Guy’s news: nurse crops & cardoon gratins

It’s drying up fast and the smell of slurry is heavy in the air. As tractors are finally able to get on the land, my brother is busy spreading slurry, ploughing, and reseeding the veg fields that will be rested for three or four years to rebuild fertility under grass and clover. With rising soil temperature helping rapid germination and plant establishment, late March is the perfect time for reseeding, as there is still plenty of moisture in the soil.

It’s drying up fast and the smell of slurry is heavy in the air. As tractors are finally able to get on the land, my brother is busy spreading slurry, ploughing, and reseeding the veg fields that will be rested for three or four years to rebuild fertility under grass and clover. With rising soil temperature helping rapid germination and plant establishment, late March is the perfect time for reseeding, as there is still plenty of moisture in the soil. Grass and clover are sown with lupins and triticale which, by virtue of their larger seeds, will establish quickly and provide a ‘nurse crop’ before being cut for silage in July; by then the slightly light-starved grass and clover understorey will take over, forming a dense perennial ‘ley’ upon which our dairy herd will graze.

The first lettuce, spinach and chard will be planted out this week along with the last of our much-delayed spring sown broad beans. With a cool wind from the east, all the early crops are quickly covered with protective fleece to aid establishment and bring harvest forward by up to two weeks, and keep hungry crows at bay. While we wait for these veg to mature, the first new season crops ready for harvest are those with lots of energy to fuel a quick getaway, stored underground in roots or bulbs. Rhubarb has a root like a tree stump and pushes its first buds out in January but, without ‘forcing’ early tender stalks as is traditional in parts of Yorkshire, there is little for us to pick before April. Next week we will dig up the oldest crowns to split and plant out in a new field, partly to give renewed vigour, but mainly to separate them from the couch grass, creeping nettle and buttercup that is starting to smother the crowns.

Meanwhile, encouraged by a couple of cardoon gratins that went down well with even my pickiest of friends (I feel I can rely on their honest criticism), I have ordered 30,000 plants; enough for all of you to give them a go next spring. If you can’t quite wait that long, there will be a very limited number available to order as an addition to your box in April, along with the gratin recipe.

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