Stephen using a broadford to open up the ground for a new garden bed
Stephen puts the final touch on a bed he is getting ready for onions
Planting lettuces in a polytunnel at Allsun Farm
Stephen picking up the electric netting fence
Stephen has only been at Allsun Farm for 8 days – phew! We have covered a huge amount of ground with him and we too have planted broad beans.
So what have we covered so far?
- Laying hens – our dawn to dusk work force who weed, clean up bugs and lay wonderful eggs
- transforming derelict weedy beds into fertile ground using a mower or scythe and a reciprocating spader on a two wheeled horticultural tractor
- building beds that are fully prepared ready to plant
- planning what we want to grow, when we need to plant it, in what quantity and in which bed
- growing seedlings in pots, plug trays and soil blocks
- weeding both by hand and using long handled hoes and wheel hoes
Tomorrow we pick again and we will also get round to transplanting lettuces and spring onions into garden beds. We will in less than two weeks have covered the whole cycle needed to grow vegetables commercially. From here on in it will simply be refining techniques and practice. Market gardening is a balance of craftmenship and detailed planning – we will post some pictures asap – now it’s off to bed!
The planting schedule was easy. Many years ago we created a system of planting cards based on years of diary keeping at Allsun Farm. It is conservative but hey that means it works and will certainly work at Milkwood.
Planting cards for the Milkwood Market Garden
These cards not only act as a run sheet they also end up being a garden diary and yes computers and spread sheets are wonderful but when you are in the garden doing stuff with dirty hands then a bunch of hard copy printed cards are just amazing. You can download your own blank printable copy by clicking here.
You then have to work out just what you want to plant and in the case of a garden that is going to supply the needs of the Milkwood kitchen then this is a lot of different vegetables and fruit. Eliot Coleman in his wonderful book ‘The New Organic Grower’ taught us just how to plan a diverse, productive, healthy vegetable production system and I would really recommend his chapter on rotations. Very few people actually tackle the rotation game that he describes but we have done it many times and are now pretty confident about the process. In order to kick start the garden at Milkwood we have done the planning while Stephen the new trainee is away at the snow. What we want is to present him and Kirsten & Nick with a ‘fait accompli’. Maybe not the final solution to vegetable growing at Milkwood but certainly a good first stab at the iterative process that will gradually become the Milkwood garden plan.
After determining the timeing you then need a bed plan. The plan for the market garden was done as a spread sheet (lots of modular beds all the same size). What we didn’t have was a plan for the kitchen garden. I made do with some notes and photos that I took when we first visited the site so the following plan includes a bit of poetic license!
Mud map of Milkwood kitchen garden
Then it was a lot of coloured systems filing cards, a big table, paper, paper clips and pens voilà . . .
Organising the Milkwood Market Garden Bed Plan
Time now for a night off. When you push yourself to do this kind of planning and finally come up with a plan of what to plant, where and exactly how much, you remove a huge, stressful, uncertainty factor and can then get on with growing stuff.
The baby pak choi that Stephen planted only 6 days ago are now germinating – hurray!
Questions for Kirsten & Nick from Joyce
- Can you please post the size of the fenced area?
- Have the pigs arrived to plough up the proposed vegetable area?
- Please post some pictures when they are happily working the ground.
The last few days have been very hectic, here at Allsun we have been cramming in planting seedlings, getting up to speed with weeding and hoeing. We have also talked non stop about what to grow, when to grow it and how much to plant. I think all three of us have spinning brains. Stephen has been dreaming about spread sheets, I (JW) have been stressing about how we are going to transport all the seedlings we have planted to Milkwood and Mike is concerned that all the planning is not yet in place.
The reality is that we have only had Stephen here for 3 days and we have actually covered a lot of ground with him. He left yesterday for a week at the snow which gives me a few days to really nut out the field plan and planting schedule so I am busy at our dining room table surrounded by piles of system filing cards, note pads, random jottings and my laptop.
Both the beetroot and the silverbeet (planted 26/7) started germinating today.
- Beetroot seeds germinate.
All other seedlings looking good.
Tour of the farm
We all leapt out of bed early, talked vegetables over breakfast and then went down to the production garden to do our early morning chores. Stephen adores our laying hens. Talks endlessly to them as we fill up their food troughs, top up their water and collect and then grade the eggs.
Back at the house we had a look at the seedlings and then sat down for an intensive planning session around the topic of just what should we have ready for harvesting in late October.
Fast Growing Annuals
- English spinach
- baby pak choi
- cima di rapa (edible turnip flowers)
- spring onions
- baby fennel
Slower Growing Annuals
- broadbeans (already planted at Milkwood)
- Fresh green garlic stems (already planted at Milkwood)
- beetroot and beetroot greens
These need to be established at Milkwood if they are not already there and may take a few years to reach picking size
- perennial herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage, marjoram, oregano, chives, garlic chives, bay . . . )
- globe artichokes
In future years this list will be supplemented by bottled tomatoes, saurkraut and various pickles and jams so extra plants of these vegetables have to be built into the garden plan for mid summer/autumn production
After lunch we got to work making up potting mixes and soil blocks ready to start planting some of the vegetables listed above.
Here are the ingredients that we use in our propegation mixes:
- Sieved compost – we buy in mushroom compost from the farm down the other end of our road if we don’t have enough of our own
- worm castings – we have large worm bins that are used to process all the green waste from a café that we sell to plus all our own kitchen waste
- sharp river sand – paving sand can be substituted but avoid really fine sand
- coco peat – a renewable resource with a neutral pH (you can expand the blocks very quickly if you use really hot water!)
Here are the ratios that we are using at the moment:
2 parts mushroom compost, 1 part worm castings, 1 part coco peat, 1 part sand
Soil Blocking Mix
2 parts mushroom compost, 1 part worm castings, 2 part coco peat, 1 part sand
What we planted
- 42 x 100 mm pots with asparagus
- 143 blocks (one bread tray) of English spinach
- 143 blocks (one bread tray) of baby green stemmed pak choi
Stephen with a tray full of 100 mm pots planted with asparagus
Allsun Farm is capable of growing enough vegetables for about 20 – 25 families for about 9 months of the year. As a first guess for the Milkwood garden (because all the planning was not finalised) we decided to just plant 25% extra whenever we planted here.
Today we were planting lettuces so we planted an extra 2 x 198 seedling trays for Milkwood.
Speedling plug trays are named after the number of holes they have. We have found that 198’s are a good option for a many vegetables.
Lettuces planted in 198 seed trays
. . . and I hope you are looking at the red paddle pop sticks! At the moment our propagation areas are full of seedlings for Bumper Crop (Helen) us (Allsun) and now Milkwood (Stephen). Sometimes life throws up little surprises –
Who'd have thought? Coloured paddle pop sticks!
We can now glance around the cold frames and the propagation poly tunnel and immediately identify which seedlings belong to whom!