We’re quite new to veg, having recently diversified our farm from just rearing organic beef, lamb, and a small herd of goats. This year, we more than doubled our acreage of courgettes, leeks and purple sprouting broccoli, so we’re at about 18 acres of vegetables now.
It’s good to see so much of the farm’s land doing well enough to grow veg. Because you’ve got to put back before you can take out. We do that by rotating livestock through the fields and building up soil fertility, which is becoming known as ‘regenerative farming’. If you haven’t got enough livestock moving across the farm, you’re not circulating enough nutrients fast enough. When cows roam through the fields (called ‘mobile’ or ‘mob’ grazing) rather than just grazing down one field, they actually accelerate the growth of plants.
Essentially, what we’re doing is harvesting sunlight, and turning it into nutrients that we can eat. And in order to do that, we convert it through an animal. If you just grew crop after crop of vegetables, you would keep pulling nutrients from the soil without putting anything back. That’s why they’ve got big dust bowls in America, where they’ve tilled an arable crop for years and there’s no organic matter left in the soil; it just blows away.
The cold first half of the year really made things difficult. We should have had more rain in April, and then when we did get some it was time to start planting. When the heavens open, you can’t plant because you can’t get on the land. We were lucky to get our courgettes in just before the rain came, though their protective fleece took a bit of a battering with the wind.
It’s definitely challenging, and there’s days where you wonder why you decided to do anything to do with vegetables at all – but then you get a decent crop ready to harvest, and it’s so rewarding. We were convinced the purple sprouting broccoli was an absolute disaster because the weather was so cold, but it was actually really good. When the finished product is right, it makes it all worth it.