Thursday, 6 November 2008

Why we like the winter storms

Stormy conditions are unwelcome to most people, especially those connected with farming, fishing, tourism and transport. Over last weekend we experienced some gale force Northerly winds that lashed the Northern shores of Scilly and created quite a lot of swell. This has the effect of ripping seaweed off the rocks under water, which then washes in on the beaches.

We use a lot of seaweed, in the order of 150 tons per year. It is now piled up on Great Bay and we're busy carting it off to be spread on the fields. It's a combination of silage grab and trailers that mean we can do this operation quite efficiently and maximise mechanical assistance.

In the days of old, of course, it was very different - all the island men had at their disposal was horse and cart, pitchforks, and hard labour. This must have been an incredibly time consuming process; to think 2 people can shift 3 tons of seaweed, from beach to field in about 15 minutes, it probably would've taken them all day to do that amount.

Seaweed is a great soil improver that really builds organic matter and bulks up our very light soils. It is sustainable and only costs us the fuel to move it from beach to field. It is put on the fields fresh, spread to about 6 inches thickness and left to rot. After about 8 weeks, assuming there's been some rain, it has rotted to the stage that it is OK to cultivate...simple as that.

Thank goodness for the winter storms...

Saturday, 20 September 2008


For many growers this summer has not been conducive to growing the heat-loving crops such as sweetcorn, tomatoes, peppers and squash. Here on the Isles of Scilly we have had a wet summer, but perhaps not as bad as some. Our squash plants have really shot away since planting and are laden with fruit.

There are two varieties - a summer variety called Table Ace and the ever popular Butternut. The former ripen up quicker than the latter, but Butternut tend to be more popular with customer as they're more recognisable - though both are very tasty.

Now the question is "will they all ripen before they rot?!" well, the good news is the last few days have been warm and sunny, which will help them along just nicely. We've even resorted to cutting leaves above the fruit to make sure they get as much sunlight as possible.

Squash actually need quite a bit of heat, firstly to ripen, then to cure. This is so the skins thicken and they can store through the winter months. It is quite possible for squash to last well in to the spring months from the previous autumn.

In our opinion they are one of the most under-rated vegetables in Britain and are a great treat that are extremely tasty.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008


Mustard is a great green manure that we use to cover soil that has had one crop in, but it's not time for the next one. Bare soil is a bad practice because nutrients are leached and can lead to losses of organic matter. So by sowing a fast-growing green manure, like mustard, several functions are performed at once.

Firstly, it smothers out all the weeds - obvious benefits. Secondly, its roots go in to the soil and improve structure. Thirdly, it holds nutrients and releases them back in to the soil once its cut and cultivated back in to the soil - releasing nutrients for the next crop. Lastly, it provides a habitat for wildlife.

All green manures are good for birds and insects, but mustard is especially good for butterflies and bees. I took this photo today of a honeybee working the pollen from mustard flowers:

This is a bee from one of my hives (incidentally nearly a mile away), which means that I benefit further, from the sales of honey. All in all, green manures are a fantastic thing that should be an integral part of every growing system. And all it costs is cultivation and seed...

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Autumn cometh

It's just about September, but really it's been feeling like autumn most of August. Lots of rain and low temperatures have succeeded in knocking back crops that like heat (squash, courgettes, tomatoes, etc) and bringing on the dying back of bracken. On the whole leafy crops have done well though this season, with virtually uninterrupted wet spells meaning soil moisture levels have been kept well above levels you would expect for summer.

My bees have been working exceptionally hard this year however, which shows the pollen and nectar flow has been good. First they start on gorse, early in the year, move on to foxglove and campion, then honeysuckle, followed by brambles and finally heather - which is in full bloom now. Just a single jar of honey (weighing 1lb) represents approx. 50,000 bee miles!! They are incredible creatures...

Apples are starting to ripen well now and this is the first year the orchard has started to look like a decent orchard. I'm hoping in a few years time the trees will be 12ft tall and laden with fruit - just right for juicing. Who could resist some Scilly juice - and perhaps cider?!