Tag Archives: growing

What’s growing where?

Our regional farms around the UK (and one in France) are our way of growing fruit and veg as close to your home as practical.

Guy Watson, Wash Farm, Devon
Three years ago we decided to phase out our use of tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers from heated glasshouses, however local. Maintaining 20˚C in single-glazed glasshouses in frosty January is completely insane, making these easily the most environmentally damaging crops we sold. After a year of haggling with local planners, we’re now building sophisticated plastic-skinned greenhouses, which will grow tomatoes and cucumbers in the summer and salad leaves in the winter without heat. When they are in production we will have the best tasting, lowest impact salads money can buy.

Nigel Venni, Sacrewell Farm, Cambridgeshire
Nigel and his team have been hit by a bit of a mystery – almost six acres of our swedes have vanished. In mid-July the young plants were looking good, but soon almost the whole lot had gone, over 400,000 plants. We now think the culprit is ‘cutworm’ – caterpillars of the turnip moth and garden dart moth. They feast upon roots and stems, felling tender seedlings at the base, which then shrivel and leave nothing but bare soil. Fortunately, to balance things out, we’ve had a really successful broad bean season and our 8 acres of leeks and 30 acres of red and brown onions are looking very strong.

Peter + Jo-ann Richardson, Home Farm, North Yorkshire
Peter’s summer has gone well, with parsnips, leeks and Savoy cabbages looking very healthy for the boxes later in the year. Squash and pumpkins are also coming along nicely, just in time for Pumpkin Day. This year, Peter has avoided planting cauliflower or purple sprouting broccoli however. The last two harsh winters have lost him these crops, so he’s had to make a pragmatic decision. Fingers crossed for next time.

Chris Wakefield, Upper Norton Farm, Hampshire
Recently Chris and his team have been harvesting yellow ramiro peppers, also known as banana peppers, from the polytunnels. They don’t taste of banana, but if you have any fussy kids, they may help you in convincing them to try something new! Meanwhile, for the first time we have Hampshire dried garlic from our grower Mike Fisher. Normally our climate makes drying garlic problematic, but Mike is particularly pleased with the results, and we’d love to have any feedback.

Le Boutinard, France
The year started well with good crops of lettuce, spinach, fennel, chard and French beans filling the boxes through our ‘hungry gap’ at home, plus early sweetcorn and green peppers. However the normally sunny July delivered 80mm rain and with the high humidity, mildew swept through the melons. The heavily laden pepper plants look fantastic, but as the fruits start to turn red they are also developing rots. It is not all bad though; we have a small field of chillies which are coming along wonderfully, ready to add fire to all sorts of dishes.

What’s growing where?

Our regional farms around the UK (and one in France) are our way of growing fruit and veg as close to your home as practical.

Guy Watson, Wash Farm, Devon
There is plenty to keep our field workers occupied over summer, with broad beans, carrots, basil, gooseberries, a few artichokes and cucumbers coming through and plenty more crops to follow. The Devon-grown new potatoes started with the Ostara variety, then Lady Crystal and the wonderful Charlotte. The dry weather is taking its toll though; where we have irrigation, the main crop potatoes are healthy, but beyond the reach of the pipes there’s a danger the tubers will never get to harvestable size.

Nigel Venni, Sacrewell Farm, Cambridgeshire
Nigel’s summer crops started well, although there were a disappointing number of strawberries due to the winter frosts. Gooseberries, however, are plentiful and the new season bunched carrots have been excellent. Planting also goes on at a pace: the first 30,000 leeks out of 300,000 recently went in, along with (in Nigel’s words), “cabbages for Christmas”. He had to be the first to mention Christmas – in summer. It’s been an exciting time for wildlife too, with one of our pickers finding a sparrowhawk perching on the kettle in the farm shed!

Peter + Jo-ann Richardson, Home Farm, North Yorkshire
Peter’s kohl rabi and summer cabbages took a beating in the recent winds, with the soil sandblasting a couple of sowings into obliteration. Every cloud has a silver lining though and the soil-laden winds destroyed about 80% of the weeds in the adjacent field of courgettes. Elsewhere, planting and weeding continue as normal, with broad beans, calabrese broccoli, spinach and chard well on their way.

Chris Wakefield, Upper Norton Farm, Hampshire
Our tomato grower has reported a particularly well-established crop this year, so look out for them in the boxes. Meanwhile, Chris and his team have planted the last of the chillies, so all the polytunnels are now full, growing parsley, chillies and basil. We’re planning a chilli event on Friday 19th August, where you’ll be able to harvest your own hot little numbers, feast on an organic picnic and watch our Riverford Cooks demonstrate some fiery dishes. Check our website for details.

Le Boutinard, France
This is the second year of crops coming from our farm in the French Vendée, to help us bridge the ‘hungry gap’ and keep your vegboxes full and interesting when very few crops are ready in the UK. While last year was a bit of a disaster thanks to inclement weather, inexperience and some bad luck, 2011 has started well. We brought in the best fennel harvest we’ve ever seen, along with excellent courgettes and bunched carrots. This year we also plan to trial an early, autumn-sown crop of carrots, with the aim of bridging the gap between our stored and bunched carrots next spring. It’s a bit of a risky strategy but we’re keen to avoid having to import them from further afield.

Looking after your plants in the cold months

growing veg in the cold weatherThroughout 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

Celeriac on our farm in devon

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).


Growing salad pack on our farm in Devon

Our organic salad pack is made up of a mixture of seasonal leaves, freshly picked from our farm. In the summer the leaves grow quickly, usually being picked around 24organic salad pack from Riverford Farm in Devon days after being drilled.

To drill them, we make a raised bed, with a level surface and go over it with the cheesewire to get the bed clear of weeds. To find out more about the cheesewire, go here. The earlier crop is fleeced to keep it warm and later we use a net to protect it from flea beetle damage and to create shade. We weed it by hand, which can take a lot of effort, but we use an ortomec (belt harvester) to pick it, making harvesting quicker and easier.

Our salad pack is made up of 5 or 6 different leaves, these could be pak choi; ruby streaks mustard; baby leaf lettuce; mixed chard; golden streaks mustard; rocket or tat soi.

Strawberries and plastic: are tunnels worth the eyesore?

Over the last twenty years the huge majority of the UK strawberry crop has moved from open fields to the protection and intensification afforded by hundreds of acres of polytunnels, largely in Kent and Herefordshire. Plastic can advance a crop by perhaps two weeks, but the great advantage is the protection it gives from the vagaries of a British summer. Fruit must be picked dry to avoid bruising and to give a reasonable shelf life. Even more importantly, persistent dampness leads to a build-up of fungal disease, particularly botrytis, which can reduce a good berry to a foul tasting pulp in a matter of hours.

Our strawberries are grown extensively on high ridges at wide spacing which, in a normal year, gives enough airflow to dry dews and rain before botrytis sets in. There can be no doubt that polytunnels are a blot on the landscape; the question is whether they are justified by the economic and environmental benefit they bring by reducing wastage, extending the UK season, excluding exports and thus reducing food miles. For twenty years I have stubbornly persisted with growing outdoors, with the result that we have a relatively short season and, over the last few years, have not been able to pick up to a third of the fruit. Initially I was convinced that growing outdoors gave better flavour, but now I am not so sure and wonder if I have been overly dogmatic in my resistance. Across the five regional farms we would need eight acres of tunnels to provide a good supply of strawberries for the 45,000 homes we deliver to each week. Your views would be welcome.

Guy Watson

Growing kohlrabi in devon

Taking advantage of a nice, sunny day, we decided to go oTractor and planter at Wash Farm, Devonut to the fields on our farm in Devon to see the kohlrabi being planted. These were raised in a nursery and come  to us in modules. Our field workers sit on a planter which is pulled along behind a tractor and drop the plants into moving cups which puts them into the ground.

Once they’re bigger, we will use a steerage hoe to get rid of the weeds and if the weather is too dry, they will be irrigated. These were planted in mid May and are likely to be harvested around mid July.

planting kohl rabi in Devonplanting kohl rabi at Riverford Organic farmkohl rabi on wash farm, Devon

A hungry gap and real food

We are moving into the “hungry gap”; the few weeks of April and May between the end of the old season crops and the first harvest of the new season plantings. Enjoy the last of the old; there is an abundance of leeks, cauliflower and purple sprouting broccoli in the boxes this week (and perhaps next) but that will be the last you see of them. On the off chance you have already had enough, try the wonderful sweet and sour cauliflower and leeks recipe (on this newsletter) that we’ve been serving in the Field Kitchen; a warm salad of blanched curds and shanks with a sharp, sweet vinaigrette.

Other crops are running about two weeks late and were it not for our Vendéen horticultural venture we would be struggling to bridge the gap with woody swedes. The French farm is already producing plenty of little gem and batavia lettuces and we will soon be moving on to the spinach, chard, fennel and celery, helping to bridge the gap without having to go further south.

real food festival
We will be at the Real Food Festival at Earl’s Court in London from 7-10th May. I’m not a big fan of food festivals but this is a good one; there is plenty to see, do and taste and it is a great place to meet producers from around the world. It is also where we first met our coffee supplier, the charming Armando, who sidled up to us last year with a cup of his espresso. This year we are bringing our Field Kitchen restaurant up from Devon so you can taste some fantastic seasonal dishes cooked by Jane Baxter and her team. Armando will be back, along with Heron Valley (whose juice we sell) and my brother Ben. Jane and I will also be taking to the stage on Sunday for a cookery demo. The Real Food Festival is offering Riverford customers a standard ticket for £7.50 or a VIP ticket for £13, saving you £7.50. To book call 0871 231 0827 and quote ‘RIV287’.
Guy Watson

last week of the roots + greens boxThe roots + greens box is finishing at the end of this week, 1st May. It will be back in September. Try a medium box instead, or ask your vegman/lady if you need help choosing an alternative.

Vegetable Box to Grow – soil preparation

This is the last week you can order our Vegetable Box to Grow. Orders have to be in by the 30th March. We’re trialling it for customers from our Devon farm (Wash) this year.

Here is a guide to preparing your soil before you receive your box:

Boxes to grow – early preparation
Our boxes to grow come with an instruction folder giving you information on each plant and how to care for it but it helps to have covered off a couple of things before your plants arrive. Your site needs to be as sheltered and as light as possible – the best position will be south facing and near to the house for convenience. Whether you are growing in containers, raised beds, an allotment or digging up a new patch these are two fundamentals that need to be considered. Two good ways of deciding if you have enough light are:

  • See if your growing area is in at least 6 hours of daylight a day
  • Kneel down to plant height and look up – if you can see 60% of sky then this should be ok.

Drainage, soil quality and shade also need to be considered. The site should be free draining but not so much so that is does not retain moisture. Shade is also something that needs to be examined over a day, to see if certain trees, plants or buildings do not cast a shadow over the growing area. Remember this can not only change throughout the day but also the seasons – higher and lower sun paths for the summer and winter. For convenience the site should be near a water supply and close enough so that it can be visited frequently to keep an eye on pest and diseases and general plant health.

Soil preparation – Ideal soil is fertile, moisture retentive and free draining. It will be rich dark brown in colour and easy to dig. Don’t worry if yours isn’t like this – not many soils are! (Feel smug if yours is) You can improve yours by digging in a soil conditioner (compost or manure). This should have been done in the autumn to give time for the organic matter to decompose. However if as usual things are left to the last minute then you can add in compost or manure any time now. Make sure that this is done when the soil is not too wet, working the soil in wet conditions will increase compaction and damage the soil structure. A seed bed will need to be prepared before immediate planting but this can be done just before/or when the seedlings arrive – more information on this in the growing guide delivered with the product.

You can grow these vegetables in anything from containers to converting an area of lawn into a new patch. If you are growing in containers then remember that drainage is important here too, make sure there are holes in the bottom of the container and add some rocks or even left over polystyrene packaging chips. Add a mixture of compost and manure, this will provide the balance of nutrients and structure needed.

Raised beds are easy to work and will create less digging – there is a huge range of information on the internet on how to build your own beds or there are simple kits available too.

If you are planning on converting an area of land, then you will need to remove the top layer of turf. A good thing to do with this turf is to create a turf stack. This is creating squares of the turf and layering them on top of each other. This will eventually rot down and create a good compost for future growing seasons. The ground will then need to be double dug or cultivated mechanically, adding in organic matter and removing stones and weeds. Double digging is where you dig to two spades depth and incorporate organic matter at the same time, please check books for further information on this if needed. Mechanical cultivation can be done with a rotavator.

If you have the time and want to put a little bit more effort into the garden then you can test the pH of the soil and adapt it accordingly. A pH test kit can be brought from a garden centre, nurseries or hardware stores, or most garden centres will be able to test a sample for you. Neutral soil is pH 7, if it is lower than pH 7 it is acidic, if it is greater than pH7 it is alkali. You can make your soil less acidic by adding lime. You can make your soil less alkali by adding sulphur, this should be thoroughly mixed into the soil before planting. Things like sawdust, composted leaves, wood chips, leaf mould and peat moss, will also lower the soil pH. Warning – please follow manufacturer instructions and safety advice when using chemicals.

Growing in cold weather

At this time of year we should be seeing plenty of purple sprouting broccoli (psb), cauliflower and cabbages but growers have had some of their cabbage crop damaged by the cold and snow we had at the turn of the year and cabbages are small.   We’ve bought in cabbages from growers in the midlands and east of the country over the past month so customers have not felt the full force of our crop failures in the south.

The cauliflower season has been halved with the cold weather destroying some 60,000 heads. Once the weather warms up they will start growing again according to Peter Morton our agronomist.  It looks as though there will also be small picks of cauli and psb next week.

It is likely that cauliflower, psb and local cabbage will not start again until mid–late March with the spring greens starting in April as the frost has pushed them back one month as well.

The weather on the continent has also been tricky with our Spanish, French, Moroccan and Italian growers having very heavy rain and a lot of cloud cover.  Supply of tomatoes and peppers has helped ease the shortfall in local veg but because of lower than usual light levels the flavour is not quite what we’ve had in the past.

We do have plenty of parsnips and a small volume of swede and  jerusalem artichokes.  We are planning to use them all in the boxes in March with potatoes and carrots.