October continued to be mild, and with our first frost only a couple of days ago (13th November) we are still picking salad from outdoors, and we are well and truly into the season of chicory. We grow about 10 different varieties of chicory and they are a welcome change to the relatively boring taste of the summer lettuce which bulks up the salad from May until October. They have a bitterness that benefits from a slightly sweeter dressing, but also goes very well with the other autumn leaves of the spicy mustards and the like.
We have finished planting the polytunnels with all of the overwintered salad and herbs, along with a bit of early garlic and some spring onions. We are also hoping to put up two further tunnels this winter to provide more autumn salad as well as some more vegetable varieties to plug the hungry gap.
Unfortunately it has been to wet to plant the garlic outside so far. I am hoping for either a drier spell to allow us to get out onto the field, or we will have to wait until next year. It is best to try and get the garlic in during the autumn to ensure it is exposed to a period of about 6-8 weeks of cold (below around 4.5 celsius). This is a process called vernalisation and means that the bulb will separate into cloves. Without this cloves may not form. This is not so much of a problem for growing garlic to sell as wet garlic, which is what most of ours is grown for, so I am not too concerned.
Having just returned from the Soil Association's Soil Symposium I am keen to try and increase our compost production as much as I can. We have done well this year to get all of the peelings from River Cottage Canteen which has added a considerable amount to the heap, but I am keen to try and make this a norm for our other customers. I have always believed that using compost is fundamental to maintaining a good healthy soil, which in turn leads to healthy crops and a more resilient system which is less vulnerable to extremes in weather. For example a soil high in organic matter is able to retain the moisture much more effectively than a soil lacking organic matter. This not only means that it dries out much slower in droughts, but also means that in heavy rain, the water is absorbed by the soil rather than running off and causing erosion. A well managed compost will be home to huge amounts of microorganisms and can play an important role in disease suppression (as demonstrated by Prof. Michael Raviv at the Soil Symposium who has done a huge amount of research on the benefits of compost). I am therefore going to take a bit more care over my compost heaps and try to increase our production again next year.