Sweetcorn Stories From France

Down in the Vendée the maize is head-high and growing so fast you can almost hear it. We are picking sweetcorn (maize’s smaller, sweeter and less robust cousin) for your boxes a full six weeks ahead of the UK. Our season started well, with lettuce in March, but this was followed by a poor few months. Now, after some sun, the crops have perked up and things look more promising. The chillies, peppers, tomatillos and cape gooseberries are all doing well if a little late; they will available from late August. Even the heat-loving melons have recovered from the weather battering and look as if they might produce a decent crop for the first time in three years. The garlic is harvested and drying well; it will be on the extras list as soon as we find time to bunch it. 

Most days we are picking sweetcorn. Water-logging and gales in April and May made it hard to keep the crop covers on, rotted some of the seed and made the crop mature unevenly; we will need to pass through the crop two or three times to get all the cobs at their sweetest. After much thought, we decided to employ a fleet of wheelbarrows. On a good day we can pick 1,500 cobs each, so we need a team of 20 to pick enough for all the boxes this week. Farmers tend to be poor linguists (I managed an F in O-level Spanish) and given the international nature of our team, maintaining an orderly progression of wheelbarrows amongst a head-high crop has been challenging.

In the UK we fight to keep the badgers out of our corn. Here it is coypu, known locally as ragondins: giant fearless vegetarian rodents from Brazil who flatten the plants in search of the sweet cobs. They are bigger than most cats and have no natural predators. If only they tasted better I suspect there would be fewer of them. Ragondin pâté is a local speciality but no one seems to like it much. If you would like to see something of where your sweetcorn is coming from, we will post photos of the farm on our Facebook page.

Guy Watson