This cooler weather is bringing a welcome respite from the heat for both the plants and for the team. The rain came just in time too. Last week's rain only amounted to about 3mm which wasn't enough to soak into the parched soil but the rain this morning is much more useful. This year it became very dry very early - and with so little moisture in the soil, irrigation has been a big focus of our work on the farm. We have seen this pattern of a hot dry spring repeated in the last three years now so perhaps this is something we will have to come to expect. We are certainly grateful that we invested in more sprinklers and pipes last year and hope to have our new hose reel and rain gun up and running soon.
The summer season is getting underway with new crops of lettuce, broad beans, turnips, beetroot, kales and chards starting to come ready. And our summer crops of french beans, cucumbers and courgettes are not far off. Watch out for these in our veg boxes and at the farmers' market over the coming weeks!
The warm sunny weather that we had during May has led to a proliferation of insect life on the farm. Experts have said that it has been the best year for butterflies and moths in 25 years with many species emerging much earlier than usual. We are trying to learn to identify more of them. Here we have some of the common ones that we often see around the farm: cinnabar moth, small tortoiseshell butterfly, peacock butterfly, red tiger moth and a meadow brown.
Less good for us, it also seems to be a bumper year for aphids. We have seen aphid damage on many of our new season crops including the chard, spinach and spring greens. This may be partly due to the mild winter which has caused aphids to emerge around four weeks earlier than usual. This, combined with the hot, dry conditions that we had in May, means that the plants are stressed and therefore more susceptible to aphid attack. Fortunately there are also lots of ladybirds, ladybird larvae and hoverflies around to predate them.
In last month's newsletter we briefly mentioned the overwintered crops grown in our polytunnels. Some crops however are also suitable for overwintering outside; these get planted in autumn and while they don’t grow much during the short days of winter they are ready and waiting for the days to get longer and the air and soil temperature to warm up come springtime, therefore giving themselves a head start over spring sown crops. Broad beans are one such crop, as the only legume that is tolerant of extended cold conditions. The last two winters have been in complete contrast weather wise; early 2019 was fairly dry and mild, allowing multiple sowings throughout the colder months (November, February, early March), while this winter was so wet we couldn’t get on the ground with the tractor, it was touch and go even planting back in November. Our other outdoor crops that we overwinter are of the allium family – garlic, onions and spring onions. These all require a mulch to act as a weed suppressor and to keep the soil warm. We use a combination of black plastic, straw and a biodegradable material, all three of which get planted up around the end of October. This year we planted nearly 12000 onions and 3500 spring onions, all by hand, which takes us a few weeks to complete. The first to get harvested are the spring onions at the end of March, while the standard onions take a few more weeks to bulb up. This year we started harvesting them at the beginning of May and they usually last until the end of July, when the summer onions come on. However, with the unanticipated increase in demand this year and the hotter weather likely to send them to flower earlier than usual, we’ll be fortunate to see any still in July. Unlike the maincrop onions, these aren’t suited for storage and are delicious eaten fresh.
We sell them with the best part of the greens still attached before they start to die away, and these can be used as a chive like garnish. The best way to eat these young, green onions is raw – slice them finely and add to salad leaves or broad beans with a nice dressing, to really appreciate their sweetness. As the summer draws on, they start to lose this sweetness, in which case it would be better to use like any normal onion. They will be in the veg boxes, on the online shop and at the farmers market for as long as they are available so do enjoy their crisp, sweet flavour when you can!
The Soil Association are celebrating some of the amazing benefits of eating and cooking from an organic veg box, benefits for nature, climate and farmers – not just now, but for the future. And they’ve pulled together some great tips to help you make the most of your delivery. Whether you’ve just started getting acquainted with your veg box, or have been enjoying one for years, you can find out more on their website.
For the full newsletter with pictures please follow this link.