“Veg likes a boring life with no surprises,” Kees Timmers, an organic agronomist, advised the founding members of our growers’ co-operative 25 years ago. Coming from the fertile, deep-soiled Dutch polders, he expected every plant to bend to his will and produce a saleable vegetable. Having grown up on thin, stony soil, without irrigation but with an abundance of rabbits, my expectations are closer to Jesus’s Parable of the Sower – where every seed but one is lost to the scorching sun, hungry birds, thorns, and rocky ground. I hope for better than one seed in five, but even before our climate was in crisis, I never expected much more than 50 per cent of my crops’ potential to come to fruition.
Most vegetables are shallow-rooting, highly bred sprinters, which need just enough water, light, and heat – but not too much. Kees rightly advised that our job as growers was to keep every aspect of our crops’ short lives within the range of their narrow expectations, by creating the right seedbed, controlling pests, diseases and weeds, and so on. Good growers are obsessive perfectionists with no time for parables, but many have been brought to their knees by the extreme weather this summer, which fell well outside our vegetables’ expectations.
This is a long, rambling build up to telling you to expect some less than boring, more than averagely variable fruit and veg over the next six months, and to plead for some tolerance. You may have noticed our water-stressed lettuces being smaller than usual, with a firmer texture and stronger flavour. We have lost much of our Romanesco and cauliflower; what we can save will be on the small side, with some discolouration and bracting (leaves in the curd). Apples will be small, too. Thankfully, the winter crops that were planted into land prepared early in the summer, to conserve soil moisture, are looking better. We are now hoping for a long, mild autumn, to let everything else catch up.
Every week, our quality team have to decide what is up to scratch for your boxes. Our guiding principles are culinary, not cosmetic. It is a fine line to walk; if we are too hard, the growers will not be here next year, but if we are too soft, you won’t. It is going to be a tough winter, and we will not always get this right. But we hope you can bear with us, and enjoy the vegetables that have grown amidst adversity – even if they are a bit wonky.
More on drought: