Grow with the Pros: East Neuk Market Garden

Connie and Tom grow at East Neuk Market Garden in Fife, Scotland. Find out all about their farm and how they grow, as the pair give some great advice for planning your sowing, the advantages of growing transplants, and how do deal with the issue of club root. 

They started on their rented two-acre site on the Balcaskie Estate at Bowhouse on the East Neuk of Fife in autumn of 2018. They started their first growing season in 2019.  

Connie and Tom previously worked at the Pillars of Hercules organic farm in Falkland, Fife, for the 2018 season. They were able to set up their own market garden on land on the Balcaskie Estate next to Connie’s mum’s flower growing business, who was already renting there and remains their neighbour. 

© East Neuk Market Garden

East Neuk Market Garden follows organic growing methods and supplies vegetable boxes 31 weeks of the year (May – December) to 50 local families through its Community Supported Agriculture scheme. It also sells its vegetables at local shops, farmers markets and to restaurants and cafes in the area.  

As well as their ethos to growing to organic principles, they revealed they are trying a new approach and transitioning to no-dig this year.  

The farm’s set-up includes three polytunnels for growing, one propagation polytunnel, and six 25mx30m growing plots in the field. They grow around 50 different vegetables, with several different varieties of each, together with a growing range of culinary herbs and several soft fruit types. 

“We have three polytunnels, totally 540sqm, for growing tender crops in the summer and overwintering hardy crops, everything else is outside. We are transitioning to no-dig so mostly we are growing in 85cm deep mulch beds with woodchip paths,” they explain. 

“We direct sow things which have to be or can be for ease e.g., carrots, oriental salad mix, radishes, parsnips, rocket, leeks (for transplanting later).  

“Everything else is transplanted to get a head start against the weeds, to be stronger plants, to maximize photosynthesis in our permanent beds and, of course, to have as much cropping time from our beds as possible.” 

© East Neuk Market Garden

With attempting to organize so many crops to grow, and the potential for trying to get ahead of the game with summer crops, Connie and Tom have to plan carefully to avoid potential pitfalls.  

Their words of advice for all growers out there is “to wait” and not jump the gun – something most of us have probable been guilty of at some stage – as it won’t necessarily be worth it in the long run. 

“It is very tempting to try and be as early as possible with some crops, especially the exciting summer crops like tomatoes, but the effort and expense of keeping the plants happy in pots during the spring and then the stress of protecting them from cold evenings after planting out is not worth getting fruit a week early.” 

However, they still do love growing tomatoes, adding: “They taste so different to shop bought tomatoes and even though they take so much work, they are worth the effort. We just love them, the variety of colours, shapes and flavour is always so exciting. They’re also remarkable plants.” 

© East Neuk Market Garden

Not all plots are perfect unfortunately, and Connie and Tom’s comes with the “real challenge” of endemic club root linked to large-scale brassica growing on their land before they took it over. So, do they have any advice for growers for how to deal with a plot suffering from club root? 

 “We have to be very strict on rotation and remove the roots of every brassica we grow which is back breaking work. We have found that adding a half a palmful of lime into the dibbed hole when we transplant seems to keep the club root away very well, so would definitely recommend that if you have problems with club root!” 

Finally, when it comes to recommendations for more unusual crops the pair think that more growers should experiment with, there are a couple of interesting suggestions for you to consider. 

“We have really enjoyed aztec broccoli, or huanzontle, which is a central American member of the chenopod family that makes huge amounts of tasty sprouting greens,” they say. 

“Petrowski turnips are an absolutely delicious maincrop yellow turnip which if you’re going to grow turnips, might as well be these.” 

Find out more about East Neuk Market Garden at their website here, or follow Connie and Tom on Facebook or Instagram to see their exploits on the farm. 

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