it's what you can't see that really matters...

The papers seem to be rife with stories of vegetable shortages, as the warm weather looks set to creep on into August. It is lovely to enjoy a truly glorious summer without the infamous British summer rain; but it's not so wonderful for the crops that have been battling through the heat just to stay alive. Stan and the team on the farm are frantically moving the irrigation equipment around to keep the ground moist and the plants adequately watered.

It is particularly important for the lettuce, leek and winter cabbage transplants that have been planted over the last few weeks. They will probably only need a couple of waterings to get the roots established and after this we should be able to leave them to fend for themselves. Stan is keen not to pander to the crops too much. It is important to let the roots forage for moisture and nutrients to insure that the plant grows to be naturally healthy and resilient to pest and disease attacks. The land at Castor and at Yaxley is quite free draining, but dig deep enough and there still seems to be a fair bit of moisture. The soil does a pretty good job of holding the small amounts of rainfall that we have enjoyed in the last ten days. It is important that the roots don't get comfortable in the top two inches of soil waiting for the next drink to be manually applied through our irrigation pipes.

We really want the roots networking out deep into the soil and sub soil, finding water and nutrients as far and wide as the root system can travel. This not only helps with plant health but also contributes to good soil structure for subsequent crops. It is easy for us all to lose site of what's happening under ground from time to time. For most crops two thirds of the plant is working away beneath the soil surface with only the remaining third in view. Organic growers constantly need to be thinking about what is happening in the unseen world beneath our feet, it is in this mysterious world that the key to crop failure or success lies.

Rob Haward