around the corner?

There's always a day or two in January when Spring seems just around the corner. Today I feel a small temperature shift across what feels like a seasonal threshold, but it's probably brought on by the slightly-too-stiff coffee I had just before I came outside.



It can't be so near, it's too early, but the sorb looks different - glossy buds, a little taut - and the akekia leaves might not be in full summer flush, but they don't look like they're expecting it to get any worse.

Countryfile at Otter Farm 2009

one term

Jim Hanson (no, not the creator of Miss Piggy, Kermit and friends) but one of the world's eminent climate change experts, reckons Obama's only got 4 years to save the world.



Which is pretty much when my vineyard (which I'm pruning/trying to find windows in the rain to prune at the moment) comes into full production. If he's right, it makes you wonder why I'm bothering. One of us is a Muppet.

new look

Time for a new jacket, for me and the blog...hope you like the new look

bob backside

One of those days where the only sensible action is to return to bed.

Awake just in time for the thought that the duck I meant to take out of the freezer the night before was still in it's chilly coffin, that the milk that sits solid in the tray next to it wasn't (as it should have been) defrosting for the first coffee. Good start.

A day set aside for pruning the vines. Planted only last April, I'm starting to get to grips with the annual cycle of our relationship. It's not like a tree, where you plant it well and you can pretty much get away with the odd prune (or not) along the way. You and the vine have to become close friends.



They're pretty energetic - going from this^^^ to this vvv in less than 6 months. Bear in mind that metal post is around 6ft6 tall. They do the hard bit. What I have to do is angle things my way and remove any obvious obstacles. Angling things my way means encouraging the right balance between fruit and leaves - which is a matter of pruning and training. The first of which happens now, while they're (as I'd like to be today) dormant.



It's easy - this first year you chop the stem back to a bud just below the first horizontal wire (about 1m above the ground), or (if the stem is less than a pencil thickness at that pruning point) you chop it right back to 2 buds above the ground. Simple. Except today it isn't.

Life seems to get progressively bitty, made up of lots of small commitments and tasks that mean I rarely get a decent run at things. I'm sure I'm not alone. This is one of the beauties of having the vines - looking after them compels you to commit to a series of tasks, each of which means doing one thing and one thing only for quite a patch of time. The first of these came immediately after Ernst and his team had planted the vines. A 4ft cane next to each, a netting rabbit guard placed over it, and the cane twist-tied to the wires. 3500 times.

Today is the start of the pruning process. We start, and the wind picks up. We carry on and the clouds gather. We continue and it rains. Not heavily...but tediously, monotonously, steadily. I don't mind rain, but it means you can't kneal so readily when pruning to just about the ground (I know, get some knee pads...but there's precious little left to feel like a real man about as it is) and in combination with the wind, it's just enough to take the feeling out of your secateur hand. I'm sure Billy Connolly could have busied himself at this point.

It's slow going. 350 pruned in 6 hours. Out of 3500. Even I can do that math.

And now my boots are leaking. I stub the toe only recently returning from purple to white after a good solid skirting-boarding a fortnight before. I open the barn door which sets off pool of water in a perfect arc from the roof down the back of my neck. Two minutes later I discover that only half had gone down my neck - the other half is sitting in my hood, waiting only for my neck to recover it's temperature, the rain to start again, and me to put my hood up.

Rather than making me head immediately for a grouchy, lazy bath, all this incremental tedium makes me more determined to at least get one thing ticked off the list. I clear the sleeping flower beds of weeds and even the paths in between. I deserve cake, but obviously I finished that yesterday. Nice to get one thing actually finished. Perhaps today, as the rather marvellous Howard Devoto once sang 'my irritability keeps me alive and kicking', although I bet his toe wasn't as sore as this. A proper 'new wave' name that, Howard Devoto. Of course, it can't be real, or can it? I've stopped myself looking it up. It'd be awful to find out he was 'Bob Backside' or whatever in disguise. Discovering as a child that Alvin Stardust wasn't Alvin Stardust, he was Shane Fenton was a real Father Christmas of a letdown. To then discover that he wasn't even really Shane Fenton - that was made up too, he was born Bernard Jewry - was almost too much. I almost gave 'Coo-Ca-Choo' away.

Derby crowned world club champions after beating Utd midweek

Oh dear. It's quite staggering what people can get paid to write. It's been cold for a couple of weeks therefore climate change isn't happening. It's sunny this morning, so it must be summer....heavens, the tide's coming in, must be a tsunami.

Sadly he's not alone

catching on

It's not that I don't like flowers - I do - Love In A Mist makes me kneal down to eye it up close everytime I see it, and Gerbera's make me strangely happy - but it's a little like talking to anyone except that girl at the party, they might be perfectly interesting but after a few moments of engagement you zone out thinking of who you'd rather be with.

I just can't stoke up the same enthusiasm for aspidistera as I can for asparagus. If you love growing, I can't help thinking, why not make it something you can eat? Don't you like eating!? There's a delightfully delicious point to your labours, and I've yet to see much that rivals Red Drumhead cabbage, Romanesco, fennel and Red Bor kale for beauty.



I will admit to an encroaching sense of inquisitiveness when it comes to the non-edibles - writer/bloggers like James Alexander-Sinclair and Emma Townshend could stir up an interest in most subjects (Grand Prix excluded) but I can't help suspect that the flowers I like are a touch 'O level' in any case - the Haircut 100s of the flower charts. The poppy teenage sensations, rather than the Astral Weeks, the Pet Sounds, the What's Goin' On's that I should be admiring.

Maybe I'll get the bug in time, and wonder why I started so late
*puts on 'Cypress Avenue'*

the apex

Happy New Year.

I love New Year. I know it's still cold but I can't help seeing midnight on Dec 31/1 Jan as the apex of Winter's hill. Everything after it is downhill to Spring. And it's usually now that I belatedly start making decisions about what to add to the farm in the next few months.

It helps that somethings are showing signs while everything might slow down down over Winter, it doesn't stop altogether.



With some of the almonds having given up the ghost, I'm going to plump for the only thing to have completely survived the planting process on the farm. Everytime you plant any number (say 10+) you can expect to lose 10% to the randomness of an unexplained death. Even apples. The only thing to buck the trend completely has been pecans. Every one of the 40 I planted a couple of years ago is flourishing. OK, every one but the one I flattened in a dosy moment on the tractor.

So 30, 40, or 50 more will be finding themselves a home in the almond orchard coming Spring. April is the time to plant (so I'm not too late) as they are shipped from Canada where the seasons are slightly behind ours. Cold roots meeting warming ground should make for a reasonable chance of getting established quickly

Media

A selection
2009
Top of the Pods: Independent on Sunday April 2009

Up The Reds - The Guardian:Weekend March 2009

Mail on Sunday: Veg Patch

Dig Your Dinner - Starting off Summer Veg

Blogging in the Guardian

Blogging in the Guardian

2008
Country Living July 2008

Filming at River Cottage

2007
Radio 4 Farming Today

BBC1 The Attenborough Climate Change Documentary

Radio 4 Today Programme: extract

Independent Nov 2007

2006
Sunday Telegraph 2006

Daily Telegraph 2006

Radio 4 Food Programme July 2006 - listen to the Otter Farm extract

Delicious Magazine 2004

Agent

Mark is represented by Caroline Michel and Robert Caskie at PFD.

About Mark

Mark Diacono runs Otter Farm, the UK’s only climate change farm, home to orchards of olives, peaches, almonds, szechuan pepper, apricots and a vineyard. He hopes to revolutionise the British larder by growing delicious food normally sourced from overseas. His idea is beautifully sustainable - taking advantage of climate change to grow low carbon food helps arrest its acceleration. It also means he’s lucky enough to spend most of his time eating, growing, writing and talking about food. Mark has recently had A Taste of the Unexpected published by Quadrille.

As well as planting and maintaining the farm's orchards, vineyards, forest garden and veg patch, Mark leads the Garden Team at River Cottage. He runs the growing courses at River Cottage, gives talks and hosts events at RCHQ, and appears in the River Cottage series.



When it's rainy he writes. As well as this blog and occasional pieces for newspapers and magazines, Mark writes every month for The English Garden, every quarter for National Geographic Green and recently had his first book, Veg Patch: River Cottage Handbook No4 published by Bloomsbury.

The photographs on the Otter Farm website and most of those in the books and articles he writes are taken by Mark.


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About Otter Farm

Otter Farm lies on the sunny banks of the River Otter in Devon and is home to some of the finest food you can grow.

Succulent peaches and apricots, olives, pecans and persimmons grow in young orchards alongside the more traditional, forgotten fruit of mulberries, medlars and quinces. Wine grapes ripen in the vineyard.

A forest garden and perennial allotment are filled with everything from white cherries to almonds, Chilean guava to creeping Japanese raspberries, and kiwis to loquats. Climbing akebia make silky chocolate pulp, the pineapple guava ripen their succulent flesh, while the Szechuan peppers grow their punchy peppercorns.

New hedges of autumn olive, rosa rugosa, grinding pepper, Jerusalem artichokes and bay provide perfect foraging, while the older boundaries offer the nettles for beer, the elderflower for ‘champagne’ and cordial, and young lime leaves for spring salads.

The veg patch is unlike any other. Gone are the everyday potatoes, onions, and carrots, making room for little-known gourmet delights including salsify, Egyptian walking onion, yacon and kai lan. Edible flowers, aromatic lemongrass and sweet cicely grow alongside only the finest varieties of the more familiar veg such as asparagus, salad leaves and peas. Everywhere is dedicated to the finest flavour.



When Otter Farm began in 2005, it was 17 acres of former county council farmland, rolling gently down to the River Otter, intensively used for years and in pretty poor condition, with hedges untended, and the ditches clogged...but then there where kingfisher and otters, trout jumping, sparrowhawks, an ancient field oak, a sluice gate and weir to grab the attention. It now has full Soil Association organic certification.

Go to Otter Farm | by Mark D