The Celtic festival of Imbolc on February 1st marks the start of spring in our calendar, and with it, the end of our month-long rest and the beginning of a new growing year. This is the time for taking stock, planning ahead and getting some practical jobs done to ensure the market garden gets off to a good start for the year.
Going walkabout on the land
Over the last week or so we have walked the land several times to assess how things are getting on. It is our opportunity to look in detail at the land; how the overwintering green manures are faring, where there is animal damage or where repairs are needed, how the compost bays are looking. We also discuss and finalise our planting plans and generally get a feel for the whole place and what we hope to do here this year. These walks are an essential part of our annual preparation - our way of resetting ourselves before we move into action for the year.
The walkabout comes on the back of a lot of indoor work. While January is certainly a month of rest and renewal for us, it is also a time for planning - and it’s certainly not all bad. Especially when sitting by the fire with a cup of coffee while the rain, sleet or snow falls outside, and the land is saying ‘leave me alone!
Specifically, this means looking at things like crop plans, rotations, planting cycles and sowing dates - all designed to ensure a state of flow for us and consistency to our customers. This granular work always comes out of a broader set of conversations having to do with the direction we want to go in on the farm - from the crops we want to grow, to how we see the business moving forwards, and considering what the signals are from our customers and indeed, from the wider economy.
Trial and error - Lessons from 2022
Every year we trial new ideas to see what happens. Sometimes things work and sometimes they don’t. Last season for example, we grew a lot of strawberries but they proved a bad fit for our harvesting model, requiring too much attention and cropping over too short a period. On the other hand, we began to trial oyster mushrooms and were delighted to find that this has promise, so we look forward to continuing with them.
We produced our first market-scale batch of organic apple juice which went down well with our customers so we will extend the trial for the coming year. We are also planning to experiment with other new products, including apple cider vinegar and our take on kimchi.
Alongside this we have decided to develop our veg box scheme and also to open an on-site shop, initially once a week, to promote more direct sales. To do this, we will diversify the range of crops we grow in 2023 which will take some of the pressure off the salad business, bring more diversity to the soil and give us a wider set of projects to get involved with.
The walkabout is always helpful, and the upshot is that we do feel pretty well prepared and set for the year. From these big picture conversations, we move to detail.
Last but not least - A few early Spring chores!
This time of year is the perfect moment for organising and taking stock to ensure we are ready to go for the year ahead. There are always many jobs on the checklist - completing the tool inventory and making sure everything is working, checking that our fleece and other covers are in good shape, ordering seeds and checking our store of soil amendments to see if anything needs replacing or replenishing.
Before getting into the season proper, the next few weeks will see us spending more time outside again tackling other practical tasks. We will be rebuilding our straw compost bays (another keeper from our 2022 trials), mowing and covering the main veg beds that have had green manure cover over winter, checking the beehives, completing our hedging project around the upper garden, cutting the hazel poles we will use to make our pumpkin frames and getting fresh wood-chip down on all the paths.
There will be other jobs too of course, there always is on a farm, but with these things taken care of we will be as well prepared as we can be for another season of growing.