As the winter solstice passes and we enter a new year, it gives us time to reflect on the year passed and set new goals ready for the year ahead. Although winter is a quiet period for us gardeners, as with many of natures creations from trees to birds, using winter as a chance to hibernate or conserve energy ready for reproduction or growth throughout the spring and summer months. Although we still have a selection of produce growing, (lettuce, beets, carrots, parsnips, kale and more.) Growth is slow during the winter period. Albeit, there is still plenty to prepare for and organise ready for planting season. Seed planning, preparing veg beds, mulching, composting and pruning are just a few jobs to keep us busy and productive through winter.
In reflection to our first year of running the UK project, we have settled in at our new home on the organic registered Whitehall farm, and have began to build a cooperative relationship with Harvest Barn Farm Shop as an outlet for our produce while also collaborating on events. Taking over the plot late April, we were on the back foot regarding produce, having missed the preferable sowing and planting season of February/March. With this in mind, our aims for this year were to collect seed from a portion of our produce and establish fertile growing beds and creating a consistent supply of homemade compost for the year coming. Having said this we were still rewarded with a glutton of produce from beets, carrots, kale, tomatoes, courgettes, potatoes and plenty more, with the large majority supplied to harvest barn farm shop.
During our time at the project this year, we have learned a few valuable lessons. With Whitehall farms reputation and organic certification, we have to be conscious of any pesticides and fertilisers used which could negatively effect our environment. We have read from many sources that neem oil is the perfect pest deterrent for an organic garden. Unfortunately we got to test this recommendation out during the summer period after a caterpillar invasion, we were rather surprised at the results. Within one treatment of spraying neem oil diluted with water, the number of caterpillars reduced dramatically. With consistent treatment every day for a week (due to a large and quickly spreading infestation). This however we feel was a last resort as harming any wildlife we disagree on. This coming year, we plan to use neem oil as a preventative or to deter pests and avoid such infestations again, as opposed to a more aggressive method of attacking any wildlife tempted by our lovely produce.
Another lesson learned, which reduced our sellable produce dramatically was inconsistent watering. We found that due to the extremes of heavy watering, then excessive dryness, many of our tomatoes split before harvest. Not only the inconsistencies to watering periods But also when our irrigation was introduced, all plants were watered the same amount, baring in mind some plants are thirstier than others. To avoid this next year, we plan to have automated/timed irrigation to increase consistency of watering, but also to customise the amount of watering needed to suit each plant. Learning is an on going journey and through research and observation we have learnt many things this year. As easy as it may be to plant a seed, keep it watered and watch it grow, this being said, to maximise yield and quality, each plant has it's individual wants and needs. For example, runner beans not only require water to their roots, but like to be watered from above with a sprinkler or naturally by rainfall. This helps with pollination, increasing the potential yield of the plant. However, if tomatoes are watered from above or by a sprinkler or rain shower, this can damage the fruits causing spots on its skin or even cause the fruit to rot.
Another major concern in the polytunnel was the presence of blossom end rot, mainly in the courgettes but can also affect other vegetables including tomatoes and peppers. The fruit starts rotting from the flowers end usually, and can be a result of many issues, the main being a nutrient deficiency (calcium mainly) along with ventilation and excess leaf growth not allowing air to circulate.We reduced the leaf growth by 50 percent on subsequent weeks,fed with a 15% comfrey feed and sprayed with a 30% milk to water mix which helps reduce mildew and feeds the foliage in the same process. Also removed all the rotten fruits which is really important and we had reasonable success with this as some of the plants started to produce again.
The importance of labelling from the start of the seed process to the final planting positions caused us many problems last year. Losing track of planting times, varieties and positioning can become confusing and unorganised, resulting in decreased work efficiency. However this will be addressed this coming season as we increase our variety and once again as mentioned not being on the back foot in terms of time.
In terms of our plans for 2020, we plan to organise and collaborate with harvest barn in a variety of seasonal events. The beginning months of 2020 will be filled with germinating and planting seedlings. We plan to finish the construction of our wildlife pond before spring and introduce some chickens to the land. We will be opening the project to the public in a regular basis over the spring and summer and encourage our followers to come along and lend a hand, learn about our philosophies or take some time in a relaxing atmosphere. Along the way, we plan to capture and create a variety of content to help educate and inspire others to a more sustainable, rewarding and healthy way of living.