Tag Archives: successional planting


Salad, it ain’t what it used to be!

This year I planted specifically with a view to have fresh green salad to hand. It might sound like the move of someone who isn’t quite sure about gardening, but for me, it was a first.  I love the  modern version of salad that I have come to learn in the past two years but still harbor strong unpleasant feelings toward its 80s incarnations. Planting salad for the 2016 season was in a way an effort to purge the negative feelings toward something that may just become an important aspect of my future.

It wasn’t until my twenties  that I started to voluntarily eat salad. “Rocket” had just become the new fashionable thing in Toronto usually accompanied by avocado, tomato and either mozzarella or feta. Until then, my only engagement with salad was the lackluster iceberg, cucumber tomato trilogy my mother put on the table whenever she was on a new diet.

It’s not her fault, a whole generation made salad this way. Back then, if anyone had told me I was purposely going to plant myself a salad garden, I would have scoffed.

It’s the first week of summer and I have harvested my first proper salad meal. Over the past two years I have really had my eyes and my taste buds opened to the magic that can be in a bowl of greens. I am grateful. Early in my journey when Ru Litherland first suggested that our smallholding consider salad as a cash crop I had serious prejudice. My mind still holds the bland and boring salads of my youth as it’s go to image of what a salad “is”. But today, when i sat down to eat my lunch and the beauty of what was on my plate began to sink in I gave the idea it’s first serious consideration.  Salad, as a revenue stream has a lot of positive things going for it. It grows quickly, can be done early in a glass house and later in the field, luxurious versions can a relatively profitable. It’s also something I have a lot of harvesting experience with, which is another key consideration.

The banal bowl of my childhood has been replaced by a colorful, fragrant, multi flavored, visually enticing ever changing and exciting mix of herbs, leaves, and flowers. For me there is something decidedly decadent about eating flowers. For starters, it wasn’t something I knew you could do until I started my apprenticeship, and I am not alone. I have to admit, not all of them taste of much, regardless, the fact that they’re there in all their esthetic splendor adds to the enjoyment of eating.

Recently, I’ve been contemplating how the land will generate the capital we will need going forward. Luckily we don’t need much. Salad, might just be the trick.. or one of them.

Today’s salad: Beet leaf, Nasturtium leaf, CCA lettuce, garlic chive flowers, Viola Tri-color and foraged Elderflower.




garlic all year

Garlic all year round

In all my years I have only met one person who did not like garlic, and she would not even let it in her house, most of us use it in at least small quantities in our cooking. I really do believe that every garden, whether its potted, window or a grand allotment should grow at least some of it’s own. Garlic is easy to grow, tastes great and has a multitude of beneficial properties both for us and for our soil.

Modern scientific research has concluded that regular consumption of garlic has a lowering affect on the levels of  LDL cholesterol, lowers blood pressure and even shortens the duration of colds or flu. Many organic farmers believe that adding the dried leaves of harvested garlic back into the compost further extends the antioxidant benefits to the soils. I don’t know that there is any research proving this, but since benefits aren’t exclusive to simply the bulb, it does make sense to me.

This year was my first commercial harvest of garlic. I was lucky enough to be involved in each step, harvest “seed stock” selection, drying, preparation for market sale, grading seed and planting for 2016. Garlic may be one of the easiest in this regard, but I still learned quite a lot.

Organic Lea’s garlic aim is to have a supply year round, which is possible first by grading the seed stock and then though successional plantings. The largest, blemish and disease free bulbs are first chosen at drying. Once they’ve air dried and the papery outers have formed grading begins.

Grading is the process of breaking the bulb into it’s separate cloves and ordering them by size. The biggest outer cloves (bottom of the photo) are planted out in November here, usually around the fifth of November and over winter in the ground.  These will actually begin growing now owing to the moderate climate in the south east of England. These cloves will stay in the field growing the whole next season and be harvested as the dry garlic and seed stock for the following year. By choosing the biggest bulbs for this planting and doing this year on year you are effectively ensuring the best and strongest genes go forward, which over time will increase the overall size of your garlic bulb harvest.

The second category of grading is for the smaller cloves (middle of the photo) these bulbs are planted in spring and will be pulled early for the sale of “wet” garlic in the mid summer months.

Finally the slender inner cloves (top of the photo) are graded. These are sown in December however unlike the smaller bulbs these will be multi-sowen in the field, or under glass meaning each hole will receive more than one clove. We did this the first week of December in the glass house and planted four bulbs per hole. They’re buried at one clove depth. By sewing multiple cloves in this way we are planting to harvest the greens for fresh use as fresh herbs for salad and soups which will be harvested earliest of all, in the early summer.

By using each of the cloves and selecting them for what suits them best the farm (or your garden) can be producing garlic for year round use. Organic lea is lucky enough to have Thermidrome Garlic as it’s seed stock, originally from France it is a variety that does exceptionally well in heavy clay soils.


Four season farming

Having come from a land of freezing cold, icy and snowy weather I am a late comer to the concept of year round farm production. Here in the milder climate of the South East of England, it is possible with some planning to have fresh produce on the table nearly the entire year long. This concept, and it’s actualization has been one of the biggest areas of learning in my training.

At Organic Lea, the place where I learn my practical farming skills, the more experienced and paid “Growers” who impart their knowledge to us plan and continually experiment with ways to work with nature to achieve year round seasonal fresh produce. Since early September the winter crops have been growing, in October they were hardening off and November, in the short gaps of good weather we began planting in the field. Beans, kales, peas, and garlic are now in the ground to ensure come the first warm days they are set to rocket skyward for early maturation.

Whilst our farm benefits from a massive greenhouse structure, meaning we are still harvesting some of the summers tomato crops, the humble allotment grower can easily mimic more of this than one might first imagine. Cloches, cold frames and even simple fleeces offer enough protection from the mild winters we experience so long as one gets the timing right! In the year two Organic Farming Training course the classes read two very good books that help with their studies, one of which is the masterpiece, Joy Larkcom’s “Grow Your Own Vegetables” a book I would strongly recommend to anyone who is interested in getting the most out of their garden in a sustainable way.



Joys and pitfalls of sunny weather

Sun, rain, wind and even hail have been part of the spring season here in the UK. These last two months have offered challenges and opportunities in equal measure. Every season has the potential to be either a blessing or a ruin to the garden. It’s late May and we have been blessed by an exceptionally nice spring.

It may surprise non gardening people that most traumatic climactic event that happened for my plants this spring was  the week our temperature stayed in the high 20s. While the pasty skinned and sun starved among us reveled, I was vigilant. For myself any other gardeners, above average temperatures for extended periods are a mixed blessing. Young seedlings, if kept moist shoot up and thrive. Other plants take an entirely different route. For me the week began a constant monitoring of pots and plants, watering early and trying to keep balance. By the end of the week however, I had to admit at least partial defeat. Three of of my swiss chard pots, six plants in total, had bolted.

Bolted chard isn’t the end however. The leaves, although less abundant and smaller are still edible. It also gives me a chance to restart a fresh batch from my seedlings. Extending my harvest through a succession of plantings is something I relish. This year with so many bolted plants so early, I’ll be removing them and doing exactly that. One chard will give me more than enough seed however, it’s best to collect future seed from a plant that goes to flower and seed later in the season. To collect from a “easy bolter” would be to carry that undesirable trait on to next year. On a positive note, this gives me the opportunity to replant those pots, it’s only late May so I can expect a late season crop to produce still.

Yes, the gale force winds for three straight days was worrying, but it only meant repositioning my most delicate seedlings under quick made cloches or moving pots to shelter. Torrential rain for another three days gave me time to assess and correct drainage issues. Now, in the first days of summer, most of my garden is looking good and the first setting of fruit is well underway. It was a fantastic and surprising spring.

There is, after all, no such thing as normal weather.