Last week you saw how things got started when we took over Oakcroft Gardens. The story of what we faced when the clearing and cleaning on the site continues today with a quick look at how we faired when tackling the main growing area.
When we began to tackle the main growing area things didn't start too well. We discovered that there were serious drainage issues across the site and we just couldn't touch large parts of the land as they were waterlogged. In early May some contractors came in and fixed up some old land drains, which allowed us to really start working on the land.
If it wasn't for our old growing sites we would have had nearly no produce in the first half of the season due to this slow start, fortunately the existing sites were still kicking out plenty of produce.
So it wasn't until early May that we really got going and very quickly we realised that we were going to be faced with more problems, the whole site had major perennial weed problems mostly in the shape of couch grass, giant dock leaves and a comfrey infestation that had all but taken over. These problems still plague us today and as we work the land to get ready for the change in weather the frustration levels of last year are nearly being reached again! Along with the crazy weed burden we discovered that there was hardly any organic matter in the soil this proved to be a major issue for our carrot growing.
So along with with piles of rubbish, weed infestations, poor drainage, soil compaction and very little residual fertility we had a serious issue growing good quality veg! By this stage we were in too deep to turn back so we ploughed on (excuse the pun).
The summer was unbelievably tough, trying to keep on top of the list of jobs and tackle the ever growing set of problems pushed us to the limit. It was without doubt the hardest growing year we've faced, with the hardest parts being the numerous failed crops or the rows of produce just not good enough to put in the veg boxes. Survival was a close run thing at times and the poor harvests have affected our coffers heading in to the new growing season.
We managed to tackle some of the issues, work around others and blindly ignore several of them.
This year the pressure is really on to make the site work and while we made some good progress; it is this year that we will really see the site become a productive market garden again and in 5 or 6 years we might have beaten the weed burden!
Tom & Matt
The start of March heralds much thought, optimism and work on the farm and with just 10 days till the Spring equinox we know that the never ending job list is about to get a lot bigger. The heated benches of our propagation house are already full to bursting and poly low tunnels are popping up across site as we try to warm the soil and dry it out so we can begin transplanting and direct sowing.
Despite all the looking forward and planning ahead I was walking around Oakcroft the other day thinking about what we achieved last year and realised that I can hardly recognise the site we took on just 13 months ago. This isn't to say that there is not plenty more work to do, what we achieved last year barely scratched the surface of what need doing here at Oakcoft but there are plenty of positives to look back on.
Over the next couple of weeks I thought thought I’d share some of the progress we've made.
Here is part 1;
Oakcoft Gardens was set up in the early 1960s by Mehr Fardoonji, since its creation it has been grown on organically, making one of the oldest organic sites in the UK.
Mehr retired 11 year ago and since that time the site had fallen in to quite poor repair, we could see this on some of our early trips to the farm but it wasn't until we really got going that we understood all the problems that were going to face us in the year to come.
There was an unbelievable amount of clearing up and clearing out that needed to be done, one of our first tasks was to empty the barn of years and years worth of rubbish, this was quite the task and along with several giant skips there were some seriously big bonfires. The barn is now our packing shed and after the apple harvest we turn it in to a cider making space and a skittle ally.
After the barn was sorted we set to cleaning out other spaces on the site, as you can see from the pictures below there was a lot of crap across all the workshops and greenhouses.
As we got all Zen about our cleaning and clearing efforts the weather was slowly staring to get better and we began to tackle the greenhouses. We were pretty sure there would be some decent soil in these, however they was some serious work to be done to get to it.
What we discovered was an unbelievable infestation of dock leaves across the greenhouses with some of the roots over a meter long!
But we stuck with it and managed to get down to that sweet soil and had a fairly productive tomato crop last year. This year we hope double our tomato harvest as we won't be quite so behind getting our crops in the ground.
Tune in next week for a look at how we got on breaking ground on the main growing area and tackling the next mountain of jobs!
The humble onion is one of the The Supreme Grocer's most beloved plants to grow, this often uncelebrated vegetable is at the heart of most kitchens and is the beginning to many a feast shared between friends and family.
So in celebration of the allium cepa we thought we’d share how we grow the little devils.
First up we prepare the soil with a health dose of compost and organic muck; these help build soils structure, feed the soil and microorganisms within the soil that will help grow the onions over the coming months.
We plant onion sets in the last week of September in our greenhouses.
Let the beauties grow in the greenhouse over Christmas and into spring.
Meanwhile we plant our main crop onions out in the field during the first week of April.
All being well we start to harvest our greenhouse onions for you in late April/early May.
By early June we’ve come to the end our the greenhouse onions and then it's time to start harvesting the main crop.
We continue to harvest straight from the field to your veg boxes until mid august when we pull up all the remaining onions and put them into store.
So next time you hold and onion in your hand and get ready to start making something delicious for dinner just give a minute and remember the journey that it's been on and the month of love and effort thats gone in to bringing it to your house.