2008 was the first year of growing in our polytunnels. The soil had been in conversion (from conventional to organic) for three years and by the time we started cropping we had enough nitrogen, fixed by the clover, to feed the hungriest of crops. As a result we had very good yields of basil and mini cucumbers. Despite the fertile first year, we knew that with only around 30cm of light, very free-draining Hampshire soil, it would be challenging in the years to come.
So around this time every year we introduce green waste compost to put essential nutrients back into the soil. From a workload perspective, January is the ideal month to be spreading compost, as most of the tunnels are empty and there is no planting or harvesting to be done. First we test the soil to judge how hungry the previous year’s crops have been; then we apply the compost accordingly. The compost is run through a 10mm screen (like a sieve) to take out any large pieces, giving it a fine grade so it works more efficiently. It contains about 8% nitrogen, along with small amounts of phosphorus (3%) and potassium (6.5%); all of which are key to growing.
Our farm manager Chris has started planning now for the following growing year, which will start at the beginning of May. We know what does and doesn’t grow well on the farm and we have also talked to many of you at events and through a couple of surveys. This year we want to improve on our herbs and chillies (last year was our first summer of including free herbs in the boxes). Chilli plants require the longest time in the nursery before they come to us; about ten weeks versus a basil plant, which is about two weeks old before being planted. These both come from Delfland nurseries, who also provide us with the seeds and seedlings for our ‘boxes to grow’, which are back in April. If you’d like to have a go at growing your own with a box to grow, you can find out more on our website www.riverford.co.uk/norton.
James Macgregor, General Manager