keeping it covered

September has been a relatively dry month, allowing the root harvest to progress well. We grew a little spring barley this year and now the crop has been cleared, we are anxious to get the ground covered with a green manure before winter sets in. It used to be traditional practice to plough in the autumn and leave the furrows standing through the winter, exposed to frost, wetting and drying, which text books advise will help to break the clods into a fine seed bed, ready for sowing crops in the spring. This practice may work in the colder, dryer East of the country and on heavy clay soils, but I quickly learnt it was a disaster in the wet West, where the furrows slump under heavy rain, air is excluded and nutrients are lost to leaching. By spring my soil was lacking life and fertility and unable to support a crop; experience has taught us the importance of having the ground covered and delaying ploughing until at least February.  

Crops cleared in July and August are normally followed by a legume like sweet red clover or vetch, which will not only add organic matter and build structure but also fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. If well established, when ploughed down in the spring these crops will be digested by bacteria, fungi and soil invertebrates to release all the nutrients needed, even by a relatively greedy crop like cabbage. The skill and luck is in timing cultivations so the nutrients are released as the crop needs them. As we get into September there is not enough time for the legumes to establish and fix significant nitrogen, so we sow the very vigorous rye, which roots deeply and can grow even in the depths of winter, soaking up nutrients that would be lost and bringing them back to the surface for next year’s crops.       

Guy Watson

new seasonal recipe booklet

You may notice there are fewer recipes on this newsletter than before. Many of you have asked for more quick tips and recipe photos. So we’ve put together a recipe booklet for September-October, and we’ll still give you a couple of recipes with every newsletter. We hope you find the recipe booklet useful. If for any reason you haven’t had a copy yet, you can order it for free at www.riverford.co.uk/usefulstuff or ask your vegman.