Much has changed in the market garden over the past year. Nat and Danny left the market garden last autumn, but Ben and myself are keeping the veg flag flying here with the able and enthusiastic help of our new trainee grower Esme, who joined us both in the garden and in our house a month ago. She'll be with us for the season till October, and so far the informal traineeship we're running seems like a great way to get the help we need and get new energy in the garden, while giving someone who wants to get into market gardening an introduction to how (or how not!) to help all these seeds we're sowing achieve their tasty destiny... We're also taking on WWOOFERs for the first time this summer, and still have some space for May, June and August - get in touch if you're interested!
Even with this help, we now have less hands on deck overall and me and Ben realised that we needed to get more efficient if we were going to stay on top of things. One of the things that we spent most time on last year was weeding... now a bit of weeding will always be necessary if you're not nuking your soil life with herbicides, but we're trying out different things this year to reduce the burden of it all:
- more overwinter mulching: black plastic, partially broken down woodchip, crop residues - all have reduced the amount of weeds we've had to deal with this spring, while also keeping the soil protected from winter rains.
- stale seedbeds (a great old-sounding phrase that makes me think of stilton): instead of preparing the seedbed just in time for sowing/planting out a crop, we've been getting it ready a few weeks in advance (I reckon three weeks is ideal), waiting for the weeds to start growing, then hoeing them off before sowing the crop. This means that a lot of the weed seeds in the top layer of soil have germinated and been killed, so are not then competing with the crop as it starts growing. This works even better if you encourage more seeds to germinate by warming up the soil with old clear plastic (eg from a polytunnel). Results so far: seems like some benefit, but definitely not a cure-all.
- and just plain old doing more things in modules... You can get things started earlier in the polytunnel, and they've already got a good little head start on the weeds by the time they go out... It depends on the crop as some things are more likely to go to seed quickly if you transplant them, but for lots of things it works great...
So far the plan seems to mostly be working, and we're on schedule with getting beds sown and planted out... A few crops have been hammered by pests or not germinated well, but hey there's always time to hoe it off and start again... How will it all work out? Hopefully the next post will tell!
Also we're getting a bit of media attention which is always kind of nice/kind of scary... The local BBC were down today interviewing Ben about how we work with the wonderful Dean Forest Food Hub, who are nominated in the Best Market category in the BBC's food and farming awards, which are I believe tonight. If you live around the Forest of Dean (or don't) and are not familiar with the Food Hub, check them out here: http://www.deanforestfoodhub.org.uk/
And a few months back we had someone come to take photos of us on behalf of the Soil Association.. see below...