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