Guy’s news: Not an easy start to the year

After less than an inch of rain in seven weeks, and nothing much forecast for the next three, crops beyond the reach of irrigation are starting to suffer. I wish we had ploughed and made our seeds beds earlier to save some moisture; but, after a waterlogged April, it was hard to switch mindsets so quickly from drying and aerating the soil to conserving the wetness we were recently lamenting.

Most years in spring, as soon as the soil is dry enough we plough and create a ‘stale seed bed’ – an ancient technique that creates beds with a loose, fine top layer. This prevents capillary action from drawing water to the surface of the soil, allowing any rainfall to accumulate and reducing water loss to near zero. Stale seed beds also encourage weeds to germinate, so we can kill them with ‘weed strikes’ (shallow cultivations) every ten days until the crop is sown. In a good year, when it is dry enough in March-April to make seed beds, but wet enough in May-June for weeds to germinate, this technique can reduce handweeding costs on crops like carrots from a crippling £2000/acre to almost nothing. Very wet then very dry has made this the worst of years for our carrot-growing co-op members; hand-weeding teams are moving at a painstaking 30m/hour up the rows, making organic farming, with its rejection of chemical solutions, seem close to the pedantic, luddite madness its detractors accuse it of being. Fortunately these are exceptional circumstances.

More positively, we are moving from an average winter-sown broad bean crop into an excellent spring-sown crop. Cabbages, chards and greens are doing well, and the courgettes have started – helped by our co-op’s purchase of a water wheel planter. This wonderfully simple but highly effective device gives each plant a drink as it is planted, helping it get off to a quick, stress-free start (more than we can say for ourselves this year).

Guy Singh-Watson

No longer freaks from the fringe? Guy on Desert Island Discs
Riverford founder Guy Singh-Watson will be on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs on Sunday 1st July at 11.15am. Host Kirsty Young will be talking to him about his life in food, organic farming, and his quest for a more ethical way of doing business.

14 responses to “Guy’s news: Not an easy start to the year

  1. Thank you Guy for sharing your experiences. My life is so far removed from the problems of growing plants and dealing with the weather conditions that it’s a real eye-opener. It makes me appreciate my vegetable box contents even more as it makes it all much more real.

  2. Thanks for the update Guy , good to learn about what you guys have to go through . A few questions about packaging though, which was the subject of a blog in February . From March onwards, you said you were going to look into producing a plastic free box is there any news on this as yet? Also there was to be a list of which produce is wrapped in plastic promised in April but no joy on getting this. This is to enable customers to be able to make a plastic free choice where they can. It would be interesting to hear your views on packaging when you are discussing ethics on the radio show also. Thanks

    • Hi Chris, sorry for the delayed response on this. A plastic free box isn’t a possibility for us at the moment, but we have some news coming in the next couple of weeks about our future plans in relation to plastic packaging, so look out for this.
      In the meantime, we do have a list that we can send to you if you could like. Email us on help@riverford.co.uk and we’ll pop it over.

  3. Amanda Hillman

    As usual Guy your weekly news is informative and contemplative. For all the difficulties you always remind us why we all buy in to the same ethic. It’s hard sometimes to even hear the difficulties you are all going through but we need to be reminded particularly when the weather for us seems so great. We forget what it means to the producers.
    Looking forward to DID on 2/7

  4. 2000 GBP per acre for handweeding the carrots is a large cost to the co-op, but also paid employment for the handweeders – if you can find them! Who are they – locals, possibly students just free from exams? In the 1960s I earned some holiday money picking raspberries at that stage in my life, for something like 3/6 per hour at” Plant ProtectionLtd” in Fernhurst, a division of ICI. I shudder to think what that was part of… Are there still people willing to take on this backbreaking work? Good for them, I hope you take good care of them.
    Thanks to all of you for what you do and what you produce!

  5. Guy, what about using grass clippings as mulch?

  6. John and Nathalie Gilles

    Appreciate all your hard work at Riverford! We have recently ordered your veg boxes and are delighted with the quality of the food and the efficiency of the local delivery team. Thank you!

  7. Please keep weeding.
    I’d sooner pay a luddite premium for my food, than embrace cancerous chemicals.

  8. Janet Haagensen

    We live in South East London with a 100ftx 20ft wide strip. We have a bucket in both our bathrooms and one in the kitchen to recycle water as we have gooseberries, raspberries, blueberries and two apple trees to water. Both our large water bins are empty. I just can’t imagine how difficult it is for Guy and the Riverford team to produce our food.
    So I want to thank them for explaining so much about the process, being such an ‘urban kid’ like most of us I don’t know much about farming or growing things on large scale.

    • Wow Janet, sounds like you’re really making the most of a small area. Sounds fantastic.
      Hope your water bin has filled up a little by now! We have had some rain here on the farm, but not nearly enough.

  9. I appreciate Guy’s education in the nitty-gritty of organic farming almost as much as I appreciate the vegetables. Seriously good stuff, seriously influential. Thanks, Guy.

  10. Thanks to Guy and everyone who replied with their great comments. Having recently acquired a half size allotment plot I think what I sympathise with most is the sudden gear changes that anyone growing anything now has to be prepared to make all the time. Sometimes I think the plants cope better than we do!

  11. You are a thoroughly decent and honest human being in this world of Trump, I was enthralled and reassured by your philosophy on Desert Island Discs, I hope ‘the supermarkets’ were tuned in!
    Great surf and food here in Ireland.

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