I am writing this from our farm in the Vendée, France, where a trailer and team of pickers are edging their way across the field, harvesting the first outdoor lettuce of the season. It is a glorious morning, with the dew still heavy on the crisp heads of Batavia that will be in your boxes shortly. Ten days ago amid gloom and rain, we thought these lettuces were done for as mildew took hold.
We’ve already lost the entire 20,000 lettuces from our greenhouse to aphids, so I was wishing for a tectonic plate shift under the Vendée to swallow the whole disastrous project in one seismic gulp. Thankfully all that was needed was an opening in the clouds. After a few days of sun the farm and its crops have been transformed. Our sun-loving lettuce have grown out of the grip of the mildew allowing us to trim off the infected leaves to produce a fair crop. Meanwhile the spinach, courgette, garlic, turnips and cabbage are all racing away under their crop covers. All being well we will finish planting the last peppers, chillies, tomatillos and sweetcorn in the next ten days, just as harvest starts in earnest.
Back in Devon we are entering the depths of the hungry gap and it will be another month or two before we start harvesting spring-planted crops. My Vendéen folly was borne out of the desire to keep you in greens through this period without travelling four times as far to Spain or Italy. The problem with such rationality is the freakish weather hidden behind the climatic averages. It’s been relentlessly grey and rainy this year, but every year my neighbours tell me they have never known a year like it. I think I also underestimated the life draining, blood sucking nature of French bureaucracy and tax. This is our fifth year and we are yet to make a profit but with a fresh, dew-dripping lettuce in your hands on a lovely morning, hope springs eternal; I will not be defeated.
At home the season is finishing with an avalanche of purple sprouting broccoli. Rather than hold stock or let it go to waste, we have upped the portions in your boxes so enjoy it while it lasts. Along with leeks and cauliflower, you won’t see it again for nine months.