Tag Archives: asparagus

guy’s newsletter: out with the old & return of the tree frog

As days lengthen and temperatures rise, our purple sprouting broccoli, leeks and cauliflower are rushing to seed and bringing the old season to an end. Our crop of spring greens, planted on a north facing hill, will hang on for a week or so before they too divert their energy from leaf growth to reproduction. The newly planted cabbage, lettuce, pak choi and beans are doing well under their fleeces, but it will be at least two weeks before we have anything fit to pick and more like two months before we have a good range of veg from our own fields once more. In contrast to these annual plants, perennials have the benefit of a large existing root system to give them a head start. This always makes them the earliest crops to reach maturity and we will pick the first UK asparagus and outdoor rhubarb this week. Pepe, our family farmer from Granada, has produced some wonderful asparagus as always, but it will be good to have our own. In the meantime we will try to keep your boxes full, varied and interesting with some weird stuff of our own; dandelions, wild garlic and cardoons have played their part so far this year but I would love to crack growing sorrel and harvesting it before the snails. I have even found myself eying up the nettles and wondering if we could harvest the spinach-like tips economically, but perhaps that would be going too far, and risk scaring off the faint-hearted among you at one end and those who like to pick their own at the other. While we wait for more conventional crops at home we are now picking lettuce and spinach in earnest from our farm in the French Vendée. We often find leverets (baby hares) sleeping among the lettuce but they have not yet made it onto the lorry. Last week, we had a surprise visitor arrive with the French lettuce for the second year running, in the shape of a European tree frog. He has been named Ribbitford by our Facebook page fans and is now hopping around the office being fed on worms while a more appropriate home is sought, possibly with our local zoo.

Guy Watson

musings in the mud

As the English asparagus season started in late April, I asked how you felt about us preceding it with Spanish asparagus from Pepe, a grower near Granada who we have worked with for many years. The results were two to one in favour.

Our mission is to enable and encourage you to eat well, affordably, with minimal environmental impact and hopefully some positive social outcomes, but without undue dogmatism that might drive you back to a supermarket. With diversity of opinion and eating habits this is a balancing act; it’ll be easier when we can offer a more personalised box (the ultimate aim of the ongoing website disruption).

So is local always best? If we’re just considering environmental impact, certainly not for out of season crops like tomatoes and peppers. Heating a single glazed glasshouse to 20˚C in January is as insane as airfreight and we don’t do either, ever. I’m also increasingly sceptical about growing crops outside their climatic comfort zone. It often involves enormous cost and effort to produce an unreliable harvest of dubious flavour. Interestingly, the first English asparagus grown in a cold spring, though fresher, was not as good as Pepe’s crop grown in the sun.

Don’t worry, we have not given up on local; these are the musings of a man who spent the day weeding a stunted crop of sweetcorn in the rain. If we are ever to eat truly sustainably we must learn from nature and make more of plants that thrive in our climate with minimal intervention. I am inspired by how happily samphire, ransoms (wild garlic), dandelions, wild strawberries, nettles, fat hen, chickweed, rose hips, elderflower, crab apples, summer purslane, damsons and sloes (all of which have largely unexploited culinary potential) grow in the wild. Agriculture sometimes feels like an absurd, futile and vain battle with nature; without access to depleting fossil fuels, we would always lose.

On a more positive note, we were delighted to be named Best Retailer at the Observer Ethical Awards 2013; many thanks indeed to all of you who voted for us.

Guy Watson

guy’s weekly new: asparagus, optimism & relief

A cool May has restrained the flowering urges of our purple sprouting broccoli, leeks and cauliflower, giving us the bonus of an extra two to three weeks’ picking. With the barns empty and the last of 2012’s crops ploughed over, we can finally say our annus horribilis is over. Hurrah! I haven’t been happier to see a plough in a field since I ploughed in my first disastrous strawberry crop back in the 80s. I remember whooping from the tractor seat. 

Looking forward, most of spring has gone well. There has been enough dry weather to create good seed beds and plant in the right conditions, with rain for germination and establishment. The persistent cold means that most crops are running two to four weeks late, but the prevailing feeling among growers is one of optimism: a strong, healthy crop is the best way to banish memories of last year. This week sees the first Devon-grown little gems, wet garlic, pak choi, salad onions and salad leaves in the boxes. The cold has meant a slow start to our asparagus and rhubarb season. Asparagus is a hard crop for organic growers: all the weeding has to be paid for from a very short harvesting season, which ends in late June to allow the plant to recharge its roots. Two weeks lost at the beginning will be hard to make up. Rhubarb loves cool, damp weather and we are now into the thick of the crop. It will be available to add to your order and occasionally in the boxes through to the end of July.

As I type, my son is grilling me about us pre-empting the UK season with asparagus from Pepe, our grower near Granada in Spain. When did this seventeen year old become such a purist? Logically, based on carbon footprint, I have no trouble defending working with Pepe. He is a small, highly committed grower, cultivating the same fields farmed by his family for generations, which are irrigated using snow melted from the mountain surrounding his farm. We like him and the quality is always good, but is there something iconic about English asparagus? Should we make you wait? Thoughts to spanishasparagus@www.riverford.co.uk/blog or comment on here.

Guy Watson

Ne’er cast a clout, ‘til May is out

organic rhubarbAt this time of year I usually keep a batch of rhubarb compote in the fridge to have for breakfast with granola and yoghurt. I sit on the back doorstep in the sunshine and watch the giant hound lie all over my newly planted herb beds, perhaps as some sort of protest at me going to work. This year we’ve not yet tried granola or herb squashing, and are dashing out for the morning walk between the torrents. Apparently the cold weather means people are liking our porridge. Try a dollop of the compote with it; you might feel a bit more like you’re in May, not February. Wear your best Sou’wester with your jim-jams if you’re determined to eat it al fresco.

We’ve got new season asparagus and rhubarb coming through in the vegboxes, but when the weather’s this wet we still feel like a bit of comfort food. There’s been much talk of roast dinners and cake on the menu chez Riverford staff (we talk a lot about food in the office, understandably). We’ve got two new recipes for our seasonal favourites that’ll give you a bit of a springtime cuddle in a bowl. If you’re up for a bit of baking on a wet Sunday afternoon, try our gingerbread with rhubarb and orange fool. For a quick midweek dinner, asparagus and bacon linguine fits the bill. Fifteen minutes max, from fridge to plate. Squashed herbs are optional.