29th August Farm Day

Well its the last farm day of the summer, but less of that “where has summer gone” attitude and more about the veg…

Massive cabbage mate

Massive January King cabbage mate

Team leek power through the weeds

Team leek power through the weeds

Today it was high time to give the cabbages and leeks a weed. Both crops were definately still there, it’s just that the weeds were definately there as well. But not for long!

We do complain about weeds on here, I mean come on, on this rich fen soil the crops grow extremely well but the weeds also shoot up like they have a rocket under their roots. Although I would rather eat crops than weeds in most cases (though have to admit I still prefer fat hen to swiss chard) I do admit that weeds also have their uses: as habitat and a foodsource available throughout the season for insect pollinators and natural enemies of crop pests. We saw this in practice on the redshank that we were pulling out of the cabbage and leek fields today.


Honeybees feeding on redshank flowers


Hoverflies hanging out on redshank

The redshank we were pulling up was buzzing with honeybees from our hives. Our bees pollinate our apples, plums and broad beans earlier in the year but its great for them to have a foodsource at this time in the season as they are getting together the last of their honey stocks to last them over the winter. Also spotted some hoverflies enjoying the redshank. These guys are pollinators and predators, especially of aphids, so thats good for our crops. So I almost feel bad that we pulled up all these weeds today as clearly farm insects are putting them to good use, wait what am I saying. There’s plenty more weeds to replace those we pulled up and I want to eat savoy cabbage later.

And we have no idea what this beetle is up to but they were using the weeds as cover as well. Can you ID him? Picture is blurry as she was a fast mover! I also posted on iSpot so hopefully we will get an ID soon. Edit: Thanks to speedy ID skills from Ellie and iSpot, I now know this fella is a Devil’s Coach Horse beetle, wow! Eats worms, woodlice and other insects.

Mystery beetle

Mystery beetle

We discussed giving these weedy fields a rest and putting down a grass clover ley to get on top of the weeds. We would create a stale seedbed with cultivations, then broadcast ryegrass and clover seed to create a thick cover and keep this in the field for a number of years if necessary. This is a good organic technique that takes time, but hopefully little effort, to reduce the weed burden in fields. In theory (theory is a wonderful thing isn’t it) the ley would outcompete annual weeds, such as redshank, and reduce the amount or vitality of weed plants and therefore reduce the number of annual weed seeds returned to the soil each year the ley was in place. Also, in the soil under the ley the weed seeds that were already in the seedbank would gradually die, as some seeds only have a certain lifespan. I just looked up* how long redshank seeds last in the soil and its estimated that seeds can remain alive for 45 years… However, each year on average 24% of the the total amount of the redshank seeds in the soil would die*, so if we had a grass clover ley in place for just two years that would near as halve the redshank seedbank which is a thumbs up in my book.  In addition the clover would fix nitrogen and build up the fertility level of the field for future veg crops.

*I used this book.