Support your local farmers

Living in rural west Wales, we have an abundance of local farmers and other food-producers around us. This means that there’s a farm shop nearer than a big supermarket, as well as local producers who sell direct.

All produce comes from the farm

All produce comes from the farm

In order to make a significant dent in the great courgette mountain (there’s currently nearly 3kg of them in the fridge and more growing in the garden even as I write) I needed some extra ingredients. For example, tomatoes and onions are required for a great soup-making session (lots of green tomatoes on my plants, but only 100g of red ones awaiting use).

Blaencamel shop

So today I visited one of our local organic farms: Blaencamel. At the farm they have a shop. Well, I say shop, but they are too busy to serve customers, so it’s actually a shed with produce displayed inside, a notebook for you to record your purchases and a cash box, in which to leave your payment. It seems to work – I suppose there my be people who take things without paying, but I think that’s rare, and the cash box sometimes has an IOU in from a customer who didn’t have enough cash or the right change.

Poytunnels protect some of the crops

Poytunnels protect some of the crops

Everything they sell is from the farm, so it has only travelled a few metres in most cases. The shop is adjacent to their polytunnels and fields full of crops, so you can see exactly how your food is being produced and there is frequently someone around to talk to if you want to ask questions. In addition, you can see their big mounds of composting material – a truly organic approach. I always enjoy buying direct, and it’s particularly satisfying to be supporting the local economy as well as the environment.

Material awaiting composting

Material awaiting composting

Coed Hills

I went to visit Coed Hills today, a permaculture community near Cardiff. They have somewhere between 70 and 90 acres of land, so a great contrast to my own little plot. However I came away with lots of inspiration, plus some plants – Coed Hill tomatoes (seeds from open pollinated plants, so they may turn out to be anything!), a tree lupin, perennial onions and some strawberries.

Perhaps the most immediately useful observation was that strawberries create self-mulching ground cover. This leads me to the decision to plant more strawberries in the fruit cage as both a crop and weed suppressor. And with the gift of some plants, I can start straight away.

I also saw tomatoes planted in a polytunnel with a clover ground cover below them. Again there is a mulching effect, plus the clover plants fix nitrogen and boost soil fertility. This is an approach that I will suggest to Perkin for his big greenhouse.

We looked at their young woodland garden, which is bursting with fruit frees, soft fruit bushes and a wide range of ground cover – the trees are small as yet, but will grown into a beautiful habitat. One of the ground cover species was poached egg plant (Limnanthes douglasii). I used to have lots of this in my previous garden, but not in the current one: I must introduce it, as it is particularly attractive to those most beneficial of insects the hoverflies.

I was also reminded that I must reintroduce borage (Borago officinalis) into my garden (it was there but seems to have disappeared). It has beautiful blue flowers that bees love and that can be used in salads and, traditionally, are put in Pimms.

I also saw the most beautiful tree: a black lace elderberry (Sambucus nigra f. porphyrophylla) that I will certainly consider for future planting (and I may be able to persuade Perkin to have one in his garden… thus achieving at least vicarious ownership).

I could go on, but really what I wanted to highlight was that visits like this can be a real source of inspiration. Permaculture gardens are particularly valuable because they often reveal novel approaches to problems and inspiring uses of resources. I also find that permaculture people are very generous with their time, seeds, plants and ideas. So, thank you to the folks at Coed Hills for the hospitality and abundant cups of tea – I will see you again later in the summer.

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