God, Joe & Polytunnels

I have never seen such desire for cabbages from customers and friends as I have in recent weeks; absence clearly makes the stomach grow fonder. Delayed planting means we continue to be short of greens, so much so that I’ve been eating nettle tops, wild garlic, broad bean tops, and last night was gleaning in a field of seeding spring greens in search of supper. According to the Deuteronomic Code, such leftovers should be for widows, ‘strangers’ and orphans; we do lose a few strawberries to the BMW-driving waifs of the parish, but there were no widows out there in the rain picking cabbage.

 

Oh for some predictability. Our carefully laid plans have been laid to waste by a spring of wild extremes. While I was bemoaning being in the hands of the Gods to Joe, our Sicilian polytunnel manager, he dangerously retorted that he was, “God under the plastic”. That’s just asking for trouble but, with one hand on the irrigation pump and the other on the ventilation, he did seem in control of the elements. He wasn’t so cocky last autumn when the polytunnel was lifting out of the ground in a gale, but right now, protected cropping looks like the way forward. Behind him a team was training and pruning the tomatoes, cucumber and beans, all of which are looking great and bang on schedule despite the weather.

 

Down the road the strawberry field, open to the elements, was drizzly and deserted. I could almost feel the Botrytis mycelia spreading its mould over the wet fruit. The staff are waiting to pick, the clotted cream is made, we even have the orders but there will be nothing but frustrated customers this week as fruit picked in the rain will go off before it reaches the doorstep. No supermarket would tolerate such inconsistency, which is why 95% of their strawberries are grown under plastic. Modern retailing and customer perception cannot cope with the vagaries of the English weather; I’m not sure that we can either. As a business should we stop being pig headed and get our strawberries under plastic like everyone else? Perhaps, but in reflective moments I appreciate a reminder that we can’t always have what we want and that there is a force greater than us; it might even be God’s will. Better ask Joe.

 Guy Watson