onions and flame throwers

Our onions were planted in good conditions in March and have emerged strongly. Onions are poor competitors and never make a full canopy, so controlling weeds is always a challenge. Last week, with the first leaves reaching about three inches, we passed over the crop with a giant tractor-mounted gas burner, scorching them almost to the ground. It feels wrong, but experience has taught us to be bold: two weeks later the crops come back with renewed vigour without the weeds. More weeds will emerge, but by then the crop is strong enough to allow us to run through with tine harrows and inter-row hoes, which give good control without the need for any hand work. Without our flame weeder there would be endless hours of back-breaking weeding. 

Our potatoes suffer a similarly brutal approach to weed control. We used to gently hoe the sides of the ridges, trying to control the weed without setting back the newly emerging crop. Again, we have learnt to be bold: we now plant in shallow ridges and as soon as most of the crop is up, we make up the ridges with two inches of soil, burying weed and crop. A few days later, the strongly growing potatoes have shrugged off the soil, growing with such vigour that they quickly close canopy before the later emerging weeds can get a look in.

In a good year, we would be digging the first potatoes by now, but with the earlies still recovering from late snow, there will be another two to three weeks of Italian before we start digging Lady Crystal in Cornwall and Jersey. As is so often the case, the best flavour comes from slower growth: Charlotte, our favourite summer potato, will not be ready until late June.

I hope that those of you who have suffered frustration with our website over the last month are seeing a progressive improvement. Most of the gaping holes now have sticking plasters and we are well on our way to some more permanent fixes. The whole thing has been infinitely more scary than the worst calamity of weather or pestilence in the fields. Thank you for staying with us. I hope none of you have smashed your keyboards in frustration.

Guy Watson