After two long winters, separated by the farming disaster that was last summer, followed by a late spring, it is hard to remember what abundance feels like. Many growers felt forsaken, with a mounting suspicion that they would never see a full and healthy crop again. To walk the farm this morning, bathed in sunshine, through one field after another of strong and healthy crops is blissful; I almost have to pinch myself to be sure it is not a dream. To once again be surrounded by a wealth of broad beans (first pickings are in the boxes this week), spinach, beetroot, potatoes, lettuce, onions and a multitude of baby leaf salad is truly joyous. In the polytunnels we have been picking cucumbers, basil, French beans, salad onions and are now starting the first tomatoes; all are looking fantastic. First pickings are often not the best but, to add to the joy, this year the flavour of most crops is wonderful.
My one sadness is walking the strawberry field; they taste great and it’s a good crop but this will be our last year of strawberries. After 25 years of experimentation and obstinate determination to grow them outside, we have conceded defeat. In our climate the only way to produce strawberries with any degree of reliability and economic viability is in polytunnels; others reached this conclusion years ago and 95% of the UK crop is now grown under cover.
Such stubbornness must run in the family. For 50 years my father made his money milking cows in a fairly conventional manner, and lost much of it keeping pigs unconventionally. His restless search for a system that respected their intelligence and natural instincts failed; we now buy our pigs from Helen Browning who, on better drained land with lower rainfall, has succeeded.
Perhaps we will put up our own strawberry polytunnels at some point but for now I cannot face the battle with planners, so our strawberries will be grown by Angus Davidson, a specialist organic producer in Hereford. I have not given up entirely, but after losing so much fruit to Botrytis in recent, damp years I’m happy to let someone else take on the strawberry struggle, for now at least.