Sunday, 21 August 2011

Didactic fairs

Last week was the end of an era:we harvested our last crop of wheat here at Little Omenden. Nothing special, and it confirms our decision not to carry on with arable on this heavy unforgiving soil. I’ve come to the conclusion that arable production is not really sustainable on the Weald, at least this part, with the inexorable rise in the cost of fuel, spray and fertiliser. Perhaps I’m getting older, but I can’t get as excited about growing wheat as I did back in the glory days of the eighties and nineties. I know we are doing the right thing, but it was still sad when I pulled the last trailer out of the field.
We’ve sold plants at two fairs over the last two weekends: Sissinghurst Smallholdings Fair, and Kent Wildlife Trust’s Fair at their Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve.Both were events designed to inform and entertain, Sissinghurst in a suitably highminded tone, with speakers including Hugh Fearnley-Whittinstall and Mark Diacono from River Cottage. We couldn’t hear all of Hugh’s talk from where we had our stall, but afterwards he complimented us on our chubby thyme. I did wander off on the first day to listen to Sarah Raven interview Mark who spoke on the possibilities of perennial fruit and vegetable crops-grow the stuff that you want , rather than the stuff you can buy from chaps who do the job properly. We are reviewing our farm policy, and I can see a place for some adventurous and experimental cropping. Watch this space…
In the name of localism, Paul revisited his Kentish Ale Tent, with cracking beer from Kentish microbreweries. I was especially pleased with Ebony Moon from Tonbridge Brewery.
The Sevenoaks event was probably more fun, having treats such as a dogshow, folk music and Morris Dancing, and more things for children Also, it was well supported by local environmental groups: I spoke to the local bumblebee expert,who will be able to advise us on putting together a bee friendly application towards the Higher Level of Environmental Stewardship. In both cases, the events were ably supported by volunteers. Plant sales were steady, but not overwhelming!
Our long awaited trip to Sussex Prairies is on the 4th. of September:their publicity has been excellent, and we are looking forward to taking our plants there, and meeting old friends from that part of the world.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Sissinghurst Smallholding Fair

Next weekend will see us at the second Smallholding Fair at Sissinghurst Gardens. Last year was marred by the weather:we’re hoping that the weather will settle down by then, especially as there’s still hay to be made, and wheat to combine. We hope to be busy with our stand, but are looking forward to hear the original posh smallholder, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, address the assembled throng. I understand that the “climate change farmer” Mark Diocono will also be at the fair: a brave man, planting olives and other exotic crops commercially,but we need innovators. Apparently there will be a good selection of livestock for the public to look at: I hope the micro-pigs won’t be making a return visit.These were disturbing, and we heard a number of negative comments over the weekend last year.
We are very excited, not to mention nervous, to say that we have been asked to be a guest nursery at Sissinghurst for a couple of weeks this month. Our plants will be available at the plant shop after the fair.
We’ve managed to make about 18 acres of hay between the showers-our new ley was very productive, though the fields in stewardship were thin. At least, we’ve more in the barn so far than we made all last year.

It's yellow daisy time again: Silphium perfoliatum.