Riverford Wicked Leeks

Guy's Newsletter: waiting for winter

We are picking savoy cabbage scheduled for February, purple sprouting broccoli that shouldn’t have ‘headed’ for another two months, while struggling to get through a surge of leeks that should have kept us busy through the new year. With just one frost so far, it has been too mild for too long and our plans are unravelling a little. We have, however, managed to get through a wave of cauliflower that was ready two months early without any spoiling or any complaints from you, so we’re doing better than most; in Cornwall whole fields have ‘blown’ (matured past the eating stage) without a single head being cut.

Most of our kale, cabbage, leeks and cauliflower are planted in July and, once established, grow rapidly through early autumn before virtual cessation of growth by mid-December; typically growth grinds to a halt below 7°C, even if there is sufficient light. For years we have recorded planting and harvesting dates by variety and built up our cropping plan to meet the needs of the veg boxes each week. This is all based on the model of an ‘average’ growing year; I couldn’t say that it is getting warmer or colder, wetter or drier, but that average year does seem to be getting less average – as predicted by climatologists.

The warm, damp and dull conditions (apparently November broke records for lack of light) are a recipe for fungal disease; we lost the last of our spinach and chard and a few crops of sprouts, though we still expect to have plenty for Christmas. Indeed the sprout tops, normally only for the diehard greens lovers, have been particularly tender and less bitter than usual, so we are putting them on the extras list; they are excellent blanched or stir-fried. Despite the dull November woes it has been a pretty good year for veg growers; added to this we have invested in machinery to reduce some of the more physical and tedious work, plus, year on year, we are all getting better at what we do. After doing our sums, for the second year running we reckon there is no need for a price rise on the boxes, so here’s to a 2016 full of proper veg as ever.

Guy Watson