New plot, new plans

The Pentland Hills

After a long period of planning, research and field reccying, I have recently signed a long term lease on a 1/4 acre plot in Damhead just south of Edinburgh. Ever since I started growing cut flowers in East London in 2013 have I dreamt of having a rural field to cultivate flowers on. Now in Edinburgh, I am incredibly excited about this new phase of Root & Branch. Needless to say, after I started writing this post, the COVID-19 catastrophe threw a spanner in the works. Life changed fast and any work on the farm has rightfully been suspended until further notice. We will see what this first growing season will bring but my hope is to start selling flowers wholesale to florists and farm shops on a small scale before long.

I plan to keep this journal as a way to record and share my work and process of building up a small-scale cut flower farm on what is currently a field of grass. There is a lot of learning and work to be done, and I am hoping that this journal might create a forum to chat and discuss with others about our various methods and experiments. Most of what I know about growing flowers I have learned from members of the ‘Flowers From the Farm’ organisation (link here). I am incredibly lucky to be part this fun and generous community of growers, florists and flower enthusiasts.

So far, I have prepared growing beds on approximately 1/2 of the plot, which is what this first post will be about. Before I started not-digging my plot, I did some planning. 

I have decided to establish beds that are all of equal size: 1.2 x 4 m. On my previous growing site in London the beds were all of different sizes, which made it time-consuming to keep track of the correct sizes of netting and fleece, and how many plants of each variety were needed. Now, with all beds the same size, all row-covers and hoops will fit all beds. In addition, with standard plant spacings of 23, 30, 40 and 46 cm (depending on the variety), I will know exactly how many trays of plug plants I will need in order to fill each bed. I got this tip years ago from what was then the #britishflowers weekly twitter hour. (I miss those Monday nights!)

The diagram below shows how many plants at each spacing will (theoretically) fit in each 1.2 x 4 m bed.

Wind is a major issue on the site with prevailing winds from the west and southwest. When gale-force winds roll in, which they often do during the winter and spring, one can hardly stand upright. Later this spring, I hope to erect windbreak fencing and plant a row of shrubs to protect the plot from destructive winds.

For my first season, I have prepared 25 beds using the no-dig method. The beds are separated by 0.5 m wide paths running north to south, and 1 m wide paths running east to west.

First I laid the paths, which I did using a thick layer of wet cardboard covered with landscape fabric (purchased from LBS). To mark out the area and corners, I used bamboo sticks and twine. It took a lot of planning and sketching to figure out in what order to lay down the strips so as to get the overlaps right and to get the most out of the rolls of fabric. As a barrier to help keep grass out, I laid a ‘frame’ of the 0.5 m wide fabric around the full growing area. The fabric is held down by 10 cm wide ground staples (purchased here) every 1.5 m or so along each edge. I laid the cardboard wider than the path-fabric so that I could overlap the cardboard once I prepared the growing area itself.

Manure production going on in the next field.

I then covered the cardboard with approximately 10 cm layer of compost and 5 cm of well rotted horse manure.

Next, I applied diluted Actiferm liquid — a brand of activated Effective Microorganisms (EM) — using a watering can. This was recommended to me by my sister who swears by the efficiency of EM (what is EM?) and bokashi (what is bokashi?) in gardening and cultivation of crops. The EM liquid works as a soil tonic and a compost activator. I am hoping that applying it will speed up the decomposing of the grass layer underneath the cardboard, and simultaneously attract worms and beneficial organisms that improve the soil health and structure. Will keep you posted.

Finally, I covered the beds with tarpaulins and other sheeting. Hopefully, I can uncover the beds in about 2 months’ time and plant out. Stay safe everyone.

IKEA in the background – a Swedish connection.

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