July in the Garden
Having met up with many other vegetable growers recently it is almost a relief to know that we are all in the same boat and suffering (some more so than others) due to the dire conditions that have continued throughout June. Stories of huge losses to certain crops such as squash mainly due to slug damage and other damp related pests and diseases are common this year. It is a sad state of affairs for many growers and only serves as another reason to grow a variety of crops to lower the risk of losing income. This links in nicely to the theme of the discussions that will be taking place during the Trill Summer Festival – “Diversity for resilience”. Building up a system that relies on just one crop, such as monoculture does, opens up the likelihood of quicker spread of pests and diseases and takes away the biodiversity of a mixed system. A farming or growing system that uses mixed cropping helps to support insects which increases predators as well as leading to increased birdlife. The soil is also looked after and a healthy soil leads to increased biological activity and a more stable, resilient place to grow vegetables. This therefore leads to stronger, healthier plants, which do not rely on chemical nutrition, but grow as plants do in nature; creating complex relationships with soil microbial life. It is therefore very important to continue to grow a wide variety of crops as is encouraged in organic farming with the necessity to practice crop rotations.
So, the cool wet weather has continued throughout June and doesn’t look to stop soon. Some of our crops are much later than expected but overall most fare well. We are starting to harvest cucumbers and French beans from the polytunnel, and the first few tomatoes are being eaten as we walk through the tunnel in the mornings. We have had wonderful broad beans this year and these will continue for a couple of weeks.
We grow on slow draining clay soil and the bottom end of the garden is particularly wet at the moment. We have been thinking about growing more green manures next year to ensure our imported fertility is minimal. The idea would be to sow the bottom end of the garden with various green manures which would then be cut and collected and then either used as a mulch around certain plants (probably those that do not suffer too much slug damage such as garlic) or composted to provide fertility to the growing areas of the garden. This not only adds fertility but also organic matter, which helps to improve drainage, and increases the biological activity of the soil, having great impacts on crop health. We are lucky enough to be able to use some of the manure produced on the farm, but also buy in composted green waste to add as mulch to certain parts of the garden. This is not only costly, but also relies on transporting large quantities of compost, using fossil fuels. Trying to produce most of our organic matter and fertility on the farm is a much more sustainable idea and also helps to increase the diversity of life on our small patch of ground. As we have no guarantees on the weather for this month, we don’t really know what crops will make it – so our main aim as always is to reduce our impact on the land, growing in a sustainable way that ensures our soil is of a good enough health to continue to produce resilient plants.