The Bennison Farm Steering Group

In mid spring we emailed our members to ask if any would be interested in joining the Steering Group for the farm. The group meets regularly to discuss different ways to support the veg share scheme. We are very pleased to say that a number of members replied, and a new Steering Group was formed in April.

When the farm started in 2012 the Steering Group helped by promoting the veg share scheme and building the membership. But now the farm is established the group are looking at different ways to support the farm.

The group has met several times throughout spring. They have helped by contributing to the quarterly newsletter and by working on a members survey.

They have also been thinking about ideas for social events, and ways to make volunteering at the farm easier.

We’ll keep you updated about the Steering Group in our newsletters, and if anyone would be interested in joining, please contact us via email – bennisonfarm@gmail.com

Many thanks to all the past members of the Steering Group. Everything you did was greatly appreciated! Thank you!

Working around the weather

It’s said that Britain has no climate, only weather, and working on the land that often rings true. After a dry summer praying for rain, we wished it would stop this winter when we had standing water all over the farm. Fortunately it was dry enough for ploughing by mid March and our plants went in the ground on time. April was then one of the driest on record so we were very glad of the rain in May, but then of course wishing it would stop just long enough to prepare for the next phase of planting!


April was also cold which meant a slow start for our early planted crops. This makes the May ‘hungry gap’ a little hungrier that usual with last years crops long gone and the new ones not quite ready. Things tend to catch up though, and by the middle of June we’ll have more than enough of everything. We’re always thankful for the polytunnels in the spring. Even when the air is cold outside, with a bit sunshine they turn spring into summer, and the early spring crops look amazing. Tunnel crops are ready around a month earlier than those outdoors and at this time of year we could always do with more polytunnels.


In general things are going to plan on the farm and we’re pretty much keeping to our schedule. The planting tends to come in waves, starting with the first polytunnel crops in March, followed in early April by potatoes, onions and crops for late spring and early summer. Mid May is busy, planting winter crops: leeks, celeriac and brussels as well as summer crops: courgettes, sweetcorn, tomatoes, aubergine, cucumber and peppers. It will then ease up a little with another big wave from late June though July. This will at least give us a little more time to keep on top of the weeds and sow seeds for the next wave.


Producing year round veg shares for a CSA scheme involves some careful planning, and timing is really important. Planting too much too early would lead to late summer and autumn gluts and not enough for the winter, but plant too late and crops won’t have enough time to mature before it gets too cold. We follow a planting schedule which is carefully planned out and tweaked each winter – always searching for the perfect balance! Of course this is only a plan and there are many things that could interrupt the schedule, so we’re always trying to think a few steps ahead and err on the side of being slightly early in case factors beyond our control make things late!

Summer social and missing our tractor!

We had an enjoyable day at the summer social. A keen team of workers weeded the bulk of our parsnip crop which was very much in need of it. The children ran wild in our social area enjoying an impromptu obstacle course and some games organised by Wivenhoe Woodcraft Folk. We barbecued, shared food listened to music and toasted marshmallows on the fire. Much fun was had by all and it’s a very big thank you to the volunteers who made it all happen.

Meanwhile we are on tenterhooks at the farm waiting for our tractor to be fixed. We have a back log of very hungry looking brassica plants waiting to be planted out and what’s more the contractors are unable to come and plough for us as they are too busy! We will get the plants in by hook or by crook but it’s going to be a frantic few weeks as we’re close the end of the window for getting these plants in on time. Wish us luck!!!

Loving the rain.

We love the rain and consider ourselves lucky when we get it as we’re growing in the driest part of the country. The plants love it and so do the weeds but at least it makes them easier to pull out. We’ll be weeding carrots and onions this week and planting brussles sprouts (a bit late) if we can get the tractor (which is currently out of action) fixed. We’re very glad of the new potatoes. They had to be pulled by hand as we normally used a machine behind the tractor. The carrots are delicious and we have broad bean aplenty so nice heavy bags for the time being!

The planting has begun

All land has now been ploughed and power harrowed ready for planting. We’ve planted beetroot, spinach and chard and are planting onions this week and potatoes too if we have time. We also have a delivery of plants due on Friday which we hope to plant next week – cabbages, broccoli, lettuce, pak choi, chinese cabbage, fennel, parsley and for the first time – celery. It’s a busy time but the weather has been on our side so far and we are on track. A drop of rain once we get things planted would be welcome.

We have already planted the polytunnels with fennel, lettuce, spring cabbage, pak choi, chinese cabbage and onions  and have sown carrots. The tunnels are invaluable at this time of year to get things off to a head start and should produce crops a month ahead of those in the field.

Getting ready for the new season

It’s all hands on deck to get ready for the new season now. We are digging the last of the roots out of the old plots and clearing out the old salad plants from the polytunnel and preparing them for planting in the next couple of weeks. Our very old tractor is due back from the mechanics and should have a new lease of life having been fully service with various oil leeks fixed and the dodgy front steering overhauled. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to being able to drive in a straight line again! Once it’s back we’ll be spreading muck and then getting the contractors in to plough as soon as possible whilst the ground is dry.

 

Nest week we’ll be preparing the polytunnels for planting in the next few weeks. Our first early plants will be delivered at the beginning of March. There will be spring cabbage, lettuce, fennel, beetroot, spinach, chard, pakchoi and Chinese cabbage. We’ll also be sowing carrot, radish and mix salad leaves. It’s an exciting time of year and it always feel good to be getting ready for the new growing season.

 

Winter crops looking good.

Last week we harvested all the beetroot. We picked around 450kg which is less than we might have liked but good quality at least. This should be 8-9 weeks worth and will give it every three weeks or so. We currently trying to estimate harvests of of winter crops so see what we’ve got for the winter veg shares. Celeriac and jerusalem artichokes look good. Parsnips and cabbage look great. There’s plenty of kale and the leeks are reasonable so although it’s been a difficult growing season, we should have enough to make it through the Winter.

Certified Organic for another year!

We had our annual Organic inspection last week by the Soil Association. It’s always a bit of a last dash to get my records in presentable in order to show the inspector but as usual I was able to answer all the questions and provide all the necessary information. Essentially it’s all about record keeping and traceability. They need to be able to trace a product back though the packing process, growing in the field, propagation as a seedling to the seed the compost it was grown in.

 

People often expect that it’s about testing my soil to check I’m not using chemicals but they don’t test the soil unless they suspect malpractice. If there was a suspicious lack of weeds that indicated the use of herbicide then they would take a soil sample for testing but it’s to expensive to test the soil of every Organic farm every year so they leave it to the experience and discretion of the inspectors to spot any signs which indicate deviation form the Organic standards.

 

We had minor noncompliance which is that we don’t label the veg bags to show that they are Organic and grown by us. Again it’s about traceability and it’s just a case of adding the correct information to the label that’s already on the bags. It’s good to know we are clear to sell our veg as Organic for another year

Tricky Season

It’s been a tricky season with a wet and cold start followed by relentless sun! We’re doing our best to keep on top of the irrigation but there are things that have suffered – potatoes especially. The weather and some other factors have meant that there are a couple of crops that have failed or not done as well as normal this summer which makes it harder to keep the veg shares are varied as we would like. However we’ve had plenty of cucumbers and lettuce – great in this hot weather – and courgettes too – hopefully not too many for our members! We’re also looking forward to some fantastic tomatoes which are just getting going. We’re especially pleased with the flavour of the ‘bartelly’ cherry tomatoes we’ve grown for the first time.

 

This week we should finish planting the last of our main crops – cauliflower, kale, savoy cabbage and purple sprouting broccoli. Then we can focus our attention on weeding in the coming weeks. We’ll also be pulling onions to dry in the field – perfect conditions at the moment. We’re hoping for a reasonable harvest as onions are one of the least demanding when it come to water.