Finally, the last leaves on our oaks have turned. With persistent high pressure to the west bringing dry and cold wind from the north and east, temperatures have tumbled, closing that ‘open-backed’ (mild and growy) autumn. About time too; some of our winter crops are looking incredibly lush and forward. They need to slow down and prepare themselves for harder times. Ideally, temperatures drop slowly, allowing plants to toughen up gradually. So far the frosts have been mild; close to ideal in fact. How often does a farmer say that?
By the time you read this the last of our carrots and potatoes should be in store, which always brings on a warm and contented feeling. They are stored in wooden one-tonne boxes, stacked six high in a huge temperature controlled barn. The carrots will be good to the end of April and some of the more sleepy spud varieties, with careful management, can be kept until June. Most carrots are grown on very sandy land, left under a protective layer of straw between two layers of plastic. This makes them easier to wash, but they lose much of their flavour. Our carrots, grown slowly on loamy soils, might not be as pretty but they definitely taste better.
In France, having finished harvest for the year, we are busy planting garlic. For years we have grown this in Devon, with mixed success. After trying it on a small area in the Vendée last year we have been seduced by the larger bulbs and reduced fungal disease; the first fresh garlic will be in your boxes in May. The environmental impact of the transport of such a high value, labour intensive crop is tiny, so this seems justifiable to me. How about you?
Sowing winter broad beans is always a gamble. Too early and they become winter-proud (too big and susceptible to gales and hard frost); too late and they germinate slowly, making them susceptible to the weak pathogens endemic in the soil, as well as to the local crow population. This week feels about right, so we will make use of the dry weather to sow the over wintered crop for the boxes in June, to be followed by a spring sowing for July.