Author Archives: Riverford

Guy’s news: Sauerkraut for cows

After three frantic weeks, we are very nearly caught up with the planting; just a few more rhubarb crowns and artichokes to go, and we will be there. Most crops are establishing well, but even the recent glorious weather won’t make up for a month’s delay in starting – making a long, hungry wait for the first harvest.

South Devon has come alive with the hum of mowers as dairy farmers take their first cut of silage. The grass is cut, bruised to speed wilting, and left for a day to dry, before being windrowed (raked into rows) for the forage harvester; a ravenous, roaring beast which seems to get bigger and faster with every passing year. Back at the farm, the finely chopped grass is rolled into a ‘clamp’ (a heap that is covered and compressed) to exclude oxygen. This promotes the anaerobic fermentation which generates lactic acid, thereby pickling and preserving the grass. It’s sauerkraut for cows on a huge scale; they will each eat about ten tonnes through the winter. These early cuts give lower yields, but the grass is more digestible. So, provided there are enough sugars to feed the right bacteria, quality will be good, the cows will eat more and produce more milk.

Silage is undoubtedly a more efficient and advanced way of preserving grass than haymaking, which normally requires five to seven consecutive dry days, making it risky, time consuming and often frustrating. However, the early and frequent cutting used for silage is less good for ground-nesting birds. Traditional hay meadows were typically cut in July, when most nesting was complete and a diverse range of grasses and flowers had set seed. The transition from hay to silage gained momentum in the 1960s; silage must now account for 95% of forage conservation in the UK. Its rising popularity is also associated with a move from species-rich permanent pasture to monocultures of sweet, high-yielding ryegrasses which respond well to nitrogen fertilisers. Organic farmers will have more diverse mixtures, including clovers and sometimes more varied grasses, but nothing to compare with the species richness of traditional hay meadows – or the sweet smell of well-made hay. Despite silage’s flaws, it is good to see (or rather hear) the dairy farmers getting started, just as we finish catching up ourselves.

Guy Singh-Watson

5 vegetarian recipes for May

May is a tricky time of year for us, as we’re a midst The Hungry Gap; the time of year when the winter crops have tailed to an end and we’re still waiting for the first of the summer veg. However, with the help of our French farm, the organic growers we work with in Spain and others, we’re able to keep the boxes full and vibrant.

From now until late summer our carrots will arrive on your doorstep with their gorgeous green tops. Don’t immediately toss them on the compost or give them to the nearest rabbit or guinea pig, but instead eat them. They are especially good made into a pesto.

Other highlights for May include broad beans, asparagus and spinach. Here are 5 recipes to keep your plate colourful and veg filled.

Crushed Broad Bean Bruschetta

A delectable vegetarian springtime starter. If you make this early in the broad bean season, while they’re still small and soft, you can skip the double podding that broad beans usually call for. Two lovely additions: spread your toasted bread with a little fresh ricotta before piling on the beans, or top the crushed beans with crispily fried pancetta or bacon lardons.

See full crushed bean bruschetta recipe

Carrot Top Pesto

Carrot tops are full of flavour, and like the leaves of other roots (e.g. celeriac or beetroot) if they’re in reasonable nick, they’re good to eat – so don’t throw them on the compost. Pick off and discard the larger stems, keeping the feathery leaves. This pesto is great tossed through pasta, or drizzled over roasted carrots, new potatoes or greens. Try crumbling mozzarella or sheep’s cheese over the top too.

See full carrot top pesto recipe

Asparagus, Spinach & Lentil Salad

This is a simple and nourishing dish, making a veg hero of asparagus, a favourite spring vegetable. We suggest topping with one of our favourite cheeses, Wootton white, a British sheep’s cheese, but feta or soft cheese will work.

See full asparagus, spinach & lentil salad recipe

Spinach Linguine with Roasted Tomatoes

Avoid wasting leftover bread by drying it out, blitzing and sprinkling onto pasta dishes like so for a little crunch. Here breadcrumbs top linguine pasta with wilted spinach, sweet, juicy roasted tomatoes, a garlicy hit and a kick of chilli.

See full spinach linguine with roasted tomatoes recipe

Sweet Potato, Spinach & Almond Curry

This is a mildly spiced curry with warming garam masala, a mix of aromatic spices that includes clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and cumin. Lightly bashing the cardamom opens up the seeds for more flavour. Seasonal spinach adds a hit of green, and can be interchanged with swiss chard or spring green.

See full sweet potato, spinach & almond curry recipe

Guy’s news: Supermarkets, muckspreaders & unholy couplings

I’m very excited about my ‘new’ muckspreader. Actually it’s twenty years old, and tiny; a toy by modern standards, spreading a mere tonne at a time. No one else wanted it, but I think it’s just perfect for the job, spreading its load with a light, nimble touch on the land. Can a muckspreader be elegant? We do have a larger one, taking ten tonnes and needing a 150hp tractor to pull it; this behemoth is a cheaper way to get the job done, but it crushes everything in its path, leaving a trail of destruction behind. The true cost of its lumbering is long term and subterranean, making it hard to resist the short term benefits of speed, convenience and cost. Nobody asked the earthworms, but I squirm in sympathy as the beast devours their homes.

The unholy coupling of Asdapod and Sainsceratops will create a clumsy gargantuan, let loose to destroy all in the path of its flailing battle with Tescosaurus rex. More anonymous, over-travelled, additive-laden food, larger distribution centres, more low-paid jobs… The earthworms here will be the helpless, invisible suppliers: forced to wait ever longer to be paid while their cash feeds the beast’s insatiable appetite for growth, and squeezed to extinction just to shave a penny off the price of butter. No, I don’t think the merger is a great idea. I used to feed these monsters myself, before side-stepping into a cave too small for them.

How do we turn this around, for some sanity to prevail? It took a massive meteorite strike to end the dinosaurs’ reign, allowing those freaky, light-footed mammals on the fringes to have their day. Might the internet topple the vast, inflexible beasts? Perhaps, but beware the voracious Amazonosaurus.

But it hasn’t all been bad news. The EU virtually banned neonicotinoid insecticides last week, as the evidence of their contribution to the catastrophic decline of bees and other pollinators became overwhelming. Michael Gove, Defra, and the UK government’s advisory panel on pesticides even led the way. Well done.

Guy Singh-Watson

How do fields get their names?

By John Richards, who manages the fields on our Devon farm.

Every field in the countryside has a history, a story, and unique characteristics based on its location, soil type and topography. And when farmers walk around their land, each field will stimulate a wave of memories and feelings both good and bad – perhaps remembering a particularly fine crop, or the year when a crop was lost to weeds.

For example, last Friday afternoon, the team were out in our field Eastaway, planting pak choi in far from ideal conditions. Some plants were oversized due to the forced delays of the cold spring, and the claggy soil was not flowing well. I suddenly had a flashback to a similar situation in the same field in 2002; on that occasion the plants rooted out and produced quite a good crop. These experiences give us some hope that, despite the poor conditions, we may yet get some decent pak choi in 2018.

Fields may have been named after something either long gone or still there. We grew winter cabbages in a rented field near Buckfastleigh called Minefield. The old mineshaft was still there, long since filled in, but marked by a pile of rocks. It is likely to be associated with some extensive copper mining activity that used to take place at the nearby Brookwood Mine.

Well Pathfield is the field above the main road to our farm. It references a spring that still emerges out of the rock in the copse in the corner, supplying fresh water to the hamlet and farm.

When I was 18 I worked on a small 50-cow dairy herd near Ware in Hertfordshire. There was an intriguingly named field near the canal called The Cat and Monkey. Apparently, it was named after an old pub which fell into dereliction between the wars and has now completely disappeared.

Our 500-acre farm at Sacrewell near Peterborough has fields in an area that formed part of the strip-cultivated open medieval field system. Field names like Cottager’s Piece are based on the arable land being divided into a multitude of strips (or ‘selions’), each managed by different individuals, with the strips distributed around the whole land block. Strips were aggregated into furlongs, and these into fields. Short selions fitting into triangles between furlongs, tracks and paths were known as ‘gores’ and ‘butts’ – terms which are still used by country folk in the midlands to this day.

The same crops were grown by all the farmers on each furlong, and each field was left fallow (ploughed but not sown) every second, third or fourth year. The system was collective, and farmers shared some of the labours of cultivating each other’s strips. Between 1635 and 1720, most of these open fields were largely enclosed under the Inclosure Acts, essentially privatizing and replacing the strips with a grid of large, hedged, straight-edged fields.

Land changing hands is a vulnerable time when field names can be forgotten. When we took on a new 40-acre block of nearby land called Hills, it was split into 3 distinct fields, but we had no idea of the names. In haste I rather unimaginatively named them Hills Big, Hills Small and Hills Triangle. Later chatting to Pop, the dairy farm’s tractor driver, he could remember their original names and we subsequently changed them back to Barkingdon Pathfield, Great East and Barton Town respectively – a great improvement!

Field names often reflect their size, location or topography e.g. our fields Eastaway, West Park, Far Field or Big Field. The irony of Big Field is that it has been getting steadily smaller over the years as land has needed to be taken for developments like The Riverford Field Kitchen restaurant, barns, yards and car parks. The photograph was taken in June 1997 looking down on a much smaller and more compact site than we have now, with the vegetable beds running virtually right up to the barns (which are now our offices).

Wash farm, June 1997

To finish, I must share with you my all-time favourite field name. It was a rented field not far away, known as Dead Sheep field because that was what was in it when the farmers first took over their farm.

Guy’s news: And we’re off!

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.

Guy Singh-Watson

5 vegan recipes for April

April means two exciting things in the veg world: wild garlic and late PSB (purple sprouting broccoli). As winter crops start to tail off and we enter The Hungry Gap, things can start to get a little sparse, but pungent, bright green wild garlic is a bit of a saviour during this period, as are beautiful purple heads of broccoli and spring greens.

Spring greens bring a youthful freshness when winter crops are dull and tired. They’re sweet and tender enough to shine on their own, but given the time and effort are great made into rice rolls like below.

Here are 5 vegan recipes for April, picked by Kirsty, our recipe box cook.

Spring Green Rice Rolls

Around the eastern Mediterranean there are many versions of stuffed leaves, often using vine leaves, but any good-sized cabbage leaf can be used. These rolls have crunch, sweetness and a fresh herb flavour. The simmering finishes off the rice; as it expands more it plumps up the rolls, and the leaves get extra flavour from the lemony oil coating.

Read the full spring or summer green rice rolls recipe.

Wild Garlic & Purple Sprouting Broccoli Ragout

A coconut broth is used to cook nutty tasting wild rice and quinoa, with a seasonal pairing of wild garlic and purple sprouting broccoli: two of our favourite homegrown spring vegetables.

Read the full wild garlic & purple sprouting broccoli ragout recipe.

Spring Green Mung Dal & Chickpea Curry with Shiitake

This version of dal, made with yellow mung lentils, greens and our umami flavoured shiitake mushrooms, is good for a healthy mid-week supper. Earthy shiitake mushrooms really finish off this colourful, creamy, Indian spiced dish.

Read the full spring green mung dal & chickpea curry with shiitake recipe.

Wild Garlic Chickpea Curry

What’s so wild? Garlic leaves, or ‘ramsons’ as they’re known. A seasonal treat, we have special licence to pick ours, treading carefully on the land. It’s tasty in this chana masala style curry – chana translating as chickpeas.

Read the full wild garlic chickpea curry recipe.

Aloo Gobi

A classic cauliflower and potato curry. Serve this with warm naan bread and mango chutney for an inexpensive, quick and flavourful dinner. To make this lighter and greener you could add in a handful of frozen peas and some chopped spinach, chard or kale for the last few minutes of cooking.

Read the full aloo gobi recipe.

Guy’s news: Time to emerge from the gloom?

A few tantalising breaks in the clouds reveal a sun growing in strength, but with sodden ground nothing has been planted to soak up the rays. To add to our gloom, areas of purple sprouting broccoli are withering, stunted and yellow. Digging up a few plants reveals roots rotting in airless, water-logged soil.

We homo sapiens are incredibly versatile. Given peace, stability and reasonable governance, we manage to grow food in the most extreme circumstances: in deserts, on the sides of mountains, and in the Arctic Circle. I am confident we can adapt to a bit of rain. However, successful agronomy is always based on accumulated experience, and the assumption that the future will be similar to the past. A longer time frame and more objectivity than I can muster are needed to assess whether unusual weather should be attributed to climate change, but perhaps it is time to rethink some of our farming practices.

Based on the last ten years, the biggest challenge we face (in the west at least) is extended periods of heavy rainfall, with consequent problems of water-logging, the inability to plough, plant and weed in critical periods, soil being lost or leached of nutrients, and difficulties in harvesting. Most modern horticultural trends exacerbate the problem: ever larger machines and fields, intensification to squeeze more crops from the same area, and the abandoning of crop rotations which give soil a chance to recover under grass. This ‘progress’ isn’t inevitable; better doesn’t have to mean bigger and more. There are advances in GPS guidance, battery technology, robotics and our understanding of ecology and soil health that could all make a very different type of farming possible.

We are experimenting with permanent raised beds, alley and mixed cropping amongst perennials, low ground-pressure vehicles, and small areas of crops surrounded by buffers of grass. All have the potential to be more resilient, less damaging and even, one day, more profitable than prevailing methods; but inspiring a wider agricultural mindshift will need more investment in machinery and knowledge than a few maverick gardeners and farmers can offer. For now, the sun is beginning to shine. Perhaps by the time this is read we will have started planting.

Guy Singh-Watson

5 wild garlic recipes

Every year we forage wild garlic from the woods around our Devon farm. The pungent leaves add a welcome dash of green and liven up all our plates during The Hungry Gap when other crops can be sparse.

Wild garlic leaves have a milder taste compared with dried garlic, and are good stirred into soups, risotto, pasta dishes and eggs; hardcore garlic fans may enjoy wild garlic shredded into salads. Here are a few recipe suggestions.

Wild Garlic Chicken Kiev with Baked Beetroot Bubble & Squeak

Chicken Kiev is a retro classic. Originally made with dried garlic, it works equally as well with the fresh wild garlic we pick each year on the farm. You may get a little butter leak from your chicken; this is normal, just pour it over at the end.

Read the full wild garlic chicken kiev with baked beetroot bubble & squeak recipe.

Wild Garlic & Potato Soup

Paired with the punchy taste of wild garlic, potatoes make a wonderfully savoury and inexpensive soup. Increase the amount of wild garlic, if you dare! We send out the wild garlic leaves but not the flowers, as they’re too delicate to travel, so you’ll have to forage for those if you want to use them – or garnish with lots of chopped parsley instead.

Read the full wild garlic and potato soup recipe.

Wild Garlic Pesto Pasta with Slow Cooked Courgettes

Watch as the courgettes collapse into a thick and unctuous sauce. Low and slow is the key. If you have lots of wild garlic, the pesto recipe can be scaled up and will keep well jarred in the fridge for at least a week if covered with a layer of oil.

Read the full wild garlic pesto pasta with slow cooked courgettes recipe.

Lemon & Thyme Pork with Potato & Wild Garlic Hash

For this recipe, we use spare rib pork steaks as they have a deeper flavour and wonderful marbling of fat to keep them succulent. Paired with chucks of fried potato and wilted wild garlic, this recipe makes a quick, simple dinner.

Read the full lemon & thyme pork with potato & wild garlic hash recipe.

Broccoli, Tomato & Wild Garlic Wheatberries with Mashed Potato

If you’ve not tried wheatberries (wholegrain wheat kernels) before then I hope you like them and want to use them again. They add a really good texture to vegetarian dishes, and can be used in stew style dishes or cooked, cooled and used in salads.

Read the full broccoli, tomato & wild garlic wheatberries with mashed potato recipe.

What is the Hungry Gap?

From time to time, you might hear us refer to the Hungry Gap. This is the hardest time of year for UK farmers: a few weeks, usually in April, May and early June, after the winter crops have ended but before the new season’s plantings are ready to harvest.

It all comes down to the UK’s latitude. We sit right at the geographical limit for many spring crops, which would not survive our cold winter temperatures if grown any earlier. At the same time, as the days warm up into spring, many hardy winter crops like sprouts, kales, and caulis ‘bolt’ (abandon leaf growth to start producing flowers and seeds). The result is unproductive fields – and sometimes, rather repetitive boxes! In fact, our 100% UK veg box has to stop completely for a few weeks every year.

If it’s such a dire time, why hasn’t everyone heard more about the Hungry Gap before – or noticed its impact on their plates?

Airfreight and artificial heat

The name ‘the Hungry Gap’ harks back to a time when an empty field really meant going hungry. Traditionally, the gap had to be bridged with a spartan diet of cabbage, old potatoes, and fruits preserved during kinder months. These days, however, very few people eat a local, seasonal diet; the supermarkets can easily top up their shelves with even more imported produce, or crops grown in the UK under heated glass, and no one need notice the difference.

Of course, we don’t want anyone going hungry – but unfettered airfreight and artificial heat isn’t an environmentally responsible solution. Over the years, Riverford has worked out a pretty good system of workarounds and intelligent compromises, allowing us to keep our veg boxes varied, fresh and full without sacrificing our founding values…

Finding a better way

Like the supermarkets, we rely more on imported produce during the Hungry Gap. However, whether in the UK or abroad, we only work with small-scale organic farmers that we know, trust, and look after for the long term. A few of us recently went out to visit some of our growers in Spain, who have been keeping our shelves stocked with broad beans, garden peas and more… read all about it in Luke’s blog.

Importing isn’t a perfect solution, but it’s far less damaging than growing the same crops in the UK using artificial heat. Take the example of tomatoes. The huge amounts of heat used in glass hothouses is produced by burning gas or oil. For every kilo of tomatoes this way, 2-3 kilos of CO2 are released into the atmosphere. Trucking tomatoes over from Spain uses just a tenth of the carbon compared with growing them in the UK using heat. It’s not perfect, but it’s the least damaging option.

Our imports are always brought over by land or sea, never by air. Airfreight causes 40-50 times the CO2 emissions of sea freight.

Guy’s French farm

Seven years ago, Guy decided on an interesting addition to his armoury against the Hungry Gap: he’d buy his own farm in France. Le Boutinard is 10 miles from the coast, in the Vendée region of Western France. He chose the situation very carefully: the light and rainfall there are just right for producing a bounty of colourful spring crops that are ready to harvest just a few vital weeks ahead of the UK. It’s environmentally friendly, too: by road, Le Boutinard is the same distance from our Devon farm as the Fens.

Watch Guy’s video to learn more about his reasons for buying the French farm – and the learning curve he’s faced along the way:

Using our imagination

As well as all these solutions from overseas, we’ve learned to be a bit more resourceful with what greenery we can gather on our own shores. Foraged wild garlic and bitter dandelion leaves both offer some welcome pep for palates that are dulled with winter stodge.


On our Devon farm, we also grow lots of Hungry Gap kale. The clue’s in the name: this reliable variety is at its best when the rest of its kale-y cousins have bolted, and has been helping people bridge the gap for generations.

The Hungry Gap is on its way in the next few weeks. We have planned carefully, and hope you’ll enjoy an interesting, good quality and bountiful mix in your box. In the meanwhile, for a tasty little glimmer of homegrown green, why not order some Hungry Gap kale – it’s available online now.

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