Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Fruits of summer at Mur Crusto farm

Fruit news:
Val and I will be away on holiday from 12/6 to 7/7, a little over 3 weeks. This is somewhat unfortunate timing since there is a lot of fruit which is nearly ripe. So how about coming over to pick-your-own? Val's brother, Graham, will be here at the farm while we're away so if you want to check what's available, just give him a call (01766 819109). As for payment, could you please just keep a record of what you have picked and its weight and we'll work out what you owe us after our return.
So, what's available and what's ripe?
1. Redcurrants. These are already becoming ripe and there are quite a lot. They're delicious raw, like grapes.
2. Gooseberries. They too are beginning to be ripe and will be so within a week. There are lots.
3. Strawberries. A large crop is beginning to ripen. Don't miss these. Some are very large and they are delicious!
4. Whitecurrants. Ripening but not ready yet.
5. Blackcurrants. There should be a big crop beginning at the end of this month.
6. Raspberries. The bees have been busy and there are lots which will probably start to be ripe within a couple of weeks. There should then be raspberries available more or less continuously from July to October.
7. Jostaberries: should be ripe in 2-3 weeks.
Veg news:
We have been working hard on our veg and fruit which have needed - and look like needing - a lot of watering. Because our water is metered, we have to be careful about this or we end up with enormous water bills. The weather seems to be topsy-turvy this year with unusually cold nights (4 degrees forecast for Friday) which make us worry about all the tender plants we have put out in the polytunnel. The rain we've had here has been way too little and it doesn't look good for more.
What veg are we growing?
First the polytunnel: If you're here picking fruit, by all means take a look in the tunnel, but please, no children running about on the beds!
Tomatoes: lots of healthy vigorous plants, many already bearing trusses of fruit which may be beginning to ripen in early July.
Peppers: plenty of healthy plants now beginning to flower. We've introduced rather pricey biological controls which we hope will control the inevitable aphids which damage the peppers and other crops too.
Aubergines: good number of plants growing well, but they don't like the cold.
Sweet corn: coming along nicely. We are trying out the Mayan (Mexico) 'milpa' system of intercropping, having sown  lots of french beans, both bush and climbing varieties, between the maize plants. The idea is that the beans are supported by the maize and provide nitrogen to both themselves and the maize. Beans, like all legumes, have the ability to 'fix' nitrogen from the atmosphere.
French beans: as above
Basil: we're planting it out this afternoon
Cucumber: growing vigorously but plants still small.
Courgettes: several plants growing nicely. We had our first taste of them last night. Delicious and sweet.
Squash: several of 3 different types planted out. One is already producing fruits.
Carrots: just about ready to eat but kept fleeced because of possible carrot fly attack.
Brassicas: all these hardy winter plants are planted out and growing well, protected from wind and bugs by large enviromesh tunnels, supports for which I finished making yesterday. These brassicas include 3 types of kale, 2 types of brussels sprouts, 3 types of winter and autumn cabbages. There are also quite a few calabrese plants which should produce their broccoli heads in July-August.
Carrots: maincrop to see us through the winter. Sown and on the point of germination.
Beetroot: planted from modules and doing quite well. We'll be sowing more in early July.
Potatoes: for our use but doing well.
Leeks: we're planting out about 1000 tomorrow.
Lettuces: sown for succession and developing well.
Peas: big row of snap peas just germinating. More to be sown on return.
Broad beans: 2 rows now growing well, after terrible trouble with mice and birds which devastated early sowings.
Parsnip: failure of direct sown seed so I germinated it in the kitchen and sowed each one with tweezers in tiny holes dibbered with a pencil in the soil outside. After all that trouble, I hope we get a crop.
Onions: from sets, doing nicely but for our own use.
There's also a bed of green manure: red clover and Phacelia, which should soon be in flower. Much loved by bees.
Note that we raise all our veg on site, from organic seed. The fertility comes from compost we make in large amounts. No E. coli here. You might like to know we're having our annual Soil Association inspection in late July.
I hope you found this chronicle interesting. Although we're not earning any money at present, we are doing a lot of work, preparing and nurturing fruit and veg for you, our group. We would probably expect to be able to produce bags for you from early August though there will be stuff available before this. We'll let you know by email, as usual. If anyone (Daly family, Mayumi?) is willing to come and spend some time helping, we shall chiefly need help with weeding - fruit bushes, raspberries, veg plots and polytunnel. If you're coming to pick fruit but want to do a couple of hours work, please ask Graham what needs doing. If you like duck eggs (Teresa?), ask Graham if there are any available.
Enjoy the summer!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

In the bleak midwinter

This cold weather is causing us no end of problems. For example, last week we were going to put red cabbages in the bags but, after we had harvested them, we discovered on cutting them up that they were rotten inside. So we had to throw the whole lot away and have lost the whole crop due to the severe frosts. There have been many nights when we have had temperatures as low as -8 Celsius. We have everything covered with fleeces in so far as we can but with such low temperatures, it is entirely possible that many crops will be badly damaged. We even have all the crops in the poly tunnel covered with fleece. That helps but does not guarantee that they won't be affected.
And now everything is covered with thick snow as you can see in the first picture. Yes, that's our leeks somewhere under there! Below, you can see the poly tunnel with snow piled up along the sides following avalanches off the cover. In front, the poor brassicas are half buried and frozen solid.

The upshot of this is that we do not know whether they we shall be able to produce bags next  Thursday as promised. Everything depends on the weather and whether we shall be able to dig the vegetables out of the ground or harvest brussels sprouts and poly tunnel veg of good enough quality. We'll let you know by e-mail if there is a change of plan. Happy Solstice on the 21st and then, roll on spring!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Cold dry Spring brings problems

Isn't it wonderful weather people who aren't growing food often say to us. Well yes, it has been cold, dry and sunny for a very long time. But it's doing no good to our orchard blossoms, our newly-planted fruit bushes, our veg sowings and - most of all - our tomatoes. We had to plant out some nearly a week ago because they were so tall and beginning to flower. Then the night time temperatures really took a nosedive. Last night, the forecast was for -3 degrees!

Tomatoes can't stand less than about +5 degrees. Of course, the polytunnel offers some protection but we have had to devise a special tent (pictured above) made out of lengths of fleece suspended from the crop wires and pegged together with clothespegs to try and protect the poor plants. Look inside the tent (second photo; click it to make it bigger). Along the centre of the rows, you might notice a line of candles - we were getting desperate! - and a max-min thermometer. The idea was that  lighting candles overnight inside the tent would raise the temperature a degree or so. In fact, counterintuitively, it didn't; the temperature dropped to just under 5 degrees. Conclusion: convection currents set up by the candles sucked in cool air from outside the tent.

 Apart from the cold (which meant covering all the emerging potato crop with fleece), we have really been troubled by the virtual drought we've had since the start of April. There's been about 15mm rain in 6 weeks, mostly as scattered light (near useless) showers. The water tanks for the polytunnel irrigation, normally full at this time of year, are almost empty and we are having to hand water all the outside bushes, sowings and transplants. Goodness knows what our resulting crops will be like for our group members but we are doing our best. Rain is forecast for tonight...

Monday, April 19, 2010

The joy of weeding raspberries

Weeding raspberries is such fun. Everybody says so. And they say they want to do more. Anyway, lunch was definitely fun on the soft mole-undermined lawn of Mur Crusto garden. Here's a photo of our dedicated group members enjoying a sunny lunch last Saturday. That's the Daly family on the left and centre. Joan is hiding behind them. Then there's Christine, her daughter and friend from Germany (who seemed likely to be stuck here because of the Icelandic volcano). They had all spent a happy 2 hours scrabbling at creeping buttercup, invasive grasses, nettles and other horrors.

After lunch, the kids fed the badger sheep and their lambs, ending a successful and pleasant day of raspberry rescue. Let's hope that these fruit plants repay all the hard work later this summer.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

We have lift-off

Our new CSA group has blasted off with great success in the last week. Today, no fewer than five adults and six children showed up for work on a bright and pleasant spring day at Mur Crusto.

Things really began to get moving when Mayumi came to help the day after we'd had to cancel the planned day of action because of bad weather. She and Carwyn helped us begin the long process of clearing the ground and digging the holes for hundreds of fruit plants. And we even got all the strawberries planted out. Later in the week, Rosemary (pictured left) arrived for a fairly tough day of digging and planting. Despite the heavy rain towards the end, we managed to complete the plantings of the entire menage of fruit bushes.

Today (Saturday) was a much pleasanter day for weather and Val and I were almost overwhelmed by the quantity and quality of the support we had. Mike Daly with his children Elin ("I wish I could come here every day!" she really said), Rory and Connan, worked patiently for hours as did Christine, Annie and Mayumi, cutting out old raspberry canes and battling with tough perennial weeds which had invaded the existing fruit beds. This is a horrible job which requires dedication but it's needed if you want a crop of fruit in the summer. (We all do!)

Myrddyn set to clearing the weeds around the blackcurrant bushes whilst Christine's son George and I dug, barrowed and sprinkled manure on the tidied up raspberries and blackcurrants. George explained to me his passion for astronomy and we discussed the relegation of Pluto to a mere planetoid and which was the hottest planet. We reckoned it was probably Venus on account of its runaway greenhouse effect. George pioneered a new difficult route crossing a fence via a tree rather than the boring way through the gate.

At lunch time, we all had a well deserved feed of soup, bread - all made by Val - and cheeses followed by (fair trade and organic) coffee, chocolate and an impromptu meeting. How, Val wondered, should we organise our group? Three points came out from this brief discussion:
  1. each group member should pay some money up front to help cover our costs for seeds, plants, composts and so on. This then provides an incentive for the members to make sure that everything necessary - like helping out - is done to ensure good crops of fruit and veg: a vested interest. We suggest £50
  2. each group member should come and help out as and when needed or when they can. The time each member spends working would be recorded  in a time bank kept by Val. The cost of the produce we supply to members of the group would then be adjusted according to the amount of time put in. How all this will work in practice we don't yet know and we're open to suggestions. Neither Val nor I wish to make vast profits (!) from this enterprise but neither do we want to be a charitable foundation. The fundamental basis for such a group to work is mutual trust. We are very fortunate to have that with all our group members.
  3. members who come to help whilst Val and I are away from 10th June - 10th July could take what produce they needed that happened to be available. I pointed out that I was continuing to sow and plant veg for a continuous supply of at least some items even though we'd not be there when some of it is ready. Work which needs doing during our absence will be grass mowing  and weeding
We ended the day with a very noisy, splashy trip round the lake, scaring off a heron, several ducks and the pair of geese that always nest on the island every year. No children actually fell in but several got water in their wellies and rather damp clothes. And George observed to me that the day was more fun than he thought it was going to be. Let's hope that sets the general tone for all future family helping visits. It's a great place for climbing trees, playing football, and picnics as well as pulling out weeds!

Friday, March 05, 2010

Fruity plans at Mur Crusto farm

We are downsizing at Llangybi Organics as you have probably read here. But we - this is Bry and Val - are not giving up. (Neither, for that matter, are Jill and Mike who are planning their potato co-op at the moment.) Instead, plans are well underway for a pick-your-own (PYO) soft fruit enterprise in addition to the very much reduced veg production. It seemed crazy to grass over the plot of arable land we've been using for the last 8 years and waste all that fertility and relative freedom from weeds. So we're not going to. Instead, we are buying lots of the soft fruit bushes and will be planting these as they arrive from the nurseries. The idea is that any Llangybi Organics customers should come and pick their own fruit during the summer and autumn as it ripens. . The photo shows the 'old' veg plot from which winter crops are now all but finished. If you look carefully in the foreground, you'll see the first row of 10 blackcurrant bushes already planted out.

Cunning plans: Why are we doing this when we claim to want to reduce the work load and give us more freedom? Well we have a cunning plan to cut maintenance down to a minimum. We are covering the soil with woven plastic mulch material called Phormisol.

And what are we growing for this PYO? Here's the list, all delicious berries many of which you never see in shops or supermarkets:
  • Raspberries, both summer and autumn fruiting varieties. We're almost doubling our existing raspberry stocks with 80 new canes and new varieties to extend the season
  • Strawberries - about 40 plants in one long row and 3 different varieties   
  • Blackcurrants - adding 25 new bushes, more than doubling what we have now
  • Whitecurrants - 2 varieties both yielding dessert berries; 8 bushes
  • Redcurrants - 2 varieties; 7 bushes
  • Gooseberries - 4 varieties, some purple, some green (dessert and culinary); 17 bushes
  • Blackberry - 3 bushes of a thornless variety
  • Jostaberries - a hybrid between gooseberry and blackcurrant; 3 bushes
  • and, just for fun, one Gojiberry 
 Joining the Llangybi Organics PYO: We'll give preference to those who've been our veg box customers and, especially, those prepared to come and give a helping hand as we get started. During this month (March 2010), we have to plant out all the above plants. That means digging holes, adding compost and laying the mulching plastic between each row. The existing raspberries and blackcurrants need weeding and the old canes need cutting. If you're keen to join in what we hope, in years to come, will be a bonanza of delicious organic fruit, we need your help NOW! Please contact Val at Mur Crusto farm if you can spare a few hours to help out. Contact details here.

What happened to the fruit  orchard at Mur Crusto? We have around 30 apple, pear and plum trees in a little orchard we planted  8-9 years ago. Val and I have just finished pruning the trees and chopping down weeds round their bases. The sheep, under supervision (they can have a penchant for stripping bark) have been very helpful at clipping the grass (see photo on right). This orchard has not been as productive as we'd hoped but the trees are getting bigger and their fruit is improving. We hope to make some of this fruit available to PYO and veg customers. Everything depends on the weather, of course, but we've had some fine eating and cooking apples in store until early this year.

So over to you... If you're keen on our fruit scheme (in which we're investing a lot of time and money), please come and help us get it growing.

Monday, February 08, 2010

All change at Llangybi Organics

We are downsizing and it's my purpose in this post to explain why. But first, if you're a customer, you'll have received this email:

We at Llangybi Organics regret that we are unable to maintain production for the next season at its present level. Mur Crusto (Val and Bry) hopes to continue with a bag every 2 weeks from mid-August to the following Spring (2011) but growing a reduced range for a much reduced number of people. We will give priority to those who can help us now and then. The bag would not include potatoes, onions or squash but Ty'n Lon (Jill and Mike) are happy to consider growing these items if there is interest. To enable us all to plan for the next season, please choose one or more of the following options:

A. Join Ty'n Lon's potato etc co-op but this will involve coming to help on harvesting day.
B. Fortnightly bag from Mur Crusto and offering help now and then.
C. Fortnightly bag from Mur Crusto but unable to offer help.
D. Leave the scheme altogether.

Please note that we are continuing as normal at the moment and expect to continue until at least the end of March although, as always, this is weather-dependent. Some crops have been lost due to the exceptionally cold weather and so we will increase the amount of potatoes and carrots to compensate for the lack of variety.

We would like to thank you all for your support over the years and look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible.

Helpers Obviously those who can offer help now and then -- Option B -- will want to know how this will work out. What does that loaded phrase 'now and then' mean? Well Val and I don't know either at this stage so if you do choose Option B, we hope we can arrange for a get-together at Mur Crusto of all of you who are interested. We have ideas to suggest and will welcome yours too. The emphasis will be on flexibility and you will, of course, want to know what's in it for you.

Why we are downsizing None of us is getting any younger and we are finding the commitment and work of growing and harvesting for over 30 customers more than we want to continue doing. The polytunnels make things easier but the outside work is often quite unpleasant in freezing and wet weather. We have little in the way of mechanisation so most tasks have to be done - as they always have been since the dawn of agriculture - by hand. So Jill, Mike, Val and I have jointly taken the decision to downsize drastically. It remains to be seen how the new arrangements will work out. That's now down to you, dear customers. We await your responses. Once we know how many of you do want to continue in some fashion, we can begin to see how it might all work.