The rain has abated, the ground has dried up well and it’s time to gather in and make the most of what has survived the deluge. No one will starve, indeed the carrots and parsnips are doing pretty well, but we will have only half the projected yields of potatoes.
Modern root harvesting machinery relies on planting crops in a pre-sieved, clod and stone-free bed. Six months later at harvest, the ridges rise onto the sieving web, the soil falls away and coils grab any weeds and haulm (dried residues of potato stems etc.), leaving just the tubers to be delivered untouched into a trailer running alongside. Only the greens, defects and the occasional pebble need to picked off by hand. There is a Luddite tendency to romanticise physical labour, especially by those less familiar with it. After spending the autumns of my youth bent at the waist filling sacks dragged between my legs to gather two tonnes in a day, the sight of 150 tonnes of potatoes being harvested by two people is pure poetry. This year’s rain however, has defeated even the most sophisticated harvester, leaving no choice but to sort the potatoes and onions, by hand, slowing the harvest and adding to the cost.
Encouraged by a small trial last year, we have grown a few Kings Edward potatoes; probably the finest main crop for roasting but unfortunately also the most difficult to grow. They have just been lifted, yielding remarkably well in this hellish year and have been earmarked for all the boxes for Christmas week. To cope with the shortfall of potatoes, we have managed to buy in from outside the co-op; our reputation for paying our bills came to our rescue in diverting several hundred tonnes otherwise destined for a supermarket. Onions will be more difficult – there will undoubtedly be a national shortage and we will probably end up buying from a friend in Holland who used to work for the co-op.
With winter crops are looking good and the lettuce and spinach rallying well, there is a feeling that we are over the worst. Bank balances have suffered but sales have been remarkably good (thank you all) so at least we will not have any problems selling what we have managed to grow. Last weekend we had our (twice rain delayed) 25th summer party which turned out to be a very jolly affair; the high point being a water slide lined with straw and old crop fleece, fed by the irrigation pump which fired willing revellers out into the reservoir. On one of my less elegant entries I hit the bottom only to find it too had been padded and lined. As a business we have got a lot more sensible but we still know how to have a good time.