Monday, 20 December 2010

In praise of kale

Kale, Brassica oleracea, is a seriously good versatile crop. It comes in lots of different leaf shapes, colours and textures, from the wonderfully indented, dark and tasty Calvo Nero/Nero di Tosacno (see left) to the lovely purple-veined and vigorous Red Russian and the very green and curly Pentland Brig.

It tolerates a lot of cold, yet grows fast in the summer too. Growers like it particularly because it keeps producing leaves up the stem. You just pick the older leaves lower down, leaving the newer younger leaves to carry on growing. It's not uncommon for a kale plant to be still cropping 8 months after the first picking!

There are fewer more nutritious crops than Brassicas. They contain a range of vitamins (E and B complexes), carotenes, vitamin C and some protein.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Snow comes to Scilly

So the weather has changed from mild and stormy to cold, cold, cold. Of
course the entire country is pretty frozen but it's unusual to get snow
on Scilly that settles.

Today it snowed and settled, though appears to be slushy and will melt
without too much encouragement. Nonetheless it's covered all the fields,
leaving me finding it difficult to locate those cabbage, kale and
beetroot that I need to find to pick tomorrow!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Seaweed, gales and rain

As I'm writing it's dark, windy and wet outside. We've seen a lot of wind recently, last week some gusts of 60mph and a fair amount of rain too. Autumn is in full swing and throwing it's worst at us.

There is one bonus - it means the seaweed is coming in nice and thick on the beaches. Each year we use in the order of 200 tons of the stuff to improve the soil and provide fertility for next years crops.

It sounds a lot, which it is, but this soon rots down to a fraction of its fresh bulk. We use a combination of foreloader and trailer to haul the 'weed off the beach, tip it out on the fields and spread it to a layer between 6 inches and 1 foot thick. This will rot down with the autumn and winter rains; after about 8-10 weeks it'll be rotavated in to the soil.

So far we've got about 100 tons up (30 of this done with a pitchfork and trailer!), so about another 100 to go. Judging by the forecast there won't be a shortage of seaweed around yet!

Saturday, 25 September 2010

The harvest month

September tends to be a good month for growers...a more relaxed time and a chance to literally savour the fruits of our labours.

As the evenings draw out the sun still has some warmth and the clarity of light is often much better than the warmer summer months. Young swallows are cramming in flying lessons, preparing to fly south for the winter, leaving us until next spring.

There's an abundance of crops, including:
  • Spuds
  • Squash
  • Peas
  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Basil
  • Mixed salad
  • Beetroot
  • Onions
  • Calabrese
  • Kale
  • Cabbage
  • Peppers
  • Melons
  • Leeks
  • Parsley
  • Mint
  • Spinach
The stall will stay open for a bit yet, though by the end of October there will be very few visitors about to buy anything, so we will close. Then the work starts to plan for next year when, of course, everything will be better and nothing will go wrong!!

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

A mixed bag for July

This month started off with high temperatures and dry days, followed by some very unsettled weather, heavy rain and strong winds - we even gale force one day in the middle of the month. Now however we're back to more settled and dry conditions, though lately there has been a lot of fog and very high humidity (but no rain).

Most crops are growing well, bounding away with the warm and wet conditions. On the stall at the moment are:
  • Early and Salad Potatoes
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Mixed salad leaves
  • Melons
  • Parsley
  • Mint
  • Kale
  • Cabbage
  • Spinach
  • Peas
  • French beans
One of the most enjoyable sights over the past three weeks or so has been linnets and goldfinches munching away on thistles and fat hen that have gone to seed. It's a classic dilemma of weeds versus wildlife - the weeds will give me a weed problem, but it's just not right to deny these birds a major source of food.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Hot and dry, now some welcome rain

June has been a very dry month here on Scilly with temperatures regularly above 20C, which is fairly unusual for such a maritime climate. That's made growing a bit difficult, though some crops have thrived including potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes and strawberries.

A wide variety of produce is available on the stall at the moment, including:
  • Bunched carrots
  • Second early potatoes
  • Waxy salad potatoes
  • Mixed salad leaves
  • Cucumbers
  • Strawberries
  • Basil
  • Parsley
  • Oregano
  • Kale
  • Courgettes
  • Garlic
The stall is in Middle Town beside the road and is stocked up at 9.30am every day and open until sunset.

The blackcurrants planted in April have settled in well and produced quite a decent crop for their first year - though I value these far too much to sell just yet!! Next year...

The cherry tomatoes are coming on in the tunnel and hopefully will be ready for sale in a week or so. The cucumbers are ridiculous, 8ft high with a heavy crop on - best ever.

Today has been a day of steady rain, about 3/4 of an inch which will be very useful and hopefully have soaked in well. Could do with another dose of rain in the next few days and then we'll be able to make a bit of progress again.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Warm and sunny, it must be summer...

The second half of May and early June has been so much warmer than the spring so far. All the slow plant growth has been forgotten as crops race to maturity making full use of warm air and soil. May was very dry, but the quarters of an inch of rain last weekend certainly helped damp the soil again.

Our veg stall by the road in Middle Town was opened three weeks ago and is open every day now - it's been doing some brisk trade the past week (half term holidays). It'll be stocked up every day now until late October.

At the moment crops we're harvesting include:
  • Early potatoes
  • Baby new potatoes
  • Lettuce
  • Cucumbers
  • Herbs
  • Peas
  • Strawberries
  • Rhubarb
The flowers around the farm look a picture at the moment, in particular red campion, honeysuckle, vetch, foxgloves and black medick.

Birds are nesting in all the hedgerows, including blackbirds, starlings, thrushes, wrens and great tits. A time of plenty and rapid growth for animals and plants.

There have been some glorious mornings recently that make those early starts so much easier...

Friday, 14 May 2010

Photos from this week

Everything's growing away much better this week. The temperatures have still been very low for May, but some decent sun in the second half of the week and a bit of rain is certainly helping matters. Here are some photos from the farm and the island this week:

Monday, 19 April 2010

Colours of spring

Here are some images today from the farm and the island - a day that started with thick fog and ended up blue sky and light winds...lovely.

The first apple blossom, always a real lifter of the spirits.

Gorse is looking exceptional at the moment after a couple of weeks of sun.

Strawberries are starting to flower, earlier than I expected.

Young tomato plants in the polytunnel - hopefully be hitting the roof in three months' time!

Friday, 9 April 2010

Plants and polytunnel

The last few days have been wonderful and reminds you just how good the weather can be! After so much cold, wind and rain the warmth of the spring sun in a clear blue sky is a wonderful feeling.

Yesterday I seized the opportunity of a warm, calm and dry day to assemble some friends and get the plastic over my polytunnel frame. Apart from initially getting the sheet upside down (yes, there the two sides are different!) it all went incredibly well. The finished product is a good sized tunnel with drum tight sides and almost ready for planting with veg.

The sun has also really brought other plants on - the potatoes are looking healthy, carrots are doing well, peas and beans are coming on and the glasshouse is full of crops nearly ready for planting out.

One of my favourite spring crops is rhubarb. The unfurling leaves give the plant an almost prehistoric feel, like an organism that is tapping in to some ancient wild energy, bursting in to life with vigour unparalleled in any other crop.

The only complaint I have is that there just aren't enough hours in the day to get the work done - let alone have a nice walk to enjoy the spring flowers!

Friday, 26 March 2010

Earth Hour

On Saturday 27th March at 8.30pm local time people across the planet are being encouraged to turn off their lights for an hour.

Earth Hour is a very visual support for action on climate change and reducing energy usage. Individuals, organisations, companies and Governments are getting involved and it's estimated 1 billion people will turn off their lights.

Have a look at the Earth Hour website for some great videos and ideas for Earth Hour:

Monday, 15 March 2010

Spring has arrived...hopefully!

At last the temperature has crept up to the dizzy heights of 10 or 12C, without any wind chill! A beautiful day today, barely a breath of wind all day and proper t-shirt and shorts weather. However because it was a clear starlit sky last night there was a ground frost this morning. Hopefully nothing to trouble the crops under fleece.

This is one of the carrot fields - first lot under fleece, sown in mid Feb have germinated and need weeding, the next rows (not yet under fleece) were sown last week and should be up before the end of the month.

Early potatoes are poking up, rhubarb is unfurling, asparagus is looking lively and the glasshouse is filling up with seed trays with green shoots in!

There's always a danger of falling behind before you've started at this time of year, with so much to do. With cultivations,
sowing, planting and weeding to do the list of jobs is as long as my arm.

Oh, and there's there a polytunnel to put up and cover, 700 strawberries and 150 blackcurrants to plant. Better stop typing and get on with it.

Some nice photos from the morning commute to work to finish with...

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

The season gets going

I always think that I don't really get busy growing until mid March - but in reality it's much more like mid January! Recently I've been planting early spuds, sowing carrots, oats, wheat and phacelia outside. In the glasshouse lots of salad crops, leafy crops, flowers, herbs and polytunnel crops have been sown.

The temperature outside varies from a quite pleasant 10C to a much less pleasant wind chill of 3 or 4C; however it feels like spring is just round the corner and everything will burst in to life.

This is a photo from Sunday when it really did fell warm in the sun - could almost pass as a summer's day!

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Compost and glasshouse

In preparation for a new blackcurrant area I've been carting some nice compost on to beds that were previously used for vegetables. This is good stuff that's been rotting steadily since last summer and will now provide nutrients for the currant bushes.

Meanwhile in the glasshouse the first spring salads have been sown in modules - things like mizuna, rocket and mustard. These should be ready in around 8 weeks, in time for Easter (hopefuly...). All these are members of the Brassica family and are hardier than the more tender lettuce, though not nearly so good as lettuce in the warmer summer months.

Whilst the days are drawing out with light until 6.00, this week is looking cold with East and North Easterly winds again checking the start of the season. We wait and see whether spring will break properly before the end of February...

Friday, 22 January 2010

First spuds have been planted!

Yesterday was a day of rain nearly all day, but today looked promising from the start and developed in to a stunning day for January. Air temperature was around 11C, but feeling much warmer than that in the sun out of the wind - indeed it was this year's first t-shirt and shorts day!

Perhaps somewhat foolhardily I decided it was time to plant some early spuds. Ordinarily I would've started planting 2 weeks ago, but with the cold spell I decided to hold back until now. If it turns frosty again I'll be OK until the leaves start showing above the surface...

The soil is wet, but the seaweed has made a tremendous difference to the feel of the soil - spongy, dark and fertile. Two sacks of Swift have gone in, covered with fleece. I would expect to ridge these up in the early March and to be digging them in early May. Fingers crossed...

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Won't be long before planting now

January comes round again and the seaweed is rotting on down nicely with all the winter rain. I actually did some rotavating in preparation for early potatoes yesterday. The first planting will probably be end of January, with the aim of lifting in early May; second planting in late Feb to lift mid May onwards and the rest in March which will be second earlies and maincrop from June through to September.

After the quieter months of November and December suddenly the farming year starts to pick up pace again, leading up to the very busy period from April to June when all the sowing, planting and weeding takes place - with a fair amount of picking thrown in too.

The weather has been quite cold recently, we even had some snow and ice. But in comparison with everywhere else it's been mild really. The question is, will it stay mild enough to plant early spuds, or will it go cold again? If only we could know an accurate 3 month weather forecast!