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Ed’s news: No such thing as too much salad

Guy is on holiday at the moment, returning next week. In his absence, here’s the latest news from green-fingered grower Ed Scott, who takes care of the polytunnels on our Devon farm. Tomatoes, cucumbers and more await in summer; for now, it’s all about leaves…

The salad leaves we grow in the winter are a bit of a godsend: we can maximise use of our polytunnels, which always look a little sad when empty, and keep our harvest teams busy in the colder months when there’s not a lot else going on. Another benefit is that oversupply is never an issue. A glut of courgettes in summer is a problem: there are only so many times we can put them in the
boxes before customers start crying foul. An excess of winter salad, however, is always welcome; most people are happy to see a bit of leafy greenery alongside the heavier winter staples of potatoes and swede. Every extra bag we can produce is also one less lettuce that has to be brought in from Europe, reducing food miles, carbon footprint and – not to be ignored – costs.

This year we hope to produce about 30,000kg of salad. We have 11 different types of leaf growing, and pick around 6 per week for our mixed salad bags. Most plants can picked 4-5 times before they get too bitter or start ‘bolting’ (abandoning leaf growth to produce flowers and seeds) and have to go.

Growing in an enclosed space, the plants have to be monitored closely for pests and diseases that will spread like wildfire. At present we have an issue with whitefly in the Claytonia (winter purslane). We’re planning to bring their population back down to a manageable level using a product made from dried chrysanthemum flowers, which works by blocking the spiracles (breathing holes)
of the insect. We never use artificial chemical-based pesticides, and wouldn’t spray the crops even with a natural product during summer, except under very exceptional circumstances. But at this time of year, when all the beneficial insects such as bees, ladybirds, lacewing and hoverfly larvae are dormant, we can rescue our crops with a clear conscience.

We’re planting some extra lettuces next week, but they won’t be ready for a while, so we may not have much to offer for the next few weeks. Bear with us, and normal service will be resumed as soon as they come through!

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    Ed Scott

    Ed is the longstanding harvest and polytunnel manager at Riverford. He says: "I'm interested in the sustainability and biodiversity benefits of organic farming; it's something tangible I can see when visiting the fields or polytunnels. I love exploring Dartmoor when I can: the open spaces really reflect the dynamism of nature, changing from picture-postcard pretty to windswept desolation and back in a matter of minutes."

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