No sooner than the last fruits (and vegetables) of our labour are out of the ground, we’re looking ahead to the next growing season, such is the cyclical nature of life on the farm. Last year was our first focussed attempt to take more control of our own vegetable supplies by growing to provide nourishment for ourselves and the events we run. We had many successes and some setbacks but there’s always so much to learn and no better time to learn it. We’ve been learning what grows well and where, having had the chance to observe our garden over four seasons; we’re even becoming well acquainted with our neighbouring moles and rabbits! Ultimately our experiences over the last year have provided us with a great platform from which to build on in the year ahead.
This winter we have been working hard to restructure and expand our existing beds to increase efficiency of output, open up new beds and we’ve even commenced work on an exciting new garden area - expect a separate blog post on this in Spring! In doing so we have doubled the capacity of our vegetable beds this winter. The main driver of this is of course to create more food, but a subsidiary aim is to free up more space within our walled garden which we can utilise as a tree nursery to start growing more currant bushes and fruit and nut trees.
Our new beds are created using a simplified no dig philosophy - a cardboard foundation is laid over lawn then topped with a rich layer of compost, biochar and organic material. Seeds and seedlings of all but the deepest-rooting crops can go straight into the growing medium without making any holes. This should provide a slow-release nutrient-rich bed with effective weed suppression. In some cases, a small amount of digging has been unavoidable for the initial removal of deep-rooted perennial weeds and large rocks which we use to create the bed borders.
It’s not just outside work that needs to be done. When the weather’s bad in the winter months we might choose to sit down armed with a pencil, calendar and a growing guide, and get planning! The practices of companion planting and succession planting are helpful in mapping out the spaces we have available to grow in to maximise our output throughout the year. One such practice is to plant carrot rows alongside onion rows in order to confuse and deter carrot flies, resulting in more delicious carrots for the kitchen! It’s also a good idea to think ahead and incorporate a mixture of fast and slow growing vegetables in the same bed, having one vegetable take over in the bed once the earlier vegetables have been harvested. This will keep us producing for longer and increase our yearly yield.
In some of the new beds, we’re looking at establishing strawberries, asparagus and rhubarb - three perennials that root at different levels. Asparagus, like rhubarb, is generally grown from a dormant crown, which can be split out in later years. We’ll have to resist harvesting from it in the first couple of years so it’s a slightly longer-term investment but hopefully one that will pay off considering that given the right conditions you can harvest new asparagus spears every three days over a period of approximately 8 weeks!
The vegetables that we produce will mainly be used for the events we put on here at the farm. We are in a very unique situation where we can utilise a lot of our own food, which in turn minimises the carbon footprint for the meals cooked. It’s a goal of ours to one day be producing enough vegetables for our events, for our staff and to have surplus to sell to the local community. Vegetable growing requires a lot of time and attention and it’s something we are learning and developing every year. The winter is a quieter time of reflection and planning, but all of us here at Three Pools can’t wait for the prolific growth of spring and the verdant summer.