Andrew was away for two days with The Kindling Trust commercial growers course recently at Moss Brook Growers. So far he has been at Fir Tree Community Growers Cropshare and Glebeland City Growers. He also has a day doing tax and business management, a necessity but we'll skip over that day here, as talking tax face to face is difficult enough but talking tax returns, limited companies and sole traders online is the preserve of the befuddling HMRC website. We want to concentrate on growing and the differences we have found between mechanised and low impact, minimum tillage sites.
The Moss Brook day was fascinating as it came from another angle, the mechanisation of land to lower costs and increase profit. Moss Brook is a large site unlike the other two and therefore the argument for machinery is never going to be far away when it comes to irrigation, sowing on a field scale and harvesting on a field scale. There is a marked difference between planting a row of leeks on your allotment that run to around thirty feet then planting an acre of them. You're dibber will be worn out by the end of the day and your back a weary mess. The day was run by Rob, who gave us the chance to drive the tractor below, taking us through the basics of driving it.
We looked at the importance of soil preparation, planting and weeding all using machinery. There was a look at the ups and downs in organic farming; thistles in your asparagus, docks in your field. While there one of the workers was busy in one of the fields digging out docks with a fork, there are somethings machines still cannot do and when docks produce around 40,000 seeds per plant you understand why one years seed may result in a lifetime of crying. On my volunteer day there with Rowena, we spent a good part of the day digging out docks with two forks from one of the fields. It took four of us to lug the full sacks to the edge of the field before they were taken away by a tractor to the far end of the farm to be burnt. My thighs attest to forgotten muscles I have used. Now consider if your plot was suddenly doubled, tripled or quadrupled overnight. You may be smiling at this idea, jumping up and down in excitement. Now, think of the worst weed you have on your plot and times it accordingly, double them, triple them and quadruple them. Crying yet? This is often the forgotten problem between organic gardening and organic field scale growing. If you want to be organic, your biggest problem is weeds, then the weather and finally, water. It is a thorny issue using machinery, it was something that we discussed in the group: the balance between working efficiently and compacting the soil. However, when it comes to large field scale operations you have to accept that planting 50,000 leaks could take you the best part of a week if you did it all by hand and by tractor a few hours. That means you potentially save over 50 hours of your time to spend elsewhere on the farm. This again was something that came to the front as Rob took us through the differences between non-mechanised and mechanised sites.
Though machinery would be useless at Pig Row due to the gradient of the hillside and limited access the day at Moss Brook, like the day at Glebelands and Fir Tree, brought something to the fore, planning what you grow in partnership with the sales outlet. Also, planning what you grow in relation to the soil you have. Remember this course is not about growing for yourself but growing for market. Though we may never do it on the scale of any of the three farms we visited, it has taught us that surplus has to have a market to go to.
Something that was prevalent at Moss Brook was a system of bio-diversity. Hedgerows where being replanted to make field sizes smaller, an orchard had been planted and a pond introduced. The site, as were Fir Tree and Glebelands, was chock full of wildlife. Whilst there hares abounded beside birds. Moss Brook, like Glebelands and Fir Tree use enviromesh to keep off the worst of the pests. If you have ever netted your crops on your allotment you will understand the importance of pest barriers but now consider, as you did before, having to double, triple and quadruple your best barrier. That's a lot of netting.