We’ve been picking sprouts since the end of October and the harvesting will go on into January. Next year we plan to start even earlier – at the start of October. There seems to be plenty of appetite out there; it’s definitely not just a festive vegetable.
But there will always be a Christmas rush. From two tonnes a week we’ll accelerate to sixteen by the peak of 20 December when we’ll be flat out picking every day. We pick them as late as we can to deliver them as fresh as possible, so that is a bit stressful.
We have three mechanical harvesters that go along the rows picking and destalking, depositing the sprouts onto a conveyor and then into a hopper. I love the mechanisation, but each machine still has six people working it or walking along, as well as a driver.
Like a lot of the country, we’ve been hit by unbelievable rains this autumn. Our spinach crop was most affected with some fields flooding, but what we’re seeing on sprouts is the root structure isn’t as strong it should be with the ground being so wet, so the top half of the plant starts to bend over, which complicates picking. With mild and wet weather, increasingly common in winter, there is also a risk of a fungal disease on the sprouts later in the season, which appears as black spots. We give the plants as much airflow as possible by leaving enough room between them to prevent any disease spreading.
You might think come Christmas day I’d be sick of sprouts but I love them – my cooking tip is to par boil, then fry them in butter and bacon with a bit of garlic.
Our farm has a bit of everything when it comes to soil – sand, gravel, peat and clay. The sprouts love our sandy soil, and the peat land is amazing for veg but the weeds love its fertility too and give us a bit of a nightmare. But despite all that’s thrown at us, we’ll do 35 tonnes of sprouts this year, as well as the kale, cabbage and potatoes, so we must be doing something right.