Skip to main content
Menu

News from the farm   |   Climate change

To an autumn more anxious than mellow

As the days shorten, Devon empties of tourists, and the first winter swells arrive off the Atlantic, I am always reminded of Keats’ poem To Autumn, and its homage to a calm and reliable harvest: 'Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness'.

We do have autumn mists already, but our fruitfulness is more anxious than mellow. This year, for the first time, I am not soothed by Keats’ words. His certainty and complacency feel out of reach in a world rocked by the discord of Covid, Brexit, and climate catastrophe – and, closer to home, a farming year that refuses to settle into any seasonal rhythm.

I am watching our squash and pumpkin crops with increasing nervousness. The plants are loaded with fruit, but they are several weeks from maturity. We would normally be harvesting the earlier varieties by now, but the vines are still green, and the skins soft.

Frosts late in May meant that some plants had to be resown, and a cool summer has further delayed maturity. There will come a point in October when we will have to bring the fruits into the barn and heat them to set (toughen) the skins and sweeten the flesh. While we wait, the local rabbits are busy nibbling away.

Foggy farm
'Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness' - Keats, To Autumn

Leeks, cabbages, cauliflower, purple sprouting broccoli, and kales are all looking good, if also a little behind. As with the squash, we pray for no early frosts and a slow decline into winter. We are grateful for Devon’s ‘open back-end’ to the growing season; by virtue of our mild maritime climate, growth can carry on for a month longer than in the east of the country.

With the soil warm and active right up until Christmas, organic matter is broken down quickly, and nutrients continue to be released to our crops, allowing them to make the most of what light there is. If we dodge frost in early October, there is still plenty of time for these winter crops to catch up to where they should be.

As a very urban Londoner friend said during a visit one November, as I proudly showed them my crops: “It’s just so f***ing green!” Plants refuse to give up, and keep on chugging into winter. We may yet be mellow and fruitful this autumn, and I may grow a little complacent. Or is that a feeling from a bygone age?

Comments

Guy Singh-Watson

Guy Singh-Watson has over the last 30 years taken Riverford from one man and a wheelbarrow delivering homegrown organic veg to friends, to a national veg box scheme delivering to around 80,000 customers a week. Tired of meetings, brands and the assumption that greed is our predominant motivation, Guy converted the business to employee ownership in 2018, using the proceeds to buy a small farm and return to growing organic vegetables. In common with many of Riverford’s new co-owners, Guy is an advocate of using business to shape a part of the world, however small, to be kinder, more considerate and sustainable; more like the world most of us want to live in.  His weekly newsletters connect people to the farm with refreshingly honest accounts of the trials and tribulations of producing organic food, and the occasional rant about farming, ethical and business issues he feels strongly about.

Wicked Leeks is out now

With a focus on regenerative farming, a cover interview with ethical restaurateur Asma Khan and we answer your questions on price, plastic and organic farming. Plus the joy of seasonal summer eating.

Read more

Leading the Veg Revolution

Shop seasonal organic veg boxes or explore Riverford's recipe hub, for veg help and foodie inspiration.

Go to Riverford

How to cook with a veg box

From meal planning to unusual veg: food writer Stacey Smith talks through how to cook with a veg box.

Read more
Spread the word

The twin crises of climate change and biodiversity losses will be the defining stories of our future, but it is not too late to change direction. 

Here at Wicked Leeks, our mission is to help inform and inspire positive change. Our journalism is free to all because of this, but we want to reach as many people as possible who share our desire for a better world. We know our readers are some of the biggest advocates of sustainable living, and you can help us grow this movement by sharing this article widely, with your friends and on social media. Now is the time to act.