Tag Archives: storing

Guy’s Newsletter: harvest nostalgia? perhaps not

It has been a near-perfect autumn for us. All our potatoes are now in store; the dry conditions allowing the harvesting machinery to work its magic, gently sifting tubers from the soil before delivering the nuggets to one ton wooden bins on a trailer running alongside. Long gone are the back breaking days of hand filling half hundredweight bags, dragged slowly up a hill between your legs. 30 years ago a team of five might have harvested ten tons a day; we now do that comfortably in half an hour without even bending over. Meanwhile we have moved onto harvesting our maincrop carrots; so late in the season we can’t rely on enough dry weather to allow lifting and sifting the whole growing bed as we could with potatoes. The carrot harvester instead relies on gripping the leaves between two rubber belts as a small undercutting shear loosens the soil’s grip; the carrots are gently lifted and agitated to remove excess soil then dropped into bins for transport to store. It is kinder to the earthworms and soil but slower than the potato harvester; still, at 20 times faster than hand harvesting we are not complaining.

There are many agricultural developments I have lamented in my 50 years of stomping around in muddy boots, but intelligent mechanisation is not one of them. It is, perhaps, a shame that the machines relentlessly keep getting bigger; our single row carrot harvester would be a joke beside modern four row harvesters that stand larger than many houses. With the inevitable increase in weight, the soil is the loser. There was also a camaraderie that came with working in a team without the noise of machinery; the flasks of tea, sandwiches and muddy roll-ups, but nostalgia can’t shut out the back breaking misery of days spent bent over in the rain, edging up a Devon hillside dragging that sack. I have the arthritis in two fingers to remember it by. Neither will I forget the tea brought to the field by my mother and eaten beside the silent, stationary combine harvester, but I doubt it actually happened very often.

Guy Watson

Guy’s Newsletter: summer rain & sleepy potatoes

The August rains which ruined many a holiday have got our winter cabbages, leeks, kales, romanesco and calabrese broccoli off to a good start. The prospects for the later winter crops look even better as the slow drop in temperature prepares them for the first frost that typically arrives in early October. Meanwhile, when weather conditions allow, our farming co-op are busy harvesting main crop potatoes and getting them into store. The plants have been defoliated, either naturally through blight attacking the leaves, or through mowing the tops off followed by burning to prevent blight hitting; now we wait three weeks for the tubers to set a firm skin and for any blight spores on the surface to die before harvesting into one ton wooden bins. Few things smell worse than a potato store melting to slime with blight, so it is worth being patient. Initially the store is ventilated with ambient air to dry the tubers and allow any skin damage caused by the harvesting machinery to heal. After two or three weeks the fridges are switched on to bring the temperature down to 3.5°C over a month or so, and thus put the tubers to sleep. Valor, the sleepiest variety, will happily slumber on until next May or even June.

Those August rains were a mixed blessing; good for recently planted hardy winter crops needing to get established, less good for tender salads. Our spinach succumbed first to mildew brought on by the damp and evolution (new mildew strains have overcome the resistance bred into existing varieties), and then to nitrogen deficiency resulting from soluble nutrients being carried down through the soil profile by the rain; spinach is too shallow rooted and quick maturing to reach them. Later sowings are now recovering to some extent but you may have noticed your box greens tending more towards kale and cabbage as we look for substitutes for failing spinach. We are also struggling with a flush of the small leaved, succulent chickweed; it is often a problem in the autumn, establishing an interwoven mat which smothers out all but the most vigorous competition. Sorting the weeds from the crop is slowing the picking of salad leaves and spinach, yet chickweed is much prized in some parts of the world so I hope you will not be too indignant if a few harmless leaves make it through to your bags.

Guy Watson

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

Questions to the cook – 16th August 2010

Every week we’re answering your questions about cooking, preparing, or storing the fruit, veg, and anything else you get from us. This week Guy answers your questions about courgettes, pointed cabbage and storing your veg. See the original post here.

Post your questions here on the blog and we’ll pass them to our cooks to answer in the next questions to the cook blog.

This week’s questions

courgettes from Riverford OrganicI have quite a few cougettes left and would like some recipes for them. I live alone so recipes that I can portion up and freeze would be good. I am a veggie so no dead animals. Thanks .
Trina Hollis

We are just over the peak of the UK courgette season (typically the last week in July and first two of August is when they are really flushing). As the days get shorter and the nights get cooler the plants run out of vigour they slow down fast. My favourite way of using them is to make a fritter. Grate as many as you have and mix with a little salt to draw out moisture. Leave for five minutes then wrap in a tea towel and wring out as much moisture as possible. Click here for a recipe for courgette and feta fritters with tomato salsa

Jane makes a great salad with tomatoes and courgettes cut into slices lengthways and griddled. See the full recipe here.

One more thing; courgettes are best fresh. After a few days in the fridge they may look OK but they rapidly lose flavour.


Pointed cabbage! Nearly everything else I have found a way of using, actually one of the reasons for trying a veg box was that I felt I was in a veggie rut, but pointed cabbage…sigh. I have tried some things with it, but I still feel a bit uninspired. Something quick, tasty, and different!
Jackie Gibbins

These are a variety called hispi and are incredibly sweet and tender and need very little cooking. Cut in half lengthways and slice thinly. Wash and drain and steam in

pointed cabbage from Riverford Organic

a pan with a tight lid. Serve with a knob of butter plus salt and pepper. If a bit more adventurous slice up some garlic and gently fry in a little butter in the pan for a minute before adding the cabbage as before. Stir through some grated parmesan when cooked…yum. We are serving this in the travelling field kitchen at the moment, sometimes adding finely sliced runner beans with the cabbage..


Is it really best to store vegetables in plastic bags in the fridge? I always thought that paper bags were better as this stopped them sweating.
Joby Blume

I know most of you hate those plastic bags but for leafy veg they are pretty much essential to stop them wilting. They only cause sweating if they get warm (can act as something between a green house and a compost heap) so get them in the fridge and they will be fine. Roots are generally better in paper (especially potatoes to keep them in the dark and onions to keep them dry).

If you have any questions, post them here.