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Organic September with Hartley's Kate Collyns

Grown Green @ Hartley Farm is a triple award-winning organic market garden, based right next door to us at lifework. Set up by Kate Collyns in 2010 following a two-year Soil Association Horticultural Apprenticeship, vegetables, herbs, salads and flowers are grown following strict organic standards in polytunnels, herb beds and two fields here on the farm. As good neighbours, we lend a hand when Kate needs extra help in her fields. Next Thursday 14 September we'll be weeding round the leeks, and we encourage members to join us for a break from their screen!

This month, Organic September, is a time when the Soil Association focuses all attention on the emissions from fossil-fuel based nitrogen fertilisers used in intensive farming, which contribute to the climate emergency. We asked our organic expert Kate for some tips and advice on organic growing as we head into Autumn:

1. You've officially been organic certified for two years now, but you've been using organic farming pratices for over a decade. What convinced you that organic farming was the best option?

I did a 2-yr apprenticeship (2008-2010) in organic horticulture before starting Grown Green in 2011, because I was most worried about the carbon footprint of conventional farming. Relying on artificial fertilsers and pesticides uses a huge amount of fossil fuels, not to mention all the other impacts on soils, biodiversity, water pollution and so on. The more I learnt, the more answers organic farming seemed to offer - lower carbon footprints and greater self-sufficiency by relying on clovers and farm manures for fertility; greater biodiversity; better soil health and water quality.

2. Fossil fuel-based quick-fix nitrogen fertilisers are a huge contributor to the climate emergency. But there is good nitrogen too - what are your best nature-friendly fertilisers? See above! Clover is becoming widely used in conventional farming too as farmers see the benefits of using plants to pull nitrogen from the air and fix it in the soil. A quick-fix feed high in nitrogen is easy to make by cutting some nettles & adding to a bucket of rainwater, then leaving for a few weeks. A bit whiffy, but leafy plants love it! 3. Pest control is a challenge for organic farmers, who don't use pesticides. What are your top tips for keeping slugs and caterpillars at bay? We use a lot of enviromesh to keep rabbits, pigeons, deer and caterpillars off crops; a great help is also to encourage beneficial insects who will eat caterpillars and slugs. So let some brassicas flower to attract parasitic wasps that feed on cabbage whites; plant calendula and other flowers to attract hoverflies to eat aphid; encourage slug-eating birds, amphibians and ground beetles. 4. Seasonal eating helps the environment and tastes better. As we head into Autumn, what can we be planting in our gardens?

I'm planting salads for Autumn/Winter now, so lettuces, Oriental salad leaves, rocket and half-hardy herbs like coriander. Plus some chard and spinach; and we'll plant garlic cloves in October, which we'll harvest in late spring.

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