Riverford Wicked Leeks

busy at last

Spring has arrived and, after a frustratingly dormant winter, the farm is once again a hive of activity. Brought on by the sudden rise in temperature, the last of the overwintered crops are rushing to maturity giving us a late flush of cauliflower, leeks, purple sprouting broccoli and greens plus the wild garlic from our woods. The lengthening days are telling these plants it is now or never for procreation, so our mission is to get them harvested before they rush to seed. You may find an emerging bolt in the centre of your leek; given a chance this would extend to a metre in just a few days to carry the star burst flower typical of the allium family. Our rule is that if we see it poking out of the shank we have missed our chance and it stays in the field. In the early stages the bolt is fairly tender and digestible but if it offends you, slice the leek lengthways and remove.

Meanwhile we are harvesting the first salad onions and the first few sticks of rhubarb for the Field Kitchen, our farm restaurant in Devon; they should be available to buy with your regular order at the end of this month and in the boxes from May.

Apart from the picking we are busy preparing ground (muck spreading, ploughing and cultivating) ahead of a busy planting schedule; early lettuce, chard, spinach, cabbage and carrots are planted under covers and most of the potatoes are now in the ground. We have even started irrigating the shallow planted crops like lettuce which need help getting their roots out and down to the moist soil below.

250 miles further south, on our farm in the Vendee, we have been harvesting lettuce for the boxes for two weeks; a full six weeks ahead of the home crop. The plan is to plug our hungry gap without making the 1000 mile, three-day trip to the south of Spain. As is inevitable with any new project, we are having a few teething problems. The coldest and windiest winter for twenty years has been problematic and when spring did arrive and the temperatures jumped fast and we were too slow removing the crop covers. The lettuce grew too fast and, in the tropical humidity trapped in by the covers, some plants did not transpire fast enough resulting in cells dying around the tip of the leaf. Most look beautifully fresh so we are using what we can, discarding the worst and hoping you will be tolerant of any dodgy heads that get through.

Guy Watson from Riverford in Devon