While most of you are probably enjoying lighter meals in this warm weather, we are thinking of stews and roasts as we begin sowing our winter crops. Devon is the traditional home of the swede and my father would sow the crop speculatively, in the knowledge that if they did not grow well or his sons were too idle to pick them, they would be welcomed by hungry cattle in the winter.
As with many crops, swede growing techniques have become much more sophisticated, but Midsummer’s day remains the time-honoured sowing date. The swede field, on the edge of Dartmoor, was ploughed in March and cultivated into a ‘stale seedbed’ to encourage weed germination and conserve moisture. A final weed ‘strike’ is made by running a flame over the beds to kill any that remain, yet avoiding any disturbance which would stimulate more weed germination. The seeds are then singly-sown with superb accuracy, 5 inches apart, at a rate of 70,000 per acre. When it’s ready for harvest we will work our way through the crop three times, picking the swedes as they reach the target weight of 1-1.3kg through to March 2015. All being well we will pick 15 tonnes per acre. Perhaps that is more than you need to know about swedes on a summer morning; I’m just jealous that I don’t get to sit on the tractor placing those seeds any more. Trundling up and down the fields was once my job, but I got promoted and wouldn’t know how to set up the new-fangled drill now.
Meanwhile I hope you are enjoying the broad beans. Please don’t be put off by the sometimes slightly manky pods as the beans inside are great. The same principle applies to the occasional salad leaf dotted with flea beetle bites. The day we have to ditch the stuff to look as smart as Waitrose will be the day for me to hang up my hoe…not that I get to use it much anyway.