Tag Archives: artichokes

guy’s newsletter: cardoons, self-satisfaction & bitterness

Farmers have a reputation for unabated misery, with some justification. How often do you hear one pleased with the weather, the government or the price of wheat or milk? So on this gorgeous April morning let me just say that things are pretty good. It has been a near perfect spring, the winter was not so bad for most of us outside of Somerset and I’m exceedingly pleased to see the
swallows return and call myself a farmer, even if I seldom get astride a tractor any more.

As I wander around the farm I tap into scenes of calm, well ordered productivity; be it splitting rhubarb crowns, planting tomatoes, courgettes or potatoes, everyone knows their job in our well choreographed dance with the seasons. How did we get here? The lost tempers, broken down machines and chaos that my demonic determination used to produce are a thing of the past. Instead we have a wonderfully skilled team and best of all they are, for the most part, smiling. I get a vicarious satisfaction from witnessing their progress acrGuy Watson Celeryoss the fields but feel a little sadness not to be more involved. There is nothing like doing it with your own hands, but their hands are better than mine.

Fortunately I still have a small indulgence in the shape of two acres of artichokes and cardoons. They have yet to turn a profit, but in the year we have lost the cook and cardoon patron Clarissa Dickson Wright, I think I might have cracked it. I love the vigour and beauty of the cardoon plant, especially their flowers, but have to date failed to make the celery-like leaf ribs edible. The stringy bitterness has been too much even for me, but last week I tried a new variety sown last spring, and to my delight they were tender with the pleasantly mild bitterness of their relatives the globe artichoke. For Wash Farm customers with a penchant for the bitterness of endive and radicchio, a very limited number will be available on our extras list soon. Please let me know what you think; I might be tempted to plant more.

Guy Watson

Biological warfare

With a cold wet summer such as we’re experiencing this year it can be a bit of a relief to go down to the polytunnels where it’s nice and dry and we have much greater influence over the growing environment. These warmer conditions can bring problems of their own, however, as what is good for something like a cucumber can also be good for pests such as aphids and red spider mite, which can rip through a crop if nothing is done about it. Aphids have a life cycle of 3-4weeks (depending on climatic conditions) and during that time can give birth to 40-100 live young who emerge with the next generation already inside them!

Some predators will follow these pests through the doors: ladybirds, lacewings and hoverflies are all welcome visitors and we have some plants dotted around to encourage them (lacewings love fennel, for example) but this isn’t always enough and so we boost their numbers by distributing extra pest-specific, insects and bugs through the crop.

These fall into two main categories: predators and parasites. Predators (like phytoseiulus persimilis for red spider mite and aphidoletes aphidimyza for aphids) will attack and eat the pest, then lay eggs which hatch into a new generation to continue the process. Parasites are, if anything, more gruesome: aphidius colemani, for example, will lay an egg inside the aphid itself. This obviously kills the pest as the larva grows and when it hatches, carries on the process. Parasites tend to be much more host-specific than predators, which aren’t too fussy (within reason) what they go for. In both cases, the second generation tend to be more active and vigorous than the parents we introduced as they are more acclimatised to the conditions in the tunnels.

Some battles you win and some you lose: to date there are no signs of red spider mite, but our peppers have a few green aphid and one of our cucumber tunnels is fairly heavily infested with black aphid. We have ordered extra insects to help in the war and I have even been introducing the odd ladybird I have found in the fields! Hopefully this will be enough and we can get on top of the problem.

ImageBack outside, meanwhile, we are beginning to harvest our globe artichokes. These highly architectural plants, a relative of the humble thistle, are one of the many crops to have taken a bit of a battering from the elements: they can suffer from browning leaves if conditions are too humid but are worth persevering with as they’re relatively low maintenance for a perennial crop and have a great and unique flavour. I tend to just steam them and eat as a starter with loads of melted butter, though I’m sure Rob in our Field Kitchen restaurant has far more imaginative uses for them…

What’s what in the box – 2nd August 2010

Every week we give you tips on using the new season or unusual veg in the boxes. In this week’s video, find out what to do with cabbage, salad pack, courgettes and artichokes. This week the video is in two parts.

what’s what in the box – 2nd august 2010 (part 1)

what’s what in the box – 2nd august 2010 (part 2)


In the spring they were fairly small. This week we have bunched onions in the boxes but in 3 weeks or so we’ll have dried onions.

salad pack
We grow a lot of salad leaves in Devon. We put a mixture of them in the salad pack including pak choi, mustard, rocket and other baby leaves but it depends on what has grown well this week. The idea is to get a good blend and balance of flavours, colours, and textures.

hispi cabbage
These sweet cabbages have been growing well this year. Try chopping up and washing them then blanching in hot water with lemon juice, a knob of butter and pepper. In the Field Kitchen we’ve been quartering them, steaming them and putting them with chorizo sausage, capers and parsley.

Courgettes have been in season for around a month now and they generally run until the end of August. Try to eat them fresh. Slice them thinly lengthways, add a little bit of oil and salt and pepper, then chargrill them.