Mon’s Blog – Veg and Garden 2016 Review

Since joining the LandWorks Team as Market Gardener in February 2016, Mon has developed our veg and flower production into a flourishing enterprise. Here’s how…

It was registering -5 degrees centigrade on the outside thermometer this morning so a rare window opened up for me to sit down by the woodburner at our long dining table and write some reflections on the past 10 months since I started my position as Market Gardener at Landworks.

I think any visitor to the project this year has seen the huge change that has happened to our growing spaces. A second polytunnel has been put up, a herb and cut flower garden initiated and most significantly more land obtained from Dartington at the back of the site which is now flourishing as a fully productive market garden!

LandWorks Charity Devon: Veg Beds for the Market Garden

LandWorks Growing Beds

We had a very rainy spring so ploughing the land was delayed until late April and from then on it was a race against time to shape the beds and rotovate the soil into a fine tilth in time to plant out our seedlings, waiting patiently on the newly created heated bench in the polytunnel. The rotovator was hard to handle and we were blessed with a trainee with strong muscles and a can-do attitude who managed to tame the beast and diligently worked day in day out for a week to get the land ready.

Although ploughing and rotovating were essential to turn the land from grass to friable horticultural soil, we will be operating as much of a no-dig system as possible in the garden, to preserve the soil. As Jane Shellenberger says “Our most important job as vegetable gardeners is to feed and sustain soil life, often called the soil food web, beginning with the microbes. If we do this, our plants will thrive, we’ll grow nutritious, healthy food, and our soil conditions will get better each year. This is what is meant by the adage ”Feed the soil not the plants.” Wheelbarrowing our well-rotted manure and compost and spreading it over the beds are jobs that the whole Landworks team has been joining in with this December, helping us keep warm on the cold winter mornings.

Although not officially certified organic, we work completely to organic principles – no agrochemical pesticides, fungicides, or fertilisers (we make our own comfrey and nettle fertiliser/ foliar feed which we also sell on the stall), we use rotted down manure from the organic farm opposite us and our own compost on the beds, we follow crop rotations and practice minimum tillage. We’ve been planting as much as we can for pollinators too and in the height of summer the garden was alive with bees and butterflies enjoying the marigolds, cornflowers, borage, nasturtiums and sunflowers planted amongst the veg beds.

LandWorks Charity Devon: Raised Veg Beds Growing Salad

Raised Veg Beds Growing Salad

Our farm gate sales have soared and our stall has been extended not once but twice to accommodate all the fresh vegetables and herbs and of course the beautiful wood products being produced by the trainees under the expert tutelage of Will, and Graham (trainee turned Landworks employee). As well as the veg, our bouquets proved really popular and after some persuasion the whole flower enterprise was taken up by one of the trainees who to his great surprise ended up really enjoying the routine of picking and flower arranging every morning! We have garnered a loyal customer base and have also been selling our veg to The Almond Thief, a local café. All our hard work in getting the market garden up and running was rewarded when Landworks was chosen as one of the top ten local food producers in and around Totnes by the town’s Transition Organisation.

LandWorks Charity Devon: Cob Wall and Flowers

Cob Wall and Flowers

What next for 2017? We will be expanding our growing space by more than a third, creating permanent beds for flower production, finishing our herb garden, planting more forage for pollinators all round the site and are exploring growing shiitake and oyster mushrooms on logs. More abundance for our customers, more money flowing back into the project and more opportunities for trainees to gain experience and skills, to operate as a team and take on responsibility. And for those whose lives are currently being led inside 4 walls, a chance to work outside in the fresh air, to put their hands in the soil, and yes, to smell the flowers.

What we have grown this year:

Sugar snap peas, rhubarb, broad beans, chard, radishes, beetroot, turnips, kohlrabi, calabrese, Cavolo Nero kale, borecole, spring greens, purple sprouting broccoli, savoy and red cabbages, parsnips, leeks, celeriac, fennel, French beans, runner beans, sweetcorn, butternut squash, pumpkins, courgettes, aubergines, peppers, tomatoes, chillies, cucumbers, basil, parsley, coriander, thyme, rosemary, sage, sorrel, rocket, mixed salads and flowers!