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Guy’s news: Smiling in the face of calamity

Picking tomatoes

The reservoirs are all but empty. We have kept back just enough to water our five acres of tunnels; the outdoor crops will have to fend for themselves. Without rain, the shallow-rooting, quick-growing and water-demanding crops like lettuce, spinach and rocket will start suffering within a week and be unmarketable in two. Prospects for broccoli and potatoes aren’t much better.

Beyond the reach of irrigation pipes, we are planting out leeks, cabbages, kales and cauliflowers; the crops that will keep your boxes full over the winter. In most cases the land was ploughed and a seed bed made while still moist in May; this effectively seals the moisture in and conserves it until planting. We plant as deeply and as firmly as possible, and most of the plants are getting their roots out and down into the moisture before the sun sucks the life out of them. Though we will probably invest in more winter fill reservoirs, the cheapest way to provide water is to prepare a ‘stale’ seed bed (with a loose, fine top layer that prevents capillary action from drawing water to the surface) early in the year; this also helps with weed control. However, leaving bare seed beds for extended periods while we wait to plant brings the risk of catastrophic soil loss from erosion in heavy rain. Damned if you plough early, damned if you plough late.

In contrast, tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, sweetcorn and basil are lapping up the heat; in fact, we face a basil glut, so this is the time make pesto (£4.25 for 200g). Our cardoons, long since too tough to eat, are now coming into flower; the bees love them, but I reckon they can spare a few. You can order one for £1/stem, with 90p going to Send a Cow. They look and smell fantastic.

Despite the impending disaster, everyone seems remarkably calm, relaxed and even happy. Like our World Cup team, there is a feeling that we have done our best and what will be, will be. It could be the sunshine or the move to employee ownership; it could be that we have our best team ever and increasingly are leaving them to make their own decisions. Whatever the reason, we are making the most of our chances, which is all we can do in a year like this. In an act of defiant optimism, we are still sowing and planting salads; there seems to be some hope of a change in the weather towards the end of the month.

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    Guy Singh-Watson

    Self-confessed veg nerd, Guy Singh-Watson has over the last 30 years taken Riverford from one man and a wheelbarrow delivering homegrown organic veg to friends, to a national veg box scheme delivering to around 50,000 customers a week. Guy is an inspirational, passionate, opinionated and admired figure in the world of organic farming, who still spends more time in the fields than in the boardroom. Twice awarded BBC Radio 4 Farmer of the Year, Guy is passionate about sharing with others the organic farming and business knowledge he has accumulated over the last three decades. His video rants have provided a powerful platform to do this, with a video on pesticides going viral on Facebook to reach 5.6 million views and 91,000 shares. His weekly veg box newsletters connect customers to the farm with refreshingly honest accounts of the trials and tribulations of producing organic food, and the occasional rant about farming, ethical and business issues he feels strongly about.  

    Can business be a force for good?

    Guy Singh-Watson on why he chose employee ownership to protect the future of Riverford.

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