SEED SOWING, have you started yet?

Sowing seeds. Salads will be sown sequentially during the spring to ensure a steady supply for the farm shop over the summer.

When should you be sowing seeds? The obvious place is to look for instructions is on the back of the packet but equally important is their final desitination and risk of frost. It is always best to calculate when you think it is safe to plant out your seedlings and work back from there. In horticulture, experience and record keeping count for a lot! Last year’s late frosts and hot summer spells caught many of us out but that doesn’t necessarily mean what we did was wrong for an average year. Every so often the weather will catch the best gardener out, so it is important to play a percentage game and adjust where possible, to reduce last minute effects of the weather, pests and disease. The gap between seedlings being ready for planting out and actually planting can be delayed significantly if the soil conditions are too wet or frost is forecast. What you cannot do is bring planting forward, so it is important not to delay sowing too late unless you are direct drilling into the soil, as you will be for many root crops.

Seed trays are clearly marked as we often have several varieties in each tray. Leeks have been sown in the deep pots. They will be washed and planted bare root into their final beds.
Some larger seeds are sown directly into modules, so that they have an established rootball at planting. This year we have used Melcourt multipurpose organic compost so that we get a better understanding of our new compost range.

We have the benefit of a greenhouse to protect young seedlings from the cold and we are prepared with fleece and heat if severe frosts are forecast at critical times. Normally, neither are needed for more than a few nights each spring. We also use fleece after planting, to protect from the weather and pests until the new crops are established. Last year our worst problems were caused by hot spells which caused early lettuce to bolt and encouraged a flea beetle to infest our Oriental Mizunal.

Most of our small seeds have now been sown. Beans, sweet peas and sweet corn will be planted in modules next week and planted out under fleece as soon as the soil is warm enough. Of course we will be trialing a range of our new Melcourt peat free composts so that we can give valuable feedback to our customers.

Healthy young asparagus shoots emerging from plants raised last summer.

Last year, we raised 300 asparagus seedlings, which have remained in the glass house over winter. As we prick out this years vegetable seedlings we will move these outside to harden off, ready for planting out in their final position when soil conditions are correct. It will be a few years waiting before it is ready to harvest.

Some of our asparagus plants that will be taken out of the greenhouse shortly. Behind are some herbs, elephant garlic setts and the first lettuce seedlings, sown directly into cell trays.

PEAT FREE COMPOSTS

For anyone reading our posts, you will know that we are always trying to find ways to reduce the environmental impact of our business. This is ephasised by reducing, reusing and recycling, wherever possible. Composts have been high on our agenda from a number of years.

Peat has long been identified as a valuable natural resource that is host to an important and unique ecosystem. Traditional horticulturalists have argued that the peat bogs in Ireland and eastern Europe have massive reserves and that there is no suitable alternative to peat as a suitable growing media for raising young plants. That mindset has been slowly erroded with the dawning realisation of the importance of carbon as a causation of global warming. It turns out that as well supporting a important important ecosystem, peat is also a masive store of carbon, on a similar scale to fosil fuels and, dare I say it, the tropical rain forests. Even amoung climate warming sceptics, there can be few who think that cutting down tropical rain forest is a good thing. As well as being the lungs of the Earth, fixing CO2 into Oxygen, they have a massive store of carbon in the trunks, branches and roots of the trees. The same is true of peat bogs. Left undisturbed, they act as a living organism, hosting a vast array of their own flora and fauna and steadily fixing carbon into peat at a rate of about 1 inch every 1,000 years. The amount of carbon trapped in peat bogs is staggering and while oil and coal have a life cycle 250m years longer than peat, the damage caused by removing peat and draining peat bogs is many many times more than is immediately apparent. As soon as the delicate balance of moss, organic matter, water and oxygen is disturbed, carbon trapped for eons goes into terminal decline and while not necessarily immediately, it is irrevocably lost to the atmosphere. Not just from the peat that has been extracted but also from the open and drained landscape that is left behind.

When considering whether to use a peat based compost, ask yourself the question “Would you be happy to cut down the rainforest if it made your gardening a bit easier or cheaper?” If your answer is “No”, then you need to stop using peat now.

Over the last 20 years, Governements and the peat industry have known the damage that peat extraction is doing to the environment and slow measures have been taken to reduce the amount of peat in garden composts. This had several effects. It has reduced the quality of many composts because they incorporate green waste or low quality alternatives and even with a reduction of peat by upto 40% or more, the corresponding increase in the consumption of garden composts has meant that peat extraction has not fallen as fast as hoped. A few years ago, most peat used in British composts came from Ireland. Ireland has recently banned peat extraction completely and it is expected that the British governement will eventually do the same. Over the last 5 years we had noticed an increase demand for peat free composts and last year about 60% of composts that we sold were peat free. There was a problem though. Our supplier was local (we like local) but as a peat extractor themselves, we felt they were not as committed to peat free products as they were to their peat based range. The composts had become rather coarse and hot. The heat comes from recycled material that has not fully composted, This can result in high conductivity (a high concentration of nutrients) that inhibit growth in small plants and seedlings. If we wanted to go peat free, we needed a company that had more commitment and experience in peat free composts. You can read more about the environmental impact of peat in this blog wriiten by a friend of ours.

Two years ago we approached Melcourt Industries as a prospective new supplier. We had experience of their peat free products from as long ago as 20 years ago but Melcourt has been producting peat free products for twice that long. They are now the industry leaders in the peat free world and at last, after 2 years of uncertain production and sourcing of materials, the installation of a third bagging line has meant that they are now able to supply us with their full range of composts.

Melcourt are the Rolls Royce of peat free composts, they hold a Royal Warrant and many of their products are certified as RHS approved. Their composts are far more processed than almost all competitors, meaning that they are finer in texture and the closest alternative to peat we have ever seen. Most importantly, their professional range, called SilvaGrow has no green waste added at all. This means the conductivity is much lower than what we have been used to and is far more suited to growing young and delicate plants and seedlings. Their range of composts is extensive and we have stocked a very similar variety to that you will be used to. Of course the names have changed but we can help explain what each compost is suited for or you can read about them on their every detailed website.

So what is in their composts? In general, it is bark, wood and coir from sustainable resources. Greenwaste is in a few products, such as their soil improver and the budget brand of multipurpose but by choosing the SilvaGrow brand, you will be certain that there is no green waste included. There is a Tub & Basket compost, with added wetter for water retention, ericaceous compost and a full range of John Innes alternative. There is even an Organic brand that includeds seaweed as the source of nurients. Quality doen’t come cheap but we have already noticed that their product is far superior in many aspects to what we have been used to. There is no slump (compaction) in the bag and the compost seems to go a lot further as a result. Luckily, their rrp’s leave us some room to discount, so please check out the multi-buy discounts. So far we have had nothing but good comments and even a few congratulations for stocking Melcourt.

For those gardeners who have previously suffered at the hands of a poor quality peat free compost, either because of coarseness, conductivity, heat or reduced moisture retention, please give the Melcourt products a try. We don’t think you will be dissapointed. We would love to hear back from customers about their experience with this new range.

Look out too for a new range of peat free plants that will be grown for us by one of our nursery suppliers. We will be highlighting this range when it comes available in a few weeks time and it will be very interesting to see how the plants compare to those grown conventionally. Like fossil fules, peat has a very limited life and we should welcome and adapt to the new world. Lets hope it’s a better one?

Electricity from Apples

Our more observant friends have noticed a picture of our orchards in both the Times and Telegraph newspapers today. With barely a sentence of print to describe the photographs, what’s the story?

Like many industries linked to the hospitality industry, cider sales have been hit badly by the national lock-downs. For the larger manufacturers, pub sales and summer festivals are where the profit lies. Supermarket sales are hyper-competitive and customers tend to drink less at home than they do when enjoying themselves in the company of friends. The end result has been reduced sales and profits hit hard. In the run-up to COVID-19, the big British Cider makers had identified an over-production of traditional cider apple varieties being grown under contract. This doesn’t necessarily mean a reduced consumption of cider, just that modern, mass produced ciders now prefer to use blander dessert apple juice rather than the complex flavours and tanins of traditional cider varieties. Having reduced the acreage of their orchards, some of the largest producers are still holding large stocks of cider apple concentrate and it seems senseless to just keep stockpiling a product that appears not to be in high demand. Hence, much of last years crop and again this year, will be use to generate electricity rather than being pressed and concentrated. This is not true of all companies. Some have simply reduced the contracted volume to match demand. Conversely, smaller cider makers have fared much better. While retail opportunities of summer festivals have hit sales volumes hard, those that supply farm shops, managed to switch to internet and farm gate sales, have fared better than their bigger brothers. While our crop has gone to the local AD plant, last year we pressed more than 120,000 litres of apple juice for local cider makers to ferment into artisan cider. That’s more than twice as much as the year before. Local ciders are thriving and will kick back quickly now that hospitality and pubs have reopened. Lets hope for a hot and busy summer and lots of thirsts to quench.

The Sun is Over the Yardarm

We will be open at 6pm on Monday 12th April for a chance for villagers of North Perrott to meet again for the first time this year and to raise a glass in memory of HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and Earl of Merioneth. 1921-2021 RIP

Booking is esssential, please let us know via email farmshop@parrettbrand.co.uk so that we can prepare adequate seating.

Drinks will only be served to customers sitting down on seats provided.

PLEASE DRESS FOR THE COLD!

In case of rain, please bring your own brolly!

All flags at half mast.

VEGETABLE PLANTS (click&collect)

Easter has fallen early this year and while we have been selling a few summer bedding plants (for those that want an early start to their hanging baskets), the threat of frost is still very real, all through this month and maybe beyond.

It’s therefore quite early to be talking about tomatoes, cucumbers and melons but that breed of keen gardener, who like to be first to the table with their prized fruit and vegetables, now is the time to get your skates on and your greenhouses frost protected, if you want to make the most of this year’s growing season.

Very early days yet but we have a stunning range of tomato plants in this week and a few other greenhouse crops, such as melons and cucumbers. Soils are now perfect to start off brassicas, lettuce and other field grown crops but please be careful to harden off your plants before leaving them without protection. Greenhouses, cold frames and horticultural fleece are required to ensure a sensible start to the growing season.

Our range of vegetable plants can be viewed by clicking here

Our range of bedding plants can be viewed by clicking here. (Six pack bedding is due in next week)

NB. Stock levels are low at this time of year but as our webshop is linked to our tills, it is sometimes sensible to order online to “click and collect” to ensure that you get what you want. Vegetable plants will be delivered to us weekly but it is already looking as if bedding plants will be in short supply this year.

SPRING UPDATE

The recent fine weather has got gardeners excited early this year. The Engish weather is fickle and there are bound to be hic-ups over the next few weeks. Frost mornings are helpful at keeping bugs at bay but will nip anything that raises its head too early.

The plant centre has recently taken delivery of it’s first spring bedding plants and shrubs. We are well stocked with compost and most essential gardening extra and eager to help anyone and everyone, who enjoyed their gardens so much last year.

Click on the photo to see our range of Gardening Gloves

Top priority for working in cold (and possibly wet) weather is a good pair of gloves. We have a small range that covers most requirements, from heavy duty riggers, several types of waterproof gardening gloves and high quality leather gloves, offering protection and dexterity for the most delicate gardening jobs. One pair has smart touch fingers, so you can use your smart phone without taking them off!

The extraordinary National Lockdown last March saw the nation trapped at home during one of the most wonderful Spring season’s for many years. Many people were furloughed for the first time ever and more people than ever turned to gardening as a form of relaxation or therapy, to occupy themselves. The Pandemic had many unforeseen effects and one of those was on the garden centre trade.

Garden Centres were shut down one week and then discovered they were allowed to re-open online. Demand for bedding and vegetable plants skyrocketed and stocks very quickly ran out. Sales of compost doubled and replacement stock was difficult to find. While supplies have mostly returned to normal, there will still be shortages in some departments this spring. One notable shortage last summer were garden canes. In fact, we were not able to get any garden canes after March or through the summer at all. We have just had our first delivery of 8ft garden canes in almost 12 months and there is no guarantee that supply will be unlimited this year. On hearing that news, we made sure to collect ours from the wholesaler last Sunday, rather than risk missing out.

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Click on the image to see Canes and Support.

Like most others, we were a little caught out by the move to internet shopping last April and after a hurried attempt to move compost and bedding plant sales online. we invested in an full blow online shop in June. While the flurry had died down by September, we continue to receive regular orders online and many others are using it as an indication of what is available, before making their essential shopping trip. It is still a work in progress and as photos are added and new stock comes in, there will be regular updates posted through the spring and summer. Having just had our annual stock take at the end of February, the stock online should be quite accurate.

Click on the picture to see stock and prices

Our final notice is about materials we sell by the metre. While many gardening fabrics and nets are now sold in pre-sized packs, we prefer to offer these items for sale by the metre. This is not only a cheaper way of purchasing but it also reduces waste and packaging almost completely. Please click on the photo below to see our full range and prices.

HAPPY NEW TIER (sic)

It is with heavy hearts that we welcome in the New Year in Coronavirus Tier 4. This of course means that many more local businesses will be forced to close, bringing financial hardship to their owners and dramatically kerbing our daily routines and freedom. The message is simple, “Stay at Home” (see below for guidance). If we all play our part, 14 days isolation should break the spread of the virus. That message really doesn’t seem to have got through on a national basis, which is the reason the new variant is spreading so quickly and why we should expect to be locked down for some time. Tier 4 has to mean we all take more precautions than we did before, even if the level of infection is particularly low in our area.

The Farm Shop is still regarded as an “Essential Service” and although we will be closed for New Years Day, we will be back to normal hours from 2nd January. We had been hoping to reopen the Coffee Shop in the new year but that will have to be postponed for now.

PLEASE STAY AT HOME EXCEPT FOR ESSENTIAL NEEDS (Food and Medicine)

PLEASE STOP INSIDE THE DOOR AND ASK BEFORE ENTERING FURTHER INTO THE SHOP.

PLEASE SHOP ALONE unless absolutely necessary.

PLEASE ALLOW at least 24hrs between placing your order and collection.

DELIVERIES to vulnerable households are currently every Thursday.

CLICK & COLLECT if you feel especially vulnerable.

ORDER ON LINE www.parrettbrand.co.uk

ORDER BY EMAIL farmshop@parrettbrand.co.uk

ORDER BY PHONE 01460 77090

We regret we cannot accept orders or amendments to orders by any other form of communication.

While our area remains one of the lowest infection rates in the country, the trend has been steadily upwards since the beginning of November. These are the current statistics on the gov.uk website but are already 7 days old. Infections will have risen in the last week.

Current advice for TIER 4. More detail can be obtained from the gov.uk website regarding the interpretation of “Essential” and exception to rules. Please stay safe.

CHRISTMAS TREES

First tree of 2020 delivered to Perrott Hill School

This year we will have been selling LOCALLY GROWN Christmas Trees for 50 years.

Today the first tree of 2020 was delivered to Perrott Hill School. Hopefully the boarders will have great fun decorating it tonight.

All tree are grown on the Blackdown Hills, are fresh cut and delivered to us weekly. Larger trees are cut to order.

Needle fast varieties; Nordman and Fraser Firs from Sat 28th November

Traditional; Norway Fir from 7th December.

Limited number of small potted trees, Nordman and Blue Spruce

Mistletoe cut from our own orchards.

Hand made wreaths

Please check out our 2020 prices by clicking here

50th APPLE DAY Celebrations

(Provisionally ) 10th – 18th October 2020

Like so many other public gatherings, we have had to look carefully at Government recommendations and whether or not we can hold our normal Apple Day celebrations in 2020. It is a great shame but we have decided that we cannot use our normal format and so we need to scale back for a year. Further salt in the wound is that our farm shop was built in 1970 and this year would have been the 50th anniversary. We wont be sitting back and doing nothing!

The primary problems are space and numbers. We are currently limiting the number of people in our shop to ensure social distancing and in such circumstances, it would be difficult to provide a viable weekend for exhibitors at Art in the Barn, so the barns will be empty this year. Instead, we will be trying to spread out other activities over a week and try to avoid crowds and/or queuing. At the same time, we will be doing our best to promote our usual exhibitors online and give details about how you can still view and purchase their works of art.

Rather than concentrating on one weekend, we will be spreading the love of apples over a longer time-frame. This will mean a permanent display of apples over a week and hopefully a range of food to taste each day. Nearer the time we will announce any special activities such as children’s entertainment, tractor rides and ploughing demonstrations, if the weather allows.

Anyone wanting specific apple advice from Jonathan may have to book an appointment via facebook nearer the time. October is still a busy time of the year on the farm and we will be harvesting cider apples and pressing fruit every day, which represents a problem in how much we can organise at the same time. Concentrating Apple Day into one weekend was a much easier task!

Please keep an eye on www.facebook.com/farmshop for announcements nearer the time.

Pick Your Own

Today is the day we finally earn our ranking at the top of the Google search list for “Local PYO”.

VISTABELLA apples are ready to eat and are looking rather good this year, having enjoyed the sun in May & June. A light crop, so don’t expect the boughs to be creaking under the load and as ever, picked fruit is available in the farm shop.

As with most early varieties, Vistabella is sharp with a melt-in the-mouth texture, rather than the firmer fleshed apples that ripen later in the autumn. Melon-like, the flavour seems to be excellent this year.

Next in line will be George Cave, which is contrast is heaving with apples, so expect this variety to be on the small side this year. Hopefully ready from next week.

Find out more about our PYO here