From soil to mash: Growing swedes for Christmas

The flavour is great this year so far, after a bit of a panicky start to the growing season: for some reason the plants didn’t establish so we had to quickly replant in another field.

Every day is a picking day at the moment – Savoys, leeks, swede or purple sprouting broccoli (PSB). Our farm is about 400ft above sea level, not far from Slapton Sands in south Devon – we’re only about 1.5 miles from the coast so we can see the sea from the farm.

It’s only me and my dad, Trevor, who run it. He’s 71 and was born in the farmhouse where he is today. He’s never been on holiday and has only travelled to London twice; that’s as far as he’s been. But he’s knowledgeable as hell thanks to his dad, my grandad, who was one of the best farmers in the South Hams. They used to call him ‘green fingers’ because he could grow anything. He was Cornish and came up to Devon before the second World War in 1923, so actually next year we will be celebrating 100 years on the farm.

We went organic in 2011, and it was the best thing we’ve ever done. One of the first things we noticed was the fertiliser bill was a lot lower. We always used to put lots of fertiliser on the grass, but what I’ve noticed since going organic is actually our grass is stronger than it’s ever been. We use more manure on the ground but also I think the roots now go deeper to find the nutrients. When you put fertiliser on, they don’t have to do much work.

Swede
This year’s organic swede is full of flavour. 

The flavour is great this year so far, after a bit of a panicky start to the growing season. We always drill the swedes on any day after the 21st June, but for some reason the plants didn’t establish so we had to quickly replant in another field. I actually had some for dinner last night; I’ve got four young kids so we have it mashed, with a dash of butter and some pepper. Some people fry it in chunks so I might give that a go, and I also like it in a stew or pasty. But for Christmas it will definitely be mashed.

This Christmas we’ll be staying on the farm and there’s always something to be doing whether that’s hedge trimming, fencing or more picking. My sister runs a local farm stall and we send a bit of veg there when we get supersized cabbages that won’t fit into boxes – it’s a great way to keep waste down and use everything up from the crop.

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