This is coming to you from our farm in the French Vendée, where the sky is always blue, the cows fat and the vegetables plump. Most of the crops planned to fill our hungry gap; lettuce, spinach, cabbage, beans, navets (baby bunched turnips) and courgettes have recovered from the March gales and are lapping up the sunshine.
Fennel has suffered from a minor plague of ragondin; giant, beaver-sized rodents with six inch whiskers and a particularly French appetite for anis, but the carrots are this year’s disaster. Just before the seedlings emerge we like to pass over the rows with a gas-powered flame weeder, to kill any weeds unlucky enough to germinate first. But the flame weeder broke and before we could replace it the carrots were up, accompanied by a rash of a weed known locally as ravenelle. I have never encountered such an aggressive plant; like docks on steroids it clambers on top of the crop then pushes its rasping, thistle-like leaves down, crushing any competition back into the ground. It made me think of Vinnie Jones defending a corner in a Wimbledon penalty area; a real bruiser of a weed. Even after mechanically removing all the weeds between the rows, progress on hands and knees up a row is down to 30 metres an hour. First loss is best loss, so this morning, despite the valiant efforts of the work force, we abandoned and ploughed in the first half the crop, rather than watch the ravenelle triumph and potentially set seed to plague us in years to come.
Back at home the dormancy of our old-season carrots can only be enforced for so long and we will run out before the end of this month. In previous years we have imported carrots from Spain or Italy to bridge the gap between seasons but the flavour is invariably poor and we had hoped to avoid them this year by growing some in France. With this plan foiled, we are planning a few weeks of carrot-free boxes in late May or early June. I have detected a little carrot fatigue recently so perhaps that will be a relief.