Wednesday, 7 September 2016

The harvest so far...

The harvest so far, and the problems of storage...

I had high hopes for this year, hoping for 600 upto 750kg of produce for the year, but early failures of many things caused by slugs, frost etc meant that it was looking like it was going to be a poor year. Potatoes, Beetroot, Parsnip almost wiped out by slugs. I also forgot to plant several varieties of Squashes but as time went on things started to look better until the herbicide problem in the manure which caused many many tomato and cape gooseberry plants to fail.

Since deciding to sell produce on the market the problems started to look disastrous, nowhere near the amount of plants to sell as I'd hoped plus with tomatoes, potatoes, beetroot and parsnip decimated sales were going to be thin on the ground.
As it turns out the market stall has been going well. It was always going to be a test to see if we could make money but the year was set aside as a learning process. Lots of things have been learnt even down to how to set up a stall much quicker (I built shelving trays so I could half setup at home as I loaded the produce into the van). The hour long setup is now down to 40 minutes plus tinkering while the stall is quiet and packing away is now down to 20 minutes from what was a tiring hour to begin with. Setting up quicker has meant less rush at 5:30am. We have also cut the harvesting the day before down a lot, time wise, so Mondays are no longer quite sostressful. If we keep going like this then the stall will become far easier. Baking the ckes for the market is a bit of a time problem as all the kids have to be out of the way, kitchen cleaned, floor moped etc and then they all need space and time to cool and then bag. This means everything has to be done late at night, but they are selling very well. As well as the fruit and veg, and home made crafts cakes are proving to be one of our best sellers. Lemon Drizzle and Rock cakes are sold in packets of for each, and we are regularly selling between 8 and 14 packets on a Tuesday morning. 117 packets sold so far in the last 12 market days. That's 468 homemade cakes sold since we started.  This time next year, Rodney we'll be ....

With the ups and downs of trying to produce food to eat and food to sell the Cabbage white butterflies moved in. Our netting failed, then two 4 or 5 day holidays within about a month meant the caterpillars totally destroyed all the Sprouts and Kale. Moles then wiped out most of the carrots in beds then the cats started to use the freshly planted beetroot and radish beds as litter trays. I thought all the possible problems we could face had happened but there was one more surprise. The chickens, all 22 of them, have stopped laying. From a high of 18 eggs per day (126 per week) we have been down to about 5 over this last week. They can't be burnt out since a friend has the same chickens, bought at the same time from the same place, is still getting his normal quota.  Today I will clean their house and pen area out as thoroughly as I can. Need to find the cause of this!

Lots of learning curves!

Despite all this the harvest has already surpassed last years total of 460kg (although it was a bit higher as in the final months I forgot to record some Leeks, Beetroot and a few other things).  As of today we are upto 509kg with a lot still to come in. Last year September and October saw the biggest weights of harvest and we're only just into the first week of September with loads of Sweetcorn, Leeks, Apples, Celery, Chard, Tomatoes and Runner beans still to be harvested. I can see this year edging toward 800kg with the only growing space that has increased being the chicken pen.

Rouge vif d'etampes
Today, to create space, I harvested the rest of the early pumpkins. This type are ready from August and I have already been selling them on the market stall. I have noticed that the ones I have picked carried on ripening off of the plant so hopefully the rest will even out their colour since some are still a bit yellow where they were touching the soil. Although these can be used for soup and roasting the main point of them was for Halloween. Another lesson to be learnt maybe that they will prove to be too early to last until then but hopefully they can be stored until the end of October ready for carving and selling as lanterns. Time will tell.

The largest pumpkin is nearly 18kg and although we have the same amount of plants and the same quantity of pumkins, but different types as last year, the weight has been massively more. Last year saw 65kg, this year it has been 210kg. They have averaged 11kg each. Not all of them are shown in the photo as some have been sold for soup.

We have been picking the runners small and tender and they have been selling really well. We sell them in bunches of 250 to 300g bundles. So far over 10kg have been sold. We have also made Pickle and Chutney from them, as well as eaten a load, and have sold a few jars but even so that only equates to 30% of the harvest. We now need to freeze a load and make many more jars for selling over the winter. The 120 runner bean plants have so far produced over 50kg and our main problem is that we can't keep up with the harvesting and turning into pickle. A 4 day holiday resulting in coming back to pick 11.5kg in one go before they got too stringy and there is clearly going to be another 10 or 20kg to harvest over the next week or so. At this rate I think each plant will yield around 500 to 600g. Our production bottle neck is now lack of jars so a quick order is going in. Up until now we have recycled jars but we just don't have enough that fit the lids we bought.

The general idea was to fill up the freezer with things we couldn't process quickly. A great plan, until the 3 freezers filled up. We have so much fruit in from last year that we can't fit the beans in. The theory was to empty the fruit out of the freezer by now and make jam, but harvesting, the market stall and holidays and just general living has meant there has been no time for this. We now have the problem of needing to make loads of jam just so we can free up freezer space while at the same time needing to process the beans before they spoil. A larder fridge is full of beans as well as the 11kg bucket in the photo.

Another problem to solve for next year are courgettes. They sell really well as baby courgettes but since we only have a Tuesday market stall we can only pick on Mondays to keep them really fresh. A week old courgette isn't good enough to sell which means a lot of the courgettes grow too big within a week. We have had 25kg of courgettes but the bigger ones just don't sell so I think we'll need to have more plants next year and waste a lot of the bigger ones just so I can get more smaller ones. Raspberries pose a similar problem. We don't have enough freezer space to store them and they need to be picked the day before selling which makes all the ones that have ripened during the week before Tuesday a problem. The theory is simple, just make jam from them or buy another freezer but making jam is time consuming and it needs to be done at the same time as runner beans need to be turned into pickle and just how many freezers can you have?

The harvesting and growing despite all the problems is the easy bit it now turns out. Selling the produce isn't all that difficult either but time to process and store all the harvest is a problem. The freezer issue will be resolved, we will get a large chest freezer but that won't answer all the problems because as soon as we start to fill that freezer things like sweetcorn need to be harvested and stored. We are too small a seller to sell everything in one go but I can see that we can sell 100 cobs, which is what we will end up with but only a few of these can be sold each week, the rest will need to be turned into sweetcorn relish or frozen for us to eat.

As it turns out, growing your own food, selling some to make money is the easy bit, it's the logistics of managing the produce which is where we need to concentrate all efforts and that's an area we have given almost no thought to until now. So far I've spent a lot of hours stressing over pests, stressing over who will water the plants while we're on holiday as well as stressing about re digging and preparing beds for the next batch of plants to go in and getting depressed about herbicide damaging loads of plants as well as worrying about the amount of weeds, when in truth none of this mattered since a lot of stuff will go to waste because we can't store and process it in a timely manner. All the thought and worry has gone into the wrong areas.