Autumn 2019 Newsletter


‘Twas the season of plenty...

Hammonds End as summer ends

We’ve had a great summer of growing at all our sites, increasing the amount we have grown in the first 8 months of the year by an impressive 30% (252kg) to over a tonne of vegetables.

At Hammonds End we are approaching the end of our summer crops, where we have grown more courgettes, chard, cucumber, fennel, beans, calabrese, salad, potatoes and spinach than the previous years. The cooler summer (especially the nights) has meant that some of the polytunnel crops have done less well and we did lose a lot of the strawberries to the squirrels and broad beans to the crows (more defences needed for next year!)

It has been a funny year of weather: July had the hottest recorded day and 40+ mph winds with extreme variation between day and night time temperatures. The lack of rain has meant we have been kept busy watering but the new polytunnel irrigation system has made this easier and we will continue to improve this over the winter months for next year.

Summer Crops: Squash / Sweetcorn / Polytunnel 2 / Borlotti beans

With summer behind us the main task is now keeping the leeks, purple sprouting broccoli, kale, swede, chard, cauliflower (no sign of the threatened Europe wide cauliflower shortage at Hammonds End!) and winter spinach relatively weed free and covered up from hungry pigeons. We will shortly be planting out garlic and onion sets and have also started to sow the winter polytunnel crops of pak choi, winter lettuce, rocket, turnips, carrots, spinach and beetroot to see us through to next spring.

In the now empty beds we have sown a green manure (both phacelia and field beans) which will keep the soil protected over winter, smother the weeds and provide some goodness to the soil as it composts down. In addition, the bees are really loving the phacelia flowers.

Bees and the Phacelia Green Manure

The plans for the winter include putting a new cover on Polytunnel 3 and continuing to develop the Polytunnel rainwater harvesting (for when it does eventually rain!) and crop irrigation systems. We will also be strengthening the strawberry bed defences to try and keep out the squirrels next summer.


Hixberry Lane has had a great summer with good harvests of a number of crops.  Onions have done well both those grown from sets planted last autumn and those we sowed as seed in the spring.  We also had a bumper garlic harvest. Conditions seem to have been perfect for beetroot which we have been harvesting weekly since mid-July.

Other crops we have been particularly pleased with have been fennel and kohl rabi.

 

There is still plenty of veg to come – leeks, squash, sweetcorn, sprouts, red cabbage and swede.  We are also trying out late summer sowings of some quick growing crops including Chinese cabbage, pak choi and kailaan.

Our Incredible Edible gardens inevitably have a bit of a lull in the summer months - the ground gets extremely dry and sessions are quiet while people go away on holiday. But nevertheless, they are ticking along with a steady stream of herbs, berries and salad leaves available, and a few courgettes, beans and tomatoes too.

 
Russell Avenue Site in Summer

We are very grateful this month to Morgan Sindall Construction, who as part of their volunteering scheme, have replaced our broken tool storage box at the Civic Centre garden and created new woodchip paths in the forest area of our Russell Avenue garden. These paths provide important structure to the space and will be a great help in developing our forest garden in the coming months. We would love for more volunteers to join us in developing the garden, so if you'd like to help please come along to any of our sessions (dates on the website - http://www.foodsmilesstalbans.org.uk/p/blog-page_3.html ) We also have an open day coming up as part of the Open Food Gardens programme, on 26th October 11am-1pm, when we hope to be able to show you lots of seasonal food for late autumn and winter - come along if you can!
Did you know we have a small free library of books about permaculture and growing-your-own at our Russell Avenue garden? You are welcome to borrow them or swap one for a similar book - for access just come along to any of our Russell Avenue sessions.

 
Russell Avenue Library and Morgan Sindall “path laying” team

Harvest Festival: it was lovely to see so many people at the Harvest Festival at the start of September for an afternoon of chatting, eating, drinking and a challenging treasure hunt as well as the opportunity to show off our site to St Albans and Harpenden Mayors.

Harvest Festival in Full Swing

Friends of Foodsmiles are welcome to come to work informally at the farm whenever they need some hearty exercise and company (and probably cake too)! It would be great to see you so please come along and say hello - there is always plenty to do! If you are interested, please contact us and we can let you know when we are working on site. You can also go on our 'active friends' list and receive our site newsletter if you wish to do this regularly (membership@foodsmilesstalbans.org.uk).

And a big thank you for Ayletts for continuing to supply compost and equipment to us.

Date for the Diary: Foodsmiles Open Day at Hammonds End on 28th September between 2 and 4pm as part of the St Albans Food Festival. Do come and visit as we say farewell to summer and prepare the site for winter.


Finally following the site managers' homemade wine tasting at the Harvest Festival, Jayne has agreed to share her secrets:

At the Harvest Festival a few members asked me to divulge my recipe for making wine so here goes.
First buy a demijohn, air lock, tube for syphoning and yeast (maybe). All these are available from Wilkinsons at a very reasonable price or from ebay.
For blackberry or rhubarb wine add 3 pounds of fruit to 3 pounds sugar in a big plastic box or bucket with lid. This is creating a must. Leave the must for about one week to break down and become juice. I help it along with a blender.
Then add a sachet of yeast and cooled boiled water and filter out the fruit to fill the demijohn. You do not have to add yeast if the wine is fermenting well by itself. So I add it for just blackberries but sometime I add a carton of pure grape juice and then I don’t add yeast.
Attached the air lock and let the wine bubble away for about 12 weeks. During this time you can syphon the wine if it is not clearing or has a lot of fruit/sediment still in it. After the wine has stopped bubbling then it can be bottled and is ready to drink in another four weeks.
Some wine makers use campden tablets to stop the wine fermenting, I don’t as I prefer the less chemical approach.

Summer 2019 Newsletter

‘Tis the season of anticipation ……….

 
Hammonds End in its “summer clothes”

Having almost made our way through the UK Hunger Gap we have kept the veg boxes going with purple sprouting broccoli, giant winter spinach, chard and salad and are now looking forward to our summer crops.

At Hammonds End the winter and spring crops have been cleared as the battle to prevent them from forming flowers and seeds instead of leaves to eat was inevitably lost and the remains are now being chopped and added to the compost heap.

At the March sowing day, we sowed over 1,000 seeds including: runner beans, french beans, borlotti beans, squash, courgettes, cucumbers, sweetcorn, fennel, celeriac, swede, parsnips, tomatoes, calabrese, purple sprouting broccoli, cabbage, leeks and cauliflower.

The cleared vegetable beds have been weeded and broadforked (instead of digging over the beds which can damage the soil structure and soil life we loosen the soil with an enormous fork). Compost has been added to the vegetable beds (thanks to the local council grant for funding and Aylett for supplying bagged compost at a great price. In addition, we have used our own “home-made” compost) and then as the plants reach a decent size they are moved from the polytunnel and planted out.

 Summer Crops being planted and the “Foodsmiles” compost
 
We are generally on track with only 4 more beds to go for the leeks and kale which should be planted out by the end of June.

And then it is a summer of watering and keeping on top of the weeding for as the old adage goes: one year’s seeding or seven years weeding! (I had originally written “we could still do with some rain” but after last week I’m now wishing for warmth – growers are never happy, though thankfully it’s not been as hot and dry as last year!)

 
 
 New PT2 (cucumbers/lettuce) & PT4 (tomatoes/aubergines/peppers/sweet potatoes)

The new polytunnel is completed and has already produced its first crop of rocket and lettuce and is now filling with cucumbers, chilli peppers and sweet potatoes. Polytunnel 4 is now ready for summer full of tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and sweet potatoes. We are getting to grips with the new irrigation system and when it does rain have been harvesting the rain water to water the tunnels.

It is also good to see plenty of ladybirds around the site, inside and out, helping to hoover up the aphids which seem to be very prevalent this year.

Ladybird on a Pepper Plant in Polytunnel 4

The new raised salad bed built last winter is fantastic providing some great “cut and come again” salad for our weekly veg boxes.
 

The new raised salad bed

The plan over the rest of the summer is to install some bigger rainwater collection tanks next to the polytunnels and to look at how we use what we have learnt to irrigate the other tunnels.

At our Hixberry Lane Site we have been harvesting some new crops for the FoodSmiles members. The rhubarb that was planted 18 months ago has given two good harvests and the globe artichokes we grew from seed last year are producing so many flowers that every member should get at least one.


 Rhubarb and Artichokes at Hixberry Lane

Last autumn we took blackcurrant and redcurrant cuttings and are delighted that most have taken and are growing well. We also planted strawberry runners from the Hammonds End site that were surplus to requirements and we hope to harvest our first fruits very shortly.
Incredible Edible Russell Avenue is really coming on well and we can hardly believe it only began in January! Lots of residents and their families from the surrounding streets have welcomed the garden and are using it regularly, which is great to see, and we had an amazing 22 adults and 8 children at our last session (which was also part of the Sustainability Festival).

Incredible Edible Russell Avenue Site

The garden now boasts raised beds full of veggies and strawberries, a herb bed, a big bed full of gooseberries and currants, a raspberry patch, a flower border for pollinators and a wildlife area with bug hotel.


Incredible Edible Russell Avenue Bug Hotel

This month we will mostly be working on the woodland ‘forest garden’ area beneath the trees, where you will soon be able to pick wild garlic, wild onions, nettles, sorrel, purslanes, rhubarb, wall rocket, and many other wild (or wildish) greens and herbs.
We were disappointed when somebody dug up and stole many of the plants from our herb garden a few weeks ago, but the community rallied round and together we soon managed to replace them. If you’re out and about in town it’d be great to have your support in keeping an eye on the gardens, perhaps helping us out by picking up litter or reporting any problems, or simply just having a good look around and helping to cultivate a positive community presence there. These gardens are for you!
Don’t forget the food grown in the two Incredible Edible gardens is free for anyone to pick, and you are invited to help yourself. You can find all kinds of herbs and salad leaves in both gardens, and the strawberries will be ready soon…


 
Incredible Edible Russell Avenue Raised Beds

Other News: We are pleased to welcome new members to Foodsmiles many of who signed up at the Sustainable Food Festival Market Stall which generated lots of interest.

Friends of Foodsmiles are welcome to come to work informally at the farm whenever they need some hearty exercise and company (and probably cake too)! It would be great to see you so please come along and say hello - there is always plenty to do! If you are interested please contact us and we can let you know when we are working on site. You can also go on our 'active friends' list and receive our site newsletter if you wish to do this regularly (membership@foodsmilesstalbans.org.uk).

Date for the diary: Harvest Festival at Hammonds End on the afternoon of 7th September where there will be food and drink, a chance to chat and celebrate the year. All Friends of Foodsmiles and members are welcome so please save the date. Details will be circulated nearer the time.

Finally, a seasonal recipe from Jayne, the easiest nut loaf to use up summer tomatoes, you can also add spinach or courgettes and it freezes well so make big batch and eat later.

1.5lb loaf tin                                                            4 crusts (brown bread) 110g
Grated cheddar 100g                                             400g handfuls nuts (any)
4 eggs                                                                    2 tsps Marmite
4 medium tomatoes chopped                                340g mushrooms
1 onion                                                                   1 leek
40g garlic butter                                                     Finely chopped parsley
Salt and pepper
  • Grease the tin then line with foil or cling film and grease generously again.
  • Put all the ingredients into a food mixer and finely chop.
  • Mix in a large bowl. Season to taste.
  • Preheat oven to 180C (fan setting). Cover tightly with foil and bake for 45 mins. Remove foil from the top and bake for another 30 mins.
  • Check if it is reasonably firm and if not then bake a little longer (20 mins).
  • Remove covering foil and turn tin over large plate, carefully removing all foil/cling film. Slice and serve.