The first of the big winter gales has blown through, leaving us a little tattered but still standing. One older, single-span polytunnel was ripped open, but it was overdue for re-skinning anyway. Meanwhile our newer, terrifyingly light gauge (but better engineered) multi-span tunnels survived with only minor damage. Outside, the gale has brought our borlotti bean harvest to a premature end after the crop was left beaten into the mud.
Even the most determined picker would struggle to maintain quality, but we’ve been sufficiently encouraged by their flavour and your response to try again next year, both in Devon and further south on our French farm. Perpetual spinach and chard were another casualty however. They are happy in the autumn conditions and would grow on until the first hard frost, but their delicate leaves don’t mix with gales. Sorting through the damage makes harvesting slow, demoralising and economically dubious at best.
There are ways of minimising storm damage however. Compared to our farms in other parts of the country, here in Devon we are blessed with high hedges, relatively small fields and plenty of trees, affording good shelter for our crops. Given my time again, and without the compromise of rotating our fields with the dairy herd, I would definitely plant even more windbreaks; the combined impact of a reduced cropping area and added shading would be countered many times over by the additional protection they would bring.
To add to the calamity last week, our normally well-behaved heifers broke through an electric fence and munched their way across most of our spring greens. My sister Louise blames the introduction of three bulls for pursuing (or enticing) her fair, well-trained maidens into such unruly behaviour. Some of the plants may grow back where the growing point was spared, but it will be a late, uneven and much diminished crop.
All is by no means lost; these are minor hiccups in what is and continues to be a great growing year. Indeed, a greater concern is veg growing too big, particularly cabbage and radicchio, but on reflection (and certainly compared to our farming woes this time last year), that’s a good problem to have.