To soak or not to soak?

We were in fine spirits for our planting session at Stirley Farm on the sunny morning of 16th April. Not even The Tool Safety Talk could deter us, although that perhaps doesn’t sound like a very exciting start. There were eight of us doing the planting (including Kim and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust volunteer Yvonne), which is enough people to create a small amount of havoc and risk poking someone’s eye out with a badly placed rake – so we heeded Kim’s advice to put the tools safely to one side whilst not in use and to not leave them pointing upwards where a stray foot might step on them. I confess to having my trowel turned over at least once during the morning…

What we planted

Broad Beans – Hangdown Green and Express Elanora


Oriental mixed leaves

(yet more) Potatoes

What we learnt

  • Kim soaks her peas and beans before planting to get them started off, but Monty Don doesn’t. This seems to be a cause of no small degree of controversy. Does soaking your peas overnight have any effect? If you have any thoughts on the subject please let us know…
  • Tasty oriental salad leaves are less likely to be eaten by slugs than lettuces are. They also don’t need as much water in the summer, so we should give them a try because they’re a more sustainable crop.
  • There’s a fantastic well on the farm – we learnt how to throw the bucket in on its side to fish out some water for our seeds.
  • Kim is on a mission to get us eating things which suit our climate, including the oriental salads but also leaf beet and other hardy crops (beware, this obsession may feature celeriac).
  • Salad crops often have very fine seeds, so you can ‘broadcast’ them (scatter them in a block) then cover them with a fine top dressing. Try to sieve some compost over the top of the seeds and then pat it down gently.
  • You should try to avoid too much bending and twisting of your back whilst preparing your soil. We tried some new tools including a tiller / miller and a push-pull weeder, which have long handles and can be used standing upright (whilst looking at the lovely view).
  • Yvonne keeps bees, and she’s going to be bringing some hives onto the farm. She’s also doing some great work at Batley Girls’ High School, which we look forward to hearing more about.

It was an interesting morning – we enjoyed meeting some new people and trying out some new tools. As someone who appreciates a proper bit of old stone, I was particularly delighted to be able to use the well. It’s also fascinating to hear about the many different methods that people have for growing things (soaked or otherwise). And Carole was particularly intrigued to find out that the strange spur-shaped thing she has at home is actually a tiller. We put it to good use on the community allotment the following day. We shall have a fine tilth yet.

Photos: Stirley Farm, 16th April 2011

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