Thursday, December 31, 2009
Monday, December 21, 2009
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
This year we're trying Large Leaf Round & Verte de Cambrai mâche.
Spence tilled up some nice beds.
The dogs observed...
...and played in the newly seeded and prepped beds.
I hand-watered with a watering can. Mâche definitely needs ample water to germinate well - we've planted it in the past without watering hoping the water present in the soil was enough - sparse germination resulted. So - hopefully we're off and running! I can taste my salad already!
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
Our last day of touring with Haygrove. We saw an incredibly huge strawberry operation with the picking tractors being used that day. That's 56 tunnels in a row - simply stunning! The picking machine was very slow moving, and seemed slightly awkward for the pickers, but they said that it helped tremendously when they had labor shortages last year. Essentially, the picking machines make a bad picker average, which was worth it to the growers when they could hardly get any labor at all. Each picker is laying on an independently articulating bed that they can control with pedals to move forward or backwards to keep up with the picking. This machine cost $90K. Wow. Then we went to another farm that grows a lot of asparagus and potatoes for the local potato chip company. He had some really neat tunnels with great doors that are good for
Today we headed out to Haygrove’s main farm site where they have all the models of their tunnels on display, different crop trials, and their Halo line of poultry structures. We met up with Haygrove’s head agronomist, Graham Moore, who took us all around all day. We started at the cherry trials first, then moved on to more in-ground strawberries, where we learned of the telescoping tunnels, which looked to be a gigantic hassle to us, but was apparently a good deal for others wanting to control the temperature closer to the ground at some stages of a season, then later on, raise the tunnel to cool it off, or give the crop
more head space. Then we moved on to the raspberry trials in the Series 4, or multi-bay tunnels (these are the ones we have). They were incredible! What a neat system! They can get this much growth on these canes in one season – they were the Driscoll’s variety Maravilla, they were huge berries, extremely delicious, and they expected to get another crop off of them the following Spring! It was way cool, though the canes were grown in bags with substrate mix in them, drip irrigated, etc. This allows the tunnel to be used for other things years later, and gives the grower more control with feeding, etc. Very
interesting, and a complete pleasure to walk through that tunnel! We also got so see some pretty cool ways to create the doors on these tunnels, and found the automatic rolling doors to be pretty neat and super convenient – this was also used for the sides. There’s basically any configuration you can do. They have these really great new tunnels called their trellising tunnels that we were completely in love with - they are a bit stronger, and have cross beams that can support a trellising system - it was really neat to see how they did that - it's all tension systems with wires and chains. These tunnels were filled with raspberries too, but they have been used for
tomatoes as well. Intriguing, for sure! The last thing we saw today was the blueberry operation as well as the new super solo structures and the halo chicken structures. A full day capped off with a nice dinner at a local Italian restaurant with the Haygrove crew - a great evening!
Monday, October 05, 2009
Today was strawberry day! We spent the entire tour near Dover – we visited 3 farms, one in East Malling which was an agricultural research station, that had some interesting apple, pear, and strawberry trials going on – such a huger scale than we’re used to, but completely interesting; growing strawberries on benches into a peat/compost mixture in plastic bags. They call this substrate farming or table-top farming; with the strawberries up on tables, growing out of peat-filled bags. The berries cascade over the edge, and there's a wire to hold the leaves up. This makes them extremely easier to pick - doubled the picking rates of their crews. It is quite ergonomic - you can just walk through and pick
standing up. We kept trying to think of something that you could grow under the benches... Interestingly, they can reuse the bags 3 or 4 times, which is less wasteful than I originally thought. The focus on sterilizing soil and spraying for every kind of pest is so far out of our purview – such a different way to farm! We’re seeing the Haygrove farm tomorrow, which has some organic growing, so that will be eye opening, I’m sure. At this farm we also met up with a scientist doing research on stressing plants with the irrigation system to reduce water use and improve the taste of various crops without losing yields – essentially the same idea as dry farming,
as far as we could tell. Their tests were promising, they found that with strawberries, they cut water use tremendously (from 70 tons of water per 1 ton harvested fruit per season, to 10 tons water per 1 ton of fruit!), which reduced leaf growth, but didn’t affect the fruit set at all. Pretty neat work being done there – they were also looking into the technique of deficit watering, which stresses the plants further, but tends to make the fruit taste even better. We went to another farm mid-day that also did a lot with strawberries as well as blueberries. They are the primary growers of strawberries for Marks & Spencer, the upscale grocers in the UK. We got to see their packing house, and cold-chain system, which was so eye-opening, mostly because of the amount of
energy these types of operations must take – let alone the time to organize the labor, maintain the equipment, order all of the containers for shipping, then deal with the actual shipping! It boggled our minds! There is certainly a lot to be said about direct marketing, from our perspective, at least! It was fun to share with people that on our operation we do all the planning, ordering, marketing, harvesting, washing, packing and selling – AND make a living on just the two acres. The general consensus here in Britain was that you simply cannot survive without at least 200 acres, and an immigrant workforce (most come from Poland). It is such an interesting mindset and focus here – on big farms. We talked a lot with folks about the local movement in Britain and
everyone said that it is only starting to take hold, and even so, in very small pockets of the country. There is almost no focus on vegetable production here at all – most farmers focus on fruits; cherries, strawberries, blueberries, and apples. We had a fantastic lunch at The Dog Inn at Wingham, our first real pub experience – it was really good! We had fancified normal pub fare, tempura fish (fish & chips), and house-made sausages on a bed of herbed potatoes (bangers & mash). It was quite delicious, and gave us good energy for the last leg of our day. The last farm of the day that we visited today grew cherries with a system called VOEN covers as well as the Haygrove tunnels. His assessment was that growing in the Haygrove tunnels was easier and better, though the
VOEN system used a lot less steel. It is sort of a curtain system that self-vents; great for orchards. This was a long second day, but really informative and gave us something to look forward to tomorrow – seeing the Haygrove farms!
Sunday, September 27, 2009
What a neat space; no doubt there were some produce distributors present, but there seemed to be a genuine interest in keeping it as local and producer-based as possible. There were tons of local cheeses, meats, fruit & veg (as they say here) as well as international foods. We chose to tackle a chorizo/pequillo sandwich for lunch at the Spanish stand – clearly the most popular food stand at the market, with the longest line (cementing for me the notion that Spain is on the cutting edge of all areas of food!). Delicious! I was able to snag some dry Spanish peppers for seeds at this stand as well – a seed searcher never rests! We spent the rest of the day cruising around
We made our way to the village of Bobbing, in Sittingbourne, Kent. Too exhausted to figure out another eating option, we ate at the restaurant situated next door to our hotel, it was called the Bobbing Apple. We were amazed at how similar this restaurant was to something like a TGI Fridays! We ate as locally as we could and ordered the fish & chips. One thing is for sure – the Brits know how to fry a piece of fish! A splash of malt vinegar on the chips (fries), et voila! The perfect post-travel-been-up-for-over-24-hours-dinner! Gotta say, it sure hit the spot! Eager to get to bed to be able to wake up and meet the rest of the tour group, we hit the sack…
We awoke and decided to go for a run and explore our surroundings. There was a really nice footpath that we could catch right outside our hotel, thankfully, and while I ran my morning 5k, Spencer took his morning constitutional. It was perfect weather and we passed by several farms, some wild damson plum trees (plucked a few and downed those), wild raspberries (past ripe), and a beautiful apple orchard surrounded by a barbed-wire fence (blast!). Gorgeous morning – off to continental breakfast, a pot of Earl Grey tea, toast with black currant jam, and some organic yogurt – English cooked breakfast not an option this morning, will hope for it tomorrow (must have baked beans with my stewed tomato and eggs!)!
While waiting around for the Haygrove reps to come take us to Leeds Castle (the only agenda item that day), we met the other growers on this tour and quickly realized at what a completely different scale we are farming than all of them! Two guys from Florida, growing blueberries on 600 acres (!) and shipping globally (!), two guys from Michigan looking to grow cherry trees under cover, but already growing other things on 200 acres (!). One other guy from Oregon that already has about 100 irons in the fire also looking to put cherry trees under cover. All of these guys use an immigrant/migrant labor force, have an incredible overhead in massive amounts of equipment (berry pint filling machines!) I must say, I’m mighty proud to be able to tell all these guys that we are making a living on 2, count ‘em, TWO acres, with two people plus a little harvest help. Their jaws drop, and all of them resolve to get smaller one day. The smaller, concrete scale is so much easier to swallow. What a great day we had chatting with these guys whose favorite topic happens to be our favorite topic, too! Let’s just say there’s never a break in conversation, really – we’re all so interested in the different models of farming and different trends in consumer habits – it provides endless hours of discussion time! Oh yeah, and the Leeds Castle was quite nice, too and the weather couldn't have been more perfect! Tomorrow we get to see some Haygrove operations here – we’ll post pictures as soon as we have them!