2012, what a year! Excessive rainfall and several Summer gales made for waterlogged soils and battered crops. Alongside a lengthy planning struggle we felt pretty tired at times. Strong local support ensured our survival and we have done our best to provide great tasting and nutritious produce, week in, week out.
We have erected the first 2 of our 3 polytunnels as well as a building to house our stall, packing and storage. Our soil is slowly moving from relatively acid pasture to biologically more lively soil with rising pH and organic matter levels. Our intention remains to grow crops next to an existing settlement and sell a more seasonal range than has generally been attempted in the UK.
While the public response is encouraging it is a more difficult and longer term task to spread awareness of just how much the wider region could produce, particularly on the mildest coastal strips. Across Wales as a whole most veg continues to be imported from England by supermarkets and Welsh growers usually lack anywhere effective to sell through, despite public demand.
Across the UK food buying has polarised somewhat as Aldi notably and Waitrose increased market share. Good value independents, such as our old Manchester store Unicorn, have grown steadily but few cities or towns have such an option. Planning law and business rates continue to favour out of town food retail however disastrous this will prove with much dearer fuel in future.
Dominant laissez-faire thinking within the UK Government suggests inaction despite huge population, climate and inequality pressures at hand. Recent ministerial attempts to get public support for GM crops indicates little interest or understanding beyond the very short term.
More hearteningly many organic growers and farmers sense opportunity as the existing "just in time" food system looks increasingly fragile. Producers with better managed soils better survive climate events and much of organic practice, eg clover type rotations, non-herbicide cultivation, composting and windbreaks are spreading into the conventional industry. Policy and ideas from Welsh Assembly institutions can be good but few powers are so far devolved to enact them. Leanne Wood may be one to watch and show some imaginative ways forward.
Trust in many UK institutions is weak, for good reason. Within the food industry the Food Standards Agency appears to be chiefly occupied with placating public concern, with ocassional forays to critisise organically produced foodstuffs. Significant public health risks such as pesticide residues, farm animal infectious diseases, falling mineral levels in UK produce and MRSA in the dairy industry are apparently nothing to tell anybody about.
Problems over media ownership have yet to halt the Murdoch machine and effectively bankrupting most western economies hasn't stopped Goldman Sachs et al continuing apace. The links and overlaps between many politicians and the latter, while not a secret, haven't led to much action or soul searching by those involved. Elites so out of control tend, history shows, to lead to serious trouble, eg printing paper money to make your savings slip away to pay someone else's debt. Let's hope it's not too late too apply the accountability brakes and make integrity and altruism return to favour.....
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After some significant delays and main contractor change most of shed/shop building is complete. It looks very nice and has attracted some favourable comment locally. Inside we have cold storage and a stable temperature to present and sell veg, escaping the extremes of weather events outside.
While our polytunnels also give us some control over the elements it has been a challenging late Winter and Spring.The traditional "hungry gap"of late April/May might be better understood to say that no real volume of crops arrive on the shelves until July and anything that can be produced before then is an achievement to be cherished.
This year the hungry gap started later for some crops as they continued a little longer - eg Purple Sprouting Broccoli - but it will go on for longer due to late frost (one here May 25th), strong winds and insufficiently warm soil. The dry conditions however have been very helpful enabling ploughing and bed cultivations to proceed in good time, meaning less slugs, weeds and delays later on. Leatherjackets or daddylong legs larvae are a problem, thriving over the wet Autumn+Winter and busy now attacking seedlings.
So what have we done to plug the hungry gap? Making use of our polytunnels on St.Dogmaels Rd and the one at Pencrugiau we have kept Salad and leafy supply going. Spring Cabbage in particular has been a godsend, yielding heavily. Radish, Turnips, Spring Onions, Watercress, Lettuce and herbs have all cropped well. Early Carrots looked great but might be about to bolt, having suffered one too many frosts earlier. Very early Russian Kale is underway and Calabrese and Beetroots will follow soon. Early French Beans have struggled with the cold.
The limitations to achieving some of these crops ever earlier, or at all, revolve around the range of conditions they require, triggers to growth and "bolting" that might be daylength, temperature, moisture but are often insufficiently well researched. With UK horticultural research largely reduced to a rump, the madness of big spends on dodgy GM research looks obvious to us. We don't even have a good technical understanding of compost application and effects in the UK......At least we can laugh at DEFRA buffoon Owen Patterson shortly facing occupation of his second home in the south of France by anti Badger cull campaigners!
Much veg in the UK conventional and organic has been from Andalusia over recent months whereas most of ours has been from our land. We will continue to work on plugging the gaps and trying to make hungry gap crop fillers economic as well as tasty. We all have the cultural challenges to contend with - eg Red Peppers are now very popular all year round, but possible without burning fuel heat only in August/Sept....Aubergines becoming equally popular, our 12 month Tomato addiction. In years to come price may regulate our desires and seasonality be enforced but in the mean time we shall continue to refine our programme,so far, so good.
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