Tag Archives: Peter Richardson

guy’s newsletter: feeding the beast

This is coming to you from Home Farm in Yorkshire, our Riverford farm in the north. Peter Richardson, our partner and the grower of most of the veg up here is as daft as me; the line between visionary innovation and restless madness is fine and precarious. Knowing Peter’s weakness for a challenge, I’ve been trying to persuade him to grow horseradish, rhubarb and a tuber from New Zealand called oca but, as I pulled up in his yard, his head was buried in the guts of his latest project; a 200kW anaerobic digester.

The Beast, as his wife Jo-ann has named it, needs to be fed a balanced diet of cow muck, silage and any rejected vegetables. After 60 days of fermentation without oxygen in an 18m diameter insulated tank, the methane produced fuels a generator that supplies 200kW of carbon-neutral electricity into the grid. The spent fuel is then strained and used as a fertiliser for Peter’s vegetables and the clover leys that produce the silage. Meanwhile waste heat is used to warm the tank to the desired 40°C in addition to heating our box barn, with more initiatives in the pipeline. I suggested a heated greenhouse, but Peter said he was too old for that. After extracting him from the troublesome bowels of the Beast, I got him to explain the workings of the digester and the teething problems that had given him, “the worst six weeks of my life,” as he put it. The last AD plant I saw was in India and fashioned largely out of mud; this one had more digital displays, wires and controls than NASA Ground Control yet in true farmer style Peter seems to have worked out how to override most of them.

In the surrounding fields, crops of spinach, courgettes, cauliflower, kales and sweetcorn all looked good but given his frustrated mood Peter took me straight to his asparagus that was buried in ‘wickens’. This invasive grass is dreaded by organic growers, being almost impossible to control in a standing crop. His mood only really lifted when we dug up some lovely pink fir apple potatoes for me to take home; Peter is certainly one of our best potato growers. It will take more than a temperamental piece of equipment to break him, but I decided not to suggest any new crops on this trip.

Guy Watson

guy’s newsletter: onions, yorkshiremen & a good year

I spend most of my time in Devon on the farm where I grew up, which has become Riverford HQ. My newsletters are inspired by daily encounters here and, as a result, tend to be Devon-centric. This is perhaps annoying for those of you in the east and north, so I thought I would mend my ways.

At Sacrewell farm (near Peterborough, serving those of you in the Midlands and the east) Nigel and his team are having the best year since we started packing boxes here in 2006. Conditions have been ideal, allowing well-planned planting and weeding. Timeliness is everything; we have lots of clever tractor mounted hoes to weed between crop rows and even between the plants but, for best effect, they need to be used at just the right time. This is generally in dry conditions within a week of the weeds emerging. If we get delayed by rain the result can be hours of expensive tedium on hands and knees, or even a lost crop.

Onions are one of the hardest crops to grow organically due to their susceptibility to weeds and fungal disease; as I write Nigel is harvesting our best crop ever, which we have managed to grow with almost no manual weeding. We will use some straight off the field, but most will go into the barn to be dried. Much as we try to grow things as locally as possible, some of the 30 acres of onions grown here will be used in damper Devon where our onions too often get buried in weeds and never keep as well.

Further north at Riverford on Home Farm in Yorkshire, Peter Richardson and his family are also having a good year. It started with him deservedly being named Green Farmer of the Year thanks to his use of solar panels, an anaerobic digester and heat exchangers that have massively reduced energy consumption on the farm and in the box packhouse. Peter grows a huge range of crops, mostly for box customers in the east and north, though he is so good at growing parsnips that some of them make their way to Devon at the end of the winter. Peter works with his son Jake in the fields, while his daughter Victoria is Production Manager in the packing barn and wife Jo-ann makes the staff lunches and helps out with the crops; as with much here at Riverford, it’s a real family affair.

Guy Watson

Home farm blog – a northern perspective

As I sit here eating my lunch and reading my partner Guy’s newsletter from deepest Devon, it amazes me that for such a small country, the weather (the biggest influence on farming), can vary so much.

While up here in the North, conditions have been extremely challenging, we seem to have fared far better than our cousins in the South. Yield potential for the potatoes is a slight concern, but the sweetcorn and her various vegetable friends are looking tremendous. Even the pumpkins are looking good, which at one point I had completely written off in my mind.

Indeed, we’ll be celebrating this year’s harvest at Home Farm on Pumpkin Day, Sunday 28th October. Hundreds of pumpkins will be harvested for the event between 11am to 4pm and visitors will have the chance to take part in a pumpkin carving competition. There will also be tractor rides, games, cookery demonstrations and sampling and food stalls. Local folk band, Fiddlyn Man Doris, will also be on hand to provide the entertainment. Entry is free and we hope to see you there!

We were also delighted to hear that our local suppliers, Acorn Dairy and Pierce Bridge have recently won Soil Association awards for their quality food and commitment to organic.

Peter Richardson

Once bittern

bittern at Riverford Organic, YorkshireI am still reeling from a flirtation with a (feathered) bird last week. I was driving down the road on my way to Maunby when a bird flew out of the hedge and straight into my Landrover. The impact stunned the bird so I backed up to have a good look at it. The bird was unfamiliar looking and quite a fair size. It wasn’t in a good way so I called Mark back at the farm and asked him to come down with two large boxes as quick as he could. Mark turned up five minutes later with two large veg boxes (turns out he thought I had run somebody over and wanted to give them some veg to say sorry – not that I wanted something to put the bird in). We took a photo of the bird, looked it up and discovered that it was a bittern, one of the most threatened species in the UK – apparently there are only 50 males left. Gradually the bird got his senses back and crawled into the hedge. I went back an hour or so later to check on him and he launched at me – he seemed to be improving. Then I walked back to the farm to get my dad to come and have a look, but by the time we got back the bird had flown away. Glad to see a happy ending.

Peter Richardson from Home Farm in Yorkshire