stress, tardy males & wet garlic

I am writing this on our farm in the French Vendée where, as we plant more crops and the weeds start romping away, stress levels are rising fast. It doesn't help that while the workload increases, it’s impossible to get a Frenchman to work on Sunday or curtail lunch. Annoying as it is, I can’t help admiring such uncompromising relegation of the demands of work; lunch is quite rightly non-negotiable. Staffing up for our manic, hungry gap-plugging eight week season is always going to be challenging, but we have a great team and despite the shorter hours I suspect they get as much done.

Up until now our courgettes had us worried as they were throwing out female flowers and initiating fruits only to abort them because the tardy male flowers were yet to make pollen available to fertilise the fruit. Today, with the sun out, the first males are opening and the bees are at work so we will be picking next week. It looks like we will have a fine crop which, with luck, will be tailing off as the UK crop starts in June.

Frustratingly, damp weather means mildew has wreaked havoc in the lettuce here, but thankfully our early lettuce in Devon is much better and will be ready in two weeks. Meanwhile kohl rabi, turnips and cabbage all look good and will be in your boxes soon, and this week we are busy with spinach, chard and the best crop of garlic I have ever grown. After 15 years of growing it in Devon we have given up and moved most here to the Vendée, where it is less prone to the fungal disease rust. Much of the crop will be harvested immature and soon arrive in your boxes as ‘wet’ garlic. You will find it milder than dry garlic and can use the whole plant, leaves and all, while they are fresh. I like to finely slice it and marinade in vinaigrette before tossing in a green salad, and it’s great in a stir-fry or omelette. Keep it in the fridge and use in larger quantities than dry garlic, adding it later in your cooking. Just don’t mistake it for a baby leek!

Guy Watson