la terre est engorgée

This is coming from France where the soil is ‘full to the throat’ and has been since June - it has almost been as wet as in Devon. In response we have our brand new, two acre, large football pitch sized tunnel which is already planted with 40,000 lettuces plus chard, spinach and pak choi. All should be in your boxes in March, two months ahead of the UK season, helping to fill our ‘hungry gap’ and to give you relief from parsnips and swedes. After less than a week the roots are reaching out into the soil and the leaves are putting on new growth. The Vendée is only marginally warmer than Devon at this time of year, but there is much better light, allowing the plants to race away, while in Devon they would just sit waiting to be eaten by slugs. As soon as the lettuce is cleared we will be planting ramiro peppers which will be in your boxes from July to October before replanting another two crops of salad for the winter.

Outside, the skeletal remains of last summer’s disastrous pepper crop is still hanging around to depress me. It has been too wet to plough in the memory of botrytis-ridden fruit, so there it is, everyday, reminding me of my folly and pig-headed stubbornness in trying to grow crops outside when everyone else has moved them under glass or plastic. In the best years outside, crops might have better flavour and possibly less environmental and aesthetic impact. Given the reality of climatic change and resulting risks, it is economically unsustainable, environmentally dubious and emotionally disastrous to continue outside. How many more of my dogmas will I be forced to swallow?

I love my new tunnels. Outside, the soil may be full to throat, but in here it can be controlled at the push of a few buttons. The interlocking cathedral-like arches encourage feelings of omnipotence. Have we conquered the elements? Computer-controlled irrigation and ventilation encourages dangerous feelings of power and influence and I must remind myself that a hurricane, attack of mildew or plague of aphids could still lay waste to my plans.

Guy Watson