Guy’s news: Keeping eels off the lettuce

It has been a glorious August, for both farmers and beachgoers. As we finish planting our winter crops and with so many of you on holiday (deliveries typically drop by about 25% during the summer), August brings a brief and welcome lull in the work, and we can get to the beach ourselves.

It has been a glorious August, for both farmers and beachgoers. As we finish planting our winter crops and with so many of you on holiday (deliveries typically drop by about 25% during the summer), August brings a brief and welcome lull in the work, and we can get to the beach ourselves.

There has, however, been no let-up for Tim and the irrigation team; with so many newly planted winter crops in addition to the normal demands of our shallow rooting lettuce, salad leaf and spinach crops, their job is critical. Early in the month, as temperatures soared, the challenge was to keep the pumps and sprinklers running 24/7. With days shortening, the sun lower, and heavier dews
taking longer to evaporate, demand from crops is easing. We have about two weeks’ of reservoir water left, which should see us through; the carp are already burrowing into the mud at the bottom but I’m told they can survive for months after we have pumped out all but the last puddles.

My father started irrigating in the 1960s (following the legendry summer of ‘59) from a small tributary of the Dart, in an attempt to maintain the quality and quantity of grass for his Ayrshire dairy cows in a dry summer. It quickly proved to be an expensive and time-consuming task that could not be supported by the milk price. The pump and pipes were abandoned for 20 years until I pulled
them out of the brambles when I planted my first veg in the ‘80s. I built a small dam to increase the water depth and set up a camp bed where I slept while the pump ran, until a change of tone would alert me to the intake running dry. It was bad for me, my marriage and the aquatic wildlife, so over the years we have built six reservoirs on the farm to hold winter run-off for use in the summer.

We do still have a licence to pump from that original stream but have managed to avoid it for many years, and I am sure the fish are grateful. Quite rightly, today we would be required to fit an eel filter to the extraction equipment; it would be a shame to swim all the way from the Sargasso Sea only to be squeezed through a 3mm jet at 6 bar pressure and fired out over our lettuce.

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