Growing winter crops with summer sun

Ben Raskin - 04 June 2012

One perk of my job is getting to visit some of the most innovative growers in the UK. This was very evident on our recent Farmer and Grower Board away days in Cumbria from which I have just returned.

Horticulture has historically tended to occupy the best land near to centres of population. In more recent decades new entrants into growing have been unable to compete with increasing demand for land (for instance from housing and pony paddocks). As a result growers often have to take advantage of more marginal land.

One of the farms we visited, Eva's Organic is in just such position. Mike and Debbie Simpson are growing some fantastic crops in tunnels on grade 4 land at Low Luckens farm. They have tried growing outdoors at this site but the climate and soil are such that this is only feasible in a perfect year, and we all know there haven't been many of those recently. Instead they focus on protected crops and through a variety of circumstances on the farm are looking at a novel way of increasing output from their tunnels.

The farm is installing a small anaerobic digestor which will be fed by manure and silage. Most of the energy will go to support the farm and education on site, but the heat from the Combined Heat and Power (CHP) unit will be piped across the yard to raise the temperature of the tunnels by a few degrees. This should ensure a longer season and in particular means that they hope to keep salad crops growing through the winter to feed into their box scheme. Mike is also looking at installing some LED lighting in one of the tunnels since short days and low light levels are also a major limiting factor for them over the winter. Effectively they are harvesting the energy from sunlight in the summer period to be used to grow crops in the winter.

I am writing a wider article on some of other farms we visited for the next Organic Farming Magazine.

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