Riverford Wicked Leeks

Midnight Plantings & Blind Tastings

Our crops are desperate for sunshine and an end to the deluge. July is our busiest month and, this year, mud is our biggest problem. In the next two weeks we must plant most of the leafy vegetables for harvesting from October through to next April. When it stops raining for long enough to move without everything clagging with mud, we are out there planting from dawn until dusk, and beyond. Some nights the last leeks have gone in after midnight, with a new team starting again at 4.30am. Through such Herculean efforts we have made the most of our chances and are not too far behind, leaving you no reason to fret over your Christmas veg.

Harvesting is another matter. No-one can remember when we were snatching with such desperation at brief weather windows to dig roots in mid summer. It is hand to mouth; racing from field to box with no chance to get ahead or allow the roots to dry enough to brush the earth off. I have always resisted washing roots because of the effect on their shelf life, but we are now investing in a gentle washer so we have the option to wash in times like these.

Blight, induced by persistent damp, has ripped through the potatoes. Normal practice is to remove the foliage when 30% is infected with this aggressive fungal pathogen, to avoid active spores washing down to infect the roots. This has already happened in most crops in the southwest however, so at best yields will be small, at worst crops will not be worth lifting. Meanwhile carrots are doing better, and things are not so desperate in the east of the country. 

To escape the doom I took a couple of days out to be a judge in the Soil Association Organic Food Awards. After blind-tasting my way through beers, cheeses, pies, pickles and jams I was greatly heartened by the high quality of most of the entrants. Organic producers have come a long way in 25 years and particularly the last five; a tougher market has pushed up standards and collectively there’s a lot to be proud of. All we need now is a little sun.

Guy Watson