Guy’s news: Freaks from the wet west

Last week ex-hurricane Ophelia ripped the plastic from two of our older polytunnels, trashed the last of our delicate outdoor salads and dropped some unwelcome rain, but we are not complaining; 2017 has been a kind year for growers so far. A warm, if dull, ‘back end’ allowed summer crops to catch up and finish well, and a damp mid and late summer helped to establish the leeks, cabbage, kale and cauliflower that will be our staples for the next six months. But it’s a long way to spring; if anything, we would like temperatures to drop and to slow crops which are now getting a little ahead of themselves.

There have been some brief dry periods; enough to allow an (albeit difficult) grain harvest, but not enough for harvesting roots, especially on heavier land. We still have 30 acres of potatoes and almost all our carrots in the ground. Most non-organic root crops are grown on light sandy soils which drain quickly after rain so are easier to work, usually in the east of England where rainfall is about half that in the west. By contrast, organic, especially smaller scale production, tends to be concentrated in the wetter west and on heavier clay soils. The west bit is partly a hangover from bearded hippy wannabe organic farmers heading for the hills in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and partly because there is more muck out west, where the cows live. Meanwhile, the prevalence of clay soils on organic farms is partly because it hangs on to fertility well, and because those hippies rejecting urban commercialism didn’t know better. In contrast, the sandy soils loved by chemical-wedded commercial growers rapidly lose soluble nutrients in heavy rain. That’s OK if you can tip some more out of a bag of artificial fertiliser (though river life may disagree); more problematic if you have to wait for the soil fungi and bacteria to replace it at a natural rate.

But this is not a moan; I love the west, the wet and our soil and I’m grateful for the muck. I am also convinced that a balanced soil with enough clay or silt grows better-tasting veg than any sand, though this doesn’t concern most growers. Our ‘roots team’ attended a carrot variety trial last week; among hundreds of farmers, they alone tasted the carrots as part of their assessment. They said they felt like freaks from the west.

Guy Singh-Watson

7 responses to “Guy’s news: Freaks from the wet west

  1. The Burgundy Blog

    Another good blog, merci beaucoup.

  2. Dear Guy

    Talking of artificial fertilisers, I have great concerns about the planned merger between Monsanto and Bayer which the EU is being asked to approve. It would be great to hear your views on a forthcoming blog on the devastation such pesticide driven multinational can have on organic farming. Your voice could be very helpful.

  3. Vivienne Du Bourdieu

    Given the problems in cricket and politics, is the sudden appearance of veg of almost wholly UK origin deliberate or coincidental? Like a storm named Brian who, as a friend just said, sounds like someone who would bring you a cup of tea when you felt depressed about the weather and/or the cricket. Meanwhile, the sun is shining through my window with a buttercup glow just as the wind and tide theoretically meet at their highest and most temperamental points.

  4. I made the mistake of forgetting to order from Riverford a couple of weekends ago. “Never mind” I thought, “I’ll just pop over to the local supermarket and pick up some organic veg…” . My first bite in to a raw carrot confused me! Crunchy carrot structure, but no carrot taste!

    Rightly or wrongly, I tend to think flavour is indicative of nutritional quality and density. I didn’t need reminding how good Riverford veg (and fruit) tastes but maybe it was a useful reminder about the “competition”. Needless to say, I didn’t forget my order the following weekend.

  5. I think the point Paul was making was that not all organic fruit and veg tastes the same…One up for Riverford!

  6. The ‘hippies’ mostly went where they could afford to buy land. Grade 1 land in the east was too expensive.

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