Guy’s news: Praying for thunder

Diving into the last swimmable reservoir is getting perilous. Carp are digging into the mud in those already empty. Two thirds of our irrigation water is gone, leaving only enough to water our vulnerable crops for another two weeks; had we not invested in sealing a leaking reservoir last year, we would already be dry. Now, with high pressure anchored over the Atlantic, only thunder can help us.

Our agronomist’s report makes grim reading: carrots, cabbages, lettuce, chard, potatoes, leeks… all are delayed or reduced in yield, with quality problems anticipated for what remains. The reasons are always ‘delayed planting due to the wet spring’ followed by ‘lack of water’. To give some sort of return to our co-op farmers and keep the boxes full, it is likely that we will need to be more flexible on specifications where eating quality is not significantly impaired. It is often better to harvest a struggling lettuce, cabbage or head of broccoli at a lower weight, than to leave it another week to limp on, gaining a few grams but becoming yellow, tough and bitter with dehydration.

We have had some nervous summers before – but the crunch has never come so early. We still have the right to draw water from a tributary of the River Dart under an abstraction license my father took out in the 1960s, but it would leave the stream bed virtually dry, and still not be enough to satisfy the thirst. Slate, our underlying rock, is relatively impervious, so boreholes do not work unless you are very lucky. The only commercially viable option (and the most environmentally favourable) is to build clay-lined winter fill reservoirs wherever there is a valley bottom wide enough. To invest in an asset that is used so unpredictably (on average every 30 years) is a bold move, but perhaps climate change is shifting the odds – and at least we will have somewhere to swim.

It isn’t all doom. The heat and sun-loving tomatoes are early and looking great. Cucumbers are massively ahead of schedule with heavy yields, and sweetcorn and pumpkins are also looking good. We have had a few thundery showers this week, amounting to a very welcome inch of water; enough to germinate the swedes and allow recently planted leeks, cabbages and caulis to get their roots down into the moisture reserves below. Now we’re just praying for more.

Guy Singh-Watson

19 responses to “Guy’s news: Praying for thunder

  1. Jill Willmott

    Your idea for clay lined reservoirs seems like a good one; as you already have carp, have you thought perhaps of investing in an Aquaponics system? I have been watching programmes on this recently, and it looks like it is worth a try, and with the fish manure providing the nutrients, it is still organic.

    I do agree however; a few good storms would be a godsend!

    Cheers, Jill

  2. The reservoir option sounds like a good plan for the future. Once it’s there, it may get used more often than 30 years just because it’s there, and if not swimming is good exercise!

    Your mention of harvesting veg when it’s smaller but edible sounds good to me. The first the veg in my house see is a knife, and cutting a small cabbage into two rather than a big one into four sounds like less work for my knife 🙂

    Having said that, some thunder and overnight rain would be wonderful.

  3. Thank you for your latest update. We feel your pain and are praying with you! The veg boxes never fail to be worth every penny and I trust we your customers are resilient enough to tolerate smaĺler veggies and less of the water thirsty varieties whilst the dry weather continues. It’s clear you folks put heart and soul into the work and it’s very much appreciated. ….now doing a little rain dance ….

  4. We are praying for rain in London, but we do have pumps on our allotments and. , we think , 3 underground rivers. It’s hard work but next time I am tempted to complain , I shall think of you with a business to run
    What a year this has been! But thank you for everything: I love your spirit.

  5. What a problem for you! We feel for you and hope the necessary rain comes along soon (preferably dusk to dawn!). Much enjoyed Desert Island Discs (heard it twice).

  6. Kathleen Moon

    Oh Guy, it’s not easy is it? But carry on, we’re all behind you and understand if yields are low, prices will rise. Desert Island Discs was really interesting, well done!

  7. Margaret Whittaker

    I already feel receiving our boxes from you and enjoying the contents on a regular basis with such wonderful written accompaniments makes us all part of a family, working and providing for each other. I do hope the weather offers rain, but like Charlotte hope everyone will tolerate small veg cut early to prevent spoiling, and keep you all going for the future. Good luck.

  8. Yes, we would also like some rain even though we have been enjoying this wonderful sunny weather. We always love getting your veg boxes and each time it is like unwrapping a surprise of unexpected goodies. The idea of a clay lined reservoir is positive move particularly with the possibility of climate change. I also took delight in listening to Desert Island Discs.

  9. As well as being totally with all the posiive comments above, I do wonder how we can make sure this food-threatening drought finally convinces the climate change sceptics in ‘high’ places…? -so that more is done sooner to lessen the damage.
    Also for anyone who isn’t already, if you need to wash any fruit/veg, do at least give the water to either your garden or a needy street tree – please help them as most councils aren’t set up to keep street trees alive.

  10. Enjoyed your Desert Island Discs – such an interesting life – thank you.

    SES Customer

  11. Janet Haagensen

    Dear Guy We listened to your podcast and agreed we feel even less like buying our veg at the supermarket so we are going weekly from now on. Oh and my husband put on a cassette of the ‘I’m your man’ in the car as we drove to the reception after we got married 30 years ago so that made us smile.

  12. Dear Guy Thank you and your team, and our lovely distributors, for all your hard work in providing us with such wonderful produce. Always exciting to see what our box is going to have in it and then add more!! Such a difficult time but your fortitude, ethos and determination is such a positive sense of purpose and commitment and love your written blogs and recipes that come in our boxes. The rain will come. Really enjoyed listening to you and your choice of music on Desert Island Disc. Many thanks.

  13. Dorothy Nesbit

    My mother’s collection of visitor’s books has an entry “we prayed for rain”, dated 1976. Farming is not for the faint-hearted.

    • 1976 was the year we got married. Everywhere the fields were yellow. Then we went to France and it was the same or worse, and we saw loads of (?)straw (?) hay on the roads north-west to Brittany. It started in May and lasted all through summer.

  14. Here in North Wales, we did not get ANY of the promised rain or storms,
    There is dust everywhere! Pray that you will keep us supplied with something as we will not be able to grow anything, soon,

  15. Margaret smith

    The weather has always been unpredictable, but thank goodness that Riverford remains predictable in always trying to stay one jump ahead.
    I do not mind smaller veg rather that than lesser quality.
    Thank you to all the staff for working so hard in this heat to bring us our valued boxes.

  16. Enough of the references to Highs and High Pressure or perhaps, simply pressure. I feel for you guys, as nearly all of the UK-based farmers and growers are struggling to some degree, it’s not all plain-sailing for the wildlife either I imagine. At least, your blog update ended on a high with mention of you receiving some local thundery type downpours. The lows will soon come ashore, and a balance of sorts will hopefully prevail. For those interested in reading it, this post over on my Facebook page pretty much says it all.

    Best Wishes

    Tony Powell and naturestimeline

  17. All of the climate data points to a shift in our weather patterns to deliver heavy downpours but overall, less rain than average. Warmer, drier years with unpredictable heavy rain spells could cause havoc without proper planning. Not only would I recommend that you invest early in the reservoirs, i’d consider engineering some kind of drainage from the fields back to the reservoir. it would be expensive but it will keep the organic dream alive. Keep doing what you do best, i’m convinced that our future depends on organic farming.

  18. Thank you for not drawing water from the tributary if that would dry it out. I hope you got some of the recent rain. Sending thanks & good wishes for you and all at the farms, I really appreciate what you are doing.

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