After a wet week it's nice to see a bit of sunshine again! We've been busy harvesting apples and squash - two of the best things about autumn for their taste and their colours. Read on for more about these super crops and find out how you can get involved in all our latest events!
Squash: vegetable of the month
We grow one and a half acres of winter squash each year. This equates to around 4,000 plants which are all sown and raised on the farm. We sow our squashes at the very beginning of May when the coldest weather is over, allowing them nice warm conditions to germinate. They remain in our seed house until the first week in June when the majority are planted out by tractor.
We grow several varieties of squash and try to get a range of differing colour, shape, size and taste. Our favourite is the vibrant red Uchiki Kuri or Onion Squash – but the Kabocha, Harlequin (Acorn squash), Turks Turban, Longue de Nice and Crown Prince are pretty good too! New for this year is Blue Ballet. It is the colour of a Crown Prince with the shape of an Uchiki Kuri. We are always keen to hear your feedback on what we grow, so do let us know what you think of it!
We harvest the squash now in October when their stems have gone hard and their foliage starts to die back. The stems are cut at least two inches/five cm long if possible. A cut stem is like an open wound and cut too close to the fruit can lessen its storage time. Most of the winter squash benefit from a stage of ‘curing’. This is a period of time (about 10-14 days) where the fruit are harvested and left in warm, dry conditions for their skins to toughen up before being stored away for the winter. As indoor space is limited, we cure most of the squash out in the field – making the most of the last of the warm autumn sunshine. This seems to work well and we can store some varieties – especially the Crown Prince -until the following April/May.
Winter squash are a relatively straight forward crop to grow with so many interesting and diverse varieties to try. They are versatile too: They can be roasted and added to a number of dishes, used in soups and small squashes can be hollowed out, stuffed and baked in the oven. Once stored, you can have a constant supply at your fingertips right through the dark winter months. With so many vibrant colours, they will brighten up any windowsill!
Claire Everett, Grower
We have 230 apple trees on the farm, planted in batches over the last 17 years.
Most are grown in an agroforestry system, i.e. we have alleys of trees down the field with vegetable crops between. We also have 2 small orchards.
Most of the varieties are desert apples with a few cooking varieties. These have been selected mainly for taste, reliable cropping and scab resistance. The range goes from the earliest, Discovery, to the later apples which are best for storing. Thus, in order of maturing date:
Discovery - ready from the 3rd week in August
Egremont Russets - nutty mid-September
Blenheim Orange – often too big!
Jupiter - superb red apple, ready late September
Newton Wonder which is a dual-purpose variety
Then we have the later varieties which can be stored:
Winston (also known as Winter King)
I think they are all delicious and often they are at their sweetest, just as they are about to fall off the tree, which is always a difficult one to judge right! The later storing varieties keep better if they are harvested before fully ripe and eaten in December, January. Unfortunately, by February the skins are looking less than perfect, and we keep these for our own use.
This year some trees were affected by a late frost when flowering and the few apples that survived are far bigger than usual! Our apples are available on our online shop, at Exeter Farmer's Market and in the Real Food Store. Enjoy!
Food, Farming and Climate Change
Climate change is at the forefront of our minds at the moment, especially following the recent school strikes and a new wave of protests about to start in London next week. Food and farming is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions around the world but it is also uniquely positioned to mitigate the impacts of climate change. When managed in a way that promotes soil health and encourages biodiversity, farmland has the capacity to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and lock it away in plant biomass and in the soils. Here are some of the ways in which our farming practices are helping to limit climate change:
- Green manure is a crop that is not grown to sell, but a crop that is grown to care for and feed the soil. We use mixed plants in our green manures including Italian ryegrass, phacelia, red clover, crimson clover, chicory and field beans. Benefits include protecting the soil from erosion, improving the soil structure and the flowers in the greenmanure mix also attract beneficial insects which help with biodiversity. Each year part of the land is entirely dedicated to greenmanure, giving the soil a rest from growing market crops. We also sow greenmanures now in the autumn after our summer market crops such as onions, courgettes, beans and lettuces have finished.
- Where possible we leave crops in the ground to go to flower. The photo above is our fennel crop which is now buzzing with insects such as hoverflies and wasps. These insects are beneficial as they and their larvae predate other pests such as aphids and caterpillars which cause damage to our crops. This is one of the ways that we manage pests without using chemicals.
- We keep ploughing and cultivations to a minimum - all our polytunnels are no dig and we use a shallow plough. Each time we disturb the soil, carbon is released into the atmosphere so even shallow ploughing is problematic but at this scale, there isn't an alternative at the moment. We are watching larger scale no dig trials with interest.
- Our supply chains as short as possible to reduce carbon emissions through transport. When you buy our veg through our boxscheme or market stall, the vast majority is produced right here at the farm, just 3 miles from Exeter City Centre. And when we do buy in, we try to source locally from within Devon. This also reduces the need for packaging.
These are some of the ways in which organic, agroecological and restorative land use systems offer real practical solutions to the climate change problem. If you are in London, please join the Farming, Food and Climate Justice March this Saturday 5th October for further discussion of these ideas. We send our support to those marching and to those protesting for climate justice in the coming week.