Here on our French farm we are frantically harvesting, cooling and dispatching a truck a day of lettuce, spinach, chard, wet garlic, broad beans, kohlrabi, turnips and cabbage. Every year we learn more about the farm, make fewer mistakes and get better organised; it’s early days, but year six has started well.
The extra sunshine 200 miles further south gives a narrow but invaluable five week lead over our Devon crops which, in turn, are about three weeks ahead of our crops in Yorkshire. Riverford Vendée has become a vital part of keeping your boxes full and varied in these crucial weeks of the ‘hungry gap’; we could buy crops from further south but it would add another day of transportation, plus we know we get better quality veg when we control every step from sowing to delivering to your doorstep. Whether we grow it ourselves or it comes from our long term relationships with other growers, the care put into planning, selecting varieties, growing and harvesting is the reason our veg is the best, and that we can avoid waste and be affordable, if occasionally a little inflexible.
In Devon we’ve started harvesting salad leaves and pak choi from our fields this week. The sudden rise in temperature has brought crops on quickly, but simultaneously triggered a flush of weed germination. As the season progresses we are able to control most annual weeds effectively by the time-honoured but, in the chemical age, largely neglected technique of making a ‘stale seed bed’. This works by creating fine, firm seed beds that promote weed germination, then after two weeks we run a wire 2cm under the surface to cut the roots and kill the young weeds. The process is repeated and with time, enough showers to germinate the weeds and a little luck, it is possible to reduce hand weeding to almost zero. We sometimes take a final ‘thermal weed strike’ with a tractor-mounted gas flame after sowing, but before our crop emerges. For the first crops sown in the spring we don’t have the luxury of stale seed-bedding, so the salad leaves in the boxes this week will have been painstakingly weeded by hand. The annoying thing is that chickweed, the predominant spring weed, is much-prized in Russian salads; but then they do say the definition of a weed is a plant in the wrong place.