Weeds, Tomatillos & Too Many Farming Adages

It is said that the difference between a good and a bad farmer is a week; timing is critical.

While pulling three-foot-high fat hen, redshank and nightshade weeds from a crop of flageolet beans on our farm in France this morning, I had cause to reflect on this. Weeding a week earlier would have halved the work and doubled the effectiveness. Indeed we wrote off the worst half of the field; the beans would never pay for the labour, especially as much of the competitive damage had already been done. Good farmers murder their weeds, whether with hoes or chemicals, when young and vulnerable. These brutes took both hands to uproot, brought half the bean crop with them and, given half a chance, will re-root where dropped. 

Weed-ridden crops yield less due to the competition, are slower to harvest and are often of poorer quality. Worse still, they shed seeds which plague us for years to come…“one year’s seeding brings seven years’ weeding” is another tediously true adage. With 25 years’ experience we are masters of weed control in Devon, but here in the Vendée we lost it while busy picking, and are paying the price. Of course, “a weed is just a plant in the wrong place” (yet another adage). Ironically most of our crops have their origins in plants which could be described as weeds, before breeders selected for yield, uniformity etc., and in the process lost much of the vigour which made them successful as weeds.

Tomatillos are to Mexicans what tomatoes are to Italians. After trials in Devon last year, we decided to grow them here in France; they were too wild and unruly for our orderly Devon polytunnels. Tomatillos are the size of a small tomato, have a firm texture and tangy, citrus sweetness. They can be eaten raw but are normally cooked in Mexico where they are in everything: soups, stews, barbeques, but most of all in the ubiquitous salsa verde, where they combine with chilli, garlic and coriander to excellent effect. They will be on the extras list (complete with recipes) from next week. I urge you to try them.

 

Guy Watson