on our knees in the vendée

On our French farm in the Vendée we are busy removing the covers and cloches from the lettuce, spinach and turnips as fast as we dare. They are growing lush in the sun, out of the cold easterly wind, and are almost too far ahead of the UK. It can get up to 30°C under the covers by day, but we are still getting frosts at night, making the removal challenging.

Today we have started the slow job of weeding turnips, carrots and beetroot. These small seeded, early crops always present a challenge, especially if weeds from previous crops have shed seed. We made the beds in January, covering them for two weeks to warm the soil and encourage weeds to germinate, before sowing the crop. After about ten days of monitoring germination, we roll back the covers just before the crop emerges; a quick blast with a flame-thrower kills the weeds, allowing the crop to emerge into a weed-free seedbed. The difference between neat weed-free rows and barely being able to see the crop for weed can be less than 24 hours. We missed it with some carrots and beetroot and it is debatable if weeding is now worth the effort. We have machines that can get within an inch of the row, but the rest is done on hands and knees. An hour takes you about 200m down the row; if it gets to be less than 100m, it is time to give up and sow something else. To speed things up a bit, we have fashioned Edward Scissorhands-style aluminium thumb extensions to tape to our fingers. With a bit of creative thinking, we remain optimistic.

Guy Watson