Fern Verrow Vegetables
WHAT IS BIODYNAMIC FARMING? It is a form of agriculture based on a series of lectures given by Rudolf Steiner in the 1920´s, in which he responded to questions about the diminishing fertility and vitality of crops and stock, noticed by some farmers at the time. It includes the principle that the farm is seen ideally as a self-contained organism, taking care of the health and vitality of soil, crops, stock and farmer! Thus creating a virtuous cycle. This approach was later to become the foundation for organic farming, it also includes the use of lunar and planetary rhythms, biodynamic compost and spray preparations.
WHY DO WE FARM BIODYNAMICALLY ?
We believe using biodynamic methods in our farming produces wonderful food. The philosophy enables us to always find inspiration and faith within the work that we do. We are always learning.
FERN VERROW is run and owned by Jane Scotter and Harry Astley and is a certified biodynamic and organic smallholding 4 miles east of the Black Mountains on the Welsh – Herefordshire border, and approximately 700 feet above sea-level. We are currently farming 20.38 acres (8.25 hectares) this consists of 10 acres of vegetable production, 7 acres permanent pasture, and the remaining land is fruit, flowers, herbs, buildings, woodland and hedgerows.
GEOLOGY predominantly Devonian old red sandstone with some Silurian and Ordovician deposits. Drift deposits result from the glacial history of the area and occur as sand and gravel, till or boulder clay.
SOIL TYPE high silt content, with some clay, silica and iron oxide.
Fern Verrow is inspected annually by Demeter, who certifies both the biodynamic and organic status of the farm.
BIODYNAMIC CERTIFICATION grassland, hay, silage, beef, lamb,all vegetables, flowers, herbs, top and soft fruit
ORGANIC CERTIFICATION pork, poultry and eggs, bees and honey (the grain fed to the poultry and pigs is not produced at Fern Verrow but is organic and produced by a friend in the next parish, hence their certification is organic). Therefore we are certified with Demeter, but only as organic for the above.
We sell all our produce direct to the consumer at Spa Terminus in Bermondsey every Saturday from 9am-3pm(see map on homepage). We grow a wide range of seasonal vegetables. The aim is to provide staple foods as well as interesting, tasty varieties. (For example, 8 varieties of potato, which do not grow to regulation uniformity, and hence are very hard to find on supermarket shelves, but having tasted them ourselves, we are committed to try and grow them every year. We also grow standard varieties such as Desiree, because they are a great all-round potato. Our emphasis is taste (varieties that shine out in their cooking), freshness (we harvest within 24 hours of sale, with the exception of main crops such as onions, potatoes and winter squash), nutrition…we farm biodynamically and above all, true cooking and eating enjoyment.
Modern farming, including organic farming, is often driven towards specilisation and yield. We at Fern Verrow take the decision to prioritise both vitality and flavour, by choosing varieties and production methods, which enhance these qualities. We believe in feeding families.
Animal presence is integral to a biodynamic farm. They are part of the life cycle that constitutes the making up of the farm organism. The breeds of our animals are selected for suitability to our environment. Their inherent resilience and fertility, gives us the freedom to breed and raise animals free of the problems that most farmers on a larger scale than ourselves suffer from. The cows for instance are fed on home produced grass, hay and fresh vegetables only. We use none of the fattening supplements and cereals that many farmers rely on to finish them.
We have a small flock of Dorset ewes and lambs, some of which are later sold as meat at the market, but whose principle purpose is for grass management of our permanent pastures.
We also have a small herd of cows.
We raise mainly Tamworth crossed with Berkshire and Saddleback pigs, throughout the year. And feed them on Organic bought in grain and home grown vegetables. We also use the pigs for clearing fields before spring cultivation. They are very much in their natural habitat of rooting and digging for roots and hopefully weeds. This enables us to not rely on ploughing every field prior to cultivation, as the pigs do a wonderful job of eating off any top growth and turning the soil over and opening it up.
We have chickens both for eggs and meat. Geese, Turkeys and Ducks are also raised at Fern Verrow. They too are great contributors to the farm both in themselves and the fertility they produce.
All the manure produced by our animals is composted, along with straw that has been used for their bedding. This is mixed together with various plant matter including vegetable trimmings, leaf mould and soil. Biodynamic compost preparations are applied frequently. Growing vegetables needs a lot of manure; we require more than we can produce. Again this is from Jon Christopher, a fellow organic local farmer. He also supplies us with straw.
During the growing season (March-October) we employ up to 4 farm workers, some of these people have had experience in growing food, and some not. Some want to one day run their own farm.
We grow all our vegetables from seed. The majority are sown into module trays, filled with a 50/50 mixture of our own produced potting compost and some organic bought in. These are raised and cared for in a covered area until they are ready to be planted outside.
Cultivated land is prepared into raised beds, just over a metre in width. We grow three rows within each bed. Some crops are sown directly into the soil with a tractor mounted device which allows for different spacing suitable to particular plant growth. We use machinery and tractor-driven implements as much as possible, for preparing the ground prior to planting or sowing seeds. Our machinery is rather antiquated, for a number of reasons; the cost being one of them, but the lighter 1950´s tractors we find more suited to our scale and farming practice than any of the large modern tack used on big farms. Weeds in our beds are our greatest hindrance, as for most organic growers, we have a couple of implements that help in different conditions, however if the land is very wet we cannot and do not want to use machines as this has a long term negative effect on the soil and plants. During the season we would expect to spend at least 50% of our week hoeing out weeds or pulling them by hand.
The water at Fern Verrow is from our spring and we use it to irrigate our plants when necessary.