Dan Powell, organic land manager and co-founder of LandBase writes…
During the last 12 months, there have been so much rhetoric both about what Brexit will mean for the UK and, now that the decision has been made, what we are actually going to do about it.
Being a farmer in the EU has meant for many, eligibility for considerable amount of subsidies, that have been welcome in hard times and allowed investment when farming was in the black. These subsidies have had wider influences too. Land prices and rents have continued to rise making farming a very difficult sector to enter for the newcomer and food prices have mostly been kept down although most farm businesses would admit that overall, they are struggling to keep up with the rest of the economy. This is most evident on smaller mixed holdings (less hectares less payment!) and in the hills where farmers are limited in what they can produce and it is expensive to reach the markets they supply.
If and when Brexit actually passes, will it make a huge difference to looking after the land or will we just continue as before?
At the moment a land manager in England, who farms more than 5ha, and holds entitlements, can claim from the EU around £200/ha give or take a few penalties and credits in return for entering into land stewardship and complying with long list of environmental and varying management conditions.
There have been a number of reviews to this system over the years and successive governments have always argued that the UK should operate a free market system and that farming should stand on its own economic merit. The farming unions and other lobbyists have always countered this and we have retained the system to the present day despite general opposition.
The big question is, once we leave the EU, will the UK government retain a similar system of support for agriculture?
A system that is considered outdated and does not address some serious issues that our food production sector is facing. The biggest of these in our opinion, is an ageing and shrinking land work-force. Or will the government decide to revise its support to UK agriculture to encourage new blood and innovation which are the cornerstones of any thriving sector.
We know which way we want the tide to turn!!
Land Workers Alliance. Brexit and new entrants policy paper
Making Food Sovereignty a reality: post-Brexit Agriculture Policy
House of Lords EU Committee 20th Report Session 2016 – 17. Brexit Agriculture
Basic Payment Scheme 2017
Some of the LandBase team went along to OffGrid festival this year, and we'd like to share with you some interesting organisations pioneering off-grid sustainable living and farming...
neld just outside of Exeter at Goffin Farm, the site is part of The Biophilia Project offgrid project.
The festival is focussed on skills sharing and community with workshops on basket weaving, rope spinning, jewellery making, knitting/crochet, forging, kiln making to name just a few! It was good to see these skills still being used and passed on.
It was spread out over a 4 days and we only made the Saturday so weren’t able to see all the interesting talks, however, here are the highlights from our day…
Stephanie Hafferty gave a talk on Charles Dowding’s 'No Dig Approach.' And Charles is leading one of the workshops on our Market Gardening course in September. There are still places left so book your place here…
There were innovators in off-grid technologies and we managed to go on a DIY Solar Panels Workshop with Ian Westmoreland from ‘Demand Energy Equality’ to learn about making our own household solar panel. We hope to offer some of Ian’s courses through LandBase in the future.
Another highlight was a discussion group lead by Joanna Dornan from the Agroecological Land Trust trying to find solutions for low impact, land based cohousing and land ownership. She shared her wealth of experience and discussed the successes and failures of community projects. Looking at the models of the Ecological Land Co-Op in Devon managing planning & permissions for 3 small holdings. And also methods from the Biodynamic Land Trust.
She also drew on Bill Knight’s talk the previous day on Restorative/Regeneration Settlements, and the importance of looking after our soils through sustainable small-scale agriculture with biochar methods by Ed Revill at Soil Carbon Regeneration in Swansea, Wales.
LandBase is organising an event on the themes discussed here - looking at the issue of land access in the UK, especially focussing on the gap between the amount of land available and the amount of people looking for it. It will be held on Saturday 7th October at Monkton Wyld Court, Dorset. Keep an eye out for more information on our facebook page and news page. Or email is at email@example.com
The Community Convergence tent was set up by wetheuncivilised as a beautiful outdoor cinema showing inspirational films and talks. If you haven’t seen it already watch the wetheuncivilised film – “A Life Story.” It is a story searching for our lost connection with nature and the land, and challenging the self-destructive system of western civilisation.
A great day out for the family with arts & craft stalls, a BBQ & Bar with produce from Monkton, and tour of Monkton’s kitchen garden and sustainable eco buildings, there were even local Morris dancers to entertain us! LandBase had a stall to promote our courses for Autumn 2017…
Kent based fruit and veg grower Jacks Boggia shares some of the highlights of a 3-day Market Gardening course run by Landbase down in Dorset…
“Whilst in the middle of moving farm sites, and waiting for various answers that were out of my control, I found myself with some time on my hands which would be a crime not to put to good use. In my case the devil makes work for idle hands! I came across a Market Garden course that was being run by growers from their sites. There are growers doing this around the UK but most of the sweet action seems to be coming from the South West. In Kent, there is very little sweet action! All my education to this point was running after tractors in the middle of fields asking farmers why my beetroots won’t grow, various books, trial and error and 99% luck. I tell a lie, there is always my natural ability and entrepreneurial flare that I’m still looking for.
I have visited various growers and larger scale operations but they were mainly flying visits and long emails afterward. I had in my mind a long list of sticking points and areas that I feel were harder to manage than they should be. Part of this I feel is the demographic and attitudes towards smaller growers compared to ‘people with real jobs’, which is definitely different in the South West compared to where I am in Kent, but as my market garden hasn’t gone bust yet something must be working, and I just had to iron out areas where the course growers clearly had succeeded. When it comes to learning, which must not be mistaken for ‘education’ (said by Mark Twain I think), an open mind is needed. Another saying I always toy with is ‘Do as you always do, and get what you always get’. As with any business that enters tender stages, both sayings never ring more true.
I had heard of Trill Farm and had met Ashley at the ORFC ’16, we didn’t have much time to chat so the first day of the course ticked my box as our operations were very similar. I’ll be honest I have never heard of Long Meadow Organics but they were field scale Organic growers which caught my attention. And I was very much impressed when I was with them on day two of the course. I had also chatted to Charles Dowding and read his books back to front more than once, and also visited Homeacres last summer ’16 briefly on a road trip. He used to run a No Dig field scale market garden back in the day when I was dancing to Simply Red and Erasure in nappies. I don’t remember much from those days so I was hoping he can fill me in on the underground No Dig movement!
I also remembered that I got roped into a walk in Scotland at the end of April from a train station in the middle of nowhere to the most remote pub in Britain. With this in mind I booked up a camp site to field test my survival skills and equipment and headed down to a campsite near Bridport. There was an option of staying at a place called Monkton Wyld where most of the course attendees were staying. A few traffic jams later and 4 ¾ hours in the car I arrived. I had stayed in my two man tent before in the garden, but a few nights in a row changes everything. Being 6’5 and just turning 30 does not help. The scenery soon made up for the aches, rolling hills and greenery that looks a more vibrant shade of green was enough to sooth my winging.
Trill Farm is a pretty sweet set up. Ashley and his partner were essentially looking after the land that wasn’t in proper use, something I was also doing and seems to be the way for a lot of people getting into small scale farming and when buying isn’t yet an option. There were 15 or so people on the course with a few coming and going throughout the weekend. Most of the attendees were toying with the idea of growing or taking their projects further and upping the scale. We went through pretty much every step even from things to consider before choosing land (something I didn’t account for when I started and am still paying the price to some degree). These things included planning issues, the aspect of land, and the thing that drives it all, the market. We checked out some crop planning and made our way to the garden. The mood was upbeat and it was interesting hearing other people’s struggles, but more importantly solutions and exchanging solutions.
The garden layout was very similar to my set up with added management methods being introduced, which is known as ‘Lean’. Small farms can be chaotic environments with so many variables dictating a growers’ actions and staff, Lean takes care of all of that by simply reducing waste. For example having to go and collect a tool that is in a lock up (or worst not where even the last person put it) to then take it to the job then taking it back. If all of those motions were eradicated, so the tool was already very close to the veg bed or chicken house, it saves time. So let’s say that tool collecting mission (ahh I hate looking for tools that was right there a second ago!) took 60 seconds and that motion was done 5 times a day already 5 minutes has been wasted, and it’s time no one can ever get back. Times that by 5 days a week (nearly half an hour, comes to say £4 in labour) and 50 weeks a year comes to over 20 hours. Ouch that hurts to think about. I’ve also used my time to Lean up all aspects of my farm and also luckily I’ve had the benefit of designing my new set up as lean as possible from Google Earth.
We looked at the propagation set up and an amazing array of leaves which goes into the Trill Farm Salad mixes, how they are planted, bed set ups, irrigation and seed saving. The day was awesome, lunch was awesome and I ticked off some questions I had.
The rolling hills and amount of cows was quite a site as I drove to Long Meadow Farm, when I arrived the farm had a long meadow and the name became apparently fitting. Hugh and Patsy were now slowing down their production of crops and possible open to the idea of another grower taking on larger scale veg growing in the future. Even though they didn’t have large scale production in action their words on the subjects raised were as fresh as when they started back in 1987. They had the dream set up, some land that came up and the right price for them, the rise in popularity in the Organic movement in the 90’s, the farm shop, campsite and house. The day started with Hugh taking us through how the farm was set up and how it used to run, then Patsy showed us how they grew their plug plants from seed to be ready for outside planting. We watched a short video of how production was back in 1999 and plenty of pictures which the farms set up. The couple’s ethos and my one aligned when we all agreed that we don’t really ever own land, we merely have the opportunity to do something with it and leave it in better condition for the next people.
I kept pestering Patsy on her inside knowledge of the force and her magical ways of dealing with wholesalers. They used to run a veg box scheme like I do but didn’t go all the way through the year. There were plenty of questions flying around as we walked through the green manure sections that Hugh after 30 years was still experimenting with. Real proof that you are never too old to learn, real proof that no one year is the same and that all you really are doing is managing energy on the land we farm. We then got to see the machinery and implements that have drastically reduced man hours in the day to day working on the farm, from planting to harvesting, clearing ground, terminating cover crops and crop protection and storage. Most of the tools Hugh was saying they had since the early days, and they were second hand from the 70’s when they bought them. Just goes to show proper tools you only need to buy once and are worth the outlay, maintain them and they will maintain your farm. There is plenty of machinery out there that does the job, some could say better or worst but proof again that if something isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Hugh also talked about a make of tractor that I haven’t heard of called Tafe, he was saying it’s never missed a beat and has all the improvements of a 135 Massey. The size of machinery they had was also interesting, it wasn’t large, but there were also still smaller options available. It raises the question, if you have to up the power of your machinery every few years, are you doing something else wrong with the land?
Charles Dowding is a renowned author and advocator of a method that is becoming popular in all levels of growing, from gardens and allotments to farm scale. No Dig (so cool it’s even got its own logo designed by Charles). I have felt for a while now that it makes more and more sense on every level, the more consideration I give it. One question I asked myself was where does nature dig? I’m still looking for answers, other than in the event of a natural disaster, it doesn’t. My own set up is now I’d say at least 75% no dig, sometimes referred to as no till, min till. Charles’ books worked their way into my collection back in my allotment days before I went into commercial growing. The day was full of information that would be useful to a grower either on an allotment size piece of land to larger field scale set ups. We covered everything from composting, harvesting, sales, crop protection, rotations, storing, seeding, hot beds, packing and touching on moon sowings and Biodynamics. Charles’s equipment was simple with his main tool being a copper hoe, and with the simple No Dig philosophy no fancy setups are required. The day came to an end as we finished off looking at photos from Charles previous No Dig market garden. We also took some souvenir cuttings from a perennial kale plant".
This course is running again 23rd - 25th September 2017. To find out more or book your place click here...
To find our more about Jack, visit his website Jack's Veg
Article provided by Indie Farmer
Seeing the fruit trees in Monkton's walled garden
Our Planning & Planting a Fruit Orchard was a success at Monkton Wyld Court this Saturday...
It was an small intimate group with participants from varied backgrounds offering different experiences, from running a local organic kitchen garden, owning vineyards in Brittany France, and growing on an allotment! The tutor, Tom, was able to help with specific problems people encountered with their fruit trees, from growing on the cliffs of Cornwall to using the sunshine in Kent. We used the beautiful walled gardens and fruit orchards of Monkton Wyld, with a huge variety of fruit trees: apples, plums, kiwis, pears, cherry trees, grape vines….
Seeing an established fruit orchard gave us the opportunity to see what works and do our own site assessment, looking at the importance of getting the right altitude, soil, shelter, slope direction, disease prevention and much more. The day was packed with information and Tom was a fantastic teacher, we all came away with useful information to put into practice, I’d recommend this course for anyone interested in growing fruit trees, regardless of experience.
To book onto our Autumn 2017 course click here...
Our most popular course, with the tutors (and successful organic growers) from Trill Farm and Charles Dowding's No Dig, it’s no wonder it sold out! Tickets are now on sale for our September course. To book your place click here…
"With the hottest day of the year so far, we had a really successful Market Gardening Course over the weekend with no dig pioneer Charles Dowding of Homeacres, organic veg grower Ashley Wheeler from Trill Farm and Hugh and Patsy Chapman from Longmeadow Organics. It's great to find so much interest in growing food with growers from all over the UK & Ireland on the course. Thanks to all who came".
The following is a writeup of the course from three of the attendees:
From 8th-10th April 2017, Landbase, a new initiative providing training in small-scale food production to new entrant landworkers, ran their ‘Making a Successful Market Garden’ course. Based at three different holdings in Dorset, Devon and Somerset, each day was led by an experienced grower who took us through the technical, organisational and financial aspects of growing and selling veg at their particular market garden. Course tutors Ashley Wheeler of Trill Farm Garden, Hugh and Patsy Chapman of Longmeadow Organics and Charles Dowding of Homeacres gave an informative and inspiring insight into how they run their businesses providing food for thought for aspiring and experienced growers alike. Course participants included those already running a market garden business, new entrants just starting out on their new sites, trainee market gardeners and aspiring allotmenteers.
Trill Farm Garden – Ashley Wheeler
Trill Farm is a 300 acre farm on which Ashley Wheeler and Kate Norman rent 2.5acres and run Trill Farm Garden, their own separate business. Ash see's this model as having great potential for new entrants as it is mutually beneficial both for grower and landowner. For example he shares branding with the farm and its other on site businesses, and more practically, he has shared use of the farm tractor. When Ash and Kate moved to Trill Farm seven years ago the market garden already had some infrastructure in place, a rabbit and deer proof fence, a large polytunnel, a borehole, and later the land owner built a packing shed. This infrastructure is reflected in their rent which is expensive for the area, however being on the farm pays for itself - the chef who works on site buys the equivalent of their rent in produce each year.
One of the things Ash highlighted as important to consider when setting up a market garden is access to a market, too often people focus on just the physical aspects of a site. Trill Farm Garden have ended up mostly selling high value crops to restaurants and cafes in and around Lyme Regis, and are working on direct sales through the Open Food Network. Although ideologically we all aspire to make good food accessible to everyone, Ash decided to grow a mixed salad which is a high value but also high labour crop and therefore enables him to support two trainee's and employ a relatively high number of local people in growing in relation to the size of the garden. In part, they adapted to the market they found, but they were also clear on what they enjoy and what works for them as a family with two young children. Compared to a box scheme for example, they prefer the rhythm of work their sales create through the year; working 70 - 80 hours a week in the busy summer months but then having time off in the winter.
We looked at a few photo's of the site from when Ash and Kate first started - I find it reassuring as an aspiring grower to see the beginnings of such a successful market garden. It's useful to remember that it’s a long game, constant refining and small improvements over time and lots of hard work!
Ash took us through his crop rotation based on Tolhurst and Hall's 9 year rotation, his favourite hand tools, including kirpie’s which are used for weeding whilst salad picking, his propagation tunnel and process as he grows everything from seed, and machinery. Ash recently started using a bed former which has really helped on a site with heavy clay soil that has very poor drainage and is prone to flooding.
I also collected many nuggets of wisdom of the sort that come over time. For example, try to find time to do the things you really enjoy or are important to you, for Ash it’s growing from seed, and saving seed, which he does for the political significance and to keep the skill alive. Little things, like growing cut flowers for market to bring the customers in, and tips on what to spend money on and what not, for example heat benches are invaluable in Ash’s opinion, and polytunnels are often available for cheap second hand. Finally, Ash was adamant that he could not run his business as successfully if he did not live on site.
Longmeadow Organic Vegetables – Hugh and Patsy Chapman
The first thing that struck me as we begun the tour of Longmeadow was the maturity of the site. Patsy and Hugh pointed out hedgerows and stands of birches which they planted when they moved to Longmeadow in 1987 that are now flowering and towering overhead. As course participants we had the benefit of learning from their years of experience growing vegetables at their 10 acre site in Dorset. Using photographs and video, Patsy and Hugh took us through how their business has changed over their time at Longmeadow, moving from selling to wholesalers towards running a successful veg box scheme and farm shop. Now they are approaching retirement they have scaled back their veg production and laid much of their ground to rest under fertility building green manures.
After introducing us to the challenges, benefits and eccentricities of their site, the Chapmans took us through all aspects of their business from technical growing information to marketing. Their site, originally a water meadow, has fertile, medium loam soil which is very stony and needs careful management to create a useable seed bed. An important part of their soil cultivation regime is to shallow plough the soil to bury the stones each year in time for planting. The stones then slowly rise back up to the surface over the course of the season and benefit crop growth by absorbing heat from the sun and radiating it back into the soil.
Compared to Trill Farm Garden and Homeacres, the growing system at Longmeadow is more mechanised and the day provided a useful introduction to bed preparation, weeding techniques, crop establishment and green manures on a slightly larger scale. This included looking at precision drills, rotavators, flame weeders, mechanical weeders and tractor mounted planters.
The Chapmans also gave a valuable session on the ins and outs of running a successful veg box scheme. As well as covering practical aspects of packing, crop planning and storage they also provided advice on creating a veg box which is both appreciated by the customers and sustainable for the growers to run. Unusually, Patsy and Hugh chose to have a break in the box scheme from mid February to mid June which enabled both them and their customers to have a rest - by mid June their customers were excited to have their veg box delivery again!
I have taken home a wealth of information from the course at Longmeadow but what I found most inspiring was seeing the enduring and respectful relationship the Chapmans have forged with their land – that as organic growers we steward land we cultivate, rather than impose ourselves on it.
Charles Dowding’s at Homeacres
We arrived on the last day of the Market Gardening Success course at Charles’ Dowding’s Homeacres in Somerset. Homeacres is surprisingly small! And notably weed free (in the beds)! At first glance it is very clearly a culmination of Charles’ experience as a grower.
We started the day with an introduction for Charles’ renowned “no-dig” growing methods. For some of us this day was to help us refine our methods back at our own sites, and for others a complete introduction. In short I think the most important pieces of advice that Charles Dowding shared are:
1. Getting timings right
2. Don’t disturb the soil
3. Don’t believe everything you are told
The above advice pays tribute to the fact that Charles’ has been a market gardener for 30 years, and in all that time been trying and testing no-dig growing, refining timings of sowings, plantings and weeding, and been busting garden myths by breaking more than one of the many so-called gardening rules (e.g. double digging or putting nasty weeds, such as docks, in the compost). As a relatively new grower, it is a little daunting that it effectively could take the best part of three decades to perfect growing methods to run a viable business and have a healthy soil.
After introductions we headed out in to the garden, of which no more than one third of an acre is cultivated, to start our tour. It was a fantastic time to visit the garden, at the beginning of spring when the first plantings are in the ground, and life is coming back to the garden. Charles moved to the site in 2012, and it is quite simply remarkable what he has achieved in the that time. Especially when compared to the “before” photos!
Charles said he always advises to scale down: Homeacres is one of the smallest market gardens I have visited, yet it is no less productive, or rather one of the most productive. Frequently he has multisown veg, such as turnips (or beetroot, peas) in clumps of five, and at harvest time goes through and picking the largest. This is a common technique for onions and beetroot but Charles has applied this thought to other veg. It saves on space in the green house and in the ground. Crops are intercropped - garlic running down the centre of beds for example - utilising the space, shading out weeds and giving a more diverse and resilient ecosystem. Radishes and carrots sowed together, getting two crops from one sowing. Pathways are narrow maximising growing space, there is opportunistic plantings, for example planting potatoes or squash on next year’s compost pile and, each bed gets two or sometimes three crops per year, achieved by timing sowings to precision, helping to maximise productivity of a very small space.
Charles has been testing “no-dig” Vs “dig” methods on site, and more recently “no-dig” Vs “broad forking”. Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly the no-dig beds are either more or equally productive to the the dug beds, but with less work. I have seen pictures of these trials, but seeing with my eyes, the plants in the no-dig beds have more vitality and generally look healthier than those in the dug beds, with one exception - the broad forked broad beans.
My notes from the visit are long and detailed, and it is extremely hard to summarise a life time of growing that was summarised to me in one day, but other important, interesting points that are worth mentioning are hotbeds in greenhouses, as an alternative to using electricity powered heated benches. Charles Dowding raises all seedlings using the hot bed, that is a tonne of fresh horse manure that maintains a good temperature for germination. Another is whether rotations are necessary, Charles’ is experimenting in a few beds planting the same crop year on year, and the role of greater forces on veg growing - the moon, energies and some of the biodynamic principles.
We're proud to announce that the first of LandBase course’s went ahead at the start of February! Read about the day from Course Co-ordinator and Market Gardener of Trill Farm, Ashley Wheeler...
The first LandBase course was led by Tom Nancarrow of Pip & Stone and Adam's Apples. The course was held at Trill Farm in their apple and pear orchards.
About 10 people attended and the day started with tea and coffee and a chat about the theory of pruning, covering why and how we do it. We then ventured out into the beautiful sunshine and Tom put the theory into practice with a couple of trees before letting the course participants loose on the apple orchard.
I think what was especially interesting about the course was that we were dealing with trees that had been previously pruned by many different people in many different ways, so we had to look at the trees and think about how they should look in a few years time, especially in the case of training trees to have central leaders, where central leaders had been pruned out.
I think the fact that we worked with trees that had not been perfectly managed before made the course more realistic (in that it is probably quite common to be pruning trees that are not perfect) and meant that the participants had to think more about why and how they should prune.
Overall it was a great day and everybody left feeling like they wanted to crack on and put their learning into practice!
With it’s success we've decided to run this course again next Autumn. For more details or to book click here.... Don’t miss out on a place!
Dan Powell, co-founder of LandBase, tells us about a recent workshop he took part in...
“One of the more interesting contacts I made at the Oxford Real Farming Conference this year was bumping onto Lois Phillips, an old colleague of mine who works in land education at Rushall Farm in Berkshire. She has helped organise a set of workshops on Soil microbiology in conjunction with Simon Parfey of SoilBioLab.
Simon set up SoilbioLab in 2014 after working for Laverstoke Park Farm running the soils analysis lab there. He is helping land managers to look deeper into what lives in their soils and offers both courses in observational soils microbes analysis as well as a lab based soils analytical and evaluation service.
I set off early in the morning from Dorset towards Rushall Manor Farm to avoid the worst of the SE England rush hour traffic. I arrived in time to find Simon setting up his microscope in the field classroom at Rushall Manor. The session started with him describing the importance of organic matter in soils. He told us that the organic matter is the driver of everything that goes on both above and below ground as it acts as the basis for all nutrient cycling that feeds plants and animals and ultimately us!
Simon was going to concentrate on the microscopic animals that, although invisible to the naked eye, are far more important and make up the bulk of biological life in the soil. We were introduced to bacteria of which there are millions in a teaspoon of soil. Next up the rung of soil life where the protozoa or single celled organisms, the most common of these were amoeba and flagellates. These consume bacteria almost continuously and cycle the nutrients their bodies contain up the food chain.
Then there were the fungi who make up a much smaller diversity than their bacterial neighbours but are responsible for not only extending the rhizosphere or root zone in many plants but also in exuding acids to breakdown the more coarse organic matter.
In addition to this function specific fungi called mychorrhizia also have a symbiotic role with certain plants, exchanging hard to get nutrients like phosphorous for important energy and sugars that the fungi need to grow themselves. Some plants rely on this association and seem to have evolved in line with the fungi.. this fungal plant association is especially important for trees.
Lastly were the nematodes. These tiny round worms have over 20000 different species some of which we associate with pathogenic parasitic conditions in the gut of animals or eating plant roots such as potato or clover eel worms. However we learned that free living soil nematodes are essential in cycling the fungi and bacteria into nutrients that become available for plants and the vast majority of species are poorly understood although they are crucial for the cycling role they play in soils.
We learned that different soils have different balances of the soil biota and if the populations have been damaged through for example, pesticides, bad fertiliser practice or poorly planned cultivations, then this delicate balance can be upset and the plants and animals will not thrive on these soils until the balance was restored.
Simon’s company makes use of compost teas which are propagated populations of bacteria or fungi through aerated water that can be applied to soils as a way of correcting this soil imbalance.
After these microbial introductions we were introduced to using a microscope to actually see these little beasties as they really are. We looked at a number of samples and discovered tiny bacteria darting about on the prepared microscope slide, also strands of fungi where apparent and some of us even came across the odd nematode or two.
It was one thing talking about these little fellows but quite another coming face to face with them down a microscope.
By the end of the day I felt that I had been privy to another world just as full of life as the word above the soil, and although this was one we talk about in our farming and gardening everyday, it is not everyday we get to see these guys face to face as it were!
I don't think I will be purchasing a microscope just yet but it has reinforced my conviction that if we can recognise what conditions are good for a healthy soil then we have the tools at hand to nurture the life in the soil to ensure healthy plants and animals and healthy us for a long time to come.
Thanks Simon for a very interesting and stimulating day. This has helped me to continue to take care of soils in my care for the sake of the little guys!”
If you want to learn more about soil, Dan Powell is running a course with Landbase next month “Getting to know our soils and what they need from us” Book your place now!
Select strong healthy plants with characteristics that you are looking for. If it is an heirloom variety that you are saving, it is best to select the variety that best fits the description of the variety. If you want to select varieties that fruit earliest, then select the earliest fruiting each year.
Clearly label the plants that you have selected. Tomato plants generally do not cross with one another (they are in-breeders) so you can grow and save seed from more than one variety in one polytunnel.
Harvest and processing
Once the fruit is over-ripe for eating it will be ready for harvesting for seed. At this stage take all the ripe fruit off the plants, then slice them along their equator (use a bread knife for this as it is less likely to damage the seed). Then squeeze out the pulp into a container.
This can then be left for 3-4 days to ferment (this breaks down the germination-inhibitor that surrounds the seed). Do not leave for longer than for days as premature germination can occur. You may notice a mould appearing at the top of the pulp – this is fine and all part of the fermenting process.
Once fermentation is completed then poor the pulp/seed into a long necked container – something like a milk bottle works well. Fill it up to ¾ full and shake the bottle vigorously (with a lid on…). This helps to separate the seed from the pulp. As the seed starts to settle back down to the bottom of the bottle you can start to decant the pulp and water. A few small, light seeds may also come out. Decant until most of the water has left the bottle then repeat this process 5 or 6 times, or until the seed looks clean.
Fill up the bottle, now with clean seeds in, one last time and empty into a sieve. Blot the bottom of the sieve with kitchen towel to dry excess moisture and then turn out the seeds ideally onto a non-stick surface such as a plastic chopping board. Using the bottom of the sieve, spread out the seeds evenly to form one layer of seeds. As you are doing this you can have a bit of kitchen towel inside the sieve which will take away some of the moisture without the seeds sticking to the towel.
Label the seeds and put somewhere dry and airy to dry further. Once the seeds have dried they will peel off the chopping board in one piece. They can then be crumbled up into a paper seed packet and dried further using silica gel. To do this put the seed packet inside an airtight container and put the same amount of silica gel in the bottom of the container. Put a humidity reader into the container and close the lid. Leave until the relative humidity is around 50%. Then remove the silica gel and store the seeds in the airtight container somewhere cool and dry, and they should keep for up to 5 years. Don’t forget to clearly label the seed packet with the variety and the date.
This was written by Ashley Wheeler, a grower from Trill Farm Garden in Devon.