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 - ) 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 (

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.