On a beautiful sunny day the week before Easter a group of twelve from the North East Region met at the Sheffield Organic Growers (SOG) site on the edge of Sheffield for a regional gathering organised by RHC Jane Thurlow who sent us this report.
There were six hosts present, ranging from the very experienced with over 25 years under their belt to the newly signed-up yet to host. Three WWOOFERS also joined the gathering. We had a very interesting introduction to the project from Nick, the SOG host, and then a tour of the site, followed by a bring-and-share lunch and discussion. A few stayed on to help Nick do some actual work!
The land was bought from a local farmer (who still has traditionally farmed arable crops on adjoining land) then divided into four plots and an extensive young orchard. Nick has one quarter and is the only WWOOF host on site, though the others take volunteers from elsewhere. Two box schemes are run from the site – Nick trades as Sheffield Organic Growers, as shown on the hessian carriers that hold the veg bags.
The whole site is Soil Association registered and one of the partners has biodynamic registration as well. Tools and facilities are shared between the four growers.
Nick was keen to show us some of his more useful tools such as the broadfork (see photo) used to break up the soil without inverting it, causing damage to worms and other soil dwellers. The wheelhoe also looked a very useful piece of kit for large areas. To establish lines at the correct spacing for the hoe, Nick uses a wide rake with small pieces of tubing over the tines where he wants the rows. Drawn along the ground he can use it to make four drills at a time with perfect spacing.
After only three years as a WWOOF host Nick has made fantastic progress in developing his growing operation with each year more and more veg from the plot able to go into the veg bags.
It has not all been plain sailing though! Lines of polypropylene ground cover have been laid to suppress weed growth under a new electric fence – essential to keep the badgers off the plums, squashes and other veg. Hares apparently sometimes dig up the seedbed, and some areas need rabbit fencing.
It’s a beautiful place to grow veg and must be a convenient place to WWOOF being so close to some northern cities. You might want to go to their Open Day in July or Apple Day in the autumn.
Incidentally, if any host in the region wants to volunteer their place as a venue for a future gathering, remember that the sun ALWAYS shines when we get together (the last meeting on 31st October was similarly sunny and warm)…