We hope you've been keeping warm in all the chilly weather we've been having lately! Here is our February newsletter with an update of what jobs we are doing on the farm at the moment, a feature on our special Stir Fry Green mix, and a piece about where our seeds come from. We are also asking our veg box customers to let us know what you think about our veg boxes to help inform our planning for the coming year. There's a chance to win a voucher for our online shop so do please compete our short survey.
What's happening on the farm at the moment?
- We are harvesting kales, chards, purple sprouting broccoli, cauliflowers, cabbages, leeks, salads, beetroot, swedes, stir fry leaves and pak choi. In the last week we've been out in sunshine, rain, sleet and snow!
- The first crops of the new season have been sown including lettuces, peas and hispi cabbages, and the first baby seedlings are peeping up in the seed house.
- We are splitting rhubarb crowns and mulching with compost and straw.
- We are working on our crop plans for the coming year, ordering seeds and plants and updating our sowing and planting schedule.
- And we've re-organised our packing shed which has involved lots of sorting, tidying and getting our working space organised for the coming year. We are also looking at upgrading our irrigation system in the polytunnels.
Vegetable of the month
Stir Fry Greens
Our vegetable of the month this month is in fact a combination of several of our very winter hardy greens. We have placed them together as they make up our stir fry bags which many of you will be familiar with receiving in your veg boxes over the colder months.
So what are they?
- Giant Red mustard (Brassica juncea)– Very large deep red leaves with a fiery mustard taste
- Green in Snow (Brassica juncea) – Bright green, long serrated leaves with a real mustardy kick
- Komatsuna (Brassica rapa) – Dark glossy green, large round leaves with gentle brassica taste
- Chinese/napa cabbage (Brassica rapa) – Pale, sturdy leaves with a mild and sweet brassica taste
- Pak Choi (Brassica rapa) – White stemmed with a green leaf – nice and crunchy in a stir fry!
All these leaves are nutritionally dense, being high in Vit A, C and K with moderate amounts of Folate, Vit B6 and Manganese and Calcium.
These leaves can be grown all year round but we tend to sow them in modules in September to plant out in our polytunnels to give us some great leafy veg right through the coldest months. We tend to leave a fair amount of space (about 10 inches) around each plant – this allows the mustards to grow lovely big leaves that are great chopped up and stir-fried. However, if planted/sown much closer together, the mustards (Giant Red and Green in Snow) will stay reasonably small – and if you are brave! – can be eaten raw in a salad (the leaves are much milder when they are smaller).
Claire Everett (Grower)
Have you ever wondered where our seeds come from?
One of our favourite winter jobs is ordering and organising our seeds for the season ahead. It's interesting looking through the seed catalogues and thinking about what varieties to grow. But it's not always an easy decision. Currently only a relatively small amount of seed is available organically. At Shillingford Organics, approximately 70% of the seeds we use are certified organic. The remainder are untreated non-organic and we have to seek permission from our certifiers at the Soil Association in order to use them. We buy from a range of companies including Tamar Organics in Cornwall, The Seed Cooperative in Norfolk and larger companies including Elsoms, Moles and Kings Seeds. Much of the seed that we buy is imported from Europe and further afield.
Another thing to think about when ordering seed is whether the seeds are F1 hybrids, or open-pollinated varieties. F1 hybrids have the advantage of offering a consistent and reliable crop but they are controlled by seed companies which means that growers can't save their own seed from year to year and rely on buying (often more expensive) seeds from large corporations. We try to use open-pollinated varieties where we can but when you need a reliable crop, it is tempting to go with an F1 hybrid. And some things just aren't available as organic, open-pollinated.
The good news is that this is changing and a number of smaller independent seed companies such as The Seed Cooperative, Real Seeds and the fabulous Vital Seeds here in the South West are leading a revolution in open-pollinated, organic, agro-ecological seed. By producing seed here in the UK, the hope is to develop organic varieties that are much more suited to our climate. These companies are also encouraging growers to save their own seed and relearn the lost skills of seed saving.
We are fortunate to be part of the South West Seed Savers Network, a group supported by the Gaia Foundation's Seed Sovereignty Programme to learn how to save seeds and to exchange seeds with other members of the group. The advantage is hopefully fresher seeds, that are well suited to the growing conditions here in the South West!