Guy’s news: Still waiting… and starting to worry

I know it’s getting repetitive, but it’s also getting serious; we are still waiting for the wet weather to give us a break longer than 36 hours, to allow tractors to travel and planting to begin. Brassicas (cabbages, cauliflowers and the like) can wait weeks in the yard, with leaves going yellow and roots brown, and still grow well when finally planted. But lettuces grow tall in the tray, become vulnerable to damage and disease, and, beyond a certain point, will never really recover. Then there is the added problem of six weeks’ plants being concertinaed into a few days of planting, which will inevitably result in gluts come harvest time.

In my frustration, I took an old plough out last week during a brief dry spell. My mission was to plough a small, steep but well-drained slope and plant a spinney of beech before the buds burst on the saplings. For all my efforts, it was simply too wet; the soil was soon clinging to the mouldboards (curved blades of the plough), resulting in poor inversion and frequent blockages. I could imagine John Scott, who taught me to plough as a teenager, berating me that I had “left holes big enough to bury pigs in”. Despite my shame, my wife Geetie and I planted the 500 trees; their roots will soon emerge to support them. The beech will be inter-planted with artichokes, which we will feast on until the trees grow too tall and the ground beneath too shady. At that point I will scatter wild garlic seeds from nearby woods, which will flourish in the shade. It is my own version of agroforestry. Thank you to the person who sent in an oak to replace the fallen one – we have planted it at the corner of the new wood.

April is peak wild garlic season. It will make one or two appearances in most boxes, and be available to order through to early May. If foraging for it yourself, be careful to avoid the toxic Lords-and-Ladies and Dog’s Mercury which share the same habitat. We have an experienced team of five in the woods, and another five in the barn painstakingly sorting out any toxic leaves the pickers miss. Wild garlic leaves, or ramsons as they are known in Devon, are great in omelettes, risottos or pastas. Or simply whizz with fresh lemon, olive oil and salt, for a pistou that will lift the dullest soup, stew or grilled meat – and cheer up the most frustrated farmer.

Guy Singh-Watson

5 responses to “Guy’s news: Still waiting… and starting to worry

  1. John McCormick

    Hello Guy. Being similarly frustrated with the weather ( it is even wetter here in Ireland) I have decided from this year going forward to devote a portion of our early outdoor production area to reduced tillage on permanent raised beds as done by Curtis Coleman and Jean Fortier in Canada. It is how we have been doing our tunnels for years and is definitely kinder to soil life and makes for easy planting. Jean is working at rolling this out for large scale production but maybe the scale you work on makes this growing system too costly. No doubt you have seen their farms on you tube. If we could sort out the production of green waste compost to a better standard than currently the case or produce more ourselves this could be a real alternative way to grow a lot of our early crops. Not perfect of course but what system is. Good luck.

  2. how inspiring to hear your (and Geetie’s) efforts despite poor weather – my sympathy – but also congratulations.

  3. I notice John McCormick mentions reduced tillage and I often wonder to what extent Riverford’s farming is pursuing this approach. As a gardener and allotment holder I have been aware of Charles Dowding employing a no-dig approach to veg growing on a small-holding scale in Somerset, and I among many have been following his lead with some success. The method is helped by ready access to animal manure in bulk which should not be a problem for Riverford with its connections to livestock enterprises. So I would love to know what are your views on this Guy and to what extent it can be scaled to a vegetable growing enterprise on the scale of Riverford’s?

  4. As someone who has only recently got into veg growing in the garden and community allotment, I find it interesting to read what goes into putting Riverford veg on our table – many thanks to you all!

  5. Michael in Hampshire

    Hoping that by now the planting has been done. I would be interested to read an upDate on this topic.

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