Author Archives: riverford

Guy’s news: The return of green

The drought is over. I wish I had followed my wife Geetie’s advice and spent more time on the beach instead of wandering around getting miserably stressed about my crops. Then again, you don’t get to be good at growing vegetables without sharing their pain. I’ve never met a self-satisfied organic veg farmer who was any good; we are mostly a contradictory mix of optimism and mild depression, focusing on the sick plants rather than the strong ones, without losing faith in the Eden our fields will one day become.

We had over two inches of rain last weekend, with leaden skies and occasional showers since. The warm ground is still gratefully sucking in anything that falls and is far from saturated, but with shortening days, heavier dews and the sun lower every day, we will not be worrying about water again this year. We have lost a good part of our carrots, swedes, chard, spinach, and early crops of lettuce, but what is left looks good. The drought and heatwave seem like distant memories; pastures have already regained their green, and once-parched vegetables are bursting out of themselves in a hurry to make up for lost time.

Planting of winter crops is largely finished for the year and, with so many customers on holiday, there’s less for us to pick and pack. We are enjoying a lull which will last to mid-September. We are even largely on top of the weeds; most of them struggled as much as our crops, making them easy to hoe out.
The cows will be short of good quality grass for another week or two while growth catches up with their hungry mouths. Like most livestock farmers, my siblings at Riverford Dairy have been feeding the herd their winter silage ration for many weeks. In the longer run, this risks shortage in the winter; in the short run, silage is nothing like grass in its fresh form. The cows eat less, and what they do eat is less nutritious. Milk yields are down as a result; so much so that, for the first time, they anticipate not being able to meet orders next week. Some of you who are used to Riverford milk may receive Acorn Dairy milk instead; based in Yorkshire, Acorn supply our customers in the North and East with organic milk year round. With many cows due to calve and re-join the Riverford herd this month, Acorn should not need to lend a hand for long.

Guy Singh-Watson

Our new raw, organic honey

Organic honey is very hard to come by. A bee’s foraging distance is up to 12km, and for honey to be certified as organic, the honey producer must be able to prove that its bees have only foraged in organic land. These distances are beyond most producers’ capabilities, especially on our small island, where organic land is typically surrounded by non-organic farmland sprayed with artificial chemicals.

But after years of searching, we have found a fantastic organic honey producer: Bona Mel, a family run Spanish business who have been beekeeping for three generations, and organic since 1990. They are based in the Spanish mountains, where their hives are scattered across the natural parks of Sierra Mariola and La Safor, Alicante, which are home to an astonishingly rich natural variety of plants. To the bees, that’s a botanical smorgasbord, where blossom is available all year round.

Their raw wildflower honey is red tinged, with a fragrant, sweetly floral taste – and because they live in a completely uncultivated area, we can be certain that it’s 100% organic. The honey is raw, and prepared by bees with the nectar from various Mediterranean wild flowers.

Because Bona Mel produce, prepare and jar their honey themselves, it is traceable right back to the hive.

You can add Bona Mel honey to your order now: https://www.riverford.co.uk/shop/honey-250g

 

Guy’s news: A temporary reprieve

Three months of dry easterlies ended last weekend with a westerly gale sweeping in off the Atlantic, accompanied by persistent, anxiety-quenching rain. Even our drenched pickers were relieved. Should we thank our cosmically attuned farm worker Raph and a few other rain dancers? Did a butterfly flap its wings somewhere? Whatever the cause, it feels like balance and benevolence have temporarily been restored; even the cooing of our pigeons sounds pleased.

The rain was patchy and localised, but we got lucky, with 44mm showing in the rain gauge. The water disappeared without trace, sucked down into the thirsty ground with no run-off. Within two days the surface looked almost as parched as before – but, critically, digging shows that the moisture from the surface soaked in to meet the moisture at depth. The effect on our plants’ turgidity, leaf colour and growth was almost instant. Most fields could suck up another 3-4 inches of rain before any soaked away to the subsoil or ran off to water courses.

The rain has saved many crops, giving them time to develop the root systems that will find moisture at depth. We have now finished planting the leeks, cabbage, kale, cauliflower and broccoli that will provide most of the greens in your boxes through autumn and winter. The more demanding summer crops will be okay for a fortnight, but once they have a full canopy of leaves, potatoes will draw an inch or more of water from the soil each week… We are not yet out of trouble. For now, it is a pleasure to walk the fields and see crops growing without stress, in ideal conditions. The gale accompanying the rain damaged delicate crops like courgettes and pumpkins, and lodged (bent over) some sweetcorn, but this was a small price to pay for the water.

It is too soon to count the cost of the drought. The bolted lettuces, yellowing spinach, stunted cabbage, failed peas and so on have put us £200,000 behind budget. More rain within a fortnight and a favourable autumn could see us catch up on the veg, but many dairy farmers have already had to feed a good part of their winter forage rations to their cows. With luck we will have a long back end (autumn stretching into early winter), allowing cows to stay out grazing fresh grass for longer, and forage to be preserved.

Guy Singh-Watson

 

Guy’s news: Raving busy

After a raving busy fortnight of muckspreading, ploughing and planting, we are well on the way to catching up from the setbacks of March’s shock weather. A few plants went in while conditions were still borderline, and may struggle to make that crucial early contact with the soil (which, cultivated before it was quite dry, was more vulnerable to damage under our tyres and feet). But after a week, most plants have sent out an inch of vigorous roots and are away.

The big job this week is dividing and replanting spent rhubarb crowns. Ideally this would have been done in February, but rhubarb, in addition to muck and custard, likes water; we plant it in deep, moisture retentive soil which is only now drying enough to make the work tolerable. The roots, which resemble rotten, lifeless tree stumps, are undercut, lifted and cut into 3-8 sections with spades and machetes. It is crucial to clean off the clinging roots of any perennial weeds before replanting in a weed-free field; couch grass, creeping nettle and creeping buttercup are the banes of organic rhubarb.

Rhubarb, initially brought from China as a purgative, was almost abandoned in the late 20th century in favour of airfreighted peaches, strawberries and grapes. Now it’s back in fashion with a vengeance. The UK forced rhubarb season starts in January, but planting stock has become very expensive, and we haven’t found a way to make this commercially viable. Instead, our outdoor crop starts in late April and runs through the summer, until the stalks get dry and tough or you lose your appetite for the stuff (whichever comes sooner). We have just started picking the remaining younger crowns, but expect a reduced crop; in such a wet winter, we weren’t able to spread the muck it so loves.

In the woods, we’re in the last week of wild garlic harvesting. As the trees come into leaf above, the leaves on the forest floor will yellow, putting all their remaining energy into seed and bulb production before being shaded out for the summer. The oak is out well before the ash, which, according to folk law, suggests we are ‘in for a splash’ rather than a ‘soak’, i.e. we should look forward to a dry summer – a welcome prospect after a winter from which we are only now recovering.

Guy Singh-Watson