Spring Newsletter 2021

Welcome to Spring! As with many things the seasons and growing cycles have decided not to pause whilst Covid runs its course. Thanks go out to everyone who has helped to keep the sites ticking over, the harvests productive and continued enthusiasm during what has been a largely wet, cold and restricted time. We look forward to warmer days, greater on-site activity as restrictions permit and to taking the best from our past practices and what we have learned during the pandemic. Like the tomato seedlings (below) that our members are nurturing at home we expect that bigger and better things will emerge.


At Hammonds End we have made it through the winter months and are now starting to think about spring. Vegetable boxes have been fortnightly with 2 members harvesting Tuesday and Wednesday and delivering boxes to 3 main locations in the area for members to pick up. Over the last 3 months boxes have contained leeks, kale, purple sprouting broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, parsnips, rocket, pak choi, beetroot, spinach and chard.


Hammonds End Cauliflower and Leeks ready to harvest

Polytunnel 2 Lettuce and Pak Choi/Polytunnel 4 Beetroot

Over the next few weeks we will harvest our way through the remaining polytunnel and outdoor crops as we enter the UK Hunger Gap (the period when last year’s crops have finished and this year’s crops are yet to produce). As ever it’s very hard to predict if last year’s crops will produce for long enough before our early sowings for this year are ready – all down to the weather (and a fair bit of luck!).

In addition to the garlic and onions planted in autumn, we have sown the first of this season’s crops: 300 Broad Bean seeds, along with the first of the cabbage, lettuce, and spinach. These are all covered by mesh to stop the mice feasting on the seeds.

In addition, we have sown 60 tomatoes, 30 aubergines, 30 peppers and 8 chilli peppers which members have at home to bring back to site once the last frost has gone.

Over the next few weeks we need to weed and broadfork the outside beds to prepare them for planting at the end of the month. We will plant out potatoes and broad beans and sow calabrese, cauliflower, leeks, celeriac, beetroot, chard and spinach.

Lockdown continues to restrict the number of people on site which means we have lost the communal aspect of growing but hopefully before the summer is out we can be back to normal! We have made a number of videos viewable on You Tube to show members what to be done (available for all to see on the FoodSmiles YouTube channel).

 

Garlic outside and the first lettuce and broad beans growing in the polytunnel

Over the winter months we managed to dig through the clay to sink the final rainwater harvesting tank for polytunnel 4 which now needs to be linked up to the irrigation system. We have used our compost to top up the beds in the polytunnels and have expanded our rhubarb beds which we hope to be harvesting from in the next few weeks.

Rainwater harvesting tank, filled up beds in PT3 and Rhubarb bed

Hixberry Lane

A very wet winter resulted in waterlogging at the Hixberry site. So it is with some relief that we see signs of new growth. Garlic and overwintered onions grown from both set and seed are growing well and the rhubarb is bursting into leaf.

 

We started sowing seed in the polytunnel early in the year and have beetroot, turnip, red onion, Brussels sprouts and broad bean seedlings growing strongly. In previous years we have lost a lot of seedlings to hungry mice so members have constructed some fantastic covers to go over the seed trays and these are working well. 


Over the winter we have also been working on eliminating wireworm from the polytunnel bed. A lining barrier has been put around the bed to prevent wireworms entering from the land outside. We are now trying to eliminate any wireworms already in the bed. We are using potato, one of their favourite foods, to entice them. The potatoes are on sticks which can easily be regularly checked.  We then plan to grow a lettuce crop which we know from experience is another favourite food to see how successful we have been. Fingers crossed.

Incredible Edible

The Incredible Edible team are very much looking forward to resuming activities after Easter. 

Foodsmiles AGM 2020

We had a well-attended zoom AGM at the beginning of March where it was heartening to see so many members who have not been able to gather together in person. In 2020 we grew 2,008kg of vegetables, a small decrease on 2019, remarkable in the circumstances. At Hammonds End we grew 1,414kg and at Hixberry Lane 549kg of vegetables. A new five-year lease has been signed for the Hammonds End site and both Hixberry Lane and the Incredible Edible gardens are doing well.

Special thanks went to the Site Managers, Treasurer, Secretary and existing Committee Members who will all be serving again this year and three new members were welcomed to the committee.

We continue to delay the introduction of new members until more individuals can gather together on-site but look forward to greeting new faces when the opportunity arises. Planning for future events continues to be cautiously considered and details will be shared when we can be more certain that they will take place.

Winter 2020 Newsletter

What a year! But we kept going and growing!

 September saw the last of the summer crops: Aubergine, cucumber, pepper & chilli

Despite the challenges brought about by Covid-19 we have carried on throughout the summer and autumn and are on track across our two sites to have produced around 2,000kg of veg for our members this year.

We have been restricted to fewer members on site so harvesting has taken place on Tuesdays and Wednesday and the Wednesday team have then delivered to local “hubs” for members to pick up.

At Hammonds End we have tidied away the last of the summer crops: tomatoes, cucumber, pepper, aubergine, sweet potatoes, French and runner beans, salad leaves, courgettes, carrots, beetroot, calabrese, tomatillos, boleti beans, fennel and squash but are still left with plenty to come for the winter months.

The End of the Summer Harvest: Squash, Carrots and Tomatillo

Throughout the summer the weather was reasonably kind and whilst the late summer was quite cool meaning plenty of green tomatoes (and a marvellous green tomato cake recipe!) overall we can’t complain too much. Inevitably the runner and french beans blew down again (one year they will stay upright) and we lost quite a bit of calabrese to caterpillars late in the season where the butterflies got under the mesh cover.

 

Caterpillar Damage to the Calabrese

As the remains of the summer crops were cleared to the compost heaps  we planted a green manure on some of the beds which not only did the bees love, but it also provides some protection to the soil over the winter as it rots down and will also feed the soil.

Phacelia Green Manure next to the Parsnip Bed

Outside we now have winter cauliflower, parsnips, celeriac and plenty of kale to keep us going and for a few more weeks the ever dependable chard and perpetual spinach.

 Celeriac, Kale and Chard


 
Celeriac and Parsnips harvested in November from Hammonds End, along with Leeks from Hixberry Lane made for a lovely hearty soup

We have now resown the polytunnels which will provide the harvest in the later winter and early spring. They are planted up with beetroot, winter lettuce, winter spinach, pak choi and rocket. We have to net the lettuce to stop the mice eating it.

Polytunnels with their winter planting: still small but will grow over the winter for spring harvest


Jayne, Tony and Ron have also been busy in the polytunnel adding 
a new shelf from a recycled bath side!

The end of summer brought a good harvest of squash at our Hixberry Lane site.   We find them an excellent crop to grow through the mulch of spent hops we use to feed the soil.  We take part in the Farr Brew’s hop collective and delivered the harvest from our 10 dwarf hop plants to the brewery.

  
Hixberry Squash and Hop Harvest

We have planted onions, garlic, spinach, turnips and mooli to overwinter but unfortunately most of our lettuce in the polytunnel have been destroyed by wireworms. 

Most of our crops for this year have now been harvested.  The Hixberry site is heavy clay and prone to waterlogging and we have to be careful not to damage the soil structure.  As a result we harvest some crops a bit earlier than you otherwise might.  We have dug up our Jerusalem artichokes and have started distributing some good leeks to members.  We continue to harvest chard and still have sprouts and swede to look forward to.


Jerusalem artichokes harvested in the rain at Hixberry

The Incredible Edible gardens have attracted a few new volunteers lately, for which we're grateful, and have really greened up again after the very dry conditions of the summer, with lots of fresh herbs and greens to offer.

  Abundant winter purslane and lambs lettuce now at Incredible Edible Civic Centre

Both gardens will be getting their winter tidy-up in December and we'll collect as many of the fallen leaves as we can to make leaf-mould to improve the soil next year. It's an ongoing struggle trying to find something attractive or useful that will grow in the deep shade under the trees at Russell Avenue, and we're about to try out some ostrich ferns and hostas, both of which have edible shoots in the spring! We'll also be planting lots of lovely cyclamen to brighten the garden up next autumn.

Raspberries now at Incredible Edible Civic Centre

 

Dates for the Diary:

AGM 2nd March, via Zoom – watch out for an invite by email

Summer 2020 Newsletter

It’s the season of Lockdown but we are still growing!


Hammonds End in May

Following the wettest February on record at Hammonds End we finished the winter season with a fantastic cauliflower harvest, 30 cauliflowers all ready at the same time!


The Winter Harvest Cauliflower

The site dried out quickly and we were off to a flying start with a very productive spring planting day where we planted out 20kg of potatoes and the broad beans and sowed the early summer crops: calabrese, leeks, chard, spinach and beetroot just before the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions were brought in.

 
 
 Spring Planting Day – “sign” of things to come, potato planting and Broad Beans some weeks later

Covid-19 has had a significant impact on our operation as “not going out” and “social distancing” has restricted the number of people on site to a few members. However, with a very small hardworking team we have managed to continue harvesting and distributing vegetables to “hubs” in St Albans and Harpenden for members to pick up on their daily exercise. Recent harvests have included 180 lettuces, and plenty of beetroot, rhubarb, rocket, kale, chard, spinach, kale and purple sprouting broccoli. See the end of the newsletter for some fantastic pictures showing the contents of recent boxes.

 
 
Lock-down harvest being prepared for distribution to members

The spring crops raced to a rapid (earlier than hoped) end as the extremely dry, warm, and sunny April and less regular harvesting meant we lost the battle with nature as the crops produced flowers at the expense of leaves.

During lockdown a very small team have been keeping the Hammonds End site under control and most of the crops sown on the spring planting day are now out in the beds. The onion and garlic planted in October have grown well and the first leaves of the potatoes are starting to show though. Unfortunately, the unexpected mid-May frost has “burnt” the tops of some of the potatoes leaves but these will grow back delaying the harvesting for a few weeks (which in the current climate is not necessarily a bad thing!). We have also planted out beds of chard, spinach and beetroot.

 
 
 Garlic, potatoes and spinach

The parsnips, calabrese and cauliflower are also planted out and other than needing more watering than usual (when did it last rain?) are all growing strongly under their mesh coverings. We use an ultra fine mesh which keeps out aphids, butterflies (caterpillars) and flea beetle which would damage the leaves if we left them in the open limiting the harvest. Whilst not pretty, it is preferable to spraying the leaves with herbicides to kill pests.

The rhubarb and strawberries are growing well but we need to get a net over the strawberries before mid-June to protect the crop from birds and squirrels. We have a frame up (reusing the old frame from polytunnel 2) but getting a net over in a socially distanced manner is going to be a challenge.

 
Newly planted calabrese under mesh, and the rhubarb and strawberry beds

The polytunnels have now almost been cleared of the winter crops and are slowly being filled with the summer cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and sweet potatoes. The irrigation system is partially working but we still have a bit of work to do getting it linked up to the new large water tanks which will reduce the need for time consuming manual watering.

 
 
  Polytunnel cabbage, carrots and spinach for the early summer harvest

 
 
Polytunnel aubergines, sweet potatoes and tomatoes

And finally we have “furloughed” a few beds this year as with the reduced people power we can’t weed and plant quite as much as usual, covering them with “mypex” which will keep the weeds under control for when we want to bring them back into use later in the season. This really makes a difference as the final picture shows.

 Spot the difference – clear ground where the ground has been covered with mypex

I am hopeful that in June we will make a limited return back to Hammonds End for members though this will initially involve only one person on site at a time to maximise social distancing. Watch this space!


Our Hixberry site has kept going thanks to the efforts of a small number of members working individually and taking all their own tools.  As a result the site is in good shape and planting is on track.  In response to the current situation we have made a few changes to the growing plan.  For example, rather than try some novel legumes this year we are planting more of the basic crops such as chard that provide a regular harvest for members boxes.  We hope this will compensate for the slightly reduced planting at Hammonds End.

We struggled with cut worms at the start of the growing season.  Cut worms are the caterpillars of various moths.  They live in the soil and feed on young plants at nights cutting them off at ground level.  They are more common in soil that has only recently been cultivated so we hope the problem will diminish in time.  We have found that covering individual plants with a plastic bottle or cup improves the situation at lot although it is not 100% fool proof.
 
Hixberry crimson flowered Broad Beans and overwintered Onions

We have been harvesting rhubarb and the globe artichokes are starting to produce.  We are keeping our fingers crossed as it looks as if the strawberry crop should be good this year and we may have our first blackcurrants.  The overwintering onions have grown really well and the broad beans have plenty of flower.  One of the varieties we have grown this year is called Crimson Flower and it looks a picture.  Other crops we have planted include beetroot, turnips, brussels sprouts, Chinese radish and carrots.

Hixberry emerging Beetroots and the Strawberry bed

Our Incredible Edible gardens have been a bit neglected during lockdown, but thanks to our volunteer waterers they’re still growing strong, and now that restrictions are a bit more relaxed we’ve been able to plant chillies, courgettes, squashes, tomatoes and more for the summer season. Now to tackle the weeds! We are delighted that the Aboyne Residents Association has funded a sturdy tomato support frame and growbags for the tomatoes at Russell Avenue, which will be a great asset.

 
 The New Tomato Frame at Russell Avenue

Both Incredible Edible gardens feature a ‘forest gardening’ planting style which includes a lot of uncommon edibles which our visitors have found hard to recognise and providing enough information on the plant labels has always been a challenge. However, we can now introduce our brand new  Incredible Edible Plant Index, on the FoodSmiles website, where you can look up any plant from the gardens by name to learn a bit more about it. We’re now in the process of relabelling everything clearly with its name only, and we hope that you will make use of the index when you visit! (We’re still adding photos to the index, but this will be done soon.) You can read a bit more about forest gardening in our October 2017 blog post here.

Our ‘One Plant Promise campaign started in April and aims to find out how many people in St Albans are growing their own this year and encourage more people to give it a try – if you haven’t signed up yet we invite you to do so on our website here. You’ll get a monthly email full of growing advice and tips, you can join in on our social media channels, and you can ask us your growing questions any time!

 
 Flowers blooming and some of the new plant labels at Russell Avenue

And finally, our Veg Box Picture Gallery: a selection of the January to May veg boxes - thank you Tony