The propagation bench is switched on, the greenhouses have been cleaned, the polytunnels tidied - it’s time to sow! It’s always exciting when the first seed delivery arrives and this year, the box was jam packed with little paper bags of seeds, promising all sorts of exciting varities (alongside the usual favourites). ‘Getting things going’ in January is crucial if you’re hoping to be harvesting your own produce in June and as soon as the delivery hit the bench, the team got to work.
George is propagating more of his own seedlings than ever, although, as he explained, it’s less of a step change from last year: ‘in 2021 we propagated far, far more than we’d ever done before. We wanted more control over the supply chain and were lucky enough to have the experienced staff to take on the job. This year, we’ve figured out what we’re good at and we’re building on that to give us the longest possible season.’
Successes of last year include lots of the market garden produce - beans, tomatoes, chard, salads and courgettes. Propagating kale and spring onions also worked well, and George is planning to up the volume of the field scale veg by sowing and planting more successions to spread harvests out. There were important lessons learnt too: ‘we won’t be propagating our own celeriac. It was incredibly fiddly and the seedlings were very delicate. We’ll still propagate our own celery - but that will go in the market garden which is a more controllable, relatively weed free space where the seedlings stand a chance. Out in the field, the plants have to be pretty tough and strong to survive’.
The number one surprise of last year though was not one particular veg - it was the new no-dig beds. Labour-intensive to create but worth every day of the hard work, they were easy to maintain and were MUCH more productive than George had anticipated. In fact, harvests in those beds were up as much as 50% on the previous year: ‘we had no idea how successful they would be. We totally underestimated them’. With his first full no-dig season under his belt, George feels more confident to actually scale BACK on some produce (chard, spinach) and extend the variety he plants in this area: ‘More herbs. Lots more herbs - we’d love to do lots of different bunches all through the summer.’ The team have worked hard over the winter and there are now double the number of no-dig beds (38) which means the amount of chard and spinach harvested will probably be the same as last year, but the planting will be geared more towards variety than quantity.
Right now, during the Hungry Gap, when there’s much less to harvest in the fields it’s the perfect time to really make headway and, quite literally, lay the groundwork for this season. George has ordered all the ‘horticultural sundries’ (propagation trays, compost, irrigation tape) and Lottie and Jenny are using every spare moment to sort and sow seeds: ’As soon as the temperature hits around 10 degrees, if we’re ready to plant out then that’s when we stand the best chance of a really successful early harvest’.
There are still greens growing in the tunnels over the winter period: ‘We’ve got salads, spinach and chard coming through but the recovery time from harvest to re-growth is weeks rather than days right now’. The first spring harvest will be the fresh garlic around April time which was sown back at the end of October. After that there’ll be broad beans, radishes, early inside courgettes and herbs and then, come July, it will be a rush of produce and the harvesting will start at the crack of dawn and seem never ending!
Right now, it’s back to the planning spreadsheets, sowing the (sometimes TINY) seeds into rich compost and nurturing the little delicate seedlings that will grow into this season’s organic veg.