…. I’ve been waiting all summer to use that weak pun!
The lettuce season is drawing to a close and we are now picking the last of our Red Batavia, one variety of which is called ‘Mohican.’ A deep red colour, the Mohican has stood up surprisingly well in the grim weather. Red lettuce, having less chlorophyll in the leaves, is less vigorous than green varieties and hence more susceptible to pest and disease as it sits in the ground for longer. Next week it will all be gone along with the last of our Cos. Apart from some Radicchio in a few weeks time that will be pretty much it for the year.
Looking forward to next year’s crops, we are busy planting over-wintered onions as well as garlic cloves (to harvest as wet garlic in the spring). Along with the winter salad pack for the polytunnels, these will be the last plants to go into the ground for the year. After that it’s just a matter of crossing our fingers and hoping for more favourable growing conditions than we’ve had of late.
We have just about finished picking our plums and, like so many crops this year, the news is pretty disastrous. The trees were planted as saplings in March 2008 and have yet to reach their full potential; back in the spring things looked good but the rain knocked most of the blossom off and later in the season the trees dropped most of their fruit as they got overstressed. We picked over four tonnes last year and were expecting more (perhaps 6 tonnes) this year, but the final tally has come in at a mighty 427kg! Hearty portions of plum duff look to be thin on the ground in the Field Kitchen…
View across the fields
On a lighter note the remains of the Broad Beans that we harvested in June were rotovated in and the last of this years lettuce planted in their place. The few remaining bean pods have apparently decided it is now spring and we have miniature self-seeded plants poking their heads up amongst the Cos. I picked a few sprouting tips for Rob, our resident genius in the Field Kitchen, so if anyone is heading in that direction this week they may get some of the most unseasonal veg I have seen in a long time!
Broad beans mixed in with batavia and radicchio
After the coldest start to May I can remember, temperatures are finally on the rise. We lost a few early planted courgettes to the latest frost I have encountered in my growing career, but most crops have benefited and come through unscathed. Best of all there seems to be a remarkable lack of weed, so the farm is looking very tidy. Our crop covers work wonders in the cold bright weather; the big decision now is when to remove them. Ideally we are looking are looking for a warm, still and overcast day for a gentle exposure to the elements.
Salads, particularly lettuce, love sunshine. After three pretty awful salad summers it is gratifying to see perfectly even, weed-free rows of lettuce, rocket, mizuna, mustard, baby chard, spinach and beets stretching up the field; it almost makes me feel that we know what we are doing. Rocket is our ultimate challenge and still has a tendency to turn yellow if you look at it the wrong way. We have been cutting leaves for three weeks and the first little gem lettuce will be in the boxes this week.
It is hard to pitch it right in terms of salad in the boxes; for some (me included) the first hint of summer brings a move to salad with every meal, for others, one lettuce lasts a fortnight. From 7th June we are changing things a bit. Instead of the existing family salad mix there will be a four item salad bag at £5.45 (normally filled with a lettuce or salad leaves, tomatoes, cucumber and one other item), aimed at those wanting extra salad to accompany their veg or fruit box, and a salad box at £9.95 (typically lettuce, salad leaves, cucumber, tomatoes and three other items; perhaps new potatoes, celery, peppers or sugar snap peas) which can be ordered on its own without worrying about our minimum spend.
Even such a cold start to May could not contain the spring rush to seed of the over-wintered crops, so the purple sprouting broccoli and spring greens have gone under the plough. This will be the last week for leeks and cauliflower; for once I will be sad to see them go. I never tire of leeks but could cauliflower reclaim our affections and become the new beetroot? Perhaps it is just that the extreme cold of January and February claimed so many that there weren’t enough left to tire of. You will not see another in your box until the autumn.
As the wild garlic from the woods runs to seed and gets shaded out by the trees above coming into leaf, we have started harvesting wet garlic from our fields. Bulbs were divided into cloves and planted out last November. If left to mature, by the end of June, each would swell to form a bulb which could be dried and stored. We don’t have the best climate for drying garlic so, ever since encountering it in an Andalucian market 15 years ago and being told it would make a “bueno tortilla”, I have been a fan of wet, or immature garlic. It makes its first appearance in the boxes this week; it resembles a small leek but if you crush a leaf the smell is a giveaway. Wet garlic has a milder flavour (somewhere between a salad onion and normal dried garlic) and can be eaten raw, sliced finely into salads, sprinkled over a stir-fry just before serving or used in a marinade or dressing. Wet garlic can also replace mature, dry garlic in your cooking but is best added later on and in larger quantities. Use the whole thing: immature bulb, shank, leaves and all.
News from France
Our French lettuces grew so well that they have all been cut and eaten before the first of the home crop is ready; testimony to all that Vendéean sunshine. Unfortunately our celery has joined the carrots as the second casualty crop by responding to the hardship of a cold wet spring by prematurely running to seed. This week we will be starting to pick turnips, kohlrabi and the first of the courgettes.