Swallows return to a perfect spring

It's been another near-perfect spring for us in Devon and despite working flat out on the farm, we're not harvesting much as we're about to enter the Hungry Gap, the lean few weeks on UK farms.

A month of clear skies and easterly winds have left light frosts in our protected valleys most mornings, soon melted by a sun rising earlier and higher every day. The accompanying dry weather has allowed us to spread muck, plough, create seedbeds and plant, on schedule and in ideal conditions.

The cold nights have held back growth of early crops, but have also delayed the end of over-wintered crops, which are now hellbent on running to seed in the lengthening days. Those with livestock to graze might bemoan the lack of grass (too cold and dry), but mostly farmers are happy with two near-perfect springs in a row. 

Will it be too dry for too long? Already our irrigation team is working flat out; partly to help newly planted lettuces and cabbages get their roots down, but also to germinate weeds, which will then be killed by thermal or mechanical ‘weed strikes’ before the salads growing from seed emerge. This technique, known as creating a ‘stale seedbed’, is a great way of reducing the need for hand-weeding without using artificial herbicides.

Irrigation is under way at Riverford’s Wash Farm in south Devon. 

With leeks, cauliflower, purple sprouting broccoli, the salad in our polytunnels, and spring greens all rushing to seed – along with potatoes, carrots and onions, even in their dark, cold stores, sensing spring – we are entering the Hungry Gap: the lean few weeks on UK farms after winter crops end but before the spring harvest arrives.

Sadly, we will have to suspend our increasingly popular 100 per cent UK veg box throughout May (stopping on the 1st, back on the 31st), because there is not enough variety of homegrown veg. But thankfully, we have our farm in the Vendée region of France; the site carefully chosen because the light and rainfall bring spring crops into season a few vital weeks ahead of the UK, while being fewer road miles from our Devon farm than the Lincolnshire Fens.

The team in France are enjoying a great start to the season, despite the challenges of the post-Brexit export paperwork. Over the next few weeks, they will keep us well stocked with lettuces, cabbages, chard, summer turnips and broad beans.

We will cut our first lettuces in Devon in mid-May, followed by salad, pak choi, summer greens, then new potatoes, basil, peas, strawberries, courgettes and broad beans as we move into late June and July, and the bounty of summer. After 35 years, the prospect is still exciting.


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