This year's growing season has got off to a fine start. The weather has been a good deal better than this time last year, with warm days, scattered sunshine to get the chlorophyll working in the leaves, and a few nice deluges of lovely rain to bring on the growth. We currently have a well stocked polytunnel full of lovely new seaosn lettuces, whilst outside despite the cold winter, we are cropping some lovely overwintered baby spinach and baby rainbow chard. All the brassicas are bursting with their glorious flowers, sweet and peppery rocket and leaf radish, and the intense onion flavour of the chive flowers.
When we're not picking bag after bag of fresh leaves for our delis restaurants and farmers markets, we've been putting the final touches to our new polytunnel. This will double our production in winter, which will be a real bonus!
I've also managed to find a great provider of amazing quality green waste. After a batch of near woodchip grade awfulness from the local supplier, I cast the organic matter net far and wide, and a couple of weeks ago a glorious pile of rich, well rotted, dark, almost black compost landed on my field. We'll be busy mulching all our beds for the coming year, to keep the fertility up and the plants happy.
Grinie, a lovely winter lettuce in the polytunnel
Well, 2012 was widely regarded as a rotten year for growing, with unprecedented levels of rainfall, and enough cloud to sink a battleship...if clouds were heavy.
Autumn 2012 carried off where Summer had started; wet, wet, wet. Our compost laden beds were very resilient, however the weather took it's toll on the outdoor crops, and production of our summer lettuce leaves outside finished in october, a good month earlier than 2011. And with the lack of sunlight, growth in the tunnel was slow.
However despite this, there were still some lovely leaves to be had, especially lambs lettuce and claytonia, that thrive in the colder conditions.
Looking to the future, we've just secured planning permission for our second polytunnel, which will mean a doubling of production in the leaner months, and more variety in things such as herbs in the Summer. Our first sowings of peas for pea shoots went in this year, and our garlic and overwintering onions are coming along nicely. We're geared up and looking forward to a productive year, full of sunshine, nice deluges of rain, and strange lack of slugs. Well, we can but dream!
Frozen gold streaks in the field in January
Ivy and Mum doing some light work in the field
The start of this year proved to be a very interesting one! Temperatures of 20 degrees in March had all our leaves putting on lots of early growth. However, just when they were getting established, along came the wettest April on record, and lots of frustrating late frosts in May. Many growers have said it was one of the trickiest starts to a growing season they can remember, so just the sort of thing you need in your first full year growing!!
April also saw the arrival of our beautiful baby daughter Ivy. Whilst a little young to be harvesting leaves at the moment, her low centre of gravity will certainly help when she's a little older!
We are now all hands to the pump, getting geared up for our markets in Oxford and Wallingford, and supplying shops and delis with our lovely leaves. We have lots of lettuce varieties, sorrel, beetroot leaves and pea shoots, to give a real fresh flavour of summer.
So, here we are at technically the end of our first year growing as The Little Salad Company. Although we got our land in March, we didn't start growing properly until August last year, so this will be our first full growing season. To say we're excited is a bit of an understatement!
February was a really testing month for us, with temperatures down to -12C, snowfall, frozen leaves, the weather really gave us a reminder of how difficult it can be to grow through the year in the UK. However we learnt a lot about our land and how it reacts to the seasons, and varieties of leaves that did super well and those that were a real flop.
All the cold weather followed a great Autumn and early winter, where leaf growth was fast and regular. Our Farmers markets proved a real hit, and people seemed to love the interesting and fresh leaves we were giving them. So all in all, it's been the perfect start for our adventure into commercial food growing. Good times to show it works, and hard times to give us a reality check!!
As the days lengthen and the temperatures creep up, there is a real sense of rejuvenation, and of the cycle starting over again. It's strange the things you notice first, such as the grass verges slowly being filled with lush vivid green grass growth. We've been busy filling all our module trays with our first leaves of spring/ Beetroot, peas for shoots, kohl rabi, sorrel, cress, and a host of delicious lettuce leaves are all growing merrily under cover. Along with these, we've also got a few bits and pieces sown directly into our beds. We're still learning and experimenting, so giving everything a try seems like the best approach.
Here's some snaps of our new seed sower in action. Makes light work of direct sowing all manner of seeds, and counts as a manly gizmo :)
As the days get shorter and the temperatures lower, salad leaf growth gets slower and slower. However all our winter leaves are happily growing away slowly and surely in the polytunnel. We are still producing tasty interesting leaves, that provide a great seasonal break from all the root veg!
Over the winter, we've got some time to get on with all the jobs that seem to get put off in the summer. After 9 months on the land, I finally got round to fixing the gate into our field. Check out the video below to see my old man giving a demo of the amazing opening system to keep the gate rabbit proof. Well, maybe not amazing, but pleasing nonetheless! We've also been busy spreading woodchip to stop the field turning into a quagmire. Over the coming weeks, we'll be planting up some willow whips to create a wind break and help the salad fight the rest of the winter weather.
It's been a great autumn here at the Little Salad Company, doing our first farmers markets, which have been a huge success, and supplying to True Food Co-op and a veg box scheme. We'll be taking a well earned break over Christmas to give our plants time to recouperate before harvesting starts again at the end of January.
The Little Salad company featured in a great article in Farmers Weekly this week. The article celebrates alternative methods for people to get into agriculture, and The Earth Trust's FarmStep scheme is a great example of this. YOu can see the full article here
. It's great for us to get recognition for what we're trying to do, bringing tasty seasonal leaves to customers!
Whilst we mainly grow leaves of all shapes and sizes on our land, we're also going to be planting up a few other bits and bobs, to fill up our field and give us a few further options for salad related ideas next year! Here are all our garlic cloves, ready for planting.
Instead of growing these directly in compost, I shifted a bed of compost over to reveal a lovely patch of clean, weed free soil which the garlic cloves went in to. They are planted out in rows about 10 inches apart to allow for easy weeding later. The hardy cloves put on a little growth this year, before staying fairly dormant over the winter. We'll be harvesting them in June all being well.
This Saturday was our first farmer's Market, at the East Oxford Community and Farmer's Market. It's a great mix of local producers selling lovely bread, meat, fish and veg, and local community cooks creating a range of edible treats. We especially liked getting our sustenance from the vegan lunch box! Here's a picture of our stall, loaded high with all our lovely leaves.
A very busy week for the The Little Salad Company. We've spent the last few days planting up our polytunnel. 25m of polythened salad growing bliss are all planted up with nearly 1000 baby salad plants. Given the perfect growing conditions. we'll be harvesting our first leaves from the polytunnel in just a few weeks time.
The varieties are a mix of winter salads, corn salads and oriental leaves, which give a bit of heat to the mix. We were also busy picking for our first deliveries.
Here's a happy little Tatsoi plant, settling in to his new home.
Germination for our Autumn and winter sowing has gone really well, with almost 100% germination rate in our module trays. All the plants will be planted out in a couple of weeks. Here you can see the dainty Green Streaks mustard thriving in their mix of compost and perlite. The leaves are mild with a slight peppery flavour, a great seasonal alternative to rocket and watercress through the Winter.