The sun is out, the birdsong is deafening, and every available hand and tractor is frantically at work catching up on six wet lost weeks. Most of our well-drained, south-facing slopes have been mucked, rotovated and ploughed. It then typically takes two or three days of sun and wind to dry the soil enough to allow the cultivators to create a good seedbed for the planters and seed drills.
Many of the older plants, forced to wait out the bad weather in trays, have grown leggy and vulnerable. This makes the mechanical planters unreliable; progress is slow, with a team following the machines to fill in the gaps and right toppled plants by hand. But, as we get into younger plants, the pace is already quickening. The planting team is followed immediately by the fleecers. They cover the vulnerable plants with ultra-light floating crop covers that will boost temperatures and humidity, reducing stress and helping these plantings to catch up on some of their lost growth. By the time you read this, we should have planted most of the backlog of pak choi, lettuce, chards, cabbages, peas and beans. In the polytunnels we are ripping out the winter salads to make room for for basil (already planted), tomatoes (next week), cucumbers and chillies (early May). Next we just have to wait; there won’t be much to pick before mid-June. The danger is that we will then be overwhelmed with a tidal wave of greenery.
After six weeks of shortages, the warmth and sunlight have brought on a last flush of leeks, cauliflowers and purple sprouting broccoli. Just like the noisy birds, they are all change, from dull survival to frenzied reproduction in a matter of days. For nearly a year the leeks have been quietly producing new leaves, but the rising temperature and lengthening days flip a switch in their stems: a ‘bolt’ emerges from the base of each, pushing up with triffid-like speed and unpalatable woodiness. Given the chance, they would carry the starburst flower characteristic of the allium family. The next ten days will be a rush to beat the bolts and get the leeks picked for your tables.
Despite the hectic activity, no one is complaining. It is a relief to walk with mud-free boots, to feel the sun on your back and to have finally made a start… albeit a late one.