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An organic gardener’s world - food and learning in Magdalen’s vegetable garden

Posted By: Magdalen, 22nd October
An organic gardener’s world - food and learning in Magdalen’s vegetable garden

Each year the Magdalen Farm vegetable garden provides over 5000 visitors with home grown organic fruit and vegetables - all produced here on the farm and meeting the Soil Association’s stringent guidelines. But our vegetable garden is far more than a provider of food, it’s also a hugely important part of the farm - for educational purposes as much as nutrition for our visitors.

Best of all, it’s great fun to visit and look after. So we caught up with Magdalen’s own organic kitchen gardener, Linzi, to find out more.

Tell us about the garden, how important is it to Magdalen?

The garden is at the heart of the farm. We’ve got two polytunnels and the patch is approximately two acres. It’s been here almost as long as me - we started it around 8-9 years ago and I’ve been here 10 years now since doing my horticulture course at Bicton College. The garden is important as both a source of food for the kitchen - we try to grow as much as we can on the farm - and for education. Children learn about where their food comes from and the importance of reducing food miles and sustainability. Almost all our garden visitors either come and have a tour, do volunteering work or just enjoy the food.

What do the children enjoy most?

It’s great to see them trying and enjoying something new. They do push themselves to be more adventurous - some of them will even try the sprouts. Many aren’t aware of where their food comes from or what it looks like, so, seeing them experiencing food in different forms is fun. They also leave with a real understanding that food takes time to grow so, one school might plant the runner beans, knowing that another school will come here and eat them a few weeks later. It’s what we call paying it forward.

What’s involved in meeting Soil Association standards?

We’re Soil Association registered, and there’s an inspection every year. There are a lot of organic standards that we have to abide by - they want to know about our organic seeds, the compost we use, our crop rotation and we have to tell them what we are planting and where. They even measure our harvests based on what we’ve planted to ensure that we haven’t bought in any additional non organic plants - not that we ever would! What’s more, we have to get rid of all the pests and diseases organically, using predetors and netting. Fortunately we are lucky as the snails and slugs seem to stay away from Magdalen!

What about your varieties? What are you planting and how do you source your seeds?

We plant a huge number, the garden is very productive and as we serve seasonal food we are always trying new varieties. This year we’ve enjoyed Tigerella tomatoes, they have a lovely flavour and as for the colour, they live up to their name! We’ve grown a squash plant called ‘big max’, the children love them as they are giant, they can reach up to 200 pounds. When cooked they are a semi-sweet flavour. Then there’s rainbow chard which is gorgeous and colourful. It’s actually three varieties of chard so it combines swiss chard which has that mineral taste, with the earthy sweetness of red chard, and the mild nutty flavour of golden chard. And no veg garden would be complete without beans, we grow runner beans (Lady Di) and three types of French beans.

Tigerella tomatoes from Magdalen Farm

Although we don’t eat them, our sunflowers ‘golden double’ have been very popular and even now, although they’ve faded, they are still providing seeds for the birds. We source our seeds from Tamar Organics in Launceston. Like us, they are Soil Association registered and believe in promoting organic farming. Their website is a great source of information on sourcing organic fruit and vegetable varieties.

Plans for next year?

We can’t wait to get started. We are going to build runner bean and squash tunnels. They are going to be much bigger and we’ll need some heavy duty structures to grow all that we want. The volunteers are going to be busy! We’ll also be looking to see how we can plant with more colour and texture. The garden is now looking a little faded, the summer produce is over but anyone coming to Magdalen will still be able to enjoy our home grown veg as we have a freezer for the hunger gap between January and April. Home grown food is an all year thing here!

Magdalen Farm
Winsham, Maudlin
Chard, Somerset TA20 4PA
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01460 30144

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