Riverford Wicked Leeks

a little nervous optimism

In a normal year, we don’t expect to irrigate the first lettuce, spinach and cabbage. They are planted in March on our better drained, south facing fields, before being immediately covered with fleece to ameliorate the shock of leaving the greenhouse. In an ideal world we remove the fleece a week before harvest, to allow the pampered and excessively soft leaves to “harden” a little in the open air, giving them more life once they have been picked. The fleece excludes pests, warms the air and traps humidity, conserving moisture which this year is so precious, especially as many of these fields are beyond the reach of our irrigation.

Like most farmers we are starting to get nervous; as a co-op only about a third of our land has irrigation and even there it is worrying to see the reservoirs going down so early in the season. Everyone is conserving moisture where they can, by ploughing early and immediately working the soil down to a loose, fine seed bed which prevents moisture loss from evaporation. It is critical to keep the surface loose to prevent water being drawn up by capillary action. Using this technique, with careful planting there is normally enough moisture held in the soil to at least get crops established; after that we are in the hands of the Gods.

The quality of the first pickings has been wonderful; we had a little rain last week which has helped keep the crops fresh and stress-free until they meet the knife. A few of the little gem lettuce on the thinnest soil lost out to the weeds; the added competition for moisture was enough to tip them into panic and prematurely send them to seed. Some deep-seated response that evaded the plant breeder’s selections tells them that in hard times, it is better to produce a few seeds in early adolescence than to risk making it to maturity and their full potential later. In the tunnels the tomatoes are flowering like crazy and have already initiated their first fruit; we should be picking by mid June. All in all it has been an easy and positive start to the new season. It is good to see more of our own veg in the boxes again and we are all enjoying the sun, albeit with just a little nervousness.    

Guy Watson