In the 1980s, when I ploughed up the first and best of my father’s fields, I wasn’t sure what to grow so I tried just about everything. A fellow grower once said that if libraries stocked seed catalogues they would be filed under fiction; those photos can be very seductive and I sowed all sorts of things, most of which got buried in weeds or perished under my inexperienced hands.
By 1993 when we packed our first vegbox in an old cow shed, pragmatism had displaced enthusiasm; I'd started to specialise, in a vain attempt to please the Sainsbury’s buyer with iceberg lettuce, white cabbage and bland potatoes. As a result the initial vegbox contents were a bit dull. To liven things up we started growing crops which were thought wacky at the time, but have since become commonplace: fennel, celeriac, wet garlic, squash and sugar snap peas, plus old crops that had virtually been abandoned like gooseberries and currants.
As is so often the case, experimentation and radical progress often happen on the fringes; you're more likely to see a crop of the future on an allotment than in the research programme of a Fenland farmer. As 53% of you grow some of your own veg, I asked last month for suggestions for the boxes. Many thanks to all who responded; top of the list were Golden and Chioggia beetroot, salsify and forced rhubarb, closely followed by horseradish, mooli, chicory and a tuber called oca. The first three have gone straight into this year’s cropping programme and we're trialling several others. Bitter leaves (radicchio, chicory, endive etc.) also proved popular. I love this family and they will be on the extras list. I also have plans for a sort of club for bitter leaves enthusiasts. But who gets the prize of meals at the Field Kitchen? Invites are on the way.
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