November 2014


A look at the months activity at Homeacres, with continued growth thanks to the warm and wet weather, an on-site photoshoot, attending the RHS Show in London, a look round the redeveloped Durslade Farm, a trip to France and more….

Late Warmth

It has been so warm. Plenty of rain – 72mm (3 inches) in two weeks, and sunshine too, almost no frost.

Sowing Beans

Although so mild, its time to sow broad beans, no rush in view of the temperatures – you don’t want them too big in frosty weather.

Here I am sowing them on what started as the ‘Shumei’ experiment where the bed in front is dug, and I am comparing composts. We had just cleared beetroot, which were a second crop after potatoes.

Compost

With more greenery than usual on my compost heap, it has stayed warm. I put a thermometer in to show students on a course here on November 8th and it shot up over 50C.

I have been spreading some lovely, well decomposed cow manure, two years old, where I plan to grow spring salads.

Undug Quality

Often I notice a difference in quality of vegetables, between those on dug and undug soil. Its difficult to catch on camera, perhaps you can see it in the golden beetroot, dug ones are on the left.  With celeriac, there was more woodlice damage in the dug roots.

The soil fragment is from an undug bed where I had harvested leeks: the soil is firm but full of plant roots.

Autumn Veg

Root vegetables are unimpressed by the warmth and are hibernating whatever. Even without frost, parsnips are tasty and I leave them in the soil until needed, beetroot too. Celeriac keeps well in crates so I pick it now, leaving soil on roots when for storing.

The lambs lettuce is from Antony Duminsky’s garden in the Lake District, most impressive.

Gardens Illustrated

We had Andrew Montgomery the photogrpher for a day of intense shooting for an article on winter veg, to appear next November. After a morning in the garden, he shot Steph’s delicious dishes, here are roasted chicories and oca with leek, onion and garlic.

RHS Show

Steph and I spent a day in London at the Secret Sunday show, where we met lots of lovely gardeners, from all over the world too. There was interest in the jars I filled with different composts of various ages, something I am often asked about. Also we took a plant of stevia which caused much interest, and the huge sugarloaf chicory and Filderkraut cabbage were popular.

Something different

Bruton is buzzing at the moment with a new art gallery and Piet Oudolf garden, as well as the Chapel restaurant where I am advising on the garden, and giving a course next February.

Both places serve Homeacres salad leaves and have been incredibly busy – the Hauser and Wirth complex has had 50,000 visitors since opening in July. They also have a two acre field opposite which is leased to the town and we planted a community orchard of 40 trees, two years ago. They are still small and need some compost!

Allotments at Durslade

In the same field as the community orchard are new allotments (since this year) and raised beds for rent, since last year.

The beds are going better than the allotments where weeds are winning, and crops look scarce to me. Steph and I plan to create a nice, no dig allotment there.

Many of the allotmenteers took off all the turf and piled it in heaps, so time-consuming and unnecessary. The last thing one needs is extra, unnecessary work.

Vegetable growing in France

I just had the chance to visit Lorraine and Paris where I was teaching organic growers and would-be growers, who receive much support from state-funded bodies.

The first day was in a Mairie at Deligny, near Nancy, and in the afternoon we visited a holding nearby, in a cold fog, which apparently happens a lot there at this time of year. It was a shame, when in Britain the weather was quite warm!

The following day I was driven to a sprawling town St. Die, in the foothills of mountains in the Vosges, near to Alsace, where I taught in the school building. In the afternoon we visited a half acre garden of excellent crops and innovation, run by Nicolas and Marie Wenger. Their main tool is a grelinette, and they have a lot of chickweed.

The two-handled fork is fairly quick to use, for soil-loosening. I am not convinced by the approach however, especially in view of the resulting weeds. For example, Nicolas hoes his lettuce four times between planting and harvest.

Last year thay had talks from Eliot Coleman and Nicolas was inspired to make some mobile tunnels. He used shorter sections of his existing long tunnel, and dug ditches for drains and gravel along the sides, with concrete pads to fix the rails. The tunnels are held in place with blue string tying them to the rails, there are no weights on their plastic.

The tunnels have no ends, and are moved every few months, often used to start crops growing, for instance there is one shortly to be moved over that garlic, because it is too cold in the Vosges otherwise, for garlic.

We caught a TGV train to Paris, they are so quiet and efficient, then I taught at the offices of an agency which is encouraging organic growing in Ile de France. Sadly there was no garden to visit this time, but we had a good day, and my French was fluent by now!

The next day, Steph and I visited the Jardin des Plantes near Austerlitz. It looked undermanned to me, many fine plantings rather weedy and unkempt, borders empty, and an uninspiring potager. A great place to visit though.

Back in England, Homeacres harvests

It has been an abundant season and especially good for brassicas, here on heavy soil.

The salads are doing well, with so many kinds at this time of year! Mostly we pick the outer leaves each week, the only time I use a knife is to cut wild rocket and frizzy endive.

The warm October has meant a strong overlap of summer and winter harvests, for example courgettes and Brussels sprouts.

Root vegetables are starting to lose leaves to disease and old age, a mostly-normal part of their growth cycle.