Those among you who are warily eyeing a pair of odd-looking leeks in your veg box, fear not. Welcome to the world of wet garlic. Essentially ordinary garlic harvested before the bulb and cloves are fully formed, wet garlic deserves no less a place in your cooking than its older, dried brethren. It is milder and sweeter in flavour, and works well in every dish you would use dried garlic in, just add it later in the cooking process and use more of it. For the more adventurous, try it chopped straight into salads, stir fries or risotto, or even to jazz up your scrambled eggs. Don’t be afraid to use the whole thing – bulb, stalk and even leaves, provided they are in good condition.
Growing garlic is relatively pain-free as far as pests and diseases are concerned, no doubt partly thanks to its natural pungency. The fiddliest part of its cultivation is in the planting itself. Firstly the cloves have to be separated from the bulbs – picture a circle of people among bulging sacks, boxes of cloves, mounds of floaty, papery vegetation and a pervading whiff of garlic, and you get the idea. When it comes to planting in October, the cloves have to be put in the soil pointed-end-up, as otherwise the shoot has to make a u-turn, wasting precious time and energy in the process and generally resulting in a weaker plant. Because of this little idiosyncrasy, garlic must be planted by hand. For the acre and a half of garlic we have growing here in Devon that meant placing over 100,000 cloves within five days; quite a task for our harvest manager, Martin, and his team.
We’ve been hosting Charles, a Ugandan farmer at our farm in Devon for the past two weeks. Join Guy as he takes a look at his creative farming methods (3 min 50 sec).
Devotees of PSB (as she’s known to her friends) will be pleased to hear that this darling of winter veg is finally heading in from our fields. The plan was that we’d have the earliest variety, Rudolf, in your boxes by January or February, but the bitterly cold period around December meant the crop simply stopped growing. A fair chunk of the harvest has been lost, but given that the plants were frozen solid or snow-blanketed for the best part of five weeks, it’s remarkable how much has survived. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – or in this case – tastier.
Our planting schedule was designed to provide a relatively steady flow of PSB from January culminating in a ‘flush’ in late March and April. We plant varieties that harvest in consecutive months; Rudolf first, then Red Spear, Redhead, Claret (our highest yielder) followed by Cardinal. However because of the cold delay, much of it looks to be ready all at once in April, so there will be plenty to go around soon enough. Not so much of a failed harvest as a delayed one.
With its relatively recent appearance on supermarket shelves you would be forgiven for thinking that PSB is the result of some adventurous new veggie hybridisation. Yet step back into the ‘70s, a request for broccoli at your local greengrocer would be greeted with a fistful of these little beauties. PSB is the original broccoli, grown across much of the UK every spring. It fell out of favour as supermarkets opted for its Italian relative calabrese (named after Calabria in the south of the country where it originally was grown), which was easily manipulated to produce accommodating, neat-looking hybrids that grow year-round. PSB and her unruly spears were banished to the veg plots of ‘backward’ gardeners. Another example of how the supermarkets’ desire for uniform veg eclipsed the more fundamental qualities of flavour and seasonality.
You can order PSB from our extras range at the moment (there’s not enough coming in to put in all the boxes just yet), but come April when the flush hits, you’ll be able to fill your boots. The whole of the plant is edible, including the leaves. The trick is to get the stalk tender without overdoing the flower buds – try bunching the spears together and boiling standing up in a pan, asparagus-style.
Throughout December, we’re posting tips, ideas, downloads and recipes on our Facebook page (our version of an advent calendar). Today’s tips come from John, Farm Manager on our farm in Devon. He has put together some tips on looking after plants in your garden over the winter months.
- Lots of winter veg can handle the frost, but it’s better to pull it out of the ground once it’s thawed, so rather than doing it on a frosty morning, wait until the afternoon.
- If you have root veg growing in your garden over winter, you can put straw around the crown of the plant to add some insulation.
- If you are growing celeriac, it’s best to harvest it before Christmas.
- When growing root veg, keep checking the leaves, as once they start to drop off, the veg is less likely to handle hard frost. You can harvest a batch and make a clamp by putting the veg in a small mound and covering with straw and then soil. When you want to eat the vegetables, pull them out and wash them.
- It’s a good idea to use garden fleece on your plants. Cover plants as early as you can to protect them from cold weather.
order garden fleece from Riverford Organic
Early November means celeriac has just come into season so we went out to our fields on Wash Farm in Devon to see it being harvested. We planted around 96,000 transplants between 18th and 21st May and started harvesting in early November and can usually use around 75% of the crop. The rest is either too small or has disease, pest or mechanical damage, but rather than waste it, we compost it back into the soil to feed next year’s crop.
Celeriac likes to be planted in the warmer weather but needs a lot of moisture so we planted ours in fertile, water retentive soil and irrigated once a week when the weather was dry. It doesn’t grow well in the frost so we make sure we harvest it and put it in storage by late December. When harvesting, you’ll see from the photos that our field workers, wearing waterproofs in the damp November weather use machete-style knives to trim the root and clinging soil. We’ve tried using a potato harvester, but ended up with a barn full of soil so stick to traditional methods – hand picking and cutting.
If you store celeriac in the fridge, it will keep for several weeks. Even if it’s cut in half, you can keep it for a week or more but you might need to shave off a layer to refresh the surface. An easy way of using it is to mash it with potato (around 1/3 celeriac to 2/3 potato).
They were the most disliked vegetable in our kids’ summer challenge, but Brussels sprouts are back with a vengeance this year. Sprouts are one of the most challenging crops to grow organically; in fact we have given up trying on our farm. Ours come from Anthony Coker, one of our local co-op growers, and Organic Dan in Lancashire. This year the growing season has been kind and they are expecting bumper yields. A good spring helped to get the crop established and then a fair bit of luck and good management helped to avoid the cabbage aphid and white fly pests (sprouts are often more popular with pests than they are with people). Now, thanks to mild temperatures and just the right amount of rain, this year’s crop is looking and tasting fantastic – and is even a few weeks early. They will be in the boxes in the run up to Christmas, some looking dramatic on the stalk, and others loose and ready to go.
If you have never seen a field of sprouts, it is a pretty impressive sight, like a sweep of mini Christmas trees decorated with vibrant green baubles. Unlike most conventionally grown sprouts, ours are selected and picked by hand; backbreaking work for the teams out in the fields. So even if you’re one of the haters, you can take solace from the fact that you’re not growing or picking them.
In the kitchen, think of sprouts as mini cabbages (or at least use that as a ploy to get kids to eat them), so flavours that complement cabbages, like caraway, bacon and nuts, will work well. Cook sprouts as quickly as you can; it’s important to catch them before they become unappealingly soggy. To help them keep their crunch, try them in stir fries, or even shred very fresh sprouts with toasted sesame seeds and soy sauce for a quick Asian-style salad.
order sprouts from Riverford
We took a trip to the Riverford Dairy, a couple of miles from our farm in Devon. The dairy, owned by Oliver Watson, Guy’s brother, has just 8 staff members and 250 cows, but supplies us with a lot of organic milk, yoghurt, cream and butter.
Riverford cows are a mixed breed of European hill farm herds. Each cow produces around 18 litres of milk per day and lives for 6-8 years (higher yield cows live 2-3 years). They live outside for 9 months and stay in a barn over winter.
In the barn, the cows have their own stalls so they can sleep without being in the way of the rest of the herd, but they are free to walk around. They are fed silage (fermented grass), vegetables, fruit and cow cakes (made from maize, barley, wheat and pulses).
Milking happens daily between 4:00-5:30pm and takes 2-3 minutes per cow. Milk from the Riverford dairy is pasteurised to kill off bacteria but isn’t homogenised, so before opening one of our cartons, give it a good shake.
order milk, butter, yoghurt and cream from Riverford
You may have noticed that sweetcorn started early this year. We had hoped to have our first ever crop from our French farm in the Vendée, but sadly the weeds took over and dashed our plans. Sweetcorn is a temperate crop and needs good light levels and warm sun to flourish, so we sourced some early on from Suffolk, where the growing conditions are ideal. The sweetcorn in the boxes now is grown by Jono Smales in the New Forest and Peter Wastenage and John Walter-Symonds, two of our SDOP members in Devon. They judge when the cobs are ripe by feel alone; if you start peeling back the leaves and peeking inside, the cob quickly deteriorates.
Keep sweetcorn in the fridge encased in its outer leaves (the best sort of packaging) and eat it within a day or two for the best flavour. To enjoy it at its simplest, pull off the outer leaves and silky threads, before boiling for 5-10 minutes in unsalted water until tender. Smear with good old fashioned butter. It is also good on the BBQ, if you haven’t yet packed it away for winter. Soak the unpeeled cobs in water for an hour, then cook very gently for 25-45 minutes until the leaves turn brown. The peeled-back leaves make a natural handle for the cooked cobs.
If a particular recipe calls for the kernels only, they are very easy to remove (either raw or cooked). Cut off the end to give some stability, stand it up and slice downwards, cutting the kernels off with a sharp knife. Our cook Kirsty demonstrates this on last week’s ‘what’s what in the box’ video. You could make a smoky salsa with the kernels, to serve with grilled meat or fish. Spread uncooked kernels out on an oven tray and dry roast at 160°C for about 20 minutes, then mix with kidney beans, chopped fresh tomatoes and an oil and vinegar dressing. They are also good for making soup. Cook a chopped onion and a couple of garlic cloves in butter until soft, add the kernels from three corn cobs and cover with a mixture of half water and half milk. Simmer for 10 minutes, then purée, pass through a sieve and season to taste. If you have a favourite recipe for sweetcorn, enter it in our monthly competition to win a fruit box.
Orchards are swelling with ripe, fragrant fruit. It’s time to celebrate English apple season and rediscover some traditional varieties.
Paul Ward grows apples, pears and plums for us on his four farms in Kent. He started out over 17 years ago, buying his first orchard as a hobby. Since then, Paul’s business has grown to producing 700-800 tonnes of apples every year. About half of these go to us, to supply our regional farms.
Organic apple growing is not without its difficulties. Our damp, mild, British climate makes trees susceptible to fungal diseases that sap vigour and yield. Organic farming forbids the use of some sprays to prevent this, presenting a very real challenge to growers. This is why so few orchards remain in the UK; despite people’s professed enthusiasm for traditional varieties, the reality is that our eyes prefer the cosmetically-perfect specimens in the fruitbowl. The apples you’ll get from us might have the odd knot or gnarl, but they are grown for flavour and character.
We start the season with Discovery, a red-skinned fruit with crisp white flesh. Katy will be ready soon after; a beautiful dark crimson apple that has a light, gentle flavour typical of early varieties. Then come Red Windsor and Red Pippin with a stronger, Cox-like flavour. Look out also for Russets, with a distinctive dry flesh and balance of sweet and sharpness. Mid-season, try Spartan, a dark red-skinned, aromatic variety. We will also have some Bramleys through the season; the definitive English apple for cooking and baking.
Some of the early season varieties, particularly Discovery, are at their best for only about a week. As with all fruit, smell is a good indicator of flavour and ripeness. For the main varieties, ripening is about the conversion of starch to sugar; they get sweeter up to a point, then the texture dives and they lose moisture, becoming soft and woolly. As a rule, all English apples are best eaten as quickly as possible, freshly-plucked from the tree.
Order apples online.
We grow organic round courgettes on our farm in Cheshire and took a trip to the fields to see them. They taste the same as the regular long courgettes that we have in our boxes but the shape of these ones make them good for stuffing.
They’re grown in pots before we transplant them between April and July and pick them around six weeks later. The fruit grows quickly so we have to keep an eye on them. Sometimes mildew can cause problems in cold and wet weather, but we cut off any leaves that are affected.
Round courgettes are delicate so when they’re ready for harvesting we pick them by hand.
Try roasting round courgettes in olive oil or on a BBQ. You can also try them stuffed with rice and vegetables and roasted.
Order round courgettes and other veg from Riverford Organic