Results for category "Veg Growing"

Soggy Week…Sunny Weekend!

Our third day into WWOOFing at Shillingford Organics and we were already into the groove of the process. The morning means packing for the delivery shop orders, which this time meant needing to replenish supplies of a few greens and other things, so a large group of us made our way on the back of the tractor to the fields, K and R picking hungry gap kale, curly kale and finally spinach.

Once we made our way back to the packing shed and completed the shop orders with that which we’d just collected from the earth, we were able to move on to the next set of veg boxes for the week, the second of three installments to complete the week’s customer deliveries. Already familiar with the process from the previous day, we quickly went through the boxes and were ready then to work on the Friday shop orders, now up on the order chart.

Again, we went through each item one by one to fulfill the requests of each shop and discovered the need to return to the fields for more. Tractor loaded up, we went back to the fields and this time, K picked curly kale with Martin, who was the chief grower at Shilingford for several years until a couple of years ago when he decided to buy and operate his own smallholding near Okehampton. He had actually just been to the North Devon Seed Swap, run by Rob from Ceridwen. Our WWOOF world gets smaller! R and Claire picked red Russian kale at this time and then after a field change, K picked hungry gap kale while R picked brussel sprouts (learning all of the “quick picking” tips!).

When we arrived back with all of the produce, it was 1PM and the day was done – we even got to see the sun for a bit on our picking outings, a very very welcome change. Unfortunately, it was gone again by mid afternoon when the rain and winds returned once more. So we huddled in our little pod, apart from our daily walk where we huddled together against the wind and rain, although it thankfully seems to be somewhat clear just before sunset on several occasions.

Friday was a slower day at Shillingford, with most of the work for the week accomplished and things wrapping up, enough so that three workers don’t even work that day. We started bright and early (although not that bright yet with the sun just starting to wake itself) and finished the Friday delivery shop orders and then working through the last of the veg boxes for the week, as well.

As the rains streamed down, the Friday crew all looked for inside work, so while most of the employees made their way to the polytunnels for work, we worked through peeling another box of garlic bulbs into cloves for planting as soon as the Devon floods cease. It was slowly approaching the weekend, one garlic bulb at a time. We finished the last bulb just a few minutes before the end of our WWOOF day, leaving just the right amount of time to sweep up the area we’d peeled in, leaving the packing shed all tidy for the next work week come Monday.

It was now time for our free time, two and a half whole days of it. It had been a long week, with travel Monday and four early-starting wet WWOOF days and we were tired. The winds picked up speed into the evening and it almost seemed like they might be strong enough to actually shift the pod! It wasn’t until mid-morning on Saturday that the winds started to die down and the sun finally appeared.

So, after resting Friday afternoon, evening and Saturday morning, we decided it had been too long since we’d had a long walk and decided to venture the three miles into Exeter for a meander there. It was a lovely sunny walk into town and then along the canal into city centre. There was only one brief rain that met us on our afternoon of walking and we were quite happy to have chosen this day for a long walk.

After about 8 miles total of walking for our afternoon, we were pleased, although our feet complaining some. We settled into our pod as the cold night set in, this time without the intense winds of the night before.

After a Sunday morning of frost, the sun again shone across the fields of our pod view and so we made our way over to the office building for a load of laundry to dry in the glorious weather, such a contrast to the wet week.  Once the laundry hit the lines in the polytunnel just outside the offices, we ventured out for a long walk among the rolling acreage of arable land.  After our late lunch/early dinner, we reflected on our first week and prepared ourselves for the week ahead at Shillingford Organics.

A Commercial Venture

As the wind howled and the rain lashed in, we opened our eyes to pitch blackness. With no visual confirmation, it took a few seconds to realize we were in new surroundings, as K groped for the alarm. Having arrived at our new WWOOF host on Monday afternoon, Shillingford Organics, we were keen to get to work, although perhaps not “7am start time” keen! After a quick hot drink we made our way through the waterlogged ground to the rendez-vous point, the packing shed.

Shillingford Organics provides a local veg box scheme to between 180 and 210 homes weekly, in addition to supplying numerous shops and markets with their produce, a true commercial entity working Monday to Friday to supply produce for hundreds of people. Our first day would be an introduction to a typical Tuesday preparing for the shop orders of the day.

We jumped right in and began to pack kale, spinach, and other greens, carefully weighing out the appropriate quantity, sealing the bag and re-bagging until the orders of the item were completed and we could move on to the next. As we worked our way through the order board, it was was realized, we needed more leeks, purple sprouting broccoli(PSB) and other things, so two teams headed to two different fields on tractors.

K and a couple others headed on a tractor up to a hillside to collect leeks. A second tractor carried R and others to fetch a variety of things, R focusing on PSB. Once enough of the items were collected, each party made their tractor way back to the packing shed to finish the orders. Once all of the baskets had been filled with all of the goodies ordered, it was time to move on to other tasks about the packing shed.

After the morning’s three hours, it was time for a tea break, enough time for a hot drink and some food into our bellies, most of us not having had breakfast before work began with it being such an early start time.

With the break completed, we made our way back into the packing shed to work through potatoes for the week, using their special machine, which moves the potatoes along a belt with multiple filters. The first filter is for debris, the second for very small potatoes and the third for still slightly too small potatoes before they come out the other end, where four of us stood to visually inspect and pull any less than perfect specimens to be discarded. We also pulled out extra large spuds to be bagged and sold as baking potatoes.

Our last task of the WWOOF day would be to work on the squash for the weekly boxes, so we went to the shed next door where they are stored under straw in three layers. There we pulled out 9 trays of Crown Prince squash and began the process of cutting and weighing into the sizes delivered in the different veg boxes.

At 1PM, our WWOOF day was complete, so we made our way back to our cozy sleeping pod to relax for the afternoon. The evening included our first full meal from the Shillingford kitchen (by our own hands), penne pasta with pesto, kale and butter beans with sauteed onions, garlic and chopped tomatoes. It was wonderful!

After an early night and restful sleep in our pod as the wind whipped around us, we awoke Wednesday to work on packing some items for Wednesday shop deliveries and then all ventured out to the fields for picking, in the wind and wet. K and R both picked red Russian kale then curly kale before it was time to relocate to a second field for other produce where K picked hungry gap kale and R picked black kale.

When we arrived back at the shed, it was time to weigh and bag the brussel sprouts for the weekly veg boxes and then a tea break, before it was time to pack the veg boxes for Thursday deliveries. Customers can order in four sizes: mini, small, medium and large. Each box currently contains potatoes, carrots, parsnips, brussel sprouts, squash, leeks, oriental salad, purple sprouting broccoli and onions, unless a customer has specified a dislike for something and then they receive an alternate selection. They can also order eggs from the farm, if they would like.

Our final chore for Wednesday was to peel garlic bulbs into the individual cloves for planting as soon as the ground isn’t so saturated. After admiring the horizontal rain and a nice lunch, we had our daily stroll in the hills before our evening meal and settling back into our snug little pod.

Greeting the Goats

The day broke on Ceridwen revealing banks of rain clouds racing across the sky as further blustery winds blew in off the Atlantic. Being only 8 miles from such an expanse of sea does bring many joys, but as we listened to the cacophony of sound, raindrops , trees and old drainage all playing their part, we also reflected on the less than desirable working conditions we would again soon be exposed to!

Today we were to meet the Ceridwen goats. So, after some of K’s lovely porridge (his with some goat’s milk poured over the top) and caring for all of the birds, we hopped in the van to take the hay we’d acquired the previous afternoon over to Mark and Ella’s where the goats live.

Mark and Ella had previously been WWOOFers at Ceridwen and ended up on a patch of land just around the corner, where they’ve been now for five years. Diana and Rob purchased the goats and ended up working out a goat share with Mark and Ella in order to split the responsibility of milking, since it requires the commitment of both morning and night every single day. They share the milk and work out the schedule to fit around other obligations, holidays, and even illness. It definitely seems to be working out for the pair of couples.

The goats are of the Golden Guernsey variety. As we witnessed first hand, they are smaller and less destructive than other, more commonly thought of goats. In fact, these goats are quite friendly little ones. There are currently 5 goats living around the corner, 2 adults and 3 kids. The female adults are Marisol and Rhiannon. Each have a female kid, Gwen was born to Marisol this past season and Hazel to Rhiannon, only a month apart. Ash, a male, was also born this season, but as he is coming to age, he is due to leave shortly to a new home.

The goats love to graze, although, these goats won’t leave their shed in the wet weather at all, which means they’ve been spending a lot of their time indoors lately with the frequent rains of North Devon. But, they were most certainly a friendly bunch, very curious, and more than happy to be pet and admired.

The refrigerator at Ceridwen is always carrying multiple litres of goat’s milk. Other than milk, Diana and Rob use it to make cheese and yoghurts, as well. Today, Diana made a batch of pot cheese. To do so, she placed 3 litres of milk in a large pot and brought to a foaming boil before removing from the heat. Next, she added an acidic liquid to produce curdling, such as cider vinegar or lemon juice, a couple of tablespoons’ worth. Then, she simply stirred to produce curdling and once she noticed the reaction in process, put the mixture into a strainer over a bowl in order to strain out the whey. This is left for merely 15-30 minutes and you have a soft cheese that can be salted to taste, mixed by fork and then refrigerated.

Diana didn’t make paneer today, but this would have required only to leave the mixture to strain for a couple of hours, rather than a few minutes, likely pressing the whey out by adding weight on top.

Yoghurt was made today, as well. This she does by mixing natural yoghurt with the milk and placing into the yoghurt machine, which heats the milk to 47 degrees Celsius and is left for about four hours. Kefir was also made this morning, which Rob particularly enjoys, usually with his muesli. Kefir is very easy to make, requiring only that the milk be mixed with the kefir powder and left to sit for the reaction.

Once we’d returned from delivering the hay bales and meeting the goats, we set about preparing for market the next day, again picking spinach and chard until lunchtime was upon us and we were filling our bellies with jacket potatoes and salad before joining the queue to warm ourselves by the Rayburn, Kai and Nieve leading the way!

After lunch, R set about sowing broad beans into a large veg bed outside. There were a few weeds to clear, some couch grass to trowel up and row upon row of beans to lay into their beds in hopes that they might have a chance to germinate before the ground is too cold. During this time, K prepared the parsley for market, picking and bagging it into packs that Rob easily sells each week.

The rain blew in over and over with (short) periods between of calm and the very occasional peeking sun. At the work day’s end, the skies cleared and we set out for our walk of the Pyworthy lanes.

We returned to a warming plate of chili and rice, followed by a special treat of chocolate fondant, or what would be called a lava cake in the States, with clotted cream. YUM! Bellies filled, we sat contentedly, enjoying conversation with our kind hosts before retreating to our caravan and the land of dreams.

Rain or Shine

After a relatively bright weekend, Monday morning brought a blanket of utter grey to the North Devon skies. Rain and mist filled the entire horizon as smallholders and WWOOFers alike prepared for a full week ahead. Although picturesque at times, the constant precipitation meant this was certainly a day for polytunnel work.

After our filling porridge breakfast, we headed first to the back polytunnel to prepare a bed for planting onions. Rob usually adds manure in the Fall and lime in the Spring, but on some occasions may also add lime in the Fall using slow-releasing seaweed pellets so that the alkaline lime doesn’t react with the acidic manure, as it would with powdered lime. This is a process he occasionally uses as a way of speeding things up and getting beds ready for winter planting. As a market garden, it’s always important to be staying ahead of the demand, getting the items out to the customers before the common seasonality for an item.

After seaweed pellets were sprinkled over the bed, we ventured out into the rain to collect the manure from a tarped pile amongst the veg beds. As we were only creating a partial bed, rather than the entire side bed of the large polytunnel, the collection was completed after only three wheelbarrows full. Then it was time to mix the soil, manure, and lime pellets by using a cultivating tool to effectively turn the soil up into the top layers we’d added.

Once these steps were completed, it was time to plant the onions. Using a string tool to ensure straight rows so that a hoe will consistently fit between for weeding, the onions were planted by pressing the bulbs into the soil in a line and then staggering the rows.

We finished our work in the polytunnel for the morning by weeding around salad crops at the other end of the tunnel. We made our way into the dry warmth of the house where we shared a meal of jacket potatoes, Rob’s favorite lunch fare for the winter and quickly becoming one of ours.

After lunch, we ventured back to the tunnel to collect the drying dwarf beans there in three varieties: soldier, early warwick and black canterbury. We pulled all the bean pods and placed them into separate boxes to complete their drying in the house next to the Rayburn and cleared the rest of the bed from plant stems and weeds alike. The bed can now be prepared for it’s next companion from the brassica family, which will be thirsty for the nitrogen that beans impart to the soil.

After our now customary walk around the lanes of Pyworthy, we prepared the evening meal for the four of us, a pasta primavera with broccoli, courgette, red pepper, onion, garlic and tomatoes, served with warmed olive focaccia and salad. Not our finest fare, but definitely fresh, edible and passable for our first time cooking in their kitchen.

When Tuesday morning arrived, it did so with the most glorious, bright sunshine, the first day out of so many that we didn’t feel raindrops and the sky remained clear. It was wonderful to feel the sun’s rays warming the earth, the air, and our bodies so we took full advantage of the conditions and filled the schedule with outside work.

After breakfast, we cared for the ducks, while Rob let out the chickens and geese and then we prepared to clean the chicken house. This is done at Ceridwen once every other week and the material is a great addition to the compost pile. Rob mentioned it is especially important to clean the nest boxes as it prevents mites from building up, which will attack the chickens when they are laying. Although not the cleanest job, we were happy to give the birds a clean home, at least for a while.

After our tea break of the morning, we set about working on planting garlic into a bed in the main garden next to the greenhouses. First, the bed needed to be weeded, as it had been last cleared back in the Spring. Many of the weeds were easy opponents, but couch grass also invades this bed from underneath the concrete paths that line it. Couch grass creates a whole network of long roots inches below the surface and it needs to be dug out to prevent automatic regrowth. Using forks, we turned the soil over most of the bed to collect the couch grass roots.

When we were finally satisfied with clean soil on our forks and a large pile of couch grass roots, we spread lime pellets, raked level and set about out planting of garlic cloves. We again used string to create straight-lined rows and, this time, bean sticks to place the cloves a couple of inches into the soil. Row after row, garlic cloves went into the soil with care and good thoughts, so that a large and plentiful crop of garlic might grow there for Rob and Diana through to the warmer months.

Finally, we replanted some mullein, a herb that Diana uses, at the end of the bed which we’d collected from places it had self-seeded during the early weeding stages . We then cleaned all of the many tools we’d used in our outside tasks of the day and set about caring for the birds, before we set out for our walk of the lanes under clear skies with budding stars.

The beautiful blue skies of the day gave way to a clear, cold evening and the first frost of the Fall was due for the following morning. Rob and Diana warmed us all that evening with a lovely vegetable stew, full of potatoes and yummy dumplings. As night drew in we made our way through the crisp evening air to our caravan and little electric heater beneath an entire sky of bright stars, completely ready for a peaceful nights sleep.

Preparing for Market

Feeling a little more ourselves, we awoke in our cozy caravan Thursday morning ready to get right into the WWOOFing at Ceridwen, thankful for the kindness of our hosts. Today we would be preparing for the Friday market in Tavistock where Rob sells produce at one of the stands. So straight after breakfast, we were off to the vegetable beds with baskets and our pocket knifes to begin harvesting the fruits of Rob and Diana’s labor.

We first set about collecting spinach, a very popular seller for Rob. However, the winds of the past couple of weeks had really battered the plants and finding healthy leaves of a decent size was a bit of a task. For every leaf that was acceptable, there were three to be rejected. Next, we moved on to the chard, where the same issue plagued us, but this time we collected only half as much.

It was awful to see the results of someone’s hard work being so affected and we began to realize how weather conditions and unpredictable events can really impact on a smallholder’s livelihood. Towards the end of the morning, we did collect plenty of kale from a set of large healthy plants, obviously more resilient to the winds than the smaller chard and spinach plants.

We shared a warming lunch of tasty minestrone soup with wonderful olive and sun-dried tomato bread.  Afterwards, whilst Rob continued to collect his vegetables together, we headed back to the veg beds to weed a large plot that had started to become overrun. This bed also contained several plants that have self-seeded, such as kale and even a tomato plant at one end. As long as they are not too obstructive, Rob will often leave plants that self seed and move them to a more appropriate location when they are strong enough.

The persistent rains of the last few weeks has left Rob and his WWOOFer aids behind on some of the outside jobs and it was time to persevere, even as some raindrops fell, in order to regain control of the beds. It took several hours of weeding to get the job done. In that time, K took the opportunity to collect and bag parsley for the following day’s market, as well.

Near day’s end, we weeded a small plot in one of the polytunnels so that it could be framed out and later planted. We also cleaned a number of dandelion roots that had been collected during the day so that Diana can use to prepare dandelion root coffee.

Finally, everything had been harvested and pulled out of the storage shed so we were ready to load the van for the following morning. After several loads of three wheelbarrows, all was set. There were fruits and vegetables of all varieties on their way to market, as well as a stand of Diana’s creations, such as dandelion root coffee and sore throat tea.

To conclude the day, we cared for the ducks in preparation for evening before setting about our daily walk, now a different path to become a routine. We circled around the lanes near to Pyworthy and back to our cozy little caravan at Ceridwen ready for a warm supper and a welcome evening of rest and recuperation.

Loving Simplicity