Preparing for Winter on the Farm - December 2017

Welcome to our December newsletter. We hope you enjoy reading about our preparations for winter, finding out all about Brussel sprouts, which are our featured vegetable this month, and sharing in our dilemmas and successes. Wishing you all a wonderful festive season from the Shillingford Organics team: Martyn, Bridget, Irma, Mike, Claire E, Clare S, Dave, Chloe, Fin, Fatma, Erin, Chris and Ryan.

Winter preparations on the farm

We are in to late autumn and preparations for winter are well on the way. Our over-wintering onions and garlic are all planted. The garlic will get established before the cold winter months and then shoot up during the spring. Our early tunnel broad beans and snap peas were sown at the end of October and are growing well. And the early tunnel carrots sown at the beginning of November have now germinated and are looking good too.
We have also been giving careful thought to how our soils are left over the winter. If we have no crop growing we will often sow a green manure, which is a mix of seeds such as grass, clover, plantain, chicory, beans, rye grass and others. This helps to build fertility, as well as developing good soil structure and preventing erosion in bad weather. Sometimes we leave the “leftovers” of a crop in the ground over winter, as we are doing with sweetcorn. It was a great year for growing sweetcorn and even though we have harvested most of the cobs the plants have been left in their place. I have seen a variety of birds nibbling on the leftover cobs. We have undersown a patch with red clover. All of this aims at benefiting the wildlife around the farm, encouraging beneficial insects and protecting the soil.
Now is also a time to look back on the year. What went well and what did not go so well? Which varieties performed well and how can we improve next year? Now is the time when we will be measuring beds, doing our sums, looking through seed catalogues and figuring out a plan of attack for 2018.
David Parry (Grower)

Vegetable of the month: Brussel Sprouts

Look out for our cylindrical beetroot, seasonal salads, stir fry bags, pak choi, and purple sprouting broccoli, all of which are looking good at the moment. However, it wouldn't be December without the good old Brussel sprout! 
Brussel sprouts are a hardy winter brassica grown for the tight, leafy buds that are picked from the stem. You can also eat the sprout top which is a bit like a cabbage, and the leaves are edible too. Brussel sprouts are a cultivar of the Brassica oleracea species, just like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kale. They are a good source of iron, potassium and are particularly high in protein when compared to other green vegetables. 
At Shillingford Organics we grow two varieties of Brussel Sprout: Nautic (early) and Doric (late). We bought these in as plugs from Wessex Plants and planted them out at the end of May. They like fertile, well-cultivated soil so come right at the start of our rotation after two years of green manure. They are planted deeply so that they can anchor their roots well. During the long time they have been growing in the field, they have been hoed and we have removed the lower leaves to allow air to circulate around the developing sprouts to prevent the sprouts from becoming diseased and rotting. Unfortunately sprouts are not immune from pests – this year ours have suffered from some slug damage because of the wet weather we have been having. We have also had some problems with aphids and pigeon damage which means we have lost some sprouts. We started harvesting our sprouts in mid-October and hope to continue through December and the New Year, as long as our supplies last. We are packing them in brown paper bags to try to reduce our use of plastic.
Chloe Blackmore (Grower)

Veg stall

Our veg stall at the farm is topped up with fresh produce every Tuesday morning and Friday afternoon. If you're in the Alphington area, it's a great way to pick up some extra veg. Please make sure you bring the correct change for the honesty box. If you have any comments, please leave us a note in the book on the stall.

Plastic dilemma

We are really troubled by the recent headlines about plastic usage and the damage that it is doing to our oceans. We are continuing to minimise our use of plastic bags when packing your boxes - where possible we will put vegetables loose into the box, or if we can we will use a paper bag instead of a plastic one. However, we also want to make sure that your veg reaches you in the best possible condition so for salads and greens, plastic is unavoidable. We have looked into cornstarch alternatives but these contain GM products which are not supported by the Soil Association. We also have to resort to plastic when it is wet outside as the paper bags fall apart when we put wet produce in them. It's a tricky situation and we are continuing to look for solutions. Do let us know if you have an idea!

Bringing farming to the local community

Read all about the fantastic work that Fatma does at the Shillingford Organics Farm School inthis blog written by Rebecca McGowan at the Soil Association. 

Food Exeter

Food Exeter is a network of committed organisations and individuals who are working to promote sustainable and healthy food for all in Exeter. It has been really interesting to be part of the collaborative process which led to the development of the Food Exeter Strategy 2017 and we are excited to be part of the on-going work to make more local food available in Exeter. The Hidden Cost of UK Food

The Sustainable Food Trust have recently published a report which found that for every £1 spent on food in the shops, consumers incur extra hidden costs of £1. These hidden costs relate to the damaging impact of intensive production methods including soil degradation, biodiversity loss and health impacts. As Patrick Holden CEO of the Sustainable Food Trust says: 

The current UK food system thrives only because it does not account for the full costs of production or consumption, which are paid for in hidden ways.Those who pollute or degrade do not pay for the damage they cause. Conversely, those who farm more sustainably are forced to cover the higher cost of producing food in more beneficial ways. 

For us, the veg box scheme provides a predictable income and allows us to grow, sell and deliver produce at the true cost in a way that does not compromise on organic principles.