Farm design

farm-designing

 

We work incredibly hard to keep as much of our 7.1 acre farm as productive as possible, while looking after the soil to maintain fertility and minimising the spread of pests and diseases. We grow a range of vegetables and fresh herbs to reflect our customers’ expectations in their weekly boxes. We also grow a variety as it’s the best way to maintain healthy soil.

If the same vegetable crops are grown in the same place year after year, there is a risk that soil-living pests and diseases will become a persistent problem and plant health will decline. To avoid this, a key element of organic growing is that of rotation – moving crops around the growing area. Plants that belong to the same family are grouped and moved together as they tend to be prone to the same pests and diseases. Alternating crops can also help to keep weeds under control as some plants are better than others at keeping them at bay.

As well as alternating vegetable crops, we include a green manure phase in our rotation. These are fast-growing plants that give the soil a well-earned rest from the cropping cycle. Green manures improve and maintain soil fertility, protect soil structure, keep down weeds, help to control pests by providing a habitat for beneficial predators and can help loosen the soil. They are dug into the soil before planting the next crop into the bed. This makes sure that all of the nutritional benefits are captured.

We have a six-year rotation design on Sutton Community Farm based on our planting beds that are 50 metres long. Our rotation follows this plan:

Year Crop Example Rotation principle
1 Green manure Alfalfa, clover, rye grass Soil fertility-building phase.
2 Brassicas Broccoli, cabbage, kale, turnips Hungry crops following fertility-building phase.
3 Beans (legumes) Broad beans, French beans, borlotti Fix nitrogen in the soil – good to follow after hungry crops like brassicas.
4 Alliums Leeks, shallots, spring onion Can make use of residual fertility.
5 Cucurbits Courgettes, winter squash Shallow crops follow deep rooting.
Dense foliage helps with suppressing weeds.
6 Roots Beetroot, potatoes, carrots, celeriac, fennel The last crop in the rotation is usually low-nutrient demanding. High-root-mass crops following low-root-mass crops.

Salad is an important crop on our farm, so important it has a planting area and crop rotation all of its own. In the four-year rotation are brassicas (rocket, mizuna); lettuces (endive, chicory); goosefoot (chard, beet leaf, bulls blood); herbs (parsley, coriander) and green manures.

Just to make things even more complicated, we also have three polytunnels. We use these protected areas for more fragile salad plants and herbs, such as basil. In winter the polytunnels follow the four-year salad rotation plan. In summer, we grow tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers inside too as they benefit from the extra protection and warmth. These crops also help give the soil a rest from the salad leaves.

Here’s our base map:

SCF Base Map Dec 2013

How much do we grow?

By weight, we are growing 8-14 tonnes of produce per year.

What’s our least productive month?

April and May are often two of the leanest months as the winter crops have come to an end, the stored vegetables have run out and the summer crop has yet to arrive. This period is known as the ‘hungry gap’.

What’s our most productive period?

As we move out of the ‘hungry gap’ and summer arrives, we have cause for celebration. Our months of hard labour are rewarded with a harvest period that gets going in July and peaks in September and October.

May I see your cropping calendar?

Yes, indeed. We are keen to help people understand the practicalities of growing and eating seasonal food. There are some periods in the year where we have little to offer and other times where we have a bounty of harvest to share.

Our cropping calendar gives you a picture of some of the detailed planning that goes into growing our vegetables. This is developed each year and considers every square metre of growing space we have available.