May At The Three Turnips By Liberty Nimmo
8th June 2023
We have Liberty back to tell us all about the happenings of May at The Three Turnips. 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.
May; frothy, shaving foam like hawthorn sprayed everywhere; striping the hedgerows, illuminating fields and filling the air with that thick, heady scent. The hawthorn at the top of the Three Turnips barely had a chance to flower – every time I passed, I’d munch another bunch of flower heads or pick a handful for tea, the unpollinated pink ones tasting sweet and nutty and being the perfect boost to energy levels pre-planting seedlings. I confess that I’m not sure I abided by the rule of ‘pick a third, leave two-thirds’ for that particular plant.
I don the factor 50 suncream and peel back the winter layers, despite the bitter North Easterly wind, whilst admiring the glorious horse chestnuts and their resplendent flowers that line the drive down to the farm. The Farmer Tan begins first with the hands and face, then the neck ‘V’ before stretching up my arms until, in a month or so’s time when finally legs are revealed, and my body becomes an eccentric patchwork of stripes and lines.
The first of May is the mid-point between the Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice; Beltane, the fire festival for growth, optimism and fertility, is celebrated. My beloved vegetables have mirrored all this so perfectly. They are now optimistic, undeterred by a grey day, they grow strongly and virulently, with flowers being pollinated – blink and they’re bigger, blink and a pea or bean or turnip or beetroot or radish comes forth as we are now back to harvesting 12 different crops a week. The tomatoes, squash, sweetcorn, cucumbers, courgettes and peppers have all been lovingly placed in their final resting beds for the summer and are beginning to get their toes into the ground, growing at rates beyond belief; if I didn’t know better, I’d think it was an optical illusion.
Like April, May disappeared in a puff of smoke with sowing, transplanting and now harvesting filling the time. My evenings have been replaced with the ritualistic watering and checking on plants amid the swirls and screeches of the Swifts and gentle dives of the Swallows and sunsets to rival any paradise getaway. Time is spent opening and closing polytunnels, pondering moisture levels, air flow and warmth and hoping steadfastly that the many months of planning will come to fruition – literally.
It feels like the companion planting is really coming into its own this year with the veg – I have over 25 different crops in the polytunnel including 6 different types of herbs, all of which play their part in helping to promote diversity, deter pests and share information between plant families. Diversity is the key in these holistic farming systems and I do think it is this which contributes to the taste and productivity of the market garden. As a result, the soil is awash with worms and it’s almost impossible to plant something out without accidentally slaying one of our treasured soil building creatures - my second confession of this feature.
May is the month of the hedgerow; the cow parsley looks glorious with its head bobbing away in the wind. Traditionally used to rid coughs, colds and stomach complaints it also has the common name ‘mother die’ a name given to deter children from mistakenly picking the deadly hemlock, lest their mother might die – ah, the wisdom of old. The first of the early orchids have been and gone in a flash, as have the beloved coswlips which carpet banks along some of the most beautiful local walks.
Elsewhere on the farm, Countryfile spent just under a week filming for an episode which aired at 6pm on Sunday 6th June, haylage has been cut and the sheep had their winter jackets unbuckled, adding to Lydia’s Arsenal of wool for spinning and dyeing and blanket making.
Things are now in motion for the summer; gentle humming bumble bees, busy honey bees, evening hedgehogs, grass snakes, insects galore and miraculous abundance – ‘All things seem possible in May’ – so they say, and I couldn’t agree more.
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.
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