Some of you may have found (or will be finding this week) the sprouting tips of broad beans in your boxes. We have been ‘pinching these out’ (the farming term for removing them from the plants) for several reasons:
- They offer something a little different to eat at this time of year and go well in a salad or stir fry
- It can spread a crop out so it doesn’t come all at once: if you wait until the first pods have started to form before pinching away, this won’t affect overall yield
- This can (not always) help prevent blackfly infestations. This pest tends to attack a plant from the tip downwards and by taking the tip out the whole plant becomes less inviting
- We need the work! Harvesting bean tips is a labour-intensive job and although we would like to do it, at this time of year we usually find ourselves swamped by more urgent tasks: Harvesting and weeding spinach and lettuce for instance. The unusually low temperatures in spring have slowed down several of our crops and the wet has written off others, so we find ourselves in the rare situation of having a labour surplus; so picking out a few bean tips suddenly becomes a viable proposition.
More optimistically we can see some of our summer crops finally rearing their heads: The lettuce is picking up, our spinach is nearly there and our strawberries are too: I found a few half-ripe ones in the field earlier this week and we may start picking as early as Monday.
The mild winter has been kind to our strawberries and as you look down the field early indications are that this could be a good year: but we never know with strawberries and a poor summer (weather-wise) can ruin 10 months of preparation. All of our fruit is grown in the open air and strawberries cannot be harvested in the rain; not only do the cardboard punnets turn to mush but the berries swell up and bruise easily, drastically reducing shelf life. The following day all this bad fruit has to be harvested anyway to prevent it rotting on the plant and spreading disease, so one day’s heavy rain can easily wipe out two days’ worth of productive picking: it is understandable why so many farmers opt for protected cropping. We might consider it ourselves but the relatively small amount of strawberries that we grow would make the required investment hard to justify.
Our Earliest varieties grown on the farm are Vibrant and Christine which will be closely followed by Fenella, Alice and Elegance. Our strawberry season is fairly short – about eight weeks all told – but we feel that many of the later varieties trade off flavour for longevity and so we prefer to keep things simple. Strawberry harvesting can be pretty back-breaking work and although they taste great I think that, come July, most of our pickers are glad to see the back of them!