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.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Big Chill at Llangybi Organics

This bout of Arctic weather has caused us many problems at Llangybi Organics. As you know, we had to cancel last Friday's bags and boxes and, if things continue as it looks like they will, may have to do the same for Friday 15th. Everything is, in short, frozen.

Jill reports, "The veg is feeling chilly, we might have lost the carrots and beetroot - and possibly others eg cabbage? Here's two photos of the veg field - you will see that there hasn't been much thawing despite the last few days days of sunny weather!" Jill has done her best to protect the root veg by covering all with fleece months ago. The fleece does keep everything warmer, but only relatively so.

We have much the same story to tell at Mur Crusto farm where we've recorded record lows down to -12Celsius. The slight thaw today (Sunday) has revealed serious damage to the overhead irrigation in the polytunnel with the plastic water pipes fractured and broken everywhere (photo left).

The veg in the polytunnel suffers less because of the protection of the tunnel but even so, the temperatures have dropped regularly to -4C making them all wilt until they thaw out and rehydrate. In order to help them recover, we have covered as many as possible with fleece which keeps them slightly warmer (see photo).

So we'll keep you posted on what happens next Friday. Meanwhile, let me leave you with a picture of our ducks, which are still laying eggs every day regardless of the low temperatures. They seem impervious to cold, almost like penguins.