This is my third year of growing at FarmStart Abbey Leys. It’s also been the year I’ve learned and enjoyed the most - and the year I have finally actually felt like a grower. Which after four years of working at it, is a good feeling!
At the beginning of this year I decided to take the plunge and quit one of my part-time jobs, so that I could spend two or three days each week at FarmStart instead. I knew it would be a struggle financially, since our veg sales from FarmStart don’t yet add up to enough to pay wages. But, after two years of fitting FarmStart in around full-time work and just wanting to learn more and more, it felt like the natural thing to do.
And it was a good decision! My general feeling is that it’s gone pretty much as well as it could have done this year. There have been lots of positives to having more time to spend at FarmStart, not least being able to identify and react to problems with crops much more quickly. ‘Problems’ this year have mainly amounted to slugs eating our crops! So there has been lots of re-sowing, re-planting and trying to remain calm.
There have still been some failures and things that have been out of our control. Slug damage and using the wrong sowing technique meant we were unable to sell any of our spinach. And a seriously damp couple of weeks back in June meant we had a really poor strawberry crop this year.
But overall, it’s been a success and incredibly enjoyable. Our purple sprouting broccoli has done really well this year and provided me with probably the most satisfying days of work I think I’ve ever done! Back in April I planted out 700 or so seedlings in torrential rain, over the space of about four hours. At the time I thought I would never finish, but the feeling of satisfaction afterwards, when I could finally take shelter, was immense and worth every second.
Our fennel, beetroot and kale have also done really well. We’re still harvesting good amounts of kale and, unlike lots of other growers this year, have been lucky enough not to be affected by diamondback moth, which has destroyed many brassica crops across the country.
Right now we’re waiting for the huge amounts of foliage produced by our winter squash plants to die back, so that we can see how much fruit they’ve produced. Squash are one of my favourite things to grow and walking along the rows spotting squashes of various colours, shapes and sizes is quite exciting. We’ve grown six different types this year and will be starting to harvest them pretty soon.
I’m still unsure at this point of how to turn all of this into something that I can make a living from. We upscaled this year from ¼ to a ½ an acre and have sold much more veg than in previous years, but there is still a really long way to go to operating a viable business. In terms of skills and experience, though, this past year has definitely made me feel like I’m getting there and that’s a crucial part of the picture.