plenty of green stuff

We are enjoying some wonderful sunny weather and have even been prompted to start irrigating to help establish new crops. Once crops are established there is still plenty of moisture in the ground, but a little water can also be needed to reduce stress on older crops as we remove the crop covers prior to harvest. Growth can be almost too fast and soft under the covers in hot weather, so we like to remove them a week before harvest to allow the leaves to firm and strengthen.

The first thing a young plant must do before flowering, fruiting or filling tubers is to perform the process of photosynthesis; to get their leaves out there, trap sunlight and make sugar. So, not surprisingly, early summer is characterized by leafy boxes. We hope that this comes as a welcome change, for at least a few weeks, after a rooty winter. We have some wonderful crop of spinach, little gem, oak leaf and Batavian lettuce, pak choi, rocket, mustard and baby leaf spinach, all of which will be in the boxes in profusion over the next few weeks. It is great to be harvesting such a bounty of fresh and perfect leaves after months of picking our way selectively through winter-battered crops.

After years of snipping away with knives and scissors on our hands and knees in Devon, we have invested in a machine for harvesting our fine leafy salads. Seeds are sown on beds as flat as billiard tables at such high density that the weeds are smothered out . All being well, 25 to 30 days later the leaves are cut with a band saw blade that skims the bed felling the small leaves of rocket, spinach and mustard on to a belt which gently conveys them to waiting boxes - all with just the twiddle of a few dials and levers. Actually this is still a fantasy; the first sowings were too uneven and weedy and had to be cut by hand, but by the time you read this we will have mastered it!

Those who would like their food to be grown by quaint peasants, may condemn such machines as the industrialization of organic farming but I don