Archive for ‘News from the Hill!’

April 23, 2019

Plastic-free farming

Plastic use

At Sims Hill we are always concerned to be as sustainable as possible. We take the following steps to reduce our plastic use:

  • No buying plastic bags for shares. We use either cotton/jute bags or net bags. The net bags are made of plastic but we are reusing the ones we receive from wholesalers to reduce our waste on the site, we do not buy these. We ask members to return their bags (net or cotton) so that we are always reusing these bags in a happy circular bag economy.
  • No bags on robust vegetables, which make up the majority of our crops. Veg like potatoes, cabbage, onions, carrots and other root veg come well protected by nature, we don’t need to add any extra packaging to them.
  • And most importantly: as a local Community Supported Agriculture scheme we are only producing the food each week that our members are actually going to take home. We are not stocking up shelves with food that will be put in the bin or go off before it even reaches someone’s home. This means we use massively less plastic than a supermarket – even the ones with “plastic free” sections.

Why are we not entirely “plastic free”?

We fully support the movement to go entirely zero-waste, and we are doing everything we can to reduce our plastic use in all aspects of the farm. However, as of Spring 2019 we still use “normal” plastic bags for our salad and delicate leaves. We have researched and tested various solutions, and are always looking for new ideas. At the moment this is what we have found.

Proposal 1: No bags.

If we didn’t use plastic bags for delicate green leaves (e.g. leaving them loose in crates), we have found that they go off too quickly and then are wasted. No one wants to turn up for their vegetables and find a big tray of squelchy compost or unsalvageable shriveled leaves – and this will happen within hours with the warm but damp conditions so common in our lovely south west. Food waste is also an enormous issue and massively damages the environment by wasting the work of the land.

Proposal 2: Paper bags.

We have also tested this, but the same issue of leaf deterioration occurs. We don’t want to be handing out bags of “pre-composted” salad leaves after we have worked so hard in the polytunnels to grow them!

Proposal 3: Recycle plastic bags from members.

Unfortunately, as a business we can’t reuse small plastic bags because of health and safety regulations. We simply aren’t allowed, as there could be a build up of dangerous bacteria and we do not want to harm the health of our members. We strongly encourage members to reuse the bags at home themselves, but as a business we are not allowed to do this.

Proposal 4: “Degradable” plastic bags.

Our farm manager James has done a lot of research on the newer alternatives to plastics, including speaking to council waste managers. “Degradable” plastic is currently not actually composted by local councils as their facilities cannot manage it. The material, although technically degradable, takes a long time to compost in a home composting system as the conditions are not right. So even though they are labelled as “degradable” they will not actually be degrading. They are also significantly more expensive than “normal” plastic bags.

Proposal 5: “Compostable” plastic bags.

Similar issues face “compostable” bags – they are not always composted by council sites or suitable for reasonable home composting. (See here for a BBC report on the issue in Wales). Also, at the moment “compostable” bags are sometimes made from sources that are themselves unsustainable or compete with food for land use. We do not want to be deforesting land in the sake of appearing more green. They are also often three times more expensive than “normal” plastic bags.

We think that in the near future, “compostable” plastic bags will become a viable alternative. We are actively keeping a look out for a good source of compostable plastic bags that come from forestry by-products so they are recycling a waste product, not competing for land. We will transition as soon as we find a source that is affordable and meets these sustainability criteria. We know other organisations locally and nationally are facing similar quandaries, so hopefully it is something that the sector can solve soon.

Proposal 6: “Normal” plastic bags.

So, we are stuck with “normal” bags for the moment. Our approach is:

  • Only use them when absolutely necessary. Delicate salad and green leaves that will not survive without protection.
  • Only package the number of leaves required each week. This is a massively important part of reducing waste, and a huge benefit from being a community veg delivery scheme rather than a supermarket.
  • Encourage our members to reuse the plastic bags they receive at home.
  • Support the “eco-brick” initiative. This initiative gives some confidence that the plastic is not going to end up in landfill. See a video on how to make them and check out local organisation “Bricking it” to find your nearest drop off point.
  • As a last resort, the “normal” plastic bags we currently use can be recycled at supermarket recycling points. However, it is difficult to know where this plastic ends up so we encourage members to do their own reuse actions or eco-bricks and consider this as a final resort.

Here’s hoping and acting for a plastic-free future for all of us and the earth.


May 1, 2018

Spring 2018 update

Work around the farm and in the busy hours of our many helpers, Board members and staff has been keeping everything shipshape and Bristol fashion for Sims Hill.

On the land

The Spring planting has been going well and the new polytunnel looking an absolute delight with its leafy greens and delicious compost. We are on schedule with all of our planting so far, aiming to get all the onions out in the first week of May and the beetroot soon after. The only crop that the strange weather this year managed to spoil was the celeriac. Unexpectedly, it wasn’t the snow or the late cold snap that caused a problem, but those sudden hot days at the start of April that crisped the seedlings and overheated the crop. A shame! But nature takes as it gives, and other than that we are in good form for the summer and autumn to come.

In the shares at the moment we are managing to provide our own greens and salad leaves, but are buying in other vegetables until the “hungry gap” of April – June is over and we have our own crops ready with summer growth. We used an excellent farm near Swindon for much of our bought in veg over the winter, but they too have run out of stocks so we have had to go further afield until our own provision increases. We do our best to balance our aims of sourcing as locally as possible, from other farms who share our ethos and within a price range that means we can continue to provide members with seven vegetables each week. This gets harder as the hungry gap reduces local stocks and raises prices, but summer is around the corner so the growers are working hard on the land to make sure we can provide as much as possible ourselves as soon as the weather allows.


We are extremely proud to announce that we have reached our highest ever number of members, which is brilliant. We are providing veg for over 90 households around the city at the moment. There is always some flux and flow in member numbers as people move away or change their habits, but we hope to keep member numbers up and even grow a little bit more. Our strongest “social network” is our membership, so tell a friend about us (thumbs up sign optional) and help us strengthen our roots across the city.

Feedback from members’ meetings and ongoing discussions have raised the idea of keeping bees on the land several times over the last couple of years. Over the last few months the idea was explored in more depth, and the Board have confirmed that we will not be putting this into action. Discussions with Avon Wildlife Trust (who manage Feed Bristol) have taught us that they would rather the site encouraged solitary bees, as when honey bees are brought in they out-compete the solitary bees. You can find out more about the difference and why solitary bees are important here. On the big field, which is not shared with Feed Bristol, our lease from Bristol City Council would make sub-contracting to a beekeeper complicated, so this is also not a sensible idea. All in all, it has been useful to investigate the topic in more depth – did you know there are 267 species of bee in the UK? – so for the time being we will stay as we are, welcoming and admiring the bees that choose to buzz with us of their own accord.

Upcoming events

Our community worker Laurie has moved away from Bristol, so her role has been taken on by Sian, who was already closely involved in the Community Food Centre which has made for a smooth hand-over. With Sian’s support we will be running a “lunchtime conversation” in June as part of Bristol Food Connections. Watch out for news and details on our Facebook page and here on the website. We are also part of the Get Growing Trail this summer which opens up community gardens and growing spaces around the city for visitors. Along with our usual volunteer work days on the 3rd Sunday of every month, it’s a busy, sociable time ahead.

Happy May day to all, let us unite as workers, eaters, producers and vegetable lovers.


April 20, 2018

2018 AGM minutes available online

Our AGM had to be rescheduled this year due to snow and ice in early March, but a group of growers and members met a few weeks later on 26th March. You can find the minutes of the meeting – and all past meetings – on the members’ meeting minutes page.

October 26, 2012

Green Tomato Recipes!

Hello! Because of the need to bring the tomato season to a close, we will all be receiving green tomatoes in our veg share this week. To help us deal with this sudden glut of the green stuff, Sims Hill member Naomi Woodspring provides us with the following recipes. Enjoy!

In the States, one of the joys of the end of harvest season is green tomatoes, especially in the South. Below are some of my favorite preserving recipes. Jars should be sterile, etc but I’m not going to go into those instructions – they are easily found online. These recipes are all in American measurements (cups, teaspoons, etc) again, equivalents are easily found online.

read more »

September 17, 2012

Narrative Agenda for the next open Members’ Meeting 25th September, 2012

To be held at 7.30pm at Horfield Meeting House, 300 Gloucester Road, BS7 8PD

This is an open members’ meeting, so please bring along any of your friends and neighbours who might be interested in learning more about Sims Hill, and especially in how we plan to move the project forward!

1. Update on growing, membership and finance
The vegetables in the glasshouse continue to flourish and yield in abundance, and we are in the process of agreeing another year of use with Feed Bristol, so that is great. The leeks, cabbages, kale, cauliflowers, and broccoli have survived that vulnerable time of being transplanted to the field, so that is a relief. On the downside, there are very few carrots and potatoes and no onions to harvest, which is serious.

It has been extremely difficult to get anything done in the field this year, which also explains why there have been no community work days – the field has been that wet.

Community celebrations have been quiet this year (our next Community Celebration is on Saturday October 13th!). We have held steady around the 40 shares (60 households) mark now for quite some time. We had planned to grow to 60 shares by July, so our income now is down against the budget. We have managed to keep our expenditure lower than budgeted so far but we have little reserves to draw on, so this is also concerning.

read more »

August 15, 2012

News from the Hill: Challenges and opportunities for 2012 and beyond!

Read on for the latest report from the Hill and how the Board is proposing Sims Hill collectively responds to the current climactic challenges at our next open members’ meeting on 25 September. We need everyone there to help us make Sims Hill one of the most creative and resilient CSAs in the UK.

What is happening on the Hill?

As you know it has been very wet now since April (bar two short sunny interludes). Indeed, it was the wettest June on record (159 years) and one of the wettest springs on record. It is not just rain, from April through mid-July there was precious little sun and warmth. To add to this it has been perfect conditions for slugs; they are at pretty unknown population levels and voraciousness.

The cumulative effective of these conditions is bad news for vegetable growing. Growers with 20-30-40 years experience are saying that this is the worst year they can remember. Iain Tolhurst, one of the most respected organic growers in the country, recently wrote an email saying:
“…this season I am close to admitting defeat in a way that I have never felt before, (actually I am sure I have many times before but have fortunately forgotten the occasions) The weather of course as you all know, well those of you in the south that is, has been an absolute nightmare since the end of March. Never in all my years, have we had to endure such a long period of almost continual rain at this time of year, for 15 weeks it has been relentlessly wet. I have rainfall records going back 23 years and this is the worst so far. Occasionally there have been a few odd days when it just starts to dry out enough to contemplate some weed control or to re-drill some slug destroyed crops.

read more »

July 3, 2012

Watery news from the Hill

Last year we had an exceptionally dry spring; there was no water supply at Sims Hill. We were amazed at the soils’ capacity to hold moisture.

Over the winter, Jay and Kenton dug a pond at the top of the field and laid 600m of mains pipe.

Photo: The 60,000+/- litre pond full to the brim!

This year we had a damp winter (in Bristol) and an exceptionally wet spring (growers everywhere are struggling); there has been too much water at Sims Hill!

To have one a dry spring and then such a wet one in our first two years presents two challenges:

There is the immediate challenge of growing crops this year and next. The wettest April-June on history has made life very difficult and leaves us vulnerable.

read more »

June 19, 2012

News from the Hill 19 June 2012

A small band made it to Sims Hill on June the 9th to play their part in the city wide, get growing trail. The weather was surprisingly warm and the cake predictably tasty! A couple of new members signed up with a couple more expressing interest.

Since then we’ve tango’d with a succession of cold fronts and somehow managed to get more carrots sown into a soggy sims hill soil. The winter squash are still sat in their trays glad to be out of the incessant wind but longing to have their roots in warm soil. Hopefully the start of this week will be as sunny as the forecasters promise and give us a planting window before the next low tracks in.

The few days since we were last at Sims Hill can be a long time horticulturally. It can represent an age in a wind swept field but can be surprisingly helpful when under glass. Our 6000 leeks (yes we will be planting them by hand) are fattening up by the day and our monster brocolli plants are just begining to develop buds. If we keep the irrigation constant the next few days of fine weather will be much appreciated, especially by the tomatoes and cucumbers who have not enjoyed this years weather so far.

June 7, 2012

News from the hill!

After a few rainy weeks when we thought Sims Hill was going to turn into an aquatic wonderland, things are finally starting to dry out. The Bristol area received 273mm (nearly 1 foot) of rain in 3 weeks and was officially the wettest April in over 100 years! Needless to say this had a noticeable impact on the growth of plants and the ability to cultivate and tend to veg already planted. On the plus side we have filled our new pond (approx 60,000 litres in 2 days) and have a really good understanding of water movement through the site. The potential to catch and store water is truly epic and we can potentially store enough rain water to irrigate all our soon to be bought poly tunnels.

Our successful grant applications to Bristol Green Capitol and S. Glos mean that we are in a position to invest in two large tunnels (pending planning permission) plus all the fencing and crop protection necessary to grow to the capacity of the field which we estimate to be between 80 – 100 full shares.

read more »

March 15, 2012

News from the Hill

A quick update from the plot!

James is back to work after the birth of his wee boy, hurray (x2).

The pond is dug and the water mains is in (but not yet connected), Jay and his team did a fantastic job of it!

The right hand side of the field now has hedge planted all the way round (ok, we are a few short of the required 1,200 whips). Thanks to those who helped.

We are preparing some of the large glasshouses on AWT’s site on the otherside of the motorway for growing early crops and summer salad. Big Thanks to our new neighbours!

We haven’t got much crops left from 2011 now (due to wireworm and waterlogging) so the share will contain a fair bit of bought in veg now (from as local as possible).

Tractor David has been able to get in and start cultivating the ground for this years crops. With the help of David’s trailer and Steve and his Landie we have got four tonnes of local manure to the field, another four to go!

This year’s workshares have been having their trial sessions. It looks like we might have a good mix of men and women this year, last year was all blokes.