After the dry winter, we began the growing season early this year fearful of low water table levels, and the possibility of another very dry summer like 2018. But we needn’t have worried …

I can now report that the heavy and persistent rains throughout June rapidly topped up our ancient 17th-century underground reservoir here at Coleshill and we now have enough water to see us right through the season–and probably into the next! Sadly, as you may have seen in the news, some farmers and growers have suffered significant crop losses from the flooding–particularly in the Southeast; across the world, it looks like these extreme weather events are becoming more common.

Slug

While we were delighted to see our reservoirs filling up, I knew from experience what was coming next. The significant rainfall resulted in sodden soils, leading to major headaches for planting out our crops and, inevitably, a plague of slugs. Thankfully, our biological allies — namely the blackbirds, beetles, hedgehogs and toads — were feeling hungry and managed to limit slug numbers and the damage they can cause.

A difficult start to the season

Nevertheless, we did lose an entire sowing of parsnips to the slugs, devouring over 300 young seedlings almost overnight, which is frustrating and expensive. Surprisingly, Matt, our head grower, said over coffee the other day that the hot dry summer in 2018 was actually less challenging than this year. We have good irrigation systems in place at Coleshill and this means we can generally plant crops whenever we need, even in dry conditions. But the appalling wet weather prevented us from even walking on the soil—let alone driving a tractor on it. As a result, we had very few opportunities to plant out during June and cropping plans were worryingly delayed.

Thankfully, we’ve now had a spell of decent sunshine, which has allowed us to get some of the plants waiting in the greenhouse in the ground. The sun should also encourage the established crops — including broad beans, cucumbers, French beans, strawberries and so on — to flower and produce fruit. But we’re still way behind schedule and the garden will be less productive than other years. Let’s just hope it stays relatively dry for the rest of the summer.

Coleshill Organics in bloom

Re-wilding the garden

We have also taken the decision to let our grass grow in non-productive areas of the garden. Initially, we did this in support of ‘No Mow May’. But after the mower broke (!), we decided to continue our ‘no-mow’ policy to encourage even greater levels of biodiversity in the garden, as well to avoid wasting too much labour on what are effectively ‘prettifying’ jobs in the garden. It’s taken a bit of getting used to, but I am beginning to enjoy the ‘rewilded’ look, especially in the orchard, where a wonderful wildflower mix is now flourishing. If you get the chance, do pop in for an hour or two on a sunny day and have a wander around. The insect and bird life is astonishing.

New stall at East Oxford farmers’ market

Last month we opened a new fortnightly stall at the East Oxford Farmers’ and Community Market on Union Street. It’s a fantastic opportunity and we’ve been blown away by the level of interest already. We’re hosting the stall on a fortnightly basis and will have plenty of fruit and veg from here in the garden, but the market rules allow us to bring additional organic produce that we can’t grow in the garden.

Don’t worry: you’ll still find us at Stroud farmers’ market every Saturday, too!

School children visit Coleshill Organics
Coleshill Organics hosts students

It’s raining students!

As usual, we have welcomed more foreign students to the garden this season where they can get a taste of working life here in the UK. So far, we’ve hosted two French and three Estonian students, all of whom have spent a month under the tutorage of Matt. We’ve also had numerous ‘herds’ of school children, ranging in age from 4 to 14, visiting at regular intervals throughout the summer, learning about how their food is produced and the hidden world under their feet. In fact, we recently received a heart-warming thank you note from one of the schools — click here to read it!

Our box for the National Trust award
Sonia in the farm shop

National Trust Awards

Some exciting news: we entered one of our seasonal ‘Small’ organic veg boxes into the National Trust’s annual Fine Farm Produce Awards! The Awards are designed to recognise and reward NT tenants who produce quality products with environmentally responsible practices.

As part of the award assessment process, Tom Atkins (above), a National Trust farm advisor, spent a couple of hours with me in late June, getting background information about what we do here. He couldn’t resist doing a bit of shopping in our little farm shop while he was here! Winners will be selected by a team of highly experienced chefs and announced at the Countryfile Live 2019 at Blenheim Palace in August. Winners can then use the coveted NT Fine Farm Produce Award Logo–and have a glass of bubbly (or three) at the award ceremony… so wish us luck!

The Radnor re-opens!

Beyond the garden, but only just over the wall, The Radnor Arms is now open for business under new management, with my son, Jack, heading up the kitchen. After some minor setbacks, the team is working full steam ahead to get the kitchen up and running and they’ll soon have a wonderful menu of delicious food on offer, using locally-sourced ingredients–including veg and fruit from our garden, the orchard and the polytunnels. Thinking about it, I suspect the vegetables will have among the lowest food miles in any Oxfordshire pub!

The ultimate foodie holiday!

Finally, if you’re thinking about a European break later this year and you fancy the ultimate foodie experience, then look no further!

Friend and well-known chef, Barny Haughton, is offering a food-focused odyssey into a unique part of Italy and the landscape which has shaped it—and help raise funds for the Square Food Foundation. From 10-17 September, this week-long residential cookery holiday at the beautiful Casa del Colle in Abruzzois for anyone who is truly passionate about food & culture, regardless of cooking ability. And every penny of profit will support the Square Food Foundation charity and their vital work with schools and community groups.

For all details, click here. It looks like a truly magical opportunity.

Phew! I hope you enjoyed the update. If you ever have any questions or comments about your boxes or how to use any vegetables, please get in touch. We want you to enjoy them.

That just leaves me to say a big thank you for your continued support. I can’t wait to fill your veg boxes with summer’s true bounty!

Sonia Oliver
Coleshill Organics