Friday, 4 December 2009


These intensely red leaved purple roots are often overlooked as a great vegetable. Stacked full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants they are revered by nutritionists and cooks alike. And the colour you get out of them when making soup is something else!

Here are some beetroot in rows in the market garden back in sunny July; we also had a load more down at Lawrences fields. There was a fair crop this year, they like the sandy soil once they get their roots down. But rabbits have been a big problem, where the fluffy beasts have literally munched away at the tops of the roots in the field.

Raw beetroot grated with grated carrot has to be one of the best ways of eating it, though Borsch (soup) is also very good. We're also busy pickling the excess beetroot at the moment, which will be available to buy next spring.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Sweet Clover

Green manures are essential for organic farmers and growers. They are crops that are used to cover the soil, improve soil structure, reduce leaching and increase fertility.

Leguminous plants are special in that they fix nitrogen in nodules on their roots, which makes them invaluable as a part of sustainable agriculture or horticulture.  Legumes can fix as much, or more nitrogen in the soil than could be applied using bags of nitrogen fertiliser - and with a mere fraction of the vast greenhouse gas emissions that are associated with artificial fertiliser.

This is sweet clover, not a true clover (Melilotus officinalis) that is very vigorous and is capable of growing six feet in 12 weeks!! It will be incorporated in to the soil after 6-18 months, providing masses of soil fertility to the next crop. The white or yellow flowers are very much appreciated by bees.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

What's on the stall now

The dry spell through June certainly gave us some problems - leafy crops protested and growth rates slowed down massively. Therefore there's a bit of a gap in continuity of salads in particular. Conversely, squash, courgettes, sweetcorn and melons have done very well in the heat...Now we're back to unsettled conditions and have had a decent amount of rain.

So on the stall at the moment you can expect to find squash (amazingly early!), wet garlic, carrots (still tasting amazing), beetroot, kale, chard, spinach, sweet peas, courgettes and potatoes - of which we have two varieties, one being delicious waxy salad potatoes.

This is the time of year when we're doing the last sowings in the glasshouse for autumn and winter crops. All the winter brassicas are coming up in modules and will be planted out later this month. These will be picked from November onwards.

Today is a sunshine and showers day with a fresh wind. It's much better working conditions, being around 18C, rather than the 25C of a couple of weeks ago.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Squash, flowers and wildlife

June seems to be the month when all living creatures are at their most active. Plants thrive on the long days, which feeds insects, which feeds birds, which make the most beautiful music for us to hear. So it when you grow green manures like mustard and Phacelia, which are positively teeming with life, it feels like you're contributing in a very direct way to the web of life.

Standing next to the Phacelia on a warm or sunny day the noise is incredible, a constant low-level noise of buzzing insects. Scilly has a very high level of bumble bees, proven by the concentration of the insects on these plants. Somewhere underneath here are 200 rhubarb plants!! They're doing alright, but could do with a bit more light. But I'm not cutting down the Phacelia yet...

In the next field, following on from the early spuds, are a lot of squash and courgettes. The first squash plants, which were planted in mid-May are now firmly established and starting to run and produce flowers. I would expect these to be ready as early as August, with the main crop ready in September/October. Looking forward to the first roast squash already!

Saturday, 23 May 2009


The first strawberries of the season are ripening - I picked the first ones about a week ago, but now they're coming to full swing. It looks like a good crop this year, loads of flowers which the bees have been all over, so fruit formation is good. With the warm temperatures and sunshine there should be plenty of lovely sweet strawberries over the next week.

Hapil is a variety not really grown by the big strawberry growers - it doesn't suit their requirements of long shelf life and lots of transport. It is, however perfect for us - ripens evenly, good sized fruit, funny shaped fruit (!) and most importantly a beautiful taste.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Of seaweed and lettuce

It's unusual to be gathering seaweed in May, but with the recent bouts of heavy swell and strong winds, a lot of seaweed has been ripped off the rocks around the islands and deposited on the beaches. Here is a load on Little Bay - at its best there must have been more than 50 tonnes there, of which I only managed to get about 8! Still, better than nothing and it'll go towards making some good compost, mixed with old hay, grass clippings and weeds.

Although the air temperatures haven't been especially warm, there's been plenty of rain with some bursts of sunshine in between. Most plants seem fairly happy with this and have consequently grown quite fast. The first lettuce planting of the season happens in late March and I've been picking for about four weeks now. They're looking and tasting really good.

Another good early crop is Chard, which comes in an amazing array of colours, from the solid and dependable white Swiss chard, through pink, orange and yellow to this lovely Ruby. And an interesting fact about the coloured chards - their roots are also coloured! This is very unusual amongst common vegetables.

This time of year the flowers are perhaps at their best for the whole year. At the moment are the first honeysuckle flowers have appeared and their scent is absolutely delightful. It always reminds me of warm summer evenings - sadly very few of those recently, but a complete pleasure all the same.

And of the cultivated flowers, mustard is really flowering well at the moment. This is in the orchard and being enjoyed massively by my bees, whose hive is in the field right next door. Bumblebees are also loving the mustard as well as other insects. Sowing green manures, such as mustard, really does have multiple benefits - for soil, wildlife... and people.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

First potatoes

Because it's been cold this year the first potatoes have been about two or even three weeks later than planned. But at last the first earlies are ready to dig and looking good. This year, for the first time, we've grown a variety called Swift as well as the usual Maris Bard. Swift have certainly lived up to their name and are at least three weeks earlier than the Maris Bard.

They taste lovely and are yielding quite well at the moment. Last weekend we had over 3 inches of rain, followed by some more in the week. This has been interspersed with days of sun (like today), which means growth rates are really good at the moment...that goes for both crops and weeds!!

It's also a pleasure to see the first carrots standing proud in rows. They're not all that far away from pulling...I reckon the first bunch of carrots could be in the third week of May. The carrots are grown under fleece from day one through to harvest. There are three reasons for this - keeps off rabbits, carrot root fly and it keeps them warmer.

This is such a lovely time of year - everything is growing like stink, but it does mean some long days for the grower.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Apple blossom

In April it seems like every plant wants to grow like mad. If it's not flowering it's reaching for the sky. This month we've got an incredible array of flowers out and it never ceases to amaze me just how vigorous the growth is this time of year after months of cold weather and short days. Once the vernal equinox is passed it seems all Nature's stops are pulled out!

Here is some beautiful blossom taken in the orchard - this is Adam's Pearmain, one of the earlier trees to flower, with the other not far behind. Next door to this is the newly planted orchard - just four months ago this was covered in bracken, brambles and gorse. I cleared it, cultivated it, sowed a green manure and planted about 25 fruit trees - mostly apple, with a couple of pears and plums too.

I actually meant to sow sweet clover here, but the seed got mixed up and I ended up sowing mustard!! Woops - it's made a lovely covering, but won't last for more than 4 months. Never mind, try again in the autumn. And the bees are only about 20 yards away so they'll be all over it at flowering time.

Here's another photo of flowers from the Island, including Narcissi, wild garlic, oxalis and gorse. What a glorious time of year...if only I had the time to stop for more than 5 minutes to enjoy it!

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Spring is definitely in the air

At last it really feels like spring has arrived. The birds are singing, lots of spring flowers are out, the sun has warmth in it and my spuds are poking up nicely (though they are late).

This week has been intense on planting and sowing - carrots, beetroot, parsnips, potatoes, asparagus, rhubarb, green manures and loads of crops in modules in the glasshouse. I haven't got time to write much, but here are some photos from the farm:

Plants in the cold frame raring to go - Broad Beans, lettuce, kale, chard, rocket, mizuna and mustard

Veronica in flower - one of the lesser known hedging plants, it can make a useful hedge if well trained and has beautiful flowers that bees love.; It doesn't really have the wind break abilities of Pittosporum or Euonymous though, our two most common hedge plants.

No-dig beds in the market garden site - all the beds have an inch of compost and now won't be cultivated. First crop to go in will be lettuce (imminently), which will be picked as needed through the season. Each plant will keep cropping through re-growth after picking, reducing the area of land needed for a profitable crop.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Sowing spring crops

Now the weather is warmer and the daylength longer, it's a key time to be planting and sowing spring crops. I've been busy preparing ground for the direct drilled (sowed) crops in particular, such as carrot, beetroot and green manures. Here is a picture of my new toy, a Stanhay seed drill, circa 1984 and will probably last me out! They're solid bits of kit that drill crops very precisely.

Here, believe it or not, is a field of carrots. The machine is actually put here for effect because I drilled this a few weeks ago; the tiny carrots are just poking through now, but will pick up quick and in a month's time will rocket away. Once they get a bit bigger I'll hoe the field to knock back the first weeds, then put fleece over the whole field to prevent carrot root fly. The fleece will probably stay on until all the carrots have been picked later in the summer.

The seed drill was an incredibly important invention, allowing the move to row crops - meaning weeding was possible and seed was used more efficiently. It's very simple but very effective. The row is opened up at the correct depth, a seed dropped in the furrow from a hopper, a chain covers the furrow with soil and the back wheel firms over the soil.

All of it is driven from the back wheel, through a single belt. Meanwhile, the next row is being marked out for you; get the first row right and all the rest will be straight! These exact machines can be bolted on to an attachment for a tractor, mounting as many as the tractor can pull through the soil.

Simple, appropriate technology.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Soil Association symbol

Scilly Organics was the first Soil Association symbol holder on the Isles of Scilly, achieving full organic status in 2004 after a 2 year conversion period. But what does this symbol mean to us and what does organic mean to you?

For us, the Soil Association symbol is a reward for following and implementing strict standards on food production, and a guarantee of integrity and quality of our fruit and veg. Did you know that organic is a legally-defined term, and organic farming and growing the only legally-regulated form of food production in th world?

Organic sales in the UK now exceed £2bn per year and over 3.5% of farmland is organic across the country, with SW England and West Wales particular strongholds.

When explaining what organic is, I always like to stress the positives. Whilst we don't use artificial fertilisers, pesticides or GMO's, for me it's more about what we do do. We use natural fertilisers on the soil -seaweed, green manures and compost. We look after wildlife, aiming to improve the ecology of the farm, which in turn reduces pest and diseases. And we use human and mechanical means of weed control - mulching, hoeing and hand weeding.

These approaches combine to produce good food, healthy soil, wildlife and an aesthetically-pleasing landscape. We hope that you recognise the symbol as a sign of quality, integrity and trust.

We are proud to display the symbol - we have to keep careful records, be inspected once a year and adhere strictly to all the organic standards - all this so that our customers can trust all the food we sell.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

To dig or not to dig?

Perceived wisdom amongst gardeners is that you dig the soil over every winter/spring in preparation for spring crops. Likewise, farmers plough fields and do secondary cultivations such as rotavating or harrowing. It's almost taken as read - that's how it's always been done, so why question it?

There are many good reasons for digging or cultivating. But there are equally as many bad ones, largely relating to soil health. See, the problem is, we just don't understand enough that soil is an incredible ecosystem - complex, rich, diverse and supports life when treated well. The standard to which many farmers treat their soil is truly abysmal, seeing it as nothing more than a medium in which to grow plants and pour on agro-chemicals.rivers), is quite incredible - and yet most people disregard its vital importance. A single teaspoonfull of healthy soil contains billions of organisms!!

I decided to start an experiment last year to see just how good no-dig growing is. I've been inspired by the wonderful Charles Dowding, who is a real pioneer of the no-dig approach, having an excellent 1.5 acre growing site and has written an excellent book, Organic Gardening. To think that just a 6 inch deep layer of soil, across the world, supports almost the entire human population (bar products from seas and rivers) is incredible.

In the picture is a field of lettuce, taken last June. The three beds on the right have lettuce grown through white plastic, to minimise water loss and weed invasion. On the left are two beds that have just a layer of mature compost (about an inch or two's depth when laid), and then not cultivated.

There was no difference in the growth rates between the two and it was noticeable that whilst (of course) more weeds came up on the left, they got fewer through the season, because the soil wasn't being turned over. It also looks a lot better and doesn't involve any plastic.

For this reason I will be expanding the area I use zero tillage, looking carefully at the effects it has on soil quality, water holding capacity and weed burden over time. I'll come back to this subject in the summer.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Planting and sowing by the moon

Biodynamic farmers work by a philosophy quite unlike any other farmers and growers. It's like organic growing, but goes much further by viewing the farm itself as a living organism that can be improved and strengthened by working with cosmic and lunar forces. It is a very powerful movement that originated in Germany in 1924 by Rudolph Steiner, and now proponents exist worldwide.

On Scilly we see the effect of the moon on the tides twice a day, every day. Trillions of gallons of sea water being pulled around the planet, what an amazing force that must be - here a difference of over 18 feet between high and low water at spring tides.

So surely that lunar influence also strongly affects the land? Of course, because it's not obvious means most of us don't notice it. Indeed most people don't see the moon. But outside here tonight, as I write, just a day after full moon, it is so bright outside it's like daylight - an enormous difference to nights at new moon, where it can be really pitch black.

The biodynamic movement has long known about the strong lunar effects on plants and animals. Huge amounts of research have taken place to correlate lunar and planetary influences, and the effects these have on plant growth.

The culmination of this research is the wonderful Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar by Maria and Matthias Thun. Its produced every year and details how the moon and planetary phases affect plants every day of the year, and consequently when is the best day to sow or plant certain crops.

I've decided I must stick by it this year, as I've only really dabbled with it before. It's a commitment for sure, but I'm very interested to know what difference it makes. The biodynamic farmers swear by it and who am I to just dismiss it without really trying it properly?

A blog on Biodynamic preparations will follow at some point!

If you'd like a copy of the book, go to Floris Books. It's a very interesting read even if you're not intending to follow it.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Snow on Scilly

The first proper snow on Scilly in 22 years has fallen. Compare the photo on the last blog with this one!

My first spuds are planted below this blanket of snow! Fortunately they're not poking their shoots up yet, which is a good job. I imagine these temperatures will slow them down a little bit.