Please take this catalogue of misfortunes in the context that we also count our blessings, still love what we do – and are past the worst of it.
But for most of our growers, much of 2021 has been a disastrous run of bad luck. For many crops, it is simply a case of salvaging what we can, and hoping that next season is better.
Wireworms are the larvae of the click beetle. They are endemic throughout the temperate world, feed on most plants, and can only be controlled using some of the most toxic chemicals available to conventional farmers.
As organic farmers, mostly we just live with them, adapting our cropping to avoid the highest risk situations – but this has been the worst year for them in all my years of growing. They are infesting a potato crop that had already been depleted by blight; we are rushing to get the potatoes out of the ground, but at least a third have been lost.
To try to give the grower some sort of return on the crop, we have reduced the minimum size from 45 to 40mm. We will do our best to spot damaged tubers, but inevitably some will get through – for which I can only apologise, and hope you agree that it is better than devastating soil life with broad-spectrum insecticides.
To add to our troubles, when we needed to plant our autumn crops back in May, we saw three times the average rainfall. The ground was too drenched to plant in, and so many growers, in desperation, eventually planted into wet, claggy soil. Pulling up stunted cabbages, cauliflowers, and Romanesco three months later, we can see that the plants struggled to root.
As we began replanning the veg boxes, our usually ebullient agronomist, Hannah, produced a long list of woes: hailed and frosted apple blossoms, mildew in onions, struggles with weed control in wet weather, labour shortages at harvest… Personally, my years have brought some perspective (and commercial cushioning) to the gloom, but sadly Hannah says morale is low, particularly in our younger growers. She thinks we need a party.
Things are looking up for winter; the humble, bomb-proof leeks are doing well, and our crops of curly kale and cabbages look excellent. We hope we are beginning to emerge on the other side – and we are working hard to keep the quality in your box as high as ever.
We may need to make swaps sometimes when there is an issue with the planned veg; if you ever feel unhappy with something we have sent, please do get in touch with us at the farm so we can make it up to you.