Ongoing adventures in market gardening!
The day after I wrote my last entry, lots of our lettuce plants started wilting and dying. Closer inspection revealed that lettuce root aphids were noshing their way through the roots, cutting the supply of nutrients and water up to the leaves. We're coping ok because we've got a broad mix of leaves going into our salads, and we've been digging up infested plants on a daily basis to try to contain the spread. Nonetheless, its hit our salad production significantl funny to think what a finely balanced and fickle thing a field ecosystem is, and how easy it was for a sudden change caused by some very small beings to shake me out of a 'la la everything's lovely' way of thinking...
Well its only mid-August but already feels like its been an endless summer of sun interspersed with an occasional and often welcome downpour. From May, things started to get a bit manic (which is my excuse for not having written any blogs since about then) and have only calmed down over the last few weeks, with pretty much all crops in the ground and the focus of field work shifting to harvesting and keeping on top of weeds (through a mixture of mulching, hoeing and good old hand-weeding).
As first seasons go, 2014 has so far been kind to us. Our crops, many of which were planted quite late, exploded upwards, downwards and outwards in the sun and have mostly escaped the ravages of pests and disease. The leaves, herbs and flowers that make up our summer salads have done well, making for a very attractive and delectable final product, and spring onions and beetroot have also done particularly well.
Some crops that have had a tougher time are our brassicas (cabbages, broccoli etc.) which have taken a bit of a hammering from marauding pheasants and caterpillars, and the potatoes and tomatoes, which both started showing signs of blight very early on. Fortunately, while this disease has affected yields of both crops, we were able to contain it by cutting back diseased foliage and by applying a homemade garlic spray on the tomato plants as a natural fungicide. At the time of writing, we are continuing to harvest plenty of healthy and tasty potatoes and tomatoes.
The new challenge over the last couple of months has been selling the stuff we've grown. Ben, Danny and Nat have all done sterling work building good working relationships with farm shops, village shops and pubs in the area, and we have now reached the point where we are doing substantial harvests twice a week. It has been interesting to find out which crops are popular with our various customers and which are less so. We have easily sold all the cucumbers we've been able to grow, and while they lasted our kohl rabi were selling at a rate to rival hot cakes. On the other hand, no one seems remotely interested in courgettes... For both the growing and selling of crops, it seems that the strength of market gardening lies in diversity - if some crops won't grow or sell well, at least some will!