Sunday, 12 October 2014


There's often a lot of discussion about when seasons start and finish. For me it's not about calendar dates, you have to tune in to nature. For instance, every February we always get a quiet day or two, when the sun feels warm and spring feels like it's just around the corner. The birds begin to sing differently too. It then goes back to a bit of winter, before spring starts properly in March.

Autumn is a season that I believe invariably begins in August. This year was more marked than normal; after the stinking hot spell in July, the weather suddenly changed - cooler and clearer, but also with a fair amount of rain. The starlings began their autumn chattering, the swallows lined up on washing lines, ready for the big flight south.

September was wonderfully warm and sunny, though in truth we were hoping for at least a bit of rain to keep the crops going. It's actually the closest we came to running out of water all year.

Anyway, all the autumn/winter crops are established and looking quite good. The onions have been in the shed for a while now, the squash is about to go in, apples are stored, and the maincrop potatoes about to be dug.

October has had a bit of everything so far - heavy rain, thunder, gales and glorious sunshine. Today was warm, sunny and calm. It had remnants of summer, but by now the bracken is brown, the air is much clearer and the days are so much shorter. But the colours in the sea and sky have been fantastic.

Given that the main work of the year is done, and there are no pressing jobs on the farm, this could just be my favourite time of year...

P.S. I noticed today that we had a little bit of promotion over Twitter, courtesy of Martin Hesp of the Western Morning News. Thanks!

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Organic food healthier than non-organic

Organic food has more of the antioxidant compounds linked to better health than regular food, and lower levels of toxic metals and pesticides, according to the most comprehensive scientific analysis to date.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

June news from the farm

May was a good month for growing, with good amounts of both rain and sun. Generally crop growth was good, though it also meant the weeds were tramping away at sometimes even faster rates! On fields where there was a weed problem from last year that has caused some problems.

Phacelia, a green manure we use widely, is a fantastic flower for insects. A patch of this is often buzzing with bees all day long!

June's been a month of two halves, starting similar to May, but then turning warm, sunny and dry. Fantastic weather for holidays, and initially good for veg and fruit too. But, as ever with us on these light sandy soils, a tension between the wishes of the veg grower and the holiday maker arise the longer the dry spell goes on!

Best view from any lettuce field in the country?!
Some crops are a bit behind where we'd like them to be, particularly in the polytunnels, but it won't be long until tomatoes, cucumbers, basil and grapes are ready. We've got some very nice 'Sharpe's Express' potatoes for sale at the moment - good boiled or roasted - small, white, oval and good skin finish.

Other outdoor crops - lettuce has been very good (though would like some rain), carrots are not far from picking, onions are starting to fold over and look decent. Later in the summer we can hope for beetroot, squash, sweetcorn, more kale and chard, red onions, peppers, aubergines and beans.

Many birds have been busy nesting and many have raised a first brood and are on to the second. We have blackbirds, wrens, thrushes, starlings, dunnocks, great tits and probably some other species nesting on the farm.

Lastly, earlier this month we decided to get married! It was a very low key event with just two friends for witnesses. An absolutely stunning day, we had a wonderful picnic on Bar Point beach on St Mary's (looking over to St Martin's), and the colours were stunning - Scilly at its best. Then we went back to St Martin's, sat on the beach, went for a walk and had a night in our yurt. So it is now Mr and Mrs Smith who run Scilly Organics!
Just married! On Porthcressa beach, St Mary's

Friday, 2 May 2014

Veg stall in early May

Our veg stall has been up and running for a couple of weeks now, but
today is the first day of the new potatoes! They taste delicious - every
year you forget just how nice the first spuds are.

We also currently have radish, salad, spinach, parsley and broccoli.
Later in the month we'll also have kale, chard, carrots and courgettes.

The stall is stocked up every day around 9.30am.

Friday, 25 April 2014

The month of birdsong

April seems to be the month when the most changes in the natural world. Wild plant growth seems to be supercharged in April, with a riot of colour along the lanes and in the field margins. On the farm there are celandines, bluebells, campion, three cornered leek, oxalis, freesias, brassicas and much more all in flower now. The nettles are nearly three feet high in places!

The birdsong this morning was exceptional and I managed to record some on my new audio recorder. A male blackbird was in full flow! What a treat...

Friday, 4 April 2014

Spring photos

When the sun shines, the wind drops and the birds are singing we all forget the rain and wind of winter. Here are some photos from the farm and around the island recently:

Claudia checking plants in the glasshouse
When brassicas (cabbage, cauli, kale, etc) go to seed, it's worth leaving them as they provide some of the earliest flowers for bees and other insects

Honeybee pollinating brassica flower

Little Bay looks great at the moment - not too much erosion and all the sand has come back

The Euonymous hedges in particular at this time of year look beautiful - such a vibrant and fresh green

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Storms part 2

So, the low pressures keep coming and battering these small islands. Yesterday was the strongest wind of the winter so far (and probably for a few years), a gust of 92mph. Today has seen continual bursts of 70mph +, with some sharp showers all day.

Somewhere behind that wave is Round Island

A bit of sun at the end of the day
This was about half an hour before high water
Last Saturday saw impressive seas to the north west, a huge ground sea combined with big spring tides literally battered the coastline.

The sea was overtopping the bank at Pernagie, washing seaweed 50 yards in to the field.

At Lower Town the quay was completely under water, the marker at the end of the quay also nearly under water. The sea washed 10 yards up the road towards the hotel.

Down at Lawrences the bank has taken another pounding, losing huge amounts of sand after last month's hammering.

The line of Pittisporum hedge that keeps the wind out of our fields at the western end of the beach has been seriously thinned. If the sea washes away another three or four yards of the bank then our fields will literally have nothing between them and the beach.

We're going to need to do something serious to save the use of our fields if we get any more winters like this one.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Recent weather

Mid December to early January has seen storms of a ferocity that hasn't been seen for quite some time. Nationally forecasters have said "the worst in 20 years"; a record that's stood since 1886 was broken when the pressure over Stornoway dropped to 935mb.

They were extraordinarily big and deep low pressures that drove powerful winds and big seas, day after day, week after week. Some old boys in Scilly said they'd never seen seas to the west like it. Here on St Martin's we're lucky as we don't get SW or W seas too bad, being sheltered by Tresco (and Bryher and Samson).

But with the spring tides around new moon in early January, combined with low pressure and on-shore winds, that's when most of the damage was done. The sea reached places I haven't seen before, like the seaweed washed up at Pernagie (not thrown up by breaking waves). It reached about 50 yards in to this field that days before had cattle in!

But most worryingly for us was what happened at Lawrences Beach. The idyllic backdrop to our place of work...not so idyllic one night. The high tide ate back in to the bank that lies between the fields and the beach. It seems quite a sturdy bank with good marram grass and a few Pittosporum trees. Not quite sure 'sturdy' is the right word any more...

The issue is not the so much the damage that has been done; that's not good but not disastrous. What is worrying is what could happen next time. This stretch of Pittosporum has gone from being about 15 feet think to 8 feet. If that goes then there's nothing to stop the bank eroding further, then goes the track inside the hedge, and the fields have no wind protection. This needs some strategic thinking about.

Looking back through recent history, it appears the bank actually used to be at least 15 feet further out again. Along the west'ard end of Lawrences fields the public track runs inside the hedge line. But in this line of Pittosporums are walls and gate posts; it's evident from this and local knowledge that the track used to be outside where the Pittosporums are now. If you were there now you'd be on the beach!

All this makes me think of the impermanence of these islands, how we need to continually adapt and take the threats of climate change and sea level rise very seriously indeed.