Tag Archives: autumn

Guy’s Newsletter: trust & honour among farmers

I love September; for both its abundance in the fields and the resultant possibilities in the kitchen. More selfishly, I relish the calm that returns to south Devon and, along with many of my surfing staff, look forward to the first of the autumn swells arriving on uncrowded beaches while the water is still warm. With the planting finished, we now settle into the regular rhythm of harvesting both fresh veg for the boxes and filling the stores with roots for the winter.

Any fine days feel like a bonus stolen in the face of autumn and it has started well; a few bright and sunny (if cool) days have allowed us to get on top of the weeding, make a start on the main crop potato harvest and to ensile the lupins, triticale, chicory and clover that will keep the family cows fed through winter.

To add to the abundance from our own fields, we are taking the plunge and adding a range of 100% organic store cupboard staples (pasta, rice, lentils, tinned tomatoes, beans etc.) to our fresh vegetables, fruit, meat and dairy offerings. Many of you have suggested this repeatedly over the years; it makes logistical, environmental and economic sense to be delivering as much as we sensibly can and reducing the need for other shopping trips, but I have dragged my feet. To date, if we or our farming co-op didn’t grow it we almost always knew the person who did; our trading relationships have been built up over years of walking their fields (normally followed by food and a few drinks), and most importantly the trust that comes from repeatedly honouring verbal deals and helping each other out when things go wrong. This becomes much more difficult with chickpeas and couscous which tend to come from further afield and are traded in a way that is hard to circumvent. Our solution is to work with Bristol based Essential Trading whom we know, like and trust. They are a well-run workers’ co-operative, trading for 44 years and committed to similar environmental and social goals to Riverford. Their pasta for one comes from a farming co-op in Italy (La Terra e il Cielo) that a few of our staff are visiting later this month, so keep an eye out for a video on our Facebook page. My initial reluctance has now been out voted by good logic, so here’s to more good food.

Guy Watson

guy’s newsletter: keats never sold cabbages

Much as I appreciate the autumn mists and mellow fruitfulness, I doubt that Keats ever had to sell a cabbage. The autumn makes me think more of a Bristol market trader who, before quoting me a price told me, “Bean time is lean time, boy,” meaning that when runner beans are cropping heavily in late summer, the market will be flooded and he was about to take my legs off with his offer. It’s been a wonderful growing year and right now we are in a similar position; to quote the notorious 1970s drug dealer Mr Nice, “I never meant to sell the stuff; but, try as I might, I just couldn’t smoke it all myself”. I love my veg and do my best to eat whatever will not fit in your boxes, but it is proving a struggle right now and we could do with some help.

Fortunately we are more organised these days; it is a long time since we sent veg on a wing and a prayer to the wholesale markets, only to be told no-one gave a damn if it was organic, so the price barely covered the transport and boxes. Instead where crops have massively out-yielded expectations, the danger is we simply won’t get through them in time. A cold snap to slow things down would very welcome, but better still, introduce a friend to Riverford.

The only area of the farm not looking good is the spring greens. Despite our efforts, all the weeds came up with the crop after the first rains in July. Everyone is a bit depressed about it, but I think that once we have some hard frosts to take out the softer weeds we may still get a fair crop. Looking on the bright side, the field is a favourite for skylarks and there will be plenty of cover and weed seed to see them through the winter.

Guy Watson

share the Riverford love!

Introduce a friend to Riverford and you will get a £10 credit on your account when they place a regular order. Your friend doesn’t miss out either; they’ll get a free cook book and vegbox. Visit www.riverford.co.uk/recommend-riverford to find out more.

guy’s newsletter: closing the open-backed autumn

Finally, the last leaves on our oaks have turned. With persistent high pressure to the west bringing dry and cold wind from the north and east, temperatures have tumbled, closing that ‘open-backed’ (mild and growy) autumn. About time too; some of our winter crops are looking incredibly lush and forward. They need to slow down and prepare themselves for harder times. Ideally, temperatures drop slowly, allowing plants to toughen up gradually. So far the frosts have been mild; close to ideal in fact. How often does a farmer say that?

By the time you read this the last of our carrots and potatoes should be in store, which always brings on a warm and contented feeling. They are stored in wooden one-tonne boxes, stacked six high in a huge temperature controlled barn. The carrots will be good to the end of April and some of the more sleepy spud varieties, with careful management, can be kept until June. Most carrots are grown on very sandy land, left under a protective layer of straw between two layers of plastic. This makes them easier to wash, but they lose much of their flavour. Our carrots, grown slowly on loamy soils, might not be as pretty but they definitely taste better.

In France, having finished harvest for the year, we are busy planting garlic. For years we have grown this in Devon, with mixed success. After trying it on a small area in the Vendée last year we have been seduced by the larger bulbs and reduced fungal disease; the first fresh garlic will be in your boxes in May. The environmental impact of the transport of such a high value, labour intensive crop is tiny, so this seems justifiable to me. How about you?

Sowing winter broad beans is always a gamble. Too early and they become winter-proud (too big and susceptible to gales and hard frost); too late and they germinate slowly, making them susceptible to the weak pathogens endemic in the soil, as well as to the local crow population. This week feels about right, so we will make use of the dry weather to sow the over wintered crop for the boxes in June, to be followed by a spring sowing for July.

Guy Watson

In Penny’s gardening blog – how to make use of those fallen autumn leaves

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Autumn

The leaves this autumn are spectacular. I don’t know about any of you, but I have a tendency to get a bit down towards the end of September. The nights drawing in, everything coming to an end in the garden and the thought of a long, cold, damp winter fills me with dread, gloom and doom.

But once the leaves have turned I force myself out of my sorry state of mind and there is nothing more cheery than a good walk in the local woods. I am lucky enough to live close to Hembury Woods, which skirt the River Dart and is full of many ancient trees. It is predominantly a western oak woodland with a wet alder wood in the valley. There are plenty of silver birch, beech, holly and hazel. The colours alone are so uplifting that the experience of walking amongst these trees really gets me into the spirit of autumn and winter, hot fires and chestnuts, big scarves, thick socks, woolly hats and all those sorts of things.

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Leaf Mould

My point is there are lots of leaves falling off the trees at this time of year. Raking them up is a good idea and why not make some leaf mould which makes a great soil conditioner when left to rot over the winter and ready for the summer.

You don’t want to put leaves onto your compost heap as they are slow to rot down. If you have space, make a separate heap for leaves alone or otherwise a put them in a black plastic sack with holes punched in the bottom.

Some folk rake all the leaves onto the lawn first and then mow them up, which chops them up a bit. You can mix them with some lawn cuttings too to help speed up the rotting process a little. Either way is fine.

Put the leaves in heavy duty black bags. Once filled, pierce the bottom of the sacks and put them in a corner out of the way and by next summer you should have some good leaf mould. This is a great low nutrient soil conditioner and can be spread onto your flower or vegetable beds or added to pots and tubs. It will improve the structure of your soil.

Next gardening blog

I am going to give you tips on putting your gardens to bed for the winter and what you can do in your kitchen gardens to prepare for next year. I will also make suggestions on things to plant now for a spring display.

Autumn contentment

I love autumn; after a hectic summer it is a relief to settle back into a more routine existence; plus there is so much great stuff to eat. With the equinox passed and theRiverford Organic pumpkins days rapidly drawing in, a contented melancholy settles over the farm as we finish the last of the summer crops and start bringing in the roots, squash and pumpkins.

Despite a drought followed by a miserable August, it has been a pretty good growing year. Planting conditions were good in the spring and most summer crops have done well. We are now harvesting some wonderful autumn crops of broccoli and leeks. The winter crops, planted in June and July, also enjoyed the wet end to the summer, so there will be plenty of those staple leeks, cauliflower, cabbage, sprouts and kale for the boxes. In the tunnels we are picking the last tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, peppers and chillies, before replanting with winter salads (rocket, mizuna, baby spinach and baby chard) which are more tolerant of lower light levels. We could hang on for a few more tomatoes, but the flavour declines rapidly and my brother makes a great chutney from any that have not ripened (available on our extras list).

Most of the potatoes are now in store. The early summer drought reduced yields in some fields but we are confident that there are plenty for your boxes through the winter. Dry weather tends to bring on potato ‘scab’ (a cankerous growth on the skin). Unsightly as it may be, it is just a cosmetic imperfection and some believe it even improves the flavour. So we will use all but the ugliest, in the hope that you are happy to peel it off and enjoy the spud below. Elsewhere, beetroot germinated unevenly during the drought. Those that did emerge unhindered by their brethren had to be harvested early to stop them growing into footballs. The next big job will be harvesting carrots while the tops are still strong enough for the lifter’s belts to grip and pull them from the ground. Last year a wet October and November meant that ten acres got left in the ground, so we have bought a super-fast new machine to help us make the most of the dry days.

Guy Watson

to autumn

Autumn newsletters seldom escape some reference to mists and mellow fruitfulness. In two hundred years no one has evoked a grower’s September satisfaction better than Keats in the first verse of ‘To Autumn’. As a philistine farmer I never get beyond the first line, but such is the diversity of our workforce that one particularly beautiful autumn morning while harvesting a particularly bountiful crop of squash, we were treated to a perfect rendition of all three verses from an otherwise subdued field worker. It was many years ago and I can’t remember his name but I can remember exactly where I was in that field on top of a hill looking down on the clearing mist in the valley, the satisfying weight of the gourds and a feeling of overwhelming harmony and wellbeing.

Like many growers I love autumn; when we reap the rewards of summer’s work, when dews last longer, the sun is gentle and things slow down, affording a chance to savour. After a miserable July and August the dry, sunny weather we have enjoyed recently is particularly welcome. The bounty is spectacular, almost worrying: leeks, corn, cabbages, broccoli, carrots, potatoes, beans, spinach and chard are rolling in by the trailer load; to the extent that for the first time ever we are planning to export some surplus to a box scheme in Denmark. Mercifully, as the days shorten and night temperatures drop, growth is slowing down so I am pretty confident it will all find space on a plate somewhere.

Guy Watson