I take the sight of a Spanish cabbage in our veg boxes as a personal failure, especially so early in the year when we should still have better, fresher Savoy cabbages and kale from our own fields.
Two months is a long time in the veg trade; before Christmas, we were buried in greens, and resorted to giving them away – but then a run of hard frosts brought the mildest autumn I can remember to an abrupt, if belated, end. The sudden drop in temperature stopped growth, and, more critically, damaged the soft, sappy growth that had been made in the milder weather. This rendered much of our kale unsaleable.
A cold start to the new year has added to the problem, and left us reaching out to growers further south to plug the gaps left in our boxes. As a longer-term solution, we are developing a couple of perennial (i.e. growing back year after year) kales. Perennials are better for the soil, as it does not need to be re-ploughed for every crop. I hope to grow the kale amongst my nut trees, so that in future times of shortage, we have a more local, sustainable, and nutritious solution – but that is going to take a few years.
The first frost also brought high pressure, clear skies, and a lot of dry weather, allowing us to spread muck and compost, plough, and prepare some seedbeds. On my farm in the French Vendée, where light levels are much better, we have been planting for six weeks, mostly in good conditions. The first plantings of lettuce under low level, temporary tunnels will be ready to harvest in early April.
Last month, I wrote about the struggle to protect our right to wild camp on Dartmoor, in the face of a successful legal challenge from the pheasant shooting, multiple-estate-owning venture capitalist, Alexander Darwall. The High Court ruling hinged on a narrow legal definition of “open-air recreation”; the judge decided that this includes walking and riding, but not camping.
What Darwall lacks in local support, he makes up in expensive lawyers. Dartmoor National Park Authority would like to appeal the ruling, on behalf of the thousands who have enjoyed a night out under the stars, which belong to no one – but they are threatened with having to pay Darwall’s legal costs if they lose. In order to appeal, they need to raise £200,000 through crowd funding. Riverford has donated £500; if you are interested and able to support them too, please visit their Just Giving page.