Riverford Wicked Leeks

It feels good to see some crops in the ground. A spell of dry, cold weather at the beginning of the month allowed us to create perfect seed beds for planting cabbage, lettuce, spinach, beetroot, kohl rabi, carrots and potatoes. The soil was perfect, but the air frigid, so the plants were covered with fleece to keep off the east wind (it will still have been a cruel shock after being mollycoddled in a 20°C greenhouse). Most plants are looking OK and, after a little shivering, are starting to grow well. It is a bog out there at the moment, but looking at the weather charts, I think we might be planting again by the time you read this.

The new season normally starts in mid-May, with lettuce closely followed by spinach, chard, summer greens and broad beans. Crops are a week to a fortnight behind our plans, but with old season crops also running late and with the help of produce from our farm in the French Vendée, we will scrape through with the greens. Roots will be more problematic; it was always going to be tight because last year’s harvest was so poor. The situation has now been compounded by snow in Jersey and Cornwall; their mild maritime climate normally allows first lifting in early May. The snow killed the tops and new growth is only just breaking through, meaning there will be no UK new potatoes until mid-June. The Valor potatoes in the boxes this week will clear our barns out. Supermarkets typically move to Nicola potatoes from Egypt to plug this gap, but they are invariably nasty so we are trying very hard to find something better. We are still haggling so it could be an old crop from a very nice man in Fife, or new potatoes from Italy.

We are weeding the first carrots in France which should be ready in early June. In the UK, the first sowings are breaking through and will follow on two weeks later. Early planting is always a gamble. This has not been a year to favour the bold or impetuous; early sowing into cold seed beds, which subsequently became waterlogged, left the seeds vulnerable to ‘damping off’ (attack by various weakly pathogenic fungi and bacteria which are endemic in the soil), but you have to make use of the dry windows when they come.

Guy Watson