Here we have the second instalment in Liberty Nimmo's farming dairy. If you have yet to read February's article, I would encourage you to do so. Liberty is an old friend of mine, but that is not the reason. Farming is a very under-appreciated vocation, and this small insight helps one remember the trials and tribulations that go into such an essential part of our economy. Liberty delivers this message firmly with heaps of charm, which is no surprise to anyone who has met her.
The Roman calendar began with March as the first month – named after the Roman god Mars, born in March no less – this was the month the Romans returned to war after winter. Despite assuring my good friend Charlie that this monthly feature wouldn't become some sort of a posthumous weather commentary bemoaning what the gods have or haven't showered upon us, I, too, feel like we have returned to war after winter. March has been one of the wettest Marchs on record, and this followed one of the driest Februarys on record: there've been soggy sheep, sloppy boots, vegetables boshed about in the wind, and not forgetting a wet dog. Another month reminding us of the extremes of Climate Change.
One of the (many) perversities of growing vegetables is that the excitement felt when seeing the little green heads first poke their heads above the parapet is then swiftly followed by a need for things to slow down for fear of the new plants becoming pot-bound – one day it's too cold to plant out, the next it's too wet, 'will the mice get them?' I bellow. This is all a game of timing, of chances and risks – there is no formula. Our 'plans' made over winter soon become a murky ideal from the past. In reality, we are at the mercy of Mars.
March marks the vernal equinox, that magical moment where everything is perfectly balanced and day and night are of equal length. Persephone returns from the underworld, and Demeter, to celebrate, conjures spring, bringing life back into the Earth. The clocks lurch forward and 7.30pm becomes the new 6.30pm (blissfully, for the next 6 months, the clock in my car will nearly tell the correct time as I no longer need to subtract 1 hour and 3 minutes to calculate the time of day). With the light, joy and vitality return and this galvanises the excitement of the new growing season.
The polytunnel has been producing an abundance of spinach and chard, rocket, turnips, salad and kales, which, thankfully, have replaced the winter cabbage diet. Vegetables change flavour over the winter, and the richness and depth have returned. This is in part due to the light and warmth but mostly due to the soil biology really starting to get going. We spent a morning with the microscope and witnessed the chaos that reigns at 400 x magnification. Cells were dividing, arthropods strutting, bacteria whizzing, fungal strands which looked like Ladders, nematodes slithering like Snakes in this microscopic game of Snakes and Ladders and amoeba blobbing about. All of these contribute to a diverse but balanced healthy soil, which means healthy plants and nutrient-rich vegetables, which in turn contributes to a healthy gut for us. Everything is interconnected.
Meanwhile, in the Lindo Wing, little Morris the calf was born to a very proud mum, Buttercup. He is now skipping about with legs like Bambi and a helicopter tail whirling around, full of a childish and perfect naïve joy for life. Unfortunately, the other heifer lost her calf during birth - a very sad reminder of the realities of farming and of how close in the balance life and death are during birth. Two perfect sets of twin lambs have been born today – the first time mothers awarded Gold Stars as they miraculously seem to know exactly what to do. The intelligence and intuition of these animals is forever humbling and beautiful.
Earlier in the month, Lydia and I gave a talk to 100 farmers about the diversification of farming. For small farms, with the movement away from the current subsidies and the considerable uncertainty around what a future system looks like, prioritising soil health on the farm and spreading our bets across a number of different enterprises feels the most secure way to plan for the future. Within this system, if we can sell all that the farm produces to our local community, we may hope to improve overall human health and offer a broader understanding of why producing local food in a regenerative system is so important for us and the environment.
The Handy family have been farming a 330-acre mixed farm at Hampen for over 220 years. Clive and Lydia's aim for Lower Hampen Farm is to provide an environment where nature is allowed to flourish and their holistic, regenerative approach aims to build soil health to benefit livestock, plants and wildlife whilst creating a circular, financially viable system.
Liberty Nimmo joined Clive and Lydia and in 2022, together they created 'The Three Turnips' market garden and pop-up shop. The veg box scheme provides the local community with a year-round supply of seasonal, nutrient dense vegetables grown in a Regenerative way using no-dig principals. The Saturday pop-up shop has become a hub for selling all produce from the farm including seasonal homegrown vegetables and fruit, certified Pasture Fed meat, heritage wheat flour and bread, charcoal, honey, wool, jams and preserves.
Their homegrown and handmade produce is available from the pop-up farm shop “The Three Turnips” on Saturdays 10 am–4 pm in the lean-to shed at the Grain Store at Lower Hampden Farm, Andoversford, Cheltenham, Glos GL54 4JJ