Tending the salad leaves in our tunnels is a great antidote to the January blues. After December’s cold snap, we believe more than ever that the control possible with tunnel cropping is a force for good; not only for our delicate salad crops, but perhaps more importantly for our reliable, diligent team of field workers, who are the backbone of the farm. Working in the protected tunnels during winter seems to be far more motivating than working out in the fields, particularly in -5 degree temperatures or relentless rain, sometimes with gales thrown into the mix!
Techniques for growing winter salad are continually evolving, mainly to reduce labour. This is not only to maintain our margins in an economic climate that is trickier than ever, but also to create a sustainable working environment for the team. Not so many years ago, all winter salads were established by raising seeds in peat blocks, which were then hand-planted. They then required hand-harvesting, weeding, and cleaning through winter and into spring, when field harvests resume.
Techniques for growing winter salad are continually evolving. This is not only to maintain our margins in an economic climate that is trickier than ever, but also to create a sustainable working environment for the team.
For the past five years, we have been having success with a ‘seed carpet’ system. What looks like a giant loo roll with seeds embedded in it is rolled out by hand, followed by a tractor applying a thin layer of silver sand (to aid germination). This is then quickly brushed over with a broom to even it out, then fleeced (to keep it warm) and watered.
As well as helping us in our mission to reduce the usage of unsustainable peat, it really benefits us at harvest: instead of hand-picking, the team can use the machine harvester as we do outdoors in summer. This speeds up our work, and also reduces the need for constant picking on our hands and knees.
We grow a wide variety of leaves, chosen for their flavours, textures, and colours. Claytonia is one that particularly thrives in the depths of winter. The plant has small, juicy, spade-shaped leaves with a mellow flavour, perfect for tempering spicier leaves. It’s native to North America, and is also known as ‘miners’ lettuce’ – referring to the California Gold Rush, when miners ate it to prevent scurvy because it’s rich in vitamin C. It’s growing so happily in the carpet, despite the limited daylight and low temperatures. We hope our customers will enjoy its appearances in our salad mix over the coming weeks.