Tag Archives: weather

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

Ed’s farm blog – duff plums and unseasonal veg

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…

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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!

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Broad beans mixed in with batavia and radicchio

Biological warfare

With a cold wet summer such as we’re experiencing this year it can be a bit of a relief to go down to the polytunnels where it’s nice and dry and we have much greater influence over the growing environment. These warmer conditions can bring problems of their own, however, as what is good for something like a cucumber can also be good for pests such as aphids and red spider mite, which can rip through a crop if nothing is done about it. Aphids have a life cycle of 3-4weeks (depending on climatic conditions) and during that time can give birth to 40-100 live young who emerge with the next generation already inside them!

Some predators will follow these pests through the doors: ladybirds, lacewings and hoverflies are all welcome visitors and we have some plants dotted around to encourage them (lacewings love fennel, for example) but this isn’t always enough and so we boost their numbers by distributing extra pest-specific, insects and bugs through the crop.

These fall into two main categories: predators and parasites. Predators (like phytoseiulus persimilis for red spider mite and aphidoletes aphidimyza for aphids) will attack and eat the pest, then lay eggs which hatch into a new generation to continue the process. Parasites are, if anything, more gruesome: aphidius colemani, for example, will lay an egg inside the aphid itself. This obviously kills the pest as the larva grows and when it hatches, carries on the process. Parasites tend to be much more host-specific than predators, which aren’t too fussy (within reason) what they go for. In both cases, the second generation tend to be more active and vigorous than the parents we introduced as they are more acclimatised to the conditions in the tunnels.

Some battles you win and some you lose: to date there are no signs of red spider mite, but our peppers have a few green aphid and one of our cucumber tunnels is fairly heavily infested with black aphid. We have ordered extra insects to help in the war and I have even been introducing the odd ladybird I have found in the fields! Hopefully this will be enough and we can get on top of the problem.

ImageBack outside, meanwhile, we are beginning to harvest our globe artichokes. These highly architectural plants, a relative of the humble thistle, are one of the many crops to have taken a bit of a battering from the elements: they can suffer from browning leaves if conditions are too humid but are worth persevering with as they’re relatively low maintenance for a perennial crop and have a great and unique flavour. I tend to just steam them and eat as a starter with loads of melted butter, though I’m sure Rob in our Field Kitchen restaurant has far more imaginative uses for them…

Penny’s Gardening Blog- flower box to grow

In my Gardening Blog today I will be wittering on about the weather as usual as well as warning those of you who have ordered a flower box to grow to get ready, showing off about my tractor driving skills and treating you to some more photos of beautiful garden shots.

The Weather

We have all been enjoying some proper hot sunny days the last couple of weeks and oh boy was it was needed. All around me I can see the effect on growth in my field, the herb bed at the field kitchen, the toms and cucs in our polytunnels and well just everywhere around. It fills me with joy I have to say.

The Herb Garden at Riverfords restaurant , The Field Kitchen.

However…..I feel the odd heavy shower at night would improve life even more. Like the one we in Buckfastleigh had last Saturday night at 4 or 5 in the morning (officially Sunday). It was a proper deluge, a downpour and was so loud that it woke me up. I was delighted as I had just planted my first seedlings in my flower field that very morning. What luck! Obviously I had watered them in already but this extra dousing was just the ticket. In previous years I have planted up my field in the first couple of weeks of April. This spring has been unusually cold and then rained for ages and no one could get on the land to cultivate-hence a late start.

Flower Box To Grow

These cut flower kits are being delivered from next week. The plants have arrived and are looking great. A couple of varieties haven’t germinated very well so we have a bit of substitution here and there but all in all, it’s looking good. Having originally worried that this kit was going out too late in the season it turns out that what with the weather we’ve had, it’s really an ideal time after all. So if you have a box arriving, spend some time this bank holiday weekend preparing your site for your cutting garden kit.

If you haven’t already dug in some manure, do so now or chicken pellets will also do fine.  Flowers don’t need as much nutrients as veg so they say. You can end up with too much leaf and not so many blooms but I am not totally convinced. The years I have had muck spread before cultivation everything grew lovely and tall and produced buckets and buckets of flowers. Don’t over do it but a couple of sacks of well rotted manure chucked about ‘never did no one no harm’ as we say down here.

Tours

This week I have given my first farm tours at Riverford. I have been training over the last few months and to start with was very wary about driving a massive tractor, pulling an extremely long trailer behind it. But I have to say, not wanting to big myself up or anything; I am a dab hand at it now. I can back it up too, round quite awkward corners where pallets have been strategically placed in the way, to really put me through my paces!! Some of the male staff were pretty skeptical to begin with but I am pleased to say they were wrong. I am pretty good at it. But more about the tours next week where I will introduce you to Julius, a Ugandan pineapple farmer who I have had the pleasure of working with this week, teaching children about growing and showing them the farm.

Gardens in May

Here are a few photos for you to enjoy.

Foxgloves

foxgloves

Iris and sweet rocket, Hesperis matronalonis

Iris and sweet rocket, Hesperis matronalonis

Formal garden with loose informal planting.

Formal garden with loose informal planting

I am off to London for the jubilee celebrations and to see my offspring. Happy growing and don’t forget to water in this hot dry weather.

Penny’s Gardening Blog – Flower box to grow

I will be talking about the weather in true English style, be sympathetic and give some support to all you growers out there battling with your veg/herb/flower gardens, encourage you to try a Riverford Flower Box To Grow and inspire you with some photos of gardens I work in.

the weather

Heavens Above! What is going on? In recent times we have had the driest autumn on record, the driest winter, the coldest April and now the wettest too. How about the hottest summer next please. It really makes life rather difficult for anyone trying to grow anything at all. I read some garden articles in early spring listing plants suitable for drought as this is what we were all expecting then, hose pipe bans spreading across the country like wild fire and then it starts and we are all relieved to have at last a shower and then another….. and another …..But this onslaught and absolute deluge of rain that we have been subjected to over the last few weeks is just all too much. Maybe an article on damp gardens is called for now.

It is pretty miserable working out in this kind of weather and sometimes if it’s persistent enough one just has to give up. I have pretty good waterproofs in the form of fishermans salopettes,  wellies,  a coat and an assortment of hats, (shorts and a sun hat in the car too, just in case, yeah right!!!). It is not a pretty sight!

Penny

Even some of the field workers have had their hours cut as no planting can be done because it’s impossible to get the tractors and planters on to the ground. Things are not happy!

box to grow

Veg and heb  box to grow customers have had their plants for a month now and hopefully  have manages to plant them up. Nothing has grown much this last month because its been unusually cold and very wet. My courgettes have copped it…just couldn’t cope, simply drowned and my other seedlings are sat there not growing and looking rather sodden and sorry for themselves . All you can really do is keep checking for slugs and snails who come out in troops in this weather. If really keen you could cover the plants with cloches to try and keep some rain off them and also raise the temperature a bit. We could all do with some sunshine to make the plants grow.

flower box to grow

The Flower Box To Grow is my baby in some ways as growing cut flowers is my speciality so riverford have used me to select the plants and varieties that come in this grow your own kit. I have grown organic cut flowers in a field I rent from riverford over the last four years. The Kit will provide you with flowers to cut and enjoy in a vase through out the summer and well into the autumn.  The flowers are all traditional English country flowers such as cornflowers, bells of Ireland, love in a mist, sunflowers, snapdragons and so on….take a look and be tempted.  The kit comes with 54 seedlings and two packets of seeds and is extremely good value for money and obviously I highly recommend it.

in the garden

What with all the rain perennials have pretty much doubled in size over the last few weeks and have been really enjoy this long awaited drink. I am lucky enough to work in some really beautiful garden in the local area and to cheer you all up and possibly inspire you I will show you some photos of some of these.

This garden is partly walled and formally planted with fastigiated yews and lots of shaped box and box hedging. It sits quite high on a hill and has lovely views across the valley. With in the formality it is planted quite loosely with loads of old fashioned roses, geraniums, day lilies and so on.

We let campion, forget me not, sweet rocket and valerian officianalis seed freely and then cull when necessary. This makes it look very natural and also fills gaps creating ground cover and hence suppresses growth of unwanted weeds.

forget me nots

symphytum ibericum  comfrey

This is a low growing comfrey and a useful ground cover plant too

This is a taller comfrey useful for making a liquid feed  and  great for composting as it encourages the rapid breakdown of other materials  you put in your heap and its also very pretty.

Symphytum x uplandicum   Russian comfrey

I love this combination of bright yellow Kerria japonica and a bright red Rhododendron behind. Very cheerful indeed.

Ed’s Farm Blog – Springing into inaction

wet garlicOur early season crops are usually planted in fields across the valley from us, as they are broadly southfacing and warm up quicker with well-drained soil to allow early planting. As these can’t be irrigated we rely on the usual April showers to water them for us. Last year the long dry spell actually meant that some of the lettuce got stressed, bolted, and we lost a fair amount of the crop. Not this year! Below average temperatures mean that the crops are growing more slowly than hoped, but there is certainly no lack of water.

Continual rainfall such as we are experiencing at present brings its own set of problems, however. At this time of year we would be frantically planting, fleeceing, brushweeding and hoeing our lettuce, spinach, summer greens and so on; but not now. The fields are simply too wet to cultivate and a short break in the weather is little help as they need a minimum of 2-3 days (sometimes more depending on the soil) to dry out enough to work.

Fortunately for our staff there has been plenty to do in the polytunnels: Manuring, putting up supports for tomatoes, and plenty of hand planting. But as this begins to draw to a close we can forsee a few quiet weeks ahead whilst we wait for the crops we have to come on and pray for a break in the weather.

On the up side our wet garlic is looking good; this was planted as individual cloves that we broke up from whole bulbs in late October and early November. The two varieties we grow are Germidor and Messidrome as they produce large cloves: and usually the larger the clove you plant, the larger the wet garlic you produce.

So a mixed spring so far. To quote the philosopher from Morecombe, “bring me sunshine…”

growing in France

Just back from France having finally completed the purchase of 80 cows, three tractors a large lake and 250 acres sandy in the Vendee; the plan being to grow veg and extend our seasons just four hours drive from and a ferry from us rather than going to Spain for it.

After fourteen months of buearocracy the Department has decided that we are fit to farm and the deal is done. Actually the local farming community has been very supportive and encouraging and Didier, the selling farmer, has acquired a new lease of life and decided to stay on as a partner.

We are already 14 months into the conversion so the first fields will be organic and ready for cropping next spring. We have already started some crop trials of lettuce, spinach and beans. Despite a cold winter the much higher light levels are plain to see in the vigorous growth. The only obvious problems are the wild boar – showing an unhelpful interest in the broad beans – and a plague of giant rats the size of a badger.

Where have all the greens gone?

Cavolo Nero (black kale)

Cavolo Nero (black kale)

Where have all the greens gone? A farmer’s explanation.

You may have noticed the greens in our boxes have fallen below their usual abundant, home-grown standards for the time of year, and that we have been rather root-heavy. I hope that a bit of an explanation will encourage you to bear with us.

Why are the boxes short on greens?

We expect to come back after Christmas to a deluge of produce that has been growing away while we were on holiday. But this year we have a real lack of greens: cauliflower, cabbages, purple sprouting broccoli, leeks, spring greens. We have cabbages struggling to reach the size of a cricket ball; a cauliflower crop where the ‘smalls’ (curd size under 10cm, which usually make up 10% of the crop) account for nearly half the crop; spring greens running four weeks late and feeding more deer and rabbits than customers; and leeks limited to small shafts by the weather.

The immediate reason is the exceptionally cold snap which has two consequences. Firstly, we can’t harvest them while they are frosted. And secondly, in such cold periods many plants just close down and don’t grow, even in our most south facing and coastal Devon fields.

But the problem actually goes back to the appalling summer of 2008. Many of these crops were planted then, and should have had a warm dry period to put their roots down and start their growth. Instead they went into inhospitable, wet, cold soil, where the nutrients were leached away by rain. They had no need to put roots down deep to find moisture, and the cold inhibited their initial growth.

What are we doing about it now?

We are sourcing all we can from our other farms, benefiting from some differences in climate and soil. But the cold has been widespread so we have not been able to get as much as we’d like. As you may have noticed, we are doubling up on the produce that is coming in small.

And looking forward…

We promise not to go on moaning at you about the weather year after year! We will always grow all we can on our home farms and with our local growers. But now that we have our five sister farms serving different regions, we plan to make better use of the particular geography, soil types and technical skills – and accept that not all vegetables can be reliably grown in all areas. Examples are:

• Onions, where in Devon we have moved away this year from our own ware onion crop because the necks never finish properly and are susceptible to mildew. We will still have the green bunches straight out of the field at all farms, but will concentrate loose onion growing with our River Nene growers in East Anglia where we can expect the best quality.

• Butternut squash crops in Devon have repeatedly failed in recent years and for the last two years the crop was a complete write off. We don’t get the temperatures and sunshine hours down here to get a reliable crop every year, so we are planning to plant 50% in sunnier East Anglia and have 50% as a failsafe with an excellent French grower we have been working with for some years.

• The sprouts from Devon were small and many showed the characteristic black spots of alternaria on the head. We managed to fill some of the shortfall with sprout stalks from Organic Dan in Lancashire who grows for Riverford on Stockley Farm. The quality was exceptional, probably down to the peat soils which are rich in nitrogen which the sprouts love. Organic Dan will produce most of our sprout stalks for next Christmas.

• We are planting a large additional acreage of cabbage, spring greens, purple sprouting broccoli and cauliflower. This is on top of our planned usage and will provide a useful pool if times are hard in the field.

Hope is in sight!

Fortunately, the situation has improved this week: produce is starting to move in the fields and yields are improving. The purple sprouting broccoli has been excellent and is starting to roll in at increasing volumes. The roots also taste wonderful, probably helped by the cold weather (the swede on my Christmas plate was the best for some years!). The cauliflower is also starting to flow in at a more consistent rate, helped by some milder temperatures – I have just seen the latest delivery and it looks excellent.

So, apologies for the lack of greens these last few weeks. And thank you for sticking with us.

Luke, from Riverford in Devon

finally!

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Can it be a coincidence? Spookily, just as Rhiannon’s song ‘Umbrella’ gets knocked off the number one spot after nine weeks, suddenly the weather gets better… Who knows?

On the farm we’re certainly making the most of the change and are out planting and harvesting everything as fast as we can. Most of the winter crops are in now – so the boxes should be well supplied for the coming months – and apart from runner beans, most of the summer crops have survived ok.

What a difference a day (or two) make

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Well, the weather finally seems to have changed – at least for a bit! And with a couple of fine days on the trot we have been out madly trying to catch up with our planting. In order to keep our boxes full through the autumn and winter we need to plant hundreds of thousands of seedlings during the summer months. For what seems like weeks now we have been unable to get out planting because of the weather, and we were falling badly behind. But it’s not too late – yet! – and as long as we get a bit more good weather we will get everything in, although we will have to work some long days…