Diary of an atypical smallholding
It’s been hard hasn’t it, these last few months? We were so relieved to have the cold winds, and clearer skies to dry out the muddy, drowning grass and let us get into the woodland for next year’s firewood. But mid-March with more cold weather on the way feels like enough already! The poor daffs don’t know what to do, the watercress has been burnt by the frost and the Gunnera leaves that were looking so strong have gone brown. This time last year we were basking in 20 degrees on the beaches! Still, those easterly winds and the high tides have brought us a great harvest of seaweed and we have been making the most of the dry weather to get the quad-bike down to Port Mellon and Gorran Haven beach to fork up mounds of the stuff. Some has gone straight onto the asparagus and artichoke beds; a good idea? We weren’t sure but have gone for it anyway. Adam the Gardener says in MARCH First Week – profitable asparagus bed that while sandy soil is good for drainage, a dressing of salt in April is good on an established bed. And seaweed ticks all those boxes! Apart from that, we have layered the seaweed liberally in the compost bins and also laid it on the newly cleared ground for future veg beds and covered it in Mypex to mulch and enrich the soil.
Lesson in healthy soil: we are organic here at Cotna but not officially so – in fact, organic produce can be as depleted as any other, it just means that there are no added chemicals on it. What healthy fruit and veg really need is a high mineral content, not just for abundant growth but also for the real health benefits, as well as delicious flavour. Seaweed contains ten to twenty times the minerals of land plants and an abundance of vitamins and other elements necessary for our metabolism – in particular iodine, calcium and iron as well as Vitamin B12. It therefore follows that plants grown in seaweed will absorb these minerals and we in turn absorb them from the lettuces, other veg and fruit grown here. So seaweed is the best thing that can happen to our gardens really!
We have also been piling on layers of nicely composted leaf mould (many thanks to William and Arlene Fullerton at Cotna House.) This will improve the structure of our soil, and with the vital help of the micro-organisms, bacteria and fungi that are in this compost the plants roots will be able to absorb all those lovely minerals. Nutrient rich, alive soil is what we want and first to benefit will be the onion sets we are planting out as I write.
Other jobs have included planting out new apple trees and right now we are knocking willow cuttings into the ground to extend the range of coloured willow and dogwood around the place. Last Sunday was our first event of the season; Willowcraft for Gardens with Sian Hill, a great introduction into weaving trellises and obelisks for training up sweet peas, beans and other climbers. Hopefully she will be back to do a basket-weaving course soon. Other events to follow will be the popular Forage Cook and Dine on Sunday 7th April with Rachel Lambert, and a Dawn Chorus Birdwatch walk with bird expert Martin Rule on Saturday 20th April, followed by a legendary home-produced Cotna breakfast – free range eggs, sourdough bread and other such delights! If you would like to book on any of these or future events please keep an eye out for our posters around the village or have a look at our website, mail us or give us a call.