Riverford Wicked Leeks

harvest evolution

Just as we had almost all our potatoes safely in store, heavy rain has stopped the harvest. Our field workers are a hardy bunch who adapt to the changing conditions, but the machinery is not so adaptable. The potato harvester works by gently sifting out the soil, before delivering the potatoes into huge wooden bins on a trailer running alongside. If conditions are very dry, the cushioning effect of the soil is lost and the spuds get bruised; too wet and you have a claggy mess and little separation. So we have moved onto harvesting the beetroot; these live near the surface and the harvesting process creates less soil disturbance, hence we can work in wetter weather.

All this is a far cry from the back breaking manual harvests of my youth. I used to employ teams of new age travellers who would work all winter, scrabbling in a muddy, Hardyesque scene of misery. Don’t ever romanticise farm work without doing it first. I can only marvel at modern mechanical harvesters, which get better every decade. They also get bigger, however, and as a result pose more of a threat to the soil structure.

Many of our growers don’t have irrigation; after six wet summers there seemed little need, but this year many crops were held back as a result. Alongside the sunshine, irrigation would have made a good year great. Now after almost four inches of rain, crops have raced ahead. This has been great for the carrots, which adapted well, but less so for romanesco and swedes where the sudden change of pace has revealed a boron deficiency, manifesting itself in some occasional rots hidden inside perhaps 25% of the heads. Rather than condemn an otherwise wonderful crop, we hope you are happy to trim around the minor offenders. We will of course refund or replace where you are not.

Guy Watson