After between three and six inches of rain (depending on location) in June, we now need some heat. On heavier (clay) land, the rain caused a few problems with planting and weeding schedules, and we’ve lost a few lettuce plants – but with memories of last year’s drought still fresh, we are not complaining. Frequent showers, with enough dry weather in between, allowed us to create ‘stale seed-beds’ in the fields waiting for planting: shallow weekly cultivations germinate and then kill the weed seeds in the surface layer of the soil, reducing the need for post-planting weed control by as much as 95%. We now have some strong, weed-free crops which make harvesting a pleasure. Broccoli, cabbage, leeks, carrots, beetroot… All our less temperature-sensitive crops are doing well, benefiting from the recent rain while cool temperatures helped with both quality and working conditions.
With the soil charged with moisture and our reservoirs near full, we enter summer confident that there won’t be a repeat of last year’s parched crops. The sun and heat-loving sweetcorn and squash are less happy; having emerged strongly during a glorious May, they have yellowed and stood still through a cold early June, while the weaker ones were picked off by rabbits, slugs, wireworm and leatherjackets. In a marginal summer, aspect can tip the balance, with the south-facing fields perking up during recent warmer days while the flat or north-facing fields still look sad. It will now be touch and go whether they reach maturity before the first frost, reminding us of the risk of stretching the climatic zone of crops better suited to southern climes.
A boast to finish
It is 15 years since we opened our then ground-breaking farm restaurant, The Riverford Field Kitchen, inspired by the meals my mother cooked for family and staff, largely from ingredients grown on the farm. Characterised by a veg-driven set menu, shared tables, an open kitchen, uncompromising quality at an affordable price, and child-friendly informality, many have since followed – but I hope you will forgive me for claiming that none have bettered it. Last week, it won Best Eating Out at the Soil Association’s Best of Organic Market Awards. And 26 years after packing our first veg box, it was equally gratifying to also win Best Box Scheme. Thank you.