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December 13 they were picking on me


2015
12.14

We took three nights in Budapest to try and lighten my mood. We were immersed in holocaust stories round the Jewish Quarter, followed by a walking tour the next day that took in the 45 years of occupation after the Soviets liberated Hungary in 1945.
Then on the way home they picked on me. Tight security in these troubled times should be very comforting, but if I were a security officer I would be their least likely suspect. I was wearing a thermal vest and close-fitting micro-fleece, under which, being dead skinny it would be impossible to conceal anything. Indication I was to remove my zipped top. Looking round no-one else had to take off their jumpers, but I was effectively stood there in my underwear! This exposed my money belt. Remove that. And your shoes. Sometimes this is mandatory, but no-one else was taking off theirs. Put your passport in that tray, your money belt in another, coat another, day bag, regulatory carry-on case another, so effectively I had five trays to glue my eyes on. Gathering my belongings on the other side, shoeless and in my underwear, I realised the case was missing. Another officer had commandeered that for swabbing/searching.
Travelling Ryanair cattle class we queue longer than you would believe necessary in a concrete hangar, herded in metal cages. It was decreed as is usually so, that some cases needed to go in the hold, but instead of having a cut-off point in the queue, they went along willy-nilly and you have guessed it, picked mine, rather than hers behind.
Back at Stansted, I had pre-paid Premier Inn stay and park, but when we reached the parking barrier, the ticket machine said it wanted £80, so that needed sorting.
Finally driving through Boston in the pickup truck, now 2.30 am, John driving was pulled over by police. After all, if you are driving through Boston at that time of night you have either been drinking or are up to no good. I wanted to tell the policeman-barely-old-enough-himself-to-drive, that he would be better off looking for thieves in Stickford, but knew it would only make the situation worse. A negative breath test and I was boxing squash in the barn five hours later.
Pam

 

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December 2 what a way to farm


2015
12.04

 

If I were the Queen, I would officially declare this to be my annus horribilis. I generally do not let this blog encroach on what is going on in my personal life, but suffice to say Poppy, the Strawberry Fields babe has been the best thing to come out of 2015. The rest has revolved round hospital visiting times and the passing of elderly relatives and all that involves. Usually the farm is my constant, what keeps me grounded in times of crises, but now it seems that is at threat too.
First it was the theft of the tractor and from the workshop. We still await settlement of the sundry items they helped themselves to while the tractor replacement, though settled, has yet to appear so we can get on with tunnel work. So it was shock when in the space of two months, we were the victims of crime again. It was my birthday, a big one I didn’t care to celebrate and just as well really, and as such the boys had said my services were not required in the leek field that frosty morning. My mobile rang, I was just swearing at the photo machine in Asda at the time. Clyde. The netting that has been covering the emerging broad beans for less than a week had been stolen. The boys followed the trail of blue pegs across four fields, four stiles and a foot bridge to where a vehicle had backed up, tyre tracks still evident in Stickney Picnic Area. But their detective work was in vain, without police to pick up the baton. The stuff weighed about 150kg for goodness sake, more probably as it was raining. For what? The issue of another crime number and another crime goes unsolved. We clear up the electric fencing, the fencing unit. Or else a thief might take that too. What a way to farm! Like the weather, I have been in the doldrums, wallowing in my misery, but in the end you have to get over it, there is no choice.
While I have given you a break from talking about the weather, there have been mornings when the cold store feels warmer than outdoors and nights spent worrying about potential storm damage to the tunnels and the half built barn, that and listening to the ten o’clock news isn’t conducive to sleep.
Gary came yesterday to advise and help erect a Little Owl box, representing a tiny positive ray of hope.
Pam, Clyde and Dicken and the tail end of Strawberry Fields team 2015

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November 8 days that will never end


2015
11.09

When the fog clings round, it feels primeval.  However far you go back in fen history, be it King John losing his jewels in the Wash, or to the time Boston Stump was founded on the prosperity from wool, more recently the Slodgers decoying ducks & fishing for eels pre-drainage or back further to the Bronze-age people at Flag Fen, it would have been the same.  Andriej and I cut parsley, muffled voices the only indication Dicken and Vasily are on their rounds of the fennel, leeks and celery.

Then it rained.   November 5 is apparently the optimum date for sowing broad beans, so we thanked our lucky stars we hadn’t waited.  I must be getting old.  I used to find battling with the elements to harvest our vegetables, fun, a challenge.  Now those sort of days never seem to end.

They came, thundered by disturbing our peace, trailer after trailer for three days, cut their maize to fuel the bio-digesters, left their mud on the road and went.  What soil that didn’t blow away in the spring, is now on Scarborough Bank.   Since, every vehicle has passed exaggeratingly slow, acting for all the world as if this was OUR doing.

We reported hare coursers on fields opposite, but saw no sign of a wildlife crime officer.  Presumably due to shortage of funding again.

We took two highly commended awards at the Select Lincolnshire 2015-16 awards ceremony recently – Grower of the Year (as Dicken says, second best in the County!)  and Wholesaler of the Year.

Pam, Clyde and Dicken & the Strawberry Fields back up team

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October 25 a trying week


2015
10.26

A trying week. We have done the trying and Andriej has been very trying. Read on!
It was all systems go at the beginning of the week to get ahead of Wednesday’s forecast rain, hoeing by tractor and the gang with long hoes, broadcasting green manures up-to-date.
I was sat at the kitchen table – not a bad place to be I should add, with the rain lashing on the window – entertaining the inspector with complaints registers, seed derogations, contractors’ machinery wash-down records and whatever grabs the Soil Association, when Clyde, the farm’s designated first aider burst in. Andriej had cut himself, again. Andriej cutting himself is a boringly regular occurrence. Despite the boys’ constant advice to hold the leek/celery further away from his hand, “I am professional” he will say, when quite clearly this is not the case and he continues to slash into mid-way and cut himself. A couple of hours earlier he had been complaining he couldn’t smile as his cat had scratched his lip, you know what some men are like, so you can imagine the use he was the rest of the week, acting for all the world as if this was someone else’s fault but his own. Andriej embraces this strange blame culture we have in this country. I never knew anyone who would give twenty minutes of (our time) talking about his recent accident in the last three years to an 0843 number – until I met Andriej that is.
After all attempts to persevere with a new delivery of little gem bags with more discarded than actually used, I don’t know much Lithuanian, but I have picked up a fair few four letter words, we had to reject the consignment. Then our lettuce plant raiser announced a 2500 minimum seeding run, which effectively means we won’t have so much variety to offer to our customers. For instance, whereas we would have three varieties of early lettuce in the tunnel, now we will have to reduce to two. Goodbye Salanova lettuce of which we would struggle to sell more than 1000 a week.
Pam, Clyde, Dicken and Strawberry Fields’ team 2015

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18 October The Hat Trick


2015
10.19

The Welsummer hen is broody, violets are out on Rudy, our old lurcher’s, grave and primroses in the garden, while it is almost too dark to see to cut lettuces when we drive to the field at 7.30 am. To wear Marigolds or not, that is the question? Whether ‘tis nobler to suffer… Too tight and they do nothing (to combat the chilled nip to the digits), too loose and YOU can’t do anything.
The mission this week was to lift/bring in the remaining squashes to the frost-free safety of the drier, though it did look like mission impossible when the week began mizzly. I nab the best job on the farm, an age privilege I tell them, boxing up the squashes. Now the crop has reached 20 degrees, a store air temperature of 25, it is warmer than the house! After not a particularly good year for squashes, we do question the financial wisdom of some of the varieties. We already shed Butternuts, which sometimes ripened, sometimes did not this far north, but the smaller incidentals, like rolet, sweet dumpling, jack-be-little, yield a fraction of other varieties and use the same area of land. Also to consider is seed cost per 1000 when I am crop planning this year, which like wine, can vary substantially. My mixed squash boxes would be all the poorer for it, alas.
Clyde and Dicken have been concentrating on broadcasting rye and vetch on any bare land to tuck it up in a protective blanket over winter and the overwintered onion sets were drilled in perfect conditions.
Harvesting sweet corn in Friday morning’s early gloom, Clyde called out “someone has switched on the light” and sure enough, at 8 a.m. the sun broke through. The crop stands 6’ high and in the maize maze, the only time we catch sight of each other is at the packing station at row’s end. But it will soon be time to leave the crop to the pheasants, and to rats that come up out the dykes, less romantic but that is the reality, and to the under sown clover that is now pushing up well.
Helen, my angel who does for us once a week, must think I have an eventful life. Hardly a week goes by that some catastrophe or other hasn’t befallen. On this occasion we were driving to the Kinema in the new to me anyway pickup to see Suffragette when not one but three deer ran out in front, three cars and they chose mine. The pickup was very sad and I am sorry to say, the deer more so. I had cracked a triple-yolk egg for my lunch, if you have ever seen such a thing and then we heard we had been short-listed again for Select Lincolnshire Grower of the Year, is it really possible we could make it a hat trick?

News of the burglary? Pigs might fly and there are fairies at the bottom of the garden

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11 October racing towards the end of the lettuce season


2015
10.12

ANNOUNCEMENT: birth of Strawberry Fields’ baby: To Bryony and Graeme a girl, Poppy Olivia on Tuesday Oct 6th, making an unexpectedly early appearance, 6lb 5 oz.
We are racing towards the end of the lettuce season and meanwhile bins of squash are lead into the drier two x two. The most frost vulnerable first, followed by red Kuri, green Hokkaido and Bon Bons, Blue Ballet, stripy pyjamas, green acorns and Table Golds, Harlequin, the smaller delicata , the Rolet or little gem squash. Completing the squash harvest is number one on the priority list this coming week, before lifting beetroot in earnest, broadcasting winter green manures, drilling the overwintered onion sets, so much to do, so little time!
Staffing hit another crisis when we made the decision to make a stand on these alcoholic benders that were becoming more and more frequent, the “I am so stupid” texts and we let that particular staff member go. It does not sound great if I were to say an alcoholic was Strawberry Fields’ best worker, but he has left a big hole in our work force. We learnt from very early on he was not to be relied on, but when I issued the ultimatum, after one too many warnings, I wondered if we were cutting our nose off to spite our face. And I still feel guilty for not being able to help him.
The agency sent us Tomas, a young 19 year-old to replace a cutter with two-experience on the farm, who promptly went on to pull up the spearmint as well as the weeds in the herb beds. You have to quite spell it out! With one down, it means more work for the rest of us and a frantic week it was. Vasily set off yesterday on the Lithuanian coach to accompany his family here, so this week promises to be more of the same.
Clyde has had a frightful cold with accompanying sore throat, Andriej’s advice for which was to toast some salt in a pan, wrap it in a cloth and put it round his neck. Clyde favoured Arlandas’ remedy though, an Eastern European team member from days gone by – drink black tea with honey, 100mls vodka before bed and wear socks to sleep in!

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October 4 The fall out


2015
10.05

 

Life after the break in. I want my little red tractor back, but as each day goes by without the phone call to say it has been picked up on a border scan, we can only assume it long gone. 80 hours on the clock, it was our first tractor bought brand new, we won’t afford another like it, even if the NFU insurance are kind to us. The police came three days after the event, the forensics on day 4. It isn’t their fault, they need more funding. We ruled out that is was someone who had worked for us, they wouldn’t have tried to remove the tin off the side of the barn into the giant egg box, when there was a window round the back, but the suggestion it was someone we know, doesn’t sit easy and worse when suggestions are made, fingers of blame pointed. I don’t draw the blinds at night, nor sleep easy in my bed. How could we not have heard them….?
With that and this glorious window in the weather, Dicken could have chosen a better week to have off from Clyde’s and my point of view. The lettuce quality has remained good in ideal conditions, but there won’t be many more Saturday mornings in the lettuce field, the laying hens were as reluctant to rise as I yesterday morning. We planted out a batch of spring onions to overwinter, lifted marrows, made a start on the squash harvest and brought in a couple of bins of beetroot to sell as loose, though the tops are still luxuriously leafy for bunched too.
Aivaras made me a back washer from the ties around our bales of beetroot/ leek nets. It put a much needed smile back on my face and must have taken hours. You can tell he is a Lithuanian trawler man by trade – view photo on twitter: @organic_pam
We go into the new week of pay increases, having shed a seasonal worker now planting is done and weeding almost.
Pam, Clyde, Dicken, Andriej and the remaining Strawberry Fields 2015 team

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September 27 You work your socks off


2015
09.27

 

I intended that this week’s blog be far more upbeat, but the farm was “done over” on Friday night whilst we slept in our beds.  You work your socks off, only for someone to come and help themselves.  You pay all your taxes, but still (Sunday) the police have not been near.  The McKormick horticultural tractor for the tunnels has gone with only 80 hours on the clock, the fact it is data tagged our only hope.  They removed the workshop window to take what they could carry.  They even cut through the new padlock on the pump house with its 10 yr. guarantee and a lot of use that was.

I was going to tell you that the courgettes were finished, that’s all folks, the summer gone with the swallows and that Dicken had quickly got out the flail before we changed our minds.   About the flocks of goldfinches feeding on all the teasles round Strawberry Fields dyke sides.  That with the autumn equinox we began picking selectively the largest of the celeriac in the field and cutting cavolo nero.  How David had combined our rye, ripe at last for this winter’s green manure seed, in return for a box of our vegetables to take home to impress his Scottish relatives at Christmas.

I intended to paint a picture for you of the 36 mm of rain we had in a day, the day before Colin came back with his JCB to remove and rectify the electrician’s cable error.  (The thieves had a go at the discarded reel, but were defeated).  Then of how one week’s rain became an Indian summer the next.   Days that remind me why I do what I do, until this incident that is.  In perfect conditions the gang hoed lettuce, parsley on the lay down weeder, not a bad way to spend a sunny Friday afternoon.  Luda finds the position not comfortable in the area in which she is well endowed, but put up with it rather than the alternative, hand-weeding spring onions.  Saturday we had had the first frost of the season, ice in the puddles when we got to the lettuce field, but a small price to pay for glorious days like this.

I know, you have to move on, not let the b……rs get you down, so here is just one spark of humour to the whole sorry tale, before I have you wallowing in my well of self-pity too:

John had only been repairing for the second time a strimmer his Dad bought on-line, which he had declared Chinese and a load of “c..p”, only that very day.  It was among the items in their PYO booty and good luck to them with that!

Pam, Clyde and Dicken and the Strawberry Fields 2015 team

 

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September 13 The Homeless Leprechaun


2015
09.14

September can be my favourite month of the year if only we could have strings of days like this. The sweet corn, the colour of butter from summer grass is ripe for the picking and the squashes enjoy the sunshine. We cut them to order from the field until the haulms die back, their skins harden and frost threatens. The new beds are producing prolifically, herbs by the bunch and bundle, poetic licence for it sounds more romantic than the reality, by the pre-pack bag or kg – of oregano, thyme, pepper, spearmint, lovage, sage, tarragon. Potting up rosemary by the 1000 came to a full stop, until Dicken put out an SOS on social media for more pots.*
Every time we go to reduce the workforce, the weeds are becoming less, not quite time to lift squashes and beetroot yet etc, some staffing crisis or other happens. This week it was he-who-has-a-£800-fine to find, which you would think would keep him grounded, but no, he had one of his “shall I go to work today?” moments, and obviously the answer was “no, I shan’t”.
I drove into the yard to find a haulier here and a man with folded arms, in high vis jacket and tie. “You look official” says I. “I AM FROM THE HSE” (Health and safety Executive) says he. Whoops! Fortunately his eye was on the haulier and not me.
We had Toby, Leanne’s Paterdale, literally roped in this week. The little chap with cord attached, swam through the culvert to bring the suction hose for the new pump through. And he loved it!
What did we do before the advent of mobile phones? Run about waving at tractors in fields I suppose. Dicken was without one for a day, the end of the world as he knew it without Facebook.
After a sort-out of my clothes drawer, I accumulated a new set of work clothes and thought I was looking particularly smart to begin the week, until Clyde told me, that is, that I looked like a homeless leprechaun!
Pam, Clyde, Dicken and Strawberry Fields team of ‘15

*Thanks  to Ricky Starrs Florist, Boston

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September 6 Strictly, berserk sales and deflated balloons


2015
09.07

 

After a short Balkan interlude, I was back in the fields of Lincolnshire where autumn had arrived. The full moon had started to deflate like a balloon when the party is over. After temperatures of 38 degrees, concealing the suntan under waterproofs and multi-layers was a shock to the system and the courgettes had come out on strike in protest. By 8.30, all the fowl were a-bed and it was almost too dark to see to make the houses secure from Mr. Fox overnight. And Strictly was back on the telly.
Autumn’s mellow fruitfulness brings on a bounty of new crops to coincide with the new school term when sales go berserk, leeks, sweet corn, more of a selection of squashes, beetroot now by the net and the superfood, kale.
In nine days down the Danube and five countries, we have seen so much. Never was there a more poignant time to be In Hungary and similar scenes were witnessed at Belgrade railway station with correspondents, Nick Thorpe, Martin Bell and John Simpson there with us to make sense of it. We saw walls riddled with holes in Croatia from the Balkan conflict and ate in houses of the locals, we saw shelled buildings in Serbia and visited Tito’s memorial. Bulgaria and Romania’s EEC entry was evident in the huge fields of wheat, sunflowers and maize (for animal feed rather than bio digesters) and the large tractors and tackle they afforded. We visited a monastery, the supposed burial site of Vlad the Impaler, upon whom Dracula was based and a tour of the Houses of Parliament laid bare the excesses of Ceausescu’s dictatorship, though shopping and dining in Bucharest, it was hard to believe this only ended in 1989.
The farm was still here when I got back, the business didn’t fall apart in my absence left in Clyde and Dickens’ capable hands and I return refreshed. Andriej is back from Lithuania bearing gifts of blueberry jam and pork he smoked himself, so with five still on the agency pay role we greet September’s work load.
Pam, Clyde, Dicken and the Strawberry Fields’ team