Grow on, grow on! 2017 Farm Review

The new year is rapidly approaching and our farming team are looking to the future and continuing to get everything ready for a productive growing season. We’ve also been looking back at this years season to celebrate and learn more lessons to make next year even better.

Overall it was an excellent year for our growing sites; with farm production up by 50% on 2016, we have continued a trend of dramatic year-on-year growth. A number of changes brought about last winter have contributed towards this improvement. Perhaps most notably we took on another growing site in Rouken Glen Park, comprised of small greenhouse rooms and polytunnels. Covered space like this is worth far more than outdoor space, providing a warm, sheltered environment for faster plant growth, and allowing us to grow crops that would struggle outdoors in our climate. Our tomatoes, herbs, and chilli peppers all came from Rouken Glen and were each far better than in previous years. We also changed the internal layout of our much larger polytunnel at Left Field Market Garden for more efficient growing. Together the crops from these covered spaces accounted for half of our 2017 turnover, despite only covering roughly 1/6th of our total growing area.

Last winter we also took the decision to stop livestock farming and focus entirely on growing good vegetable crops. This decision allowed us to devote more space and staff time to the crops that have always been our mainstay. The pigs were slaughtered as planned and our chickens and ducks passed on to alumnus of the Grow the Growers programme Jackie and the Beanstalk, for her brand new market garden in Renton. We still get deliveries of eggs from the same birds from her which is a win, win situation!

Beyond that, our growth stems from a year on year improvement to the farm itself. We are working harder to build up the soil with much higher additions of compost and through an overhaul of our rotation system in 2017. Both of these are helping to improve the structure, ecology and fertility of our soil and helping make our land productive and resilient. We are really starting to see the results in our field crops with really strong growth in crops like kale, purple sprouting broccoli, garlic and celery.

The year was not without its problems. We faced serious issues early in the growing season, struggling to find the staff time to get the ground prepared in order to get crops planted out. This was exacerbated by technical issues with our machinery. A number of our outdoor crops were disappointing this year, such as our courgettes which largely failed to establish once planted out, and our carrots which never got ahead of the weeds. This can be attributed to a failure to prepare the land well enough, in particular we struggled to enable crops to survive our number one enemy – weeds – and were always playing catch up on this front. This means that many of our vegetables went out late, so either came into season later than is desirable or never reached their full potential at all.

For 2018 we are recruiting for a second full time grower to help us get the most from our land and grow even more crops. We are also at an advantage going into the second season of our new rotation plan, as more of the preparation is now done. Beyond a little touching up, most of our existing beds are already in good shape and we can focus on bringing more land into production. Materials such as weed-suppresant fabric have been prepared, irrigation systems are improved, and we have a little more technical awareness about the maintenance of our farmyard machinery. We are also getting as much compost onto our beds as possible early in the winter, and have invested in large silage sheets to cover over unused beds and suppress weeds. All of these things caused headaches in the spring of 2017, we look forward to going into the next season with much better preparation and an extra pair of hands.

In 2018 we have plan to bring the remainder of our site in Neilston into production so we can grow even more food for our veg boxes, new shop and wholesale customers. This will involve creating up to additional 5 plots, or 50 beds each at 75cm x 30m, and giving us a total of 170 beds which will fill all the land we have remaining at Left Field.

Additional greenhouse and polytunnel space is something we would really benefit from and we are looking at where we can install more right away. In the medium term we need a significant new site with potential to install a large area of polytunnels to keep up with the demand, and the need, for locally grown vegetables which fuel our vision for a sustainable and resilient local food system. We do have our eyes open for such a site for ourselves, and folks who have completed our Grow the Growers programme. If you have any connections to land which might be helpful we’d love to hear from you. Otherwise we hope you continue to enjoy eating our vegetables so we can continue to enjoy growing them for you.

Have a fantastic solstice, Christmas and New Year!