The Community Farm Field Team are a hard-working and dedicated bunch who, with the help of our volunteers, community farmers and other groups, get great results and grow the tastiest veg! This year, after careful planning, they have embarked on a major new project: a minimal dig, market garden area. This new area will complement the existing fields and polytunnel growing operations. It currently features 30 beds and, if it is a success, a further 30 will be added next year. Here, long-term volunteer, Will Warin delves a little into the science behind this way of growing and how our market garden was created:>
“The pioneers of minimal (or no) dig market gardening have been developing techniques and making the case for this style of farming for years. Indeed, many keen home gardeners and allotmenteers already grow successfully in this way. The theory behind this practice is that digging disturbs the natural biology of the soil and, in particular, the subtle and complex interaction between plant roots and soil. This decreases soil health. Digging also brings dormant annual weed seeds to the surface, increasing the need for some unwelcome hoeing just when the grower should and would rather be harvesting their hard-earned crops.
Minimal till growing is carried out on small-scale plots, allowing for liberal use of composts which, at field-scale, would risk the creation of damaging run-off into water courses. As such, pioneers of this form of farming have demonstrated that they can grow both intensively and sustainably, as well as more efficiently, at a smaller scale. What’s more, “biologically intensive” market gardening is light on the use of machines and fossil fuels so it’s cheaper and cleaner all round!
This new area at The Farm has taken careful planning and preparation. If you happened to visit us prior to lockdown you would have spotted an area, just beyond the Veg Shed, tucked under a swathe of black plastic covers.
These covers, in place for around 3 months, had the important job of killing off as many annual and perennial weeds as possible. The covers were removed in March whereby an impressive alp of dark, rich, green-waste compost was barrowed and spread over the garden beds to create a deep mulch. This massive job was done by a heroic posse in the absence of our much-missed regular volunteers. Once the paths in-between beds were mulched with woodchip the first beds were ready for the inaugural planting, comprising spring onions, salad, kohlrabi and cabbages! The remaining beds were covered back up to keep those pesky weeds at bay.
The market garden will be no substitute for our field-scale growing operation as we still need to produce key crops like onions, kales, squash, spinach and chards in long beds, where we can grow hundreds of plants with the aid of our trusty tractor. And, this summer, our polytunnels will be brimming with succulent tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, peppers and herbs.
We pride ourselves on our efforts to practice sustainable and nature-friendly farming. The market garden will give us a new tool to strengthen and refine this mission and will complement our current growing operation. These are early days, and, as with any new farming technique, we have to learn how best to implement it on our unique soil. It will take time to develop our skills and for the full potential of the market garden to come to fruition, but we’re pretty excited to watch its potential unfurl.”