For years we agonised over whether the benefits of tunnels (earliness, quality and cropping reliability) justified the eyesore. Last year we took the plunge and covered three acres of our best land with polytunnels, doubling our area of protected cropping. Despite the lack of sunshine, these three acres have been the most prosperous on the farm this year, providing good harvests of winter salads, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and peppers.
We are now harvesting the last of the sakura, sassari and cheramy cherry tomatoes and should be picking these for another week. Unfortunately we’ve had to abadon the larger dometica and mecano tomatoes which have now lost their sweetness and are showing ghost spotting due to low levels of botrytis.
There is always a lot of green fruit which will not ripen by the end of the season. This will be picked and made into chutney by my brother Ben (sold in our farm shop), or perhaps by you. From today, green tomato chutney kits are available to order, complete with a recipe and ingredients, www.riverford.co.uk/chutneykit. There is nothing like a well stocked preserve shelf; it makes me feel ready for winter and prepared for any forgotten presents.
As the cucumbers and tomatoes are cleared we are cultivating and replanting the tunnels with rocket, mizuna, claytonia, baby leaf lettuce and chard, for harvest through the winter. Outside, most of the autumn and winter crops have established well and in the dryer east are going into autumn as we would like. In the wetter west we continue to suffer from a combination of low light levels and leaching carrying soluble nutrients beyond the reach of our crops roots, but we stay optimistic.