As befits our status (and beliefs) as a project linked to the transition movement (www.transitionpenwith.org.uk) we were hoping to work the farm's vegetable strips without the use of a tractor. On January 1st we had the potato strip ploughed (for 48 beds of potatoes) but the other three strips (legumes, brassicas, and alliums) were left alone, and we continued to dig over one bed at a time as and when needed. By this method we managed to prepare and plant 3 beds of broad beans, one of peas, one of chard, one of purple sprouting broccoli, one of garlic, one of shallots, and six of onions (14 beds in total). Each bed took nine hours of labour to complete. However, by late April it was becoming obvious that we needed mechanical aid, or our planting schedule would never be realised on time.
Ploughing the vegetable strips.
On 5th May a local agricultural contractor brought his tractor and plough along and prepared all the strips in 45 minutes, work which would have taken us months by hand. The dock roots and dandelion roots and couch grass roots are all still in the soil though however, and need removing by hand before we can plant or sow, but it is a lot quicker to prepare each bed now than before. The docks can be pulled out of the soil by hand, but the couch still needs digging out.
Dock roots uncovered by ploughing.
In the three weeks since ploughing, we have prepared 25 beds, allowing us to plant courgettes, squashes, cabbages, leeks, calabrese and cauliflower, and to sow spring onions, carrots, parsnips, beetroot, radishes, scorzonera, sweetcorn, kohl rabi, rocket and turnips. We are moving ahead at the average of ten beds per week, a substantial improvement on before (especially considering the dip in volunteer numbers we are currently experiencing, probably due to "beach weather" having arrived!).
Brassica strip before ploughing - quite a daunting sight.
Most volunteer sessions these days involve preparing beds, then planting or sowing into the bed. Yesterday we prepared two beds and planted over 500 leeks, which had been grown from seed in the polytunnel in modules. The vegetable field is looking very different these days, with 90 beds prepared and producing!