Harvest woes

As I write, a ridge of high pressure is edging in from the Atlantic and threatening to build into the high pressure system we have been waiting for all summer; too late for most schoolchildren’s holidays, too late for many a fair, festival and fête; too late for our stunted pumpkins and sweetcorn, blighted potatoes, mildew-stricken onions and rotten strawberries.

Any day now I will be asked to fill our local church with bounty for the harvest festival, as we have for twenty years, but the Big Man is pushing his luck. We could decorate the font with parsnips, which although notoriously fickle germinators, have taken well to the rain this year. Our carrots, swede and beetroot are also looking good, as are most of the winter crops of brassicas and leeks. Perhaps our mistake was ever assuming the sun would come out to nourish those semi-tropical plants that only begrudgingly tolerate even a decent British summer. If we had left the solanacae and concurbits in the Americas and stuck to our turnips & swedes, things would have been so much easier.

With a few exceptions, fruit has been equally disastrous. The farm team has sworn never to plant another strawberry unless in tunnels. Plums have been disappointing in yield and flavour. The apple season has started with the first Discovery; eat them quickly to enjoy them at their most flavourful. We should now have a good supply of English apples through to the end of March, with pears until the end of January. We are also pleased to have finally managed to grow a decent crop of juicy melons down in the Vendée. It took three years and though I am not completely satisfied with the flavour, they are almost there and definitely good enough to make me try again next year.

What will next year bring? How will that jet stream and its trail of depressions meander? Should we blame our gas guzzling and carbon burning rather than the Big Man for its deviations southwards? Another bad year would sink many of our growers. As we start to plan our cropping for next year the prevailing concern is how to cope with risk and uncertainty.

Guy Watson

2 responses to “Harvest woes

  1. hilary-fay mellor

    eek….serious stuff…we would have died months ago if we had had to live on what I had grown……..please don’t despair; you do produce some lovely food……..this is a global situation, which as a species we have to adapt to …….we can go two ways…….. I am in the “nurture the earth” camp

  2. I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better – I know lots of people have had success in poly tunnels this year even with crops like carrots – not practical for big producers like Riverford, but maybe a tip for those growing on a small scale – The era of the cloche is upon us and I think it’s vital we all start growing as much as we can for ourselves. Wishing Riverford luck – adapt and survive is the message for the future and I’m sure you guys are the surviving types!

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