Tuesday 20th December 2022

A Year in the Market Garden with Metske Van der Laan

Posted by Metske Van der Laan

Metske reflects on the highlights and challenges of this last year in the market garden …

It is the middle of November, and I will deliver the last beetroot of the season to the Better Food Shed in London. Time to switch the cold store off. Also, a time to reflect a bit on this past year. Like every year, it has had its ups and downs, starting with a big storm in February that blew the plastic off the propagating tunnel. This came just after the first series of lettuce and spinach had been sown. The tomato plants, that were on the heated bench and had just germinated, suffered a lot. To not get behind with sowing, we had the tunnel repaired and re-skinned in about a week.

By the end of April, the tunnel and the hardening off area were overflowing with small plants that needed planting out. We had a dry spell to prepare the land and got on with planting in mid-April. Slowly, the pace of the market garden picks up in that time and soon after your busy with sowing, planting, and weeding. You really must get your timing right to not get behind. Our squash had a bit of a slow start as it was just a bit too cold at the time, so the lesson is not to be too hasty and wait a bit longer in the future to plant them out. But my favourite crops did very well and soon after we started harvesting lots of lettuces, chard, spinach, and spring greens.

I have set up the market garden, so that we supply mainly veg box schemes around Brighton and London, as well as a wholefood shop in Brighton. This year, we were asked to attend Growing Communities’ farmers market in Stoke Newington. It seemed to be a good addition to our other outlets, and the direct contact with your end consumer is a good way to get feedback on the quality of the produce. So, June was the start of our stall on the market, and it has really given me a boost. Great people, good feedback, buzzing, multi-cultural. It is organised by people who dedicate a good part of their lives to supporting organic, local, and fair food; grown or produced by small businesses and farms. Not just talk, but very positive action. Thanks, Growing Communities.

The market is successful and new. The other customers I have, I have been supplying for 17 – 18 years. We are (veg) friends now and work together in a way that benefits us all; Harvest Supplies, Infinity Food, Barcombe Nurseries and Ashurst Organics are all long-time customers. Without them, I could not make a living and employ seasonal workers every year.

Life was sweet this summer………………. for as long as we had water for irrigation. And although hot, we could keep everything growing until the pond ran out of water. Within 2 weeks, plants wilted, large cracks formed in the ground, and there was less and less veg ready or good enough to sell. It was a scary moment, and it was almost at the point where I did not have enough work anymore to keep 3 people in work.

Luckily, we got 24 mm of rain. After that, there were smaller but regular amounts of rain and plants perked up, which meant that we were able to plant and sow some more crops for late summer/autumn. Not all growers were so lucky, and I know what kind of stress that comes with. So, I read about COP in Egypt and can’t even remember if it is number 20, 26 or 27. Will we really change the course we are on, or will it be business as usual? Food growing will become more and more difficult if the weather becomes more and more unpredictable. Time will tell.

After middle of August, it is harvesting, harvesting, harvesting and normally it comes to an end in October. This year, however, we were still harvesting some lettuce outside, two weeks later than “normal”!

I am tired and it’s time for a rest. Get the books out; put a job advert out; have a few weeks rest; and start planning for next year. Order seeds; maintain machinery; improve the propagating area; and see if it is possible to fence the field, as the damage from badgers and deer is getting too much now.

Also, time to think about my role in the climate discussion. Being organic alone is not enough and I can see that I can and must improve a lot; by growing more green manures and maybe planting more hedges. However, I also want to extend the season, it would be great to have some more polytunnels and to have some different produce on the market, but is all this growth good? The investments in ever more metal, in more plastic etc. Whatever the outcome, I hope to produce veg again next year; I hope to have found some nice people to come and work alongside me; and I hope to supply good quality veg to all these customers who have signed up for a veg box. Come into the shop or meet us at the market. See you all in 2023.


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