a little gem

March will see our first plantings of a wide variety of lettuces. The earliest variety we grow is Little Gem which we cut and bag in the field as twin packs around mid May. This early variety is followed by Oak Leaf and green and red Batavia through the summer months. The young lettuce plants we use are raised in a traditional glass house by John and Jill Overvoorde from Delfland Nurseries, a family run business based near March in Cambridgeshire.

John and Jill both began their careers in conventional farming, but the move to organic plants began in 1998 and now accounts for over one third of production on their farm. John and Jill are both keen gardeners who test all of the varieties we go on to grow for our boxes in their vegetable plot. They also have a mini orchard alongside soft fruit that is grown and shared with the local wildlife. John grows tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and aubergines in a corner of a greenhouse. He also grows melons that he inherited from one of his Dutch grandfathers, saving the seed from the best-tasting fruit each year.

Before John and Gill can begin sowing any seeds for our farm, Peter Morton, our Plants and Seeds Coordinator, gives them a broad idea of how much lettuce we will need to grow for our boxes over the whole summer. We then have to get the compost, plant feed and seed needed for this amount of crop approved by the Soil Association before any seedlings can be transplanted. The number of seed varieties available organically is dwarfed by comparison with the conventional market so it is always a challenge to find varieties that taste good, grow well organically and do well in our soils. We have always selected varieties for flavour rather than the shelf life and cosmetic qualities that are so important to supermarkets, and Peter, John and Jill are always looking at and trialling new varieties.

If you fancy trialling your very own mini veg plot at home, John and Gill have set up a