Autumn is probably as busy, if not more so, than Spring for us. We were very lucky to have avoided the early hard frosts which others have suffered and are still harvesting multiple trailers full of flowers each week. We have sown many thousands of seeds, have copious numbers of bulbs to plant and beds to clear and prepare for winter. Not to mention Christmas preparation is really beginning to ramp up. Read on to find out more about what we get up to at this time of year.
The field last week, just after a light frost
We sow a lot of hardy annuals (and a few slightly less hardy ones) which we want to get planted as soon as possible. Our favourites to sow now are larkspur, molucella, cynoglossum, orlaya, ammi majus, iceland poppies, clary sage, cress and scabious. We have sown huge numbers of annuals as well as a lot of perennials. Some of these won't germinate now as they require winter cold to germinate (stratification). A few we will sow direct, in the future we hope to do a lot more direct sowing, but unfortunately it can be hard in the UK to source seeds in large enough quantities to make this a viable option - especially in the pretty and more unusual varieties we have been going for.
Seedlings such as wallflowers, orlaya, linaria and phlox are destined to be grown undercover either in the polytunnel or under low tunnels outside. These should give us a nice early crop to compliment the tulips and daffodils.
Verbena bonariensis still putting on a good show
Ranunculus and anemones will all be going in the ground shortly as well. These will be pre-sprouted to get their roots going before they are planted and then tucked in under fleece to protect them from getting too cold. With around 600 still in the ground and another 1600 to plant we should have a truly spectacular show.
We have to 'flip' beds at this time of year. This means clearing out old crops and getting new ones in, or preparing them for winter. Part of the philospohy of regenerative farming and no-dig farming is not to leave soil uncovered for any length of time so we will do three things to ensure beds are covered all winter:
1) Planting out new crops: annuals, biennials and perennials are planted into weeded beds and mulched with compost. We get plants in the ground and get them growing as soon as possible to hold the soil together and get some leaf coverage. We plant closely and many beds will be covered in fleece to protect them further and warm the plants a little.
2) Green Manures: we are trialling three different green manures this winter, all of which can be sown as late as November. These will cover the soil, help prevent the soil from being washed away, prevent weeds from growing and when cut back these add organic matter to the soil. Its win - win -win.
3) Landscape fabric: Where the two previous tactics are not deployed we will simply mulch with compost then cover with landscape fabric (which we can use for many many years). The fabric will prevent the soil structure being destroyed by the rain, protect the soil life, prevent weed growth and warm up the soil for us in early spring ready for planting.
Perennials are every flower farmers friend. They are the lowest maintenance of the plant groups and this time of year we are weeding, mulching and ensuring they have enough water as they put on their autumn growth. We are leaving flower stems standing as the birds are enjoying the seed heads and insects like to overwinter in them.
We have a few more beds to create and this will bring the numbers up to nearly 3.5 km of flower beds - this may take a while!
Chrysanthemums are just starting, phlox, lavatera, malope, zinnia and alstroemeria are still really productive in the polytunnel. Thousands of seedlings sit on the benches waiting to be planted in the field.