Tuesday, 15 November 2011


I'd forgotten to post this before, but back in May I asked a visiting moth expert to set up a moth trap in one of my fields one night. It's a simple contraption really - a wooden box with a powerful light bulb that attracts moths by night. They come to the box and slide down in to the bottom. In the morning you check under empty egg boxes, where the insects are hiding from the daylight.

My knowledge of moths is quite limited, but I was astounded about just how many moths - individuals and species, were about in my fields! We didn't get a final species count, but it must have been over 25. I can't even remember their names now but the photos give an idea of the wonderful looking insects that appeared.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Photos from September

Here is a patch of grass and clover. It may not look very exciting, but this green manure is critical to the success of following vegetable crops. When this is cultivated it leaves behind a mass of roots and leaves that provide fertility for the next crop.

During its 18 months that it's growing here it's also improving the structure of the soil and will raise the levels of organic matter.

This time of year the fields are full of seed eating birds like linnets and goldfinches. All the weeds that have gone to seed (there are plenty we miss!) provide invaluable food to these birds.

Sweetcorn has been very late, but is now ripening nicely and tasting fantastic

Crimson clover is a beautiful green manure that bees adore. This patch was actually meant to be white clover! Never mind, it looks great.

The blackberries have been fantastic this year

One of the wonderful sounds of autumn has to be Starlings chattering from high perches. I wonder what they're talking about?! They really are very sociable, intelligent and pretty birds - if they were rare people would be fascinated by them.

Florence fennel is an under-rated vegetable that is delicious in stir fries or roasted. They also look fantastic when they're growing.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Tolly and Naida

Iain Tolhurst is a legendary organic grower with over 30 years' experience. LinkHe was one of the pioneering organic growers in this country and runs Tolhurst Organics in the Thames valley near Reading. Here, him and his ex-wife and business partner Lin run a box scheme, supplying over 200 families a week. He's also a consultant, author and inspiration to scores of younger organic growers. And a boat builder.

Whilst working 70 hours a week on the farm, Tolly also managed to find time to build a 36 foot Pinky Ketch (yacht) made entirely out of local and sustainably sourced timber. Much of this is oak, which came down on the Hardwick Estate, where he grows veg, in the 1987 hurricane. Over the course of 12 years he's constructed one of the most awesome boats, Naida, you're likely to set eyes on. Everything about it is pure quality and the level of craftsmanship is simply outstanding.

Last week Tolly sailed down to Scilly having come, in stages, from Reading. Moored up in Tresco channel, I was lucky enough to have a guided tour and a cup of tea on board. As a young man Tolly worked on Tresco for a few years so knows many locals well. It was here he met Lin (nee Lawry), a Tresco girl, who was actually born on a boat called Naida somewhere between Tresco and St Mary's!

In fact until very recently Naida was used very regularly by Bruce Christopher and some people will remember the small blue boat moored at Old Grimsby. It's still being used by Bruce's son, Joe, now in Roseland peninsula.

You can see loads of photos of the launch of Naida this April in these Flickr photos. He's hoping to come back down to Scilly in September, so look out for it!

Photos from the farm in late July

Large tomatoes in the tunnel - delicious

Onions ripe and set skins - quite a good crop

The first squash nearly ready. Winter ones coming on.

A field of white clover - after mowing three weeks ago they are flowering really well now. Bees are all over them and the scent is fantastic.

Late sweetcorn - after a good hoeing they're looking really good and should crop in late August.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Recent photos

Here are some recent photos from the farm:

Red onions swelling up through the biodegradable plastic

Experimental plot of oats ripening up

Carrots are still doing really well and tasting great - plenty more to come! It's one thing that really does like our sandy soil.

A real surprise has been the success of the grapes in the tunnel this year - lots of fruit and they were only planted 15 months ago.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Being a grower is a hard life...

This week has been quite full-on, many jobs to do, still no rain and demand for veg still high. So, this morning, Kat and I had to start picking at 6.00am (having finished at 9.30pm the previous evening) to get veg bags delivered to the launch by 9.00am. Only just made it!

So this afternoon we decided it was the perfect afternoon to finish a bit early (5.00pm) and head for the beach - which happens to be about 50 yards from the field. Being a grower is a hard life, but sometimes you also have to appreciate the finer things in life...

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Teaching the next generation

Last week the children from St Martin's primary school came down to the fields at Lawrences to have a look at the crops and learn more about how food is grown. With all ages from 5 to 11 there it was a challenge keeping them all interested with different things, but they all seemed to enjoy themselves and learnt something.

Clearly the young carrots and ripe strawberries were a big hit with all of them! But perhaps the most interesting moment was when we were looking at a patch of white clover. Having discussed the merits of nitrogen fixation, flowers for bees and roots for improving soil structure, no less than four children each found a four leaf clover! I'd never found one there before!

It's always good to remind yourself just how enthusiastic and interested children are in farming and food when they experience it first hand with all their senses.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Roadside stall is open

Last Monday the veg stall opened for business in Middle Town. Because the season has been a slow start, the selection is limited at the moment, but it includes some really nice mixed salad leaves, fantastic tasting new potatoes and a selection of herbs.

Elsewhere on the farm we've been busy planting succession crops such as lettuce, kale and chard, weeding existing crops like peas, beans and the experimental cereals as well as rotavating a couple of patches that needed to be prepared.

In the tunnel we've put the strings up for both tomatoes and cucumbers. They're growing upwards quite quickly, always a pleasing sight for any grower - it's like a premonition of warm summer days and abundant crops to come.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Dry and sunny

It's very nice to be working out in this warm, dry and sunny weather, but the lack of rain is starting to make an impact on crop growth. Because there's quite a lot of organic matter in the soil there's still moisture two inches down and further, but crops aren't growing as quick as they should and newly planted plants are slow to get going.

We start supplying cafes and restaurants from next week and on Monday 2nd May the veg stall will be open for business in Middle Town on St Martin's.

Katrin and I are working hard to get a range of crops ready for May, including salads, radish, potatoes, carrots, kale, chard, herbs, cucumbers, strawberries and peas. It's been a late start and very dry, but in general things are looking OK...at the moment!

The orchard was going to get mown this week, but the flowers are looking far too beautiful, so mowing will have to wait until they've died back and set seed.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Photos from this week

Some times, when things are busy it's easier just to post photos and let the images do the talking!

First carrots - doing really well under fleece

Early onions growing away nicely now

Can never tire of apple blossom - beautiful

Sowing in the glasshouse - covering seeds with fine compost

Putting up strings for Climbing French Beans

Planting cucumbers in the tunnel

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Good growth

Late March and early April are showing signs of good plant growth at last. Since the weather has been coming from the Atlantic recently temperatures have increased, there's been a bit of rain, but best of all some lovely sunshine on some days!

It's been time for lots of weeding, planting and sowing. The early potatoes are being ridged up by Katrin, a German student working for us for the spring and summer. She's done a good job here and is a real asset to the team. In Germany she's studying organic agriculture and this work placement will give her practical skills to complement the theoretical learning at University.

For the German speakers amongst you, look at her blog www.kaba2010.blogspot.com about her stay on Scilly. Well, if you can't read German you can still look at some nice photos anyway. It's possible of course she's written something offensive on there and I would have no idea, so German speakers take it at your own risk!!

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Seedlings, apples and a big moon

The past week on the farm has been one of sowing and planting all sorts of crops ready for the coming season. Meanwhile in the glasshouse seed raising has been in full swing for a couple of months now. These chard and mustard seedlings are almost ready to be planted out and should give a crop in about 6 weeks.

Meanwhile the apple trees are starting to come out in leaf - the early varieties are already nearly fully open. Blossom won't be long! Here is a photo of a Devonshire Quarrenden unfurling its leaves.

Full moon is today and it has been incredibly bright by night at the moment. Apparently its much closer to Earth than it has been for a while - can't say its noticeably brighter than usual, but certainly makes for fantastic evenings.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Planting and sowing

March is always a busy time for getting new crops established. It's warm enough, light levels are good and there's still moisture in the soil. On these sandy soils you have to get most things established early in the year, letting them get their roots down to tap in to that moisture lower down in the soil profile. A dry spell later on in the year can cause big problems for new crops.

The early potatoes have come up and are now covered in fleece to keep them warmer - but they haven't made as much progress as I would have liked, so fingers crossed for some mild temperatures, sun and moisture to get them going fast.

Euonymous hedges are all looking wonderfully green at the moment and have incredibly vigorous growth. Makes you think about the power of perennials over annuals - they get started so much earlier as a rule...

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Signs of spring

The last few days have felt really mild and there are definite signs that spring is on its way. The Euonymous hedges are showing fresh green shoots, the birds are starting to sing in a different, more spring like way, and more flowers are appearing.

Gorse is flowering all over the place at the moment, in two weeks' time it's going to be a really good show. Cultivated Narcissi have been flowering in fields since November, but the cast offs that lie in field margins, abandoned fields and hedges (so not subject to any special treatment) are coming in to their own now.

'Soleil d'Or' are the single most famous flower from Scilly and have a beautiful colour and scent unlike anything else.

On the land it's been a time for cultivation and establishment. Today white clover and Westerwolds rye went in, just before rain tomorrow afternoon. In the morning the second batch of carrots will be drilled (sown), and the first batch of peas and beans. More potatoes are due to to go in very soon.

In the glasshouse lettuce, peas, salads, tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, chard, kale and much more have all been sown. Sowing will be quite regular from now until about July to ensure a continuity of crops right through the year.

So the growing year is in full swing already...more on progress before long.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Painting the stall

Today has been sunny, dry and mild - a good day for painting the veg stall in Middle Town. A fresh coat of paint, a job I normally hate. But I am using Auro paint, a plant-based, non-toxic mix of oils, resins and colours that smells of citrus! It's made a good coverage and I'm very pleased with it. A pleasure to work with.

Winter on Scilly can be beautiful, as this photo from today, looking over towards Tresco, demonstrates.