It’s been a long time since my last blog update….well there is only so much i can do. Since last summer busy times have past. The Autumn saw some good harvests (mainly from the tunnel) and some poor harvests. Squashes were a disaster, not only did we have a late spring frost and cold winds that took all my early planting we then had an early Autumn frost in September that wiped out any tender crops just as they were getting going, including all the squash, pumpkins and runner and French beans that had been re-planted outside. The Autumn then went on to be long and mild with little rain till the end of October, this was great for anyone growing in the town where the frost hadn’t hit.
During the Autumn i was busy writing up my three year potato study ‘ Easy organic potatoes’. A look at varieties for low input growing, with no weeding, watering or pest control. All varieties tested were main crop floury potatoes, suitable for baking, chipping and roasting. A very brief summary ….Toluca are very tasty but need irrigation and had very poor yields (only a tenth of other varieties). Older well know reliable varieties such as Cara and Lady Balfour give good yields but taste is a bit bland. Lady Balfour is prone to wire worm, so not best for the first few years on new ground. New varieties from Sarpo and Agrico research centres are proving to be best for Organic systems. Good yields and tasty too. For a resilient system plant a selection of varieties to cope with different weather conditions and pests. Try Sarpo Axona and Allouette from Agrico.
My Autumn confinement, glued to the computer crunching numbers to churn out statistics zoomed past and suddenly we were into the new year. The winter was wet and windy and it was hard to find any motivation to work on the land. Although we still had the pigs and chickens, so twice daily visits to feed and check on them continued. Each day the land getting muddier and wetter, every other week another storm battered the site. All we could do was keep putting on the wellies and waterproof and repair the damage and tidy up the aftermath of each gale. Nothing could be achieved on the land, so we turned our attention to renovating our house. Three months of de-cluttering, mending, building, painting and tiling and we now have a tidy, clean and comfortable house just in time for the boys to move back in for Easter.
At last spring is here again, a couple of dry weeks and the land is starting to recover. We now only have three pigs, but we had five for most of the winter. They are grazing pigs, so we had to keep finding them fresh land, which proved difficult with all the rain. We now have our big hay meadow fenced with electric fencing so that we can give the three paddocks time to recover. There is a lot of bare soil, so now the soil is warming up I am going to scatter a mix and green manures and wild flowers to give a wider species diversity to the meadows.
The tunnel went up last June, but was never quite finished, so attention has returned to this now. Brian has been keeping me focussed on collecting water for irrigation and tweaking the tunnel so it works better for us. In Autumn we set up systems to collect 8000 litres of rain water, which should now be full after all the winter rain. Unfortunately the filter in the field irrigation cracked in the frost and we lost all 5000 litres of water. Note to self…next winter drain down the pipes. The polytunnel tanks had a leak, so instead of 3000 litres we only collected about 500. So i am hoping for a bit more rain before we have a drought. Brian has kept me on the case of collecting water, encouraging me to extend the roof of the toilet block above the tunnel. With help on our Thursday volunteer day from the two Brian’s, Lynne and Dave we put up most the shelter extension in a day, with Brian and me finishing yesterday in the rain. Fixing the gutter is best done in the rain to see the flow of water. With the Easter weekend here we are guaranteed to have a good amount of rain so hopefully it will fill the tanks up a bit. I have been working on getting the polytunnel watering more automated. Now the tanks feed the tunnel by gravity and run four 30m lengths of porous pipes, each with two filters in line to keep the system clear. All seems to be working fine at the moment, just need the tanks to be fuller.
Today was the first really warm day, a little taster of the season ahead. Just what is needed to motivate and energise me. Had a busy day mucking and planting potatoes in the tunnel, pruning the forest garden and cutting back the willow. Whist Brian cut flaps in the polytunnel doors, so that we can access the door bolt from inside the tunnel. After a light lunch of fresh eggs and salad we set across the field in the search for water, divining to find a spring. The pigs thought this was very entertaining and Brian the non believer is now converted.
Plenty to do in the field now, looking forward to having longer days and more sun.
Join us on the land, drop in any time on Thursdays 10am – 5pm.
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