Some welcome late sunshine has helped ripen the last of our tomatoes. Over the next two weeks we will harvest what is ripe for your boxes, pick those ‘on the turn’ to ripen in trays in a warm polytunnel, and hope that the preservers amongst you will take the rest to make green tomato chutney. Within 48 hours of the last picking, we will be planting winter salads. One day’s growth now will take a week to achieve in dark December, so it is vital to get the rocket, claytonia, mustards and chards established soon to provide salads in January.
Out in the fields, with planting and weeding finished for the year, the staff is reducing to the most winter hardy, to settle into a steady season of harvesting the frost-tolerant kale, leeks and cabbages that will be the mainstay of your boxes in the coming months. Temperatures and light levels have so far held up, with no sign of our first frost, which in Devon typically comes with the first spell of settled, clear skies in October. We have the normal late plague of aphids; lower temperatures tip the ecological balance in their favour, as they keep on sucking sap and squeezing out babies after their predators, the ladybirds, lacewings and hover fly larvae, have become dozy and lost their appetite. The last generation of cabbage whites can make a mess of autumn cabbages, and give unwelcome movement to a head of broccoli; we reckon you can tolerate a few slugs in your lettuce, but a broccoli head heaving with green caterpillars can deter even the most tolerant organic die-hard. So, we did our last spray with the bacterial toxin Baccilus thurengeniusis (Bt) last week. No pesticide is totally safe but, being naturally occurring (in this case from a soil-living bacteria), short lived, and relatively specific to Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies), Bt is safer than most, and thus one of the 15 pesticides permitted under organic rules.
Meanwhile, Beyoncé joined us at our board meeting this month… there was more clucking than twerking though, as Beyoncé is our rescue chicken, incongruously named by my step-daughter Mabel. She waltzed in, pecked some toes, stole some lunch, then stretched herself out in the sun like she owned the place. I am thinking of registering her at Companies House as Director of Work/Life Balance at Riverford.