box crisis

Last week we heard that the company who make our boxes had gone into liquidation just at the time when our stock was at it is lowest. It is likely to take up to two months to sort out a new supplier, especially as they had patented the design, which we had developed with them over a period of ten years. The result is that your vegetables are liable to arrive in an array of different boxes until the situation can be resolved. It would help us hugely if you would make a special effort to ferret around and return any boxes that you have accumulated.

And a bit of a nag...

The average number of trips per box has fallen from almost six four years ago, to a bit over three today. It is possible that this is partly attributable to a thinner lining in the boxes making them less water resistant but more recyclable (please store them in a dry place if possible) but the main cause is undoubtedly them just not being returned. From a packaging perspective the single most important environmental issue with our box scheme is the number of trips per box. We still get the occasional box coming back with the original Riverford pig, first drawn by my mother in the 70s. They have not been printed since 98 so it shows how long the boxes can last.

And what about the veg?

It continues to be ridiculously mild (or perhaps I should accept 13 degrees as a normal night-time temperature for January) which, despite all the battering wind, has got things growing again. Purple Sprouting Broccoli (PSB), my all time favourite vegetable, normally starts properly in February, winds up through March, reaching a peak in April before it gets away from us in early may and goes to seed. This year we are already picking enough for it to be in some of the boxes each week.

PSB is one of the few remaining vegetables to have resisted the plant breeding advances of hybridisation. This means that, like humans, each plant is genetically unique and there is, as a result, huge variation in size, shape, cropping date and flavour. The supermarkets really struggle to make such unruliness fit into their ordered shelves and supply schedules. They would dearly like see it available 365 days a year and for it to be as homogenous and predictable as the Italian stuff. Sadly this is starting to happen with the first hybrid varieties now on the market and there are even summer varieties of this traditional late winter / spring vegetable.

Initially we walk the fields every week to ten days, picking the primary heads as they push up from the foliage. This releases the suppression of lateral buds, which quickly develop into side shoots to be picked as "spears" later. If we stay on top of the picking, the plant will continue to produce spears until they become too small to be worth picking. A succession of varieties will take us through to the early May. The flavour tends to be at its best in March and early April when there is more sunlight but before the plants are getting tired and frustrated at not being allowed to seed.