With steadily rising temperatures, a fair amount of light, and marginally less rain than we expect in Devon, it is proving to be a good end to the UK growing season – and, consequently, a gentle entry into the Hungry Gap (after the end of winter crops, but before the first harvest of spring plantings in May and June).
Purple sprouting broccoli has escaped the rots that follow frost damage and persistent rain; late leeks are putting on a final burst of growth, before running to seed next month (if you cut them in half, you will likely find the seed head telescoping up from the base); and cauliflowers and greens are rallying after the fungal disease that blighted them in the shorter, darker days, when their growth was minimal.
Over the years, and particularly since I handed over the decisions on what to grow and when to plant it, we have become progressively more cautious. We are more focused on fewer crops, and less willing to try every mad idea gleaned from visits to eccentric growers, gardeners, produce markets, or fringe seed catalogues. We start planting later, and finish earlier, avoiding the risky “shoulders” at the beginning and end of the season – when a crop is on the edge of its preferred temperature ranges, and small deviations from the norm can result in low yields and poor quality.
Avoiding the shoulders, while maintaining a good variety in our boxes, has been made possible by buying our own farm in France (where the team cut the season’s first lettuces this week), as well as long-term trading relationships with growers in Spain, Italy, and further afield – never transporting by air.
Have we gone too far? Should a veg box be constrained by what can be grown locally, or at least in the UK? Has pragmatic compromise become a creeping move towards ‘the customer is always right’, and damn the environment and UK farming? Personally, I think we are still on the right side of the line.
But to stay that side, we need to invest in more polytunnels and better storage to extend our UK seasons, risk the occasional experiment, and be prepared to pay for local produce even when it is more expensive than imports (as it tends to be over the next three months). Brexit, a pandemic, and now the general breakdown in the global, rule-based order make trade almost as risky as an early planting of lettuce. And above all, we need you to stay enthusiastic about our leeks, greens, and cauliflowers for a few more weeks, until the spring plantings are ready to harvest.