Ever wondered what it would be like to work at Shillingford Organics? This season we are planing to hold some occasional volunteer days whenever we have a big job that needs lots of pairs of hands. If you are interested in joining our volunteer mailing list to receive information and updates about these days, please send your name and email address to wholesale@shillingfordorganics.co.uk with 'volunteer mailing list' in the subject heading.

The days are likely to be informally organised, with just a few days notice once we know the weather forecast. The focus of the day will be working as a team to complete a task such as harvesting beetroot or planting onions with a short break for a shared lunch.

Plastic packaging dilemmas

Many of you have been asking why we haven't switched to a compostable plastic alternative for packing our greens and salads. The issue of plastics is so complicated and one that requires political regulation of the industries producing plastic. We have looked at the wider picture including overall energy use, food waste, and local options available for recycling and composting here in Exeter. And at the moment, we cannot find a viable alternative to plastic for greens and salads that works here locally. 

1) Plastic keeps greens and salads fresh and helps to reduce food waste.  
2) Plastic bags have a lower carbon footprint than paper bags. 
3) Exeter City Council does not offer industrial composting facilities for breaking down compostable plastics. But they do recycle plastic, including the plastic bags that we use at Shillingford. If we were to switch to compostable bags, what would people do with them?

This video helps to explain some of the dilemmas.

Where possible, we don't use packaging at all and most of our veg will reach you loose in your box. At our Thursday market stall, everything is loose and our customers make a fantastic effort to bring their own reusable bags and baskets as you can see in the pictures below.