Better Jobs for Better Farming - thoughts from the Oxford Real Farming Conference

Ben Raskin: One of the themes running through the conference this year was the theme of livelihoods in farming. In particular, can smaller agro-ecological farmers compete fairly in a global market, and if not then how can we expect to attract new entrants to ensure we have a vibrant, skillful and knowledgeable farming community to cope with the climatic challenges of the next century?

12 January 2016 | 1 Comments | Recommended by 4

How to plant out seedlings: eight tips for new gardeners

Jess Gotham: It’s time to talk about seedlings. The Soil Association’s head of horticulture Ben Raskin’s follow-up workshop on care of new plants was very informative, as he explained what needs to be done once seeds have germinated. I felt rather guilty when I thought about my ‘mystery beans’ from the seed swap, as I’d neglected them for a few days at this crucial stage and they didn’t get enough sun, but hopefully you can learn from my mistake. As someone mentioned at the workshop, if something does go wrong you can always re-sow! In extreme cases there’s always next year… but for now, look after your seedlings carefully and they’ll reward you by growing up big and strong.

20 May 2015 | 1 Comments | Recommended by 1

Seed saving: the EU horizon and a renewed resurgence

Ben Raskin: We had a good growing season in 2014 with a dry summer and autumn, giving us some good seed ready for planting this year. Meanwhile, at a political level the EU Plant Reproductive Material (seeds, cuttings and baby plants to you and me) legal shenanigans continued. The proposed regulation from the European Commission wanted to simplify the existing confused and cumbersome laws, as well as provide a platform to increase exports to outside the EU and safeguard human health. But this proposal would have further sustained the dominance of the big seed companies (like Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta) and drastically reduced the number of seed varieties available for growing. The Soil Association, along with many others campaigned against these proposals.

30 January 2015 | 4 Comments | Recommended by 2

Devil’s Rib or Dragon Tongue Bush?

Ben Raskin: How do you decide what to grow? Which varieties will do well and which will be a waste of space. The alluring descriptions that fill the pages of most seed catalogues have been the undoing of many a grower. I always get carried away and buy more than I need. My seed container currently has a range that rivals Imelda Marcos’ famous shoe collection.

08 October 2014 | 0 Comments | Recommended by 22

Succeed with seed with selection perfection

Ben Raskin: One of the keys to saving your own seed is the 'selection', or identifying the best of your plants to keep the seed from. If you are aiming to 'maintain' a variety, in other words to keep it as close as possible to the original genetics of that variety, then there will be specific traits you will need to keep (colour, height, pest or disease resistance for instance). Most of just want to ensure the selection performs well in our garden or farm.

25 July 2014 | 2 Comments | Recommended by 6

Juggling seed crops in your rotation

Ben Raskin: If you’ve been inspired to try some seed saving this year, but hadn’t planned it into your rotation then it's worth giving it a little bit of thought now before it's too late to change everything. For some crops it doesn’t make any difference. Beans and tomatoes for instance you can treat as you normally would and just keep some of the crop for seed.

19 May 2014 | 1 Comments | Recommended by 1

Seven steps to perfect compost

Ben Raskin: This week is National Composting week, which gives me the excuse to talk about one of my favourite subjects: compost. There’s something magical about the way that scraps and waste fruit and veg can turn into sweet smelling and nutritious crumbly brown soil food. And the best thing about this natural process is that you can do it on any scale – from municipal composters handling many tonnes a week to small compost bins in our houses. Here are my seven steps to perfect compost:

07 May 2014 | 16 Comments | Recommended by 39

Using a chainsaw to crack a nut - part 2

Ben Raskin: What's the latest on the EU seed directive? Any hope that the EU Parliament might improve the bill seems unlikely. In particular the microbusiness exemptions have been totally removed with both committees apparently obsessed by linking commercial activity (however small) to control of variety, rather than the eventual market.

28 November 2013 | 0 Comments | Recommended by 6

A different kind of gardening book

Ben Raskin: “The recommendation of pinching out the growing tip of plants when in full flower, is to remove the exact bit that is attractive to blackfly. Unfortunately, spring -sown plants often aren’t big enough to do this when the blackfly move in. Anyway it is suggested that this succulent young growth can be used like spinach; this is second only in repulsiveness to eating the young pods, Nevertheless it would be a shame to waste an edible plant part, so lose it in a stew. Nutrition of this leafy green morsel will be marginally higher if the blackly have already found it.”

07 November 2013 | 2 Comments | Recommended by 3

Using a chainsaw to crack a nut

Ben Raskin: It is sometimes said that you get 10 growers together and you will have 10 different opinions, but I recently spent a day with Defra and lots of people from various horticultural walks of life (most of them not organic) and we were almost unanimous in our view of the EU Commission’s latest offering in the form of the Seed Directive. We agreed that a) most of the problems it seemed to be trying to solve were at worst a small problem to a small minority of people and b) this certainly wouldn’t be the best way of solving them.

12 July 2013 | 0 Comments | Recommended by 8

Bee friendly pest control

Ben Raskin: The last couple of weeks have seen some good news for bees. First was the news that some garden centres were withdrawing bug killers that contained the neonciotinoid imidacloprid. And then came a proposal from the European Commission to completely suspend the use of three neonicotinoids – imidiacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin – that have been found to damage bees.

22 February 2013 | 41 Comments | Recommended by 24

CSAs at the Oxford Real Farming Conference

Ben Raskin: The really successfuly CSAs are those with experienced and skilled growers and farmers at their hearts. Whether the initial idea comes from the producer or the community doesn't in the end matter, but farmer led CSAs can succeed more quickly as you can cut down on some of the heartache and painful learning that community initiatives sometimes go through as they take on a new piece of land and learn what to do with it.

02 January 2013 | 77 Comments | Recommended by 2

Growing winter crops with summer sun

Ben Raskin: 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.

04 June 2012 | 6 Comments | Recommended by 3

Where is the rain?

Ben Raskin: The one thing you don't want after planting fruit trees is 2 months without rain. I had been putting off sorting out an irrigation system in the hope of the heavens delivering my water for me.I have finally accepted the inevitable (perhaps a little too late) and rigged up a makeshift system.

21 April 2011 | 5 Comments | Recommended by 37

A couple of photos

Ben Raskin: Here are a couple of photos of me tying in the trees after planting

21 April 2011 | 0 Comments | Recommended by 10

The Great Planting

Ben Raskin: The great planting happened at the weekend. Due to some wonderful friends (and Dad) coming to help we managed to plant almost all of the main planting. Over 200 trees went in and had rabbit guards put on.

23 February 2011 | 0 Comments | Recommended by 2

Measuring the Ground

Ben Raskin: with just a couple of weeks before the trees arrive I have been measuring the site. Having a stick at the end of each non existant row of trees really makes the whole project seem more real - not to mention slightly daunting. Is this really manageable on 1 day a week??

18 February 2011 | 0 Comments | Recommended by 109

I should know better

Ben Raskin: So - a day of scrounging old posts from around the site to create a fence around my plot. All going well till i stepped on a large nail, which would have been fine if i had been wearing my safety boots. however i had left them in the car and was sporting instead some very unsuitable thin soled shoes. Carried on for a couple of hours then a painful drive back and a trip to the doctors the next day for a tetanus jab.

04 February 2011 | 5 Comments | Recommended by 7

Join to help us stop the use of neonicotinoids and save our living landscapes

Donate to help us create healthy farmland and countryside without pesticides

Watch us on YouTubeFind us on flickr

Our bloggers