Friday, 28 December 2018


When we get a storm on the Islands a lot of seaweed tends to get broken off the rocks, and beaches on the windward side end up with piles of seaweed stacked up around the high water mark.

Of course as most of the storms happen in winter and this is when most seaweed comes in, sometimes resulting in a huge amount piled up four or five feet high. 

This photo was taken on Lawrences beach at the end of November. It gave us rich pickings for the farm, where we lay out on the fields to improve soil fertility and organic matter levels. Even so it's unlikely we picked up more than 5% of this huge amount of seaweed - there must have been hundreds of tonnes deposited in one day.

People often ask if we compost seaweed first before putting it on the fields. The simple answer is 'no' - for two reasons. Firstly it would be hugely time consuming and difficult to do so.

Secondly there is really no need. If you lay on seaweed in the winter, about 4-6 inches thick, soon the rain will help to break it down so that you are left with a layer about 1-2 inches thick within a couple of months. The rain helps to wash out the salt, and you are left with an excellent layer of organic matter.

We use November and December as the main 'seaweeding months', that way the soil is ready to cultivate in February or March in time for new season crops.

This has been a good year for seaweed, and at time of writing we are very close to finishing all the seaweed we need for 2019. 

Given that we need around 50 trailer loads a year, each of around 1.5 tonnes, that's a lot of seaweed to handle. Every single bit of it is loaded and unloaded by hand!

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Winter veg

It's the time of the year when our veg stall has a bit of hibernation, and we go down from daily to weekly veg.

We will stock up at midday every Saturday through the autumn and winter - first come, first served! At various points we will have kale, chard, salad, caulis, broccoli, squash and herbs.

Monday, 20 August 2018


Earlier this month I went on a farm visit to Wakelyns Farm in Suffolk, a pioneer in agroforestry and one deeply embedded in research in to alternative agricultural systems. I had been wanting to go here for many years, and suddenly the opportunity came up - so despite being a very long way form Scilly, I didn't hesitate to book on. 

Owned and run by Prof Martin Wolfe, Wakelyns has really been the agroforestry farm people associate with in the UK. It spans about 57 acres of what looks like very fertile soil that Suffolk is pretty well known for. However what is somewhat lacking in much of the Suffolk farmed landscape is diversity. This is a photo of the farm right next door to Wakelyns:
Suffolk arable landscape
Pretty good at producing cereals, but biodiversity, soil management, trees, diversity - leaves a lot to be desired. Contrast this with the agroforestry approach, now well bedded in a good 20 to 25 years after establishment:
The layout of the hazel alley crops
Here we have a wheat crop, from seed bred and saved by Martin Wolfe, but grown between double rows of hazel 8m apart. The total crop of this area therefore is not just what, but also a substantial crop of hazel (one row is coppiced every 5 years) that can be used for stakes, woodchip, mushroom substrate, etc. It also goes without saying that the biodiversity is much higher in the agroforestry system and soil organic matter levels also higher. All the fertility comes from green manures, which makes up one part of the rotation.

What was particularly interesting was that the height of the wheat (and the yield) was even right across the field. I would have expected to see a shallow curve from edge to edge, as the hazel coppice was competing for water and nutrients. This clearly appeared to be not the case! Martin explained that he thinks by ploughing within 1m of the edge of the hazel forced it to root deeper, therefore not really interfering with the crop.
Wheat between hazel
The farm runs three main types of alley crops - hazel on 8m spacings (between rows), mixed species on 15m spacings, and willow on 12m spacings. Each system has quite distinct characteristics and purposes.

The mixed species system was quite attractive and offered the greatest flexibility for other farms. The one pictured below is a mixture of broadleaf trees (oak, ash, hornbeam, Italian alder, willow) and fruit trees (mostly apple and cherry). The broadleaf trees were mostly pollarded and the regrowth looked incredible. 

The ground immediately under to the trees (for about a three metre width) was unmanaged and a good mix of wildflowers as well as good invertebrate habitat.
Mixed alley crops

The choice of trees for alley crops has much flexibility and is dependent on needs of the system, soil, climate, etc.

I have been thinking about trying to do more agroforestry here at Scilly Organics, but this visit gave me more thought on what could be achieved with some creative thinking. We do effectively have some agroforestry with our small fields with high hedges. Pittosporum and Eunoymous in particular do have other uses as animal feed, firewood and woodchips. 

But is there more we could be doing by integrating perennial crops with annual crops? Undoubtedly, yes, and using the existing windbreaks we have could be a big advantage in helping to establish less salt and wind tolerant species. This could be successfully integrated with fruit, vegetables and think even flowers.
The irony of the entire day pouring with rain after the extended drought that East Anglia have experienced!

Probably the biggest eye opener was the effect on the micro-climate of the farm. Martin explained that in the real heat of July, Wakelyns remained quite green in the midst of a parched landscape. Yields of wheat this year remained at least as good as average, where surrounding farms have suffered substantial yield penalties. The farm actually felt different - calmer, damper, more fertile. Strange one to actually convey but it was quite profound.

It was a shame not to see more vegetable crops on the farm, which up to five years ago was central to the rotation. For various reasons that has changed, but it was still very impressive to see such a great setup that has been studied so much.
Woodchips are a major product of the system

The biggest message was that diversity over time and space brings stability, synergies and total productivity. This may not be new to those familiar with permaculture, but putting it in to practice in a commercial way is a different challenge. Wakelyns gives a model of various routes to achieving that goal.

Agroforestry will undoubtedly only become more important in British farming policy going forward.

Friday, 17 August 2018


August is the start of the harvest season that all growers lover. An abundance of produce on the farm is what all the hard work culminates in, and that's a real joy. We've got a good range of veg at the moment, but it's the fruit that really feels like the icing on the cake.

However it's not perhaps the classic English summer fruits that are in abundance at Scilly Organics at the moment, but some more heat loving crops that are. It's the polytunnels that are the source of sweetness and joy right now with an abundance of grapes and peaches!

There are just two peach trees fruiting, but hundreds of peaches all together. They are very nearly fully ripe with good skin quality. Pests and diseases don't seem to be a problem, the trees savouring the heat of the tunnel but have their roots outside lapping up moisture from the recent rains.

Meanwhile in the other tunnel the grapes are as good as ever, if not better. The heat in June and July certainly hasn't stunted them, if anything increased their growth. We hack back vast amounts of foliage during the growing season! again their roots are well down, outside the confines of the tunnel, pumping out vast quantities of water every day leading to a humid and cooler atmosphere in the tunnel.

These white grapes are Lakemont and taste delicious. Seedless, sweet and tasty, they are reliably good cropping, free of disease and the only pests are...blackbirds and thrushes. Entirely understandable that they want to gorge themselves on grapes! Our netting seems to be keeping most of them at bay...

Monday, 9 July 2018

Summer heat

This summer weather has been fantastic for tourism. Blue skies, hot sun, beaches well used and lots of swimming. Not to mention some truly fantastic sunsets...

The flip side however is that for farmers and growers trying to grow crops and/or raise livestock, this extended hot spell has been very difficult. I don't remember a time when the heat continued for so long, nor an extended period without rain. We have had next to no rain for at least 2 months, and very little over 3 months. 

This has made growing crops like salad very challenging, and required many sessions of evening watering using a very unsophisticated system. Normally we plant out, water, then water again 3 days later...and that's it for the whole growing life of the crop.

This year it's been plant out, then water every 2-3 days or so for at least 2 weeks, and then give every leafy plant (yes, every one) some water at least once a week, but usually twice. 

As you can imagine this is a big demand on our time and requires several late sessions, but there's not really much choice if we want to keep the crops alive! 

So there we go, two tales of summer heat - one from the tourist and one from the grower. Any compromise possible to keep everyone happy? Perhaps half an inch of rain overnight followed by some sun...?!

Monday, 21 May 2018

Veg stall

Our veg stall at the top of Middle Town hill is now being stocked up three times a week - Monday, Wednesday and Saturday at midday. It's full of fresh new crops, including our well known salad leaves mix, beautiful earthy new potatoes, cracking kale and chard, and succulent New Zealand spinach.

Soon we'll be moving on to stocking up every day, and offering more crops as they come on.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Spring gets underway properly

The shift in weather patterns has led to spring looking like it's here to stay! You cam always tell when the shift has happened because wild spring flowers come out properly, like these lovely celandines.

...and this blackthorn

Meanwhile in the glasshouse the seedlings are responding to increased light levels and warmth. Not long until these are ready to plant out. Better late than never!


Friday, 23 March 2018

Assistant grower summer 2018

Applications for this post have now closed 

Assistant grower wanted for organic market garden in summer 2018

Scilly Organics is a small organic market garden on the Isles of Scilly, growing a range of vegetables, herbs and fruit that is sold locally, and we specialise in mixed salads. The business has been running since 2003 and has always been certified organic.

This is an opportunity to gain direct experience of growing a wide range of fruit, vegetables, herbs and salads on the beautiful island of St Martin’s in the Isles of Scilly. You will gain both growing and business experience, and be given considerable responsibility. This is an ideal post for a grower with experience who wants to take a step up to management or starting their own business.

We are looking to take on an assistant grower for two to four months from June 2018, working with us in our small team. We are looking for someone who has:
  • At least six months’ experience of growing organic vegetables commercially
  • Is highly motivated
  • Can take responsibility for day to day operations
  • Is keen to learn new skills and approaches
  • A driving licence and some tractor driving experience

Working hours are 4 ½ days per week, accommodation is provided, and free vegetables are available from the farm. Work contract length is negotiable depending on your availability and commitments. We are offering this post at a late stage in the season due to a previously arranged assistant grower having change their plans at short notice.

To apply for the position please send a CV, and a covering letter to include description of relevant experience, your motivation for applying and anything else relevant.

Applications, and enquiries for more detailed information, should be emailed to Jonathan Smith Deadline for application is midnight on 8th April 2018.
The role is paid; please contact me for details and for full terms and conditions, as well as any questions you might have.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

It snowed - again!

Snow on Scilly is a rare event. The last I can remember before this year was 2009. But now it's snowed twice within three weeks! Apparently an old boy in his 80's, who's lived here all his life, has said he can never remember two lots of snow in one winter. Climate change?

Anyway, for the sheer joy of Scilly in the snow here are some photos from this morning of snow and sunshine. By this afternoon it had nearly all gone...

Snow on caulis isn't a common problem we have selling on the veg stall!

Settling on elm trees, which should be ready to burst in to leaf in a week or two...

The track along Lawrences

Lawrences beach

Mr Snowman in front of the tunnel

The strange effect of snow slipping off a polytunnel

A downside of having guttering on tunnels - that took a lot of work getting the snow out!

Fields at Lawrences looking pretty

Believe it or not there are spuds under there. Fortunately none have shot up above ground level yet...

Above Great Bay

Monday, 19 February 2018

The growing season has kicked off

Mid February marks the proper start of the growing season for us. The
winter jobs are coming to an end and plant growth is starting to pick up.

Today I cultivated in some seaweed ready for early spud planting later
this week. In the glasshouse we've been sowing seeds for a month and now
have some nice little plants coming on. The first salads will go in to
the polytunnel, planting out next month for cropping in April. The next
lot will be planted outdoors for harvest in May.

Today felt like the first day of spring, it was so warm and quiet. There
will be some wintry weather to come yet for sure, but it  certainly felt
like a turning point.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

In praise of Pittosporum

A good proportion of our hedges on Scilly are Pittosporum angustifolia, which are very hardy evergreens originally from New Zealand. They are drought tolerant, salt resistant, and withstand high winds - all characteristics which make them flourish on Scilly. 

The hedges are equally as good at 6ft high as they are at 20ft plus, like this one on the farm. They can be cut annually or left for 3 or 4 years before a cut again. 

The flowers appear early in the year, from now until April; generally they are a lovely deep red but occasionally white. On a mild and still spring evening the scent is deep, heady and quite intoxicating!

They go on to produce seemingly thousands of seed pods per plant, opening up from summer through to winter. This results in often a proliferation of young plants below the hedges. These are quite easy to dig up and transplant to a new site if you want a new or replacement hedge.

The cuttings can be used for animal feed, or can be processed through a woodchipper to make good woodchips. Lastly, bigger pieces make very good firewood which burns very hot due to the high sap content.

Without these amazing plants we'd certainly find growing quite a challenge down here!