About emma

I am partner of Ash and Elm Horticulture with my husband David. We created the name Ash and Elm many years ago when we were working in the music industry and living in the tree house. My initials spell ELM and David's surname in Ashley, hence Ash & Elm was formed. I studied organic horticulture and now teach horticulture in the community, I also do landscape design and work establishing community gardens. In my spare time I work with the family growing produce for ourself and the local shops. We sell veg, fruit and lots of cut flowers.

Mulch, mulch, mulch

Yesterday it rained. it rained for about 24 hours. Not the heavy Welsh rain we know so well, but a constant misty drizzle. After such a long time with no rain, it was a lovely excuse to have a slow morning in the house catching up with office work (which i never manage to do when the weather is fine). I did get out on the land in the afternoon and was working in and out of the polytunnel. Although it sounded like heavy rain when i was inside, when outside I was hardly getting wet, but it was giving the ground a good slow watering, constant and long enough to totally wet the bone dry soil.

So today i was on a mission to get all the beds mulched to keep them moist. Starting early to get the job done before the sun starts baking the bed dry again. Arriving at the field everything felt fresh and alive. Plants in the field looked lush, bright and green, sitting upright in their beds.

A mulch is something you put on the surface of the soil. It can be organic or man made. Organic material is anything that was once alive, so you use whatever you can get; garden compost, well rotted farm yard manure (FYM), grass cuttings, straw, wood chip/ bark mulch, wool. I don’t have enough of anything for all my growing space, so i use a bit of everything. Using high nutrient mulches like FYM on the hungriest crops. Grass cuttings and wood chip on the less hungry crops. Mulch protects the soil from the heat of the sun reducing evaporation, feeding worms and micro-organisms, it also prevents weeds from germinating (it will not stop perennial weeds like nettles).

Last week plants were looking very sorry, dried out and starting to look like straw. We don’t have much water and i don’t like having to water plants in the field. But sometimes i have to. Before mulching, the ground must be moist. I started mulching the onion beds last week, firstly watering, it took a lot of water to wet the beds thoroughly. I emptied two of the compost bays, each giving seven barrows, enough to mulch one bed each to a thickness of 1-2cm, (1″). Each of my veg beds are 1.2m wide by 25m.

So it’s rained, the beds are properly watered and we got busy mulching. Dave, Amy and I started with the muck heap. Two garlic beds done, we then move on to the flower cutting garden.

Each flower bed is 1.2m by 4m and i have 24. We worked our way through them mulching around emerging plants and covering empty beds ready for digging in late. We got four to the end, when we run out of muck and energy.

Another day tomorrow and i will be moving back to the compost heaps. One more bay to empty and this will be going on the peas and beans (legume bed). My compost is high nutrient, made from food waste, with no weed seeds in it. Legumes do not need high nutrient, but they do benefit from organic mater and it’s moisture holding capacity. See my blog on growing legumes.

 

 

 

 

 

After the wettest winter, who would have thought we would be suffering drought so early in the year. With no mains water, bore hole or well on site we are reliant on the rain water we collect over winter and every down pour. There has been no considerable rain for sometime now.

We have a total 18,500 litres of water collection on site. Using 1000 ltr IBC’s, recycled cider, 1,500 ltr barrels and 1 larger 2,500 ltrs water butt. As more structures and roofs are built on the land we are able to collect more rain. Gaining more containers each year, but even so we run out of water every spring.  It is normal for us in Wales to have our best weather during April into May, often we have a month without rain at this time.

Most of our water is used in the polytunnels and greenhouse and then all the nursery potted plants, I rarely water field veg. We have 4500 litres of water linked to an irrigation system in our first polytunnel (enough for 3-4 weeks without rain). When it is working it is fantastic, keeping everything alive while my back is turned, but when these tanks run dry we have to water by hand, carrying the water from elsewhere. That’s 700ltrs a time for the big tunnel (70 watering cans) and 400lts (40 cans) for the second tunnel to water it completely. This is needed every 3-4 days. On top of watering the greenhouses and nursery pot plants, that need watering every day. I love the hot weather, but i am often wishing for rain.

This is how it works…

We collect water in three old cider barrels, giving 4,500 ltrs (enough for 3-4 weeks without rain). Each tank has it’s own tap, in case we need to isolate them for maintenance.  The water enters the tunnel via alcathene pipe and through a filter, before reducing to conventional hose fittings. The hose then goes to the 12 volt pump and from there into the accumulation tank and onto the timer. The pump is linked to a leisure battery, kept outside the tunnel in a box and connected to a small solar panel that trickle charges the battery.

The timer is a cheap (£15) one run on two AA batteries. From the timer the hose goes to a four way splitter, each with a tap. These four hoses go to each long bed of the tunnel. There is a fine filter on each bed and again the hose splits. I have three lengths of seep hose in each 25m long bed. I will be putting four lengths in my new tunnel. Seep hose is reported to seep 30cm, but i find plants do best planted next to the pipe. So inter-planting and catch cropping needs extra water.

I find sometimes i need to give extra water by hand to new planting and thirsty crops, but on the whole this systems stops drought and keeps everything alive while i’m not looking.

 

Grow your own beans and peas

What could be more lovely than fresh sweet peas from your own garden. In our house they never make it to the kitchen, just eaten fresh straight from the plant. Whats more they keep giving, keep picking and the plant keeps producing. Peas and beans are some of the most productive plants to grow in a vegetable garden

Peas and beans are in the same plant family ‘leguminosae’. They like the same growing conditions, best in a sunny spot, well-drained soil, and a soil pH 6.0-7.5. They need a humus rich soil (organic mater such as compost, muck, leaf litter) to retain moisture, otherwise the pods won’t swell.  They are deep rooted, so if growing in a pot, give them depth. Many heritage varieties have coloured flowers making them suitable for the ornamental garden. Legumes are nitrogen fixers (they have a symbiotic relationship with soil bacteria) this means they can make their own nitrogen when the soil is deficient (Nitrogen is needed for plant growth, particularly leafy growth).  They are easy to grow and have few pests and diseases to worry about. Although you will need to protect your seeds from mice. You can sow seeds direct, but you may have more success starting them of in pots so you can protect them.

Peas

There are different types of peas, hardy ones for over winter growing or sowing late February. Then lots of different summer varieties. Short or tall growing varieties, fat peas or small petit pois. Podding peas, mangetout and sugar snap. Chose varieties to suit your planting time and taste.

Beans

Lots of different types of beans, but many are tender. This means waiting until we are frost free before planting out. For early growing Broad Beans are your only option, these can be sown in October and over wintered for a crop at the end of May the following year. Alternatively sow mid February for a crop in June, or March for a July crop. Broad beans don’t need any support. Plant them 20cm apart each way in a double row and they will support each other.

Once we get into warmer weather (past the risk of frost) you can sow French or Runner beans. Climbing varieties will need strong support, bamboo canes tied together as a tepee works well. Alternatively you could try a live support such as a tree or shrub. Or you may have heard of traditional ‘three sisters’ companion planting method, beans are planted next to sweet corn and grow up the strong corn stems, while squash are grown underneath to suppress weeds and keep the roots moist. This works best in warmer climates then the UK, here in Wales we don’t have the long warm summers that are needed to get the sweet corn growing strong and too many cloudy days for the squash to cope with the shade of the other plants.

Dwarf French beans don’t need support and will produce beans quicker, but run out of steam quicker, so its worth sowing a couple of time during the season.

 

 

Lots happening on the land

So what is happening on the land in April?

This is the question i keep getting asked at the moment.

So here’s some pictures..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lots and lots of seed sowing in the greenhouse, polytunnel and outside. Contractor has been and ploughed the big field, the pig pen and a new area for flowers. The ridge and furrow minimum dig beds have been uncovered, prepared, 3/4 planted and mulching has begun. Dave has rotovated all the beds that needed it. Muck has been delivered for the field veg. Fresh, hot muck delivered for the hot box in the greenhouse. 2 loads of woodchip delivered for composting. Some of the hedges have been cut and the cuttings made into new dead-hedge wind breaks. Apple tree grafting. Tree planting. New greenhouses going up. Mending the mowers.

Still on the list for this week…is mend the tractor ready for disc harrowing the field. More trees to plant, seeds to sow, and seedlings to pot on or plant out.

Happy growing

Hot box

A hot box is a propagation box, which makes heat without the use of electric.

Many a keen gardener will be like me at the moment…Every windowsill and flat surface in the house is full of tender seedling. Tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, and the first courgettes. But now things need potting on, out of their little modules into bigger pots. Time to move them on and out of the house. Although the days are toasty, the nights are freezing, far too cold for all these tender plants.

Time to build a hot box…

I normally do all my seed germination in my hot box, not the house. This year, with the corona virus shut down in full swing it has been difficult to get muck. So a later start than normal. This week i took delivery of a trailer full of steaming fresh muck.

 

 

 

 

I have a lovely solid wooden raised bed in my greenhouse, that i built a couple of years ago. Previously i have made the box out of old hay bails, roped together. You can use what ever you have. You then fill this with fresh muck, woodchip or compostables; good and stinky. As this breaks down and composts, it heats up and keeps your greenhouse warm.

Once the box is full of muck i walk on it to press it down to level the surface. Fresh muck can be rather lumpy with clumps of straw, so I then top it with something finer to give a level surface. You can use woodchip, sawdust, sand or compost. This year i topped mine with a few bags of old compost i had left over from last year.

 

You can then start using the hot box as it is. I cover mine with some woven geotextil fabric (mypex), to keep everything clean. Then i put a layer of capillary matting to prevent seed trays from drying out too quick.

Already it will be heating up, great for germinating seeds. All that is needed now is a lid, to retain the heat.

 

I will eventually get around to making a tidy wooden frame hinged for ease. In the meantime, an easy quick option is a mini polytunnel type structure. Alcathene  pipe is cut to length and used as hoops (you can often get lengths of this for free, as off cuts). This is then covered with plastic (of cuts from our new polytunel) This can be pulled up to inspect plants and water. It can be left open on hot days to reduce temperature and vent the space.

Grow your own potatoes

Grow your own potatoes – It’s easy, weather you are growing in pots or the open soil.

Get some potatoes… for best results buy good quality seed potatoes, chose a variety that you like and is disease and blight resistant. Waxy potatoes are good for salads and boiling. Floury (high dry matter) are good for roasting, chipping, and jackets. If you can’t get seed potatoes, any potato will do (seed potatoes are guaranteed virus free). What type do you want earlies, second earlies, maincrop. Earlies grow fast, develop tubers and then stop growing, so are dug up early as new potatoes (if left in the ground they’ll be eaten by slugs, tops will die off and it will become a weed patch). Second earlies can be dug up early or left to get bigger. Maincrop have a long growing season and are dug up when the skins have hardened. All potatoes can be dug up as new potatoes after 10-14 weeks before the skin hardens. There are 5 stages to potato growth.

Sprout Development

You might have heard about chitting seed potatoes, this gains you time. You can start them growing early in your house in a light, frost free, cool place. This develop short strong shoots (chits), giving you a head start on the growing. (If they chit in the dark they grow long week shoots, that will break off when you plant them).

Image result for potato chits

Plant them in large pots or open ground, but not too early. They are not hardy (the leaves will be killed by frost), so don’t plant until after your last frost. They are hungry plants, needing your best compost or muck, both for nutrients and for moisture. Potatoes are great for breaking up new ground, why not try no dig potatoes with a lasagne bed.

Lasagne potato bed

Basically start with cardboard to cover the ground blocking the light and killing the turf. Cover with layers of organic material, whatever you have available. Start with bigger bulky material at the bottom (straw, leaves, wool), getting to smaller/ finer material at the top (grass cuttings, compost, muck). Layering carbon rich materials (browns), with a layer of nitrogen rich materials (greens), as if you were making a well stacked compost heap. Then plant your potatoes in the top and let grow. You get a fabulous crop and at the end of it, you have a lovely new veg bed without having to dig the turf/ soil.

Image result for potato lasagna bed

Image result for potato lasagna bed

Planting distances:

Earlies – 30cm (1ft) apart along the row with 40-50cm (16-20in) between the rows

Maincrop- 45cm (1.5ft) apart along the row with 60cm (2ft) between the rows.

Vegetative Growth

It will be 2 weeks before they are showing above the ground and then another 4 weeks until the top canopy growth covers the ground. This is the crucial time for weeding, we call it earthing up. The purpose of this is not to give a high pointy ridge  – NO -, but to hoe/ rake/ weed the bed. Being careful not to damage new emerging shoots or leave too little soil on the side of the ridges which the tubers will grow out of and get exposed to light (which turns them green).

Then just sit back and let them grow…….

If it is a dry hot season, give them extra water. There are 2 key points when watering is important, tuber initiation and tuber bulking…

Tuber initiation

At between 6 – 10 weeks, tubers form at stolon tips but are not yet enlarging. In most cultivars the end of this stage coincides with early flowering. If the plants lack water during this stage a pathogen develops in the soil that causes Potato Scab. The potatoes are still fine to eat, but look terrible, and may need peeling.

Tuber Bulking

From flowering onward the tubers are bulking up, getting bigger and bigger with time and water. Not all varieties flower, so this is not a good indicator, usually around 10 weeks onward. This is the time to harvest new potatoes.

Maturation

Plants turn yellow and lose leaves, photosynthesis decreases, tuber growth slows, and vines eventually die. Tuber dry matter content reaches a maximum and tuber skins set. When harvesting you may find the mother potato that you planted, this is not good to eat.

My early potatoes were planted very early this year in the polytunnel, on the 1st March. They have been covered with horticultural fleece to keep them frost free. Even so they got touched on the growing tips where they were in contact with the fleece that floated ontop of them. Here is a picture of them now, week 7. I will dig up the first plant on 10th May, 10 weeks after planting. Only 3 weeks to go.

Potato Problems

  • Scab – chose resistant varieties, water at tuber initiation stage
  • Blight – chose resistant varieties (Sarpo varieties, Carolous). Cut off affected leafy growth and wait 2 weeks before harvesting tubers, so as not to contaminate the tubers.
  • Black leg – remove effected plants

Read my report on Potato History.

Read my report on Easy Organic potatoes for a changing climate

 

Grow your own

Suddenly everyone wants to grow their own. And why not, time on your hand, the scare of food shortages and whats more the sun is out. What could be easier than sowing a few seeds.

But where to start???

First get your hands on some seeds. Seed suppliers are over run at the moment with orders. Try picking up seeds when you go out to get your food shopping, many food stores sell seeds. Ask a grower friend if they can spare you some seed. Seed packets contain lots of seed, so always good to share with a friend.

Easy and quick crops to give you lots of fresh veg in a small amount of space.

Everyone has room for these…

Sprouted seeds – Quickest of all, ready in 3-10 days. Highly nutritious. Pretty much any seed will do. You can spend money on a seed sprouter, or you can simply use a jar. Rinse and drain at least twice a day. Click on the link for more detail.

Lets start gardening… You will need pots, seeds and composts. Window boxes are good. But before we start here is some…Terminology

Thinning out – remove some seedling plants to give the rest space to grow. Pinch out or pull, throw away or eat the seedlings. Root veg will not transplant well.

Bolting - shoots up, stem/ root goes woody, eventually flowering and seeds, leaves can taste bitter.

Radish – 4-5 weeks. Hot and crunchy, not for everyone. Sow a few every 2 weeks from Feb – August for a continuous supply. Sow thinly, 1cm deep, aim for 2.5cm (1″) apart. Harvest young before they bolt.

Rocket – 4-6 weeks. Spicy, peppery salad leaves. Aim for 15cm (6″) between plants. Bolts quickly, sow regularly for a constant supply. Older leaves can be cooked as spinach. The flowers are edible too, with a lovely delicate sweet taste.

Lettuce - 4-6+ weeks. Whole lettuces are a long wait and take a lot of space. Try cut n’ come again. Any variety will do, grow several different types to give different colour and texture. Space 10cm apart & harvest baby leaves regularly. Sow new plants every month, for a continuous supply. Cut n’ come again lettuce.

Spinach - 6-8 weeks. Highly nutritious, tasty and versatile; use baby leaves in salad, cook large leaves. Thin seedlings to 7.5cm (3″) apart. A few weeks later pull and eat every other plant to leave them spaced 15cm apart. Harvest outside/ larger leaves as needed. Bolts in hot weather, so grow in a shady space and water regularly.

Turnip – 6-10 weeks.  Thin out until they are 15cm (6″) apart. Harvest young when sweet and crunchy.

Kale  & chard – 5-10+ weeks. Pick regularly when young as baby leaves or wait for fully grown leaves if you have space and harvest all year. Plant 45cm (1.5ft) apart for fully grown leaves, for baby leaves they can be spaced much closer together.

If you have more space, bigger pots, a yard or garden how about Potatoes, Peas, Spring onions, Broad Beans, or Runner Beans.

Watch out for my next post soon. 

Local Food Diet

Food…We hear a lot these days about buy local. Yet, 15 years ago, it was all about buying Organic. How thinking changes. Today, as the Corona virus crisis unfolds and depends, eating local may be the only option available in the coming months.

A month ago (before we were even thinking about the current situation) i decided to test the theory of buy local. Most people when they talk about buy local, mean support your local shops, boost the local economy. They are not thinking seasonal, or what is actually produced locally.

This diet is something i have thought about for over a year, but when i started vocalising my idea to my friends it had to become a reality. So after a lovely whole food lunch with friends, followed by tasty tea and cake, I woke up the next morning and said today is the day.

Sat 22nd Feb I woke up and was on a mission to see what food was available and how local it could be. I wanted to start with what was available to eat within 2 miles, then spread out to 10 & 20 miles, Wales & then UK.

I am vegetarian and have been for over 30 years, although in recent years I eat local fish, road kill and our own home grown chickens and pork on feast occasions.  I was keen to start this diet veggie, but was well aware that February is the start of the hungry gap, with the last of the winter crops, whilst the new season crops only just going in the ground.

So what did i have…

Winter veg in store… A few crates of potatoes, onions, garlic, chilli & some squash

In the field… A dozen parsnips, beetroot, a couple of swede and celeriac, herbs.

In the polytunnel…Salad, kale, chard, parsley (not much growth happening in February)

Dry store…Hazel nuts, tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries, beans

Drinks…herb teas, apple & pear juice.

In the freezer…Pork, chickens, tomato & soft fruit  (pork was primarily slow fattened on grass, but the chicken was grain fed, so i wanted to avoid eating the chicken).

We have our own bees but don’t get honey. My neighbour within 2 miles has honey that i used to sweeten the frozen currents.

I wanted to be really strict, so no added extra ingredient. My store cupboards are full of chutneys , jams, pickles, wine, & beer. But all of these have added ingredient not locally produced. Although i could make local vinegar, I didn’t. I could have used honey, instead of sugar. Also locally there is no salt, black pepper, spices, soya sauce or vegetable oil.

So I started day 1. I have been skipping breakfast for quite a while now, sticking to the 8/16 diet of eating for only 8 hours a day and fasting for 16. So skipping breakfast wasn’t a problem. Skipping the 2 cups of tea before leaving the house was a routine i greatly missed. By 6pm i had a massive headache due to lack of caffeine and had to go to bed, this continued for several days. I have since found out there is a Welsh teas grower near Cardiff, Peterston Tea. Amazing, i will be trying some soon.

Day 2 was my first test. I was out teaching and not quite in the swing of being prepared. Having skipped breakfast, and not eaten much the day before, I was feeling quite hungry. I had with me a couple of bits of boiled parsnip and some nuts. I was invited to join XR for their lunch feast. I reluctantly declined. When i stated what i was doing, someone offered me the lovely fruit salad, obviously they had heard the word DIET, rather than LOCAL. As i looked at the fruit salad full of orange, banana, grapes etc, I thought how hypocritical all these people are preaching to everyone else about how they should live their lives. With there well travelled food, plastic wrapped and supermarket purchased.

Meals were a bit random. I just ate twice a day, one meal of soft fruit with a little honey & nuts, and one meal cooked. With no cooking oil and with only sparse indigence, cooking a meal didn’t work. So boiled potatoes, steamed kale, salad, occasionally a parsnip to change it a bit. Rather boring, and left me quite hungry most the time. Squashes were great, so tasty, so large. One lasted me days. Roasted, then made into soup. Although eating it day after day was too much. I would have loved a curry, but we don’t grow the spices. I missed black pepper. I had in the cupboard some Schezwan pepper that i had collected fresh from the tree, whilst visiting Devon, I have a tree on my land but it is not old enough to produce yet, it can also be purchased from Welsh trees. So i allowed myself this treat.

After a while i needed a little extra.  Eggs…Since we stopped keeping our own chickens, we normally get our eggs from a free range farm 10 miles away. In summer lots of our neighbours sell eggs, but hens don’t lay much at this time of year. I like poached eggs, nothing extra needed, cooked soft gave a nice bit of liquid to my dry, bland meals.

I got into eating pork quicker than i had planned. This gave me lard to cook with, and put some flavour into everything else. Then i could enjoy Spanish omelette, great for my lunch box. I did try stir frying Kale and onions without oil, and found a little water and keep stirring worked well (is that called saute, i’m not sure). But much nicer with a bit of fat. I really got into using dried tomatoes, lots of flavour, great in steamed or stir fry veg.

I wasn’t short of protein… We have lots of hazel/ cob nuts, which we had spent every evening during January and February shelling, so they were ready to eat. I had plenty of died beans, also grown on our land, I soaked beans and made stews and bean burgers. I also have a large chest freezer full of our home grown happy pigs. 

However, I was struggling with enough carbs to keep me feeling full. The 3 crates of potatoes i had stored at the field had been found by rats and were inedible. This left me short, and potatoes were on ration. I was fine without the carbs when i was doing office work or teaching, but 5 days a week i am doing hard physical graft in the field, and i get hungry.

After two and half weeks i had learnt to ignore the hunger and hoped i might even loss some weight,  but i was craving a normal meal. I wanted some bread to go with my squash soup.  In Machynlleth, 19 miles away, and where i work every Wednesday, there is an Artisan bakery, Rye & Roses, Tom & Jane grow their own grain in the Dyfi valley. I had been looking forward to it for days. But, they had run out of grain, just when i needed it. So i gave in and bought a loaf from Felin Ganol a Welsh mill and grain grower in Ceredigion. 35 miles from me, but further as it had travelled to Mach to be made into a loaf of bread.

I have to say the loaf was a bit disappointing, after waiting so long for it. It wasn’t the loaf that was the problem, it was the lack of butter to go with it.

I hadn’t missed dairy at all,  until I had bread. Apart from butter, I normally only had a little milk in tea and some nice Welsh cheese from time to time. I could get local dairy if i wanted it from our friends, when available (8 miles) not for public sale. Dyfi Dairy in Machynlleth (19 miles), they sell cow and goats milk and goats cheese, no butter yet. Racheals Dairy is based in Aberystwyth (27 miles) sourcing their milk from Organic British farms, and selling a wide range of products. But i felt i could do without the dairy for now, especially as i was off the tea.

So I stuck to my very basic diet for a month, sticking as close to home as i could. The further i went from home the more interesting my diet could become. Our local wholefood store, Natural Foods, sells many UK products, I could get Hogmedod’s  British  pulses and grains, such as beans & quinoa. She also sells UK vegetable oil.

Apparently there is Welsh rape seed oil, but it is not organic, so I wouldn’t buy that. Rape growers use a lot of herbicides.

Apart from the 1 loaf of bread, i stuck to a diet within 10 miles for the whole month. I was able to do this, because i have grown a lot of the produce myself.  If i had planned in advance i could have had more to eat. I could have stored apples, carrots and more.

As time takes us past spring equinox and the sun comes out at last, nature rewards us with a bounty of new exciting food to forage. I have had nettles daily, i am about to tap the silver birch to give a sweet treat. The tree leaves will be out soon to add to salads. My crops at the field are coming on too. All the polytunnel crops are growing rapidly now. I have tender seedlings filling ever window sill in the house and the first field crops are going in. Exciting times. I look forward to my seasonal local food plate become fuller and fuller.

To summarise my experience, I feel that if we were to truly eat local, we would be eating seasonally and eating what grows well in in our soil and with our climate. Here in wet Mid Wales with our short growing season, we struggle to grow a lot of crops, but grow good grass. Eating a heavy meat diet (grass fed of course) in winter and more veg in summer is what our ancestors would have eaten. Thank goodness we do have inter-connectivity and global trade, to spice up our plate.

However, it times like this we remember that we also need local food for food security. So support your local farmers, growers and producers not just in crisis, but all year round.

 

 

January 2020

We are already a month into the new year. Moving into February and a changing climate, both environmentally and politically, only time will tell what it brings. The unknown future of Britain as we leave the familiarity and security of being part of Europe, leaves us all apprehensive of what is to come. But the biggest issue of our time is not Brexit, but protecting the planet for the future of the whole living world. All we can do is our little bit to make the world a better place.

At Ash & Elm market garden we continue another year of farming agro-ecologically; regenerative growing that nurtures nature and promotes diverse systems to increase wildlife, feeds the soil to produce nutrient rich food and grow plenty of flowers to feed insects and your heart.

New for this year we are pushing our direct sales with more veg bags. Producing bags for Llani folk as always, but now expanding to be part of the Veg2Table vegbag scheme in Newtown (part of Cultivate co-op). Along with sales in Machynlleth @ Fresh & Local market stall on Wednesdays and hoping to join the Green Isle Growers veg bag co-op. During last year all the florists in Llanidloes finished trading, leaving me with lots of flowers and no local outlets. However during 2019 Grace of Tymhorau has been buying lots of flowers from me for her local flower business in Machynlleth. This year i will continue to supply flowers to Mach, whilst expanding my direct sales to LLani folk. I have launched our cut flower subscription, offering locals a regular bouquet, made especially for them.

In Autumn we had a fabulous nut harvest. Dave collected bags & bags of hazel nuts from our cob nut hedge and native hedge rows. We have found that there is only a market for nuts on the month running up to Christmas. Which leaves us with the unsold nuts for our own protein supplies for the year.

Dave has been busy shelling the nuts every evening for weeks now (a very slow job) and we have been experimenting with different Nutella recipes. After all the shelling, we then soaked the nuts to re-hydrate them, and watch them double in size. Then blanch them and remove the brown skins, that can taste a bit bitter on mass.

Then the chocolate mix, our favourite recipe was the dairy with dark chocolate mix. Although we will experiment further with the vegan recipes.

 

 

Finally after hours of nut preparation we got 6 small jars of Chocolate spread. Don’t think it will be a new product for our sales range, working out at £12 a 200g jar, when we cost in the time . But it sure tastes good.

 

So the new year has begun and so has this years crop planning and planting. We have a new polytunnel going up, just waiting for sunny weather to put the skin on. Another new glasshouse for propagating seedlings. Along with the ongoing repairs and upkeep of all our old machinery and buildings.

Our son Joe the baker, has been expanding his knowledge on a peasant bakers course, at Torth y Tir, St Davids with  Nicolas Supiot from Britany. Following the whole process from grain, milling and finally sour dough baking. Bringing back to us a large sack of heritage wheat to grow. So watch this space to see how that progresses.

Our aim  this year is to have less short term wwoofers, favouring longer term. Encouraging local volunteers and trainees to get involved in out CSA veg growing. We have regular volunteer days on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when all are welcome to come and learn new skills and be part of a growing community of like minded people.

This year our field open day is on Sunday 17th May. Bring a picnic and spend sometime enjoying the countryside.

We are at the field every Tuesdays and Thursday.

spring has sprung 2019

Straight from winter into spring. Woolly hats one day, sun screen and shorts of next. The growing season is now well underway. 

We have had a very mild winter and no animals on the farm to look after, so we have had a productive time planting and building.

Work continued on the barn to give us 3 separate rooms. The packing area now has a floor and insulated walls to keep the summer heat out. Lots of white boards to keep track of jobs and orders and the space will double up as a classroom. The kitchen area should be finished in the next week or so.

 

 

Over winter we have planted a new perennial flower cutting garden, with lots of winter flowering shrubs to give us flowers January – March. We finished planting the scented garden. Now i have 3 beds of roses, totalling 45 plants, many colours and plenty of scent to go in the summer bouquets. We also extended the nuttery, with 40 new Sweet Chestnut trees. some of these will be left to get big for nuts, others will be coppiced for fence posts.

Dave has been busy with the machinery. Combining mower engines to give us one good working machine. He did some work in exchange for a beautiful big rotovater, that zooms through the compacted beds and saves hours of digging. Doesn’t quite fit in with the minimum dig system, but there is always land that needs some digging and this tool is the one for the job and will save our backs.

 

 

New season planting has begun and is now in full swing both on the nursery and in the field. I am rather nervous of the field veg this year as we lost all our winter crops during November to pheasants. There are still more than 40 in the field most days. My aim to cover up many of the crops until they are established and hope they grow faster than they get eaten.

Last year i grew 4 veg gardens in pots for a BBC back in time program. During the filming five families lived of the veg i had grown and carefully transplanted into their gardens. The program starts on 1st May. The 1900 island BBC one Wales.

 

This year i am growing a whole allotment site, beds, greenhouses, and alleyway for a film set. A Welsh production  Dream horse being filmed in May. Not much notice on this one, good job i already had lots growing in the nursery, but pressures on, delivery in less than 3 weeks… 

Same deadline as the Llanidloes Food festival that i am also organising. Should be bigger and better than last year, lots more stalls, cooking demos and talks. Events all week, finishing on the 19th May with our Open Garden.

programme front

programme reverse

October repairs

Major movement on our big shed need attention. We have been putting this off all summer, but now we have emptied the barn it looks much worse than we thought, and we are glad we are doing the work now before it gets any weight of snow on the roof.

 

 

 

 

 

The shed it leaning over by about 6 ” at the top and the block raisers are leaning out even more. There is an accumulation of events that have lead to this problem. Firstly the planners would not allow us to put in foundations or any stone to sit the shed on, instead we had to build it on skids as a movable temporary building. The first week the whole 40 ft building moved in a storm, so we then put massive ground spikes in to stop it blowing away in the wind. It was fine, but not quite so firm on level ground. This has been further compounded by rats tunnelling under the walls, dislodging the solid supports. None of this has been helped by us…we have been storing a lot of materials in the roof triangles; wood for construction, a sailing dingy, spare rolls of ground cover material among other bits and pieces. All this probably made the structure top heavy.

Well, we can’t put it off any more…we have emptied the barn (that was a major job in it’s self). Then we have attached winches to the far side of the barn and gradually pulled it upright.

 

 

 

 

 

Amazingly our plan is working, it hasn’t fallen down and it is looking much straight now. Next to secure it, so it it stays straight.  Watch this space…