guy’s newsletter: feeding the beast

This is coming to you from Home Farm in Yorkshire, our Riverford farm in the north. Peter Richardson, our partner and the grower of most of the veg up here is as daft as me; the line between visionary innovation and restless madness is fine and precarious. Knowing Peter’s weakness for a challenge, I’ve been trying to persuade him to grow horseradish, rhubarb and a tuber from New Zealand called oca but, as I pulled up in his yard, his head was buried in the guts of his latest project; a 200kW anaerobic digester.

The Beast, as his wife Jo-ann has named it, needs to be fed a balanced diet of cow muck, silage and any rejected vegetables. After 60 days of fermentation without oxygen in an 18m diameter insulated tank, the methane produced fuels a generator that supplies 200kW of carbon-neutral electricity into the grid. The spent fuel is then strained and used as a fertiliser for Peter’s vegetables and the clover leys that produce the silage. Meanwhile waste heat is used to warm the tank to the desired 40°C in addition to heating our box barn, with more initiatives in the pipeline. I suggested a heated greenhouse, but Peter said he was too old for that. After extracting him from the troublesome bowels of the Beast, I got him to explain the workings of the digester and the teething problems that had given him, “the worst six weeks of my life,” as he put it. The last AD plant I saw was in India and fashioned largely out of mud; this one had more digital displays, wires and controls than NASA Ground Control yet in true farmer style Peter seems to have worked out how to override most of them.

In the surrounding fields, crops of spinach, courgettes, cauliflower, kales and sweetcorn all looked good but given his frustrated mood Peter took me straight to his asparagus that was buried in ‘wickens’. This invasive grass is dreaded by organic growers, being almost impossible to control in a standing crop. His mood only really lifted when we dug up some lovely pink fir apple potatoes for me to take home; Peter is certainly one of our best potato growers. It will take more than a temperamental piece of equipment to break him, but I decided not to suggest any new crops on this trip.

Guy Watson

guy’s newsletter: keats never sold cabbages

Much as I appreciate the autumn mists and mellow fruitfulness, I doubt that Keats ever had to sell a cabbage. The autumn makes me think more of a Bristol market trader who, before quoting me a price told me, “Bean time is lean time, boy,” meaning that when runner beans are cropping heavily in late summer, the market will be flooded and he was about to take my legs off with his offer. It’s been a wonderful growing year and right now we are in a similar position; to quote the notorious 1970s drug dealer Mr Nice, “I never meant to sell the stuff; but, try as I might, I just couldn’t smoke it all myself”. I love my veg and do my best to eat whatever will not fit in your boxes, but it is proving a struggle right now and we could do with some help.

Fortunately we are more organised these days; it is a long time since we sent veg on a wing and a prayer to the wholesale markets, only to be told no-one gave a damn if it was organic, so the price barely covered the transport and boxes. Instead where crops have massively out-yielded expectations, the danger is we simply won’t get through them in time. A cold snap to slow things down would very welcome, but better still, introduce a friend to Riverford.

The only area of the farm not looking good is the spring greens. Despite our efforts, all the weeds came up with the crop after the first rains in July. Everyone is a bit depressed about it, but I think that once we have some hard frosts to take out the softer weeds we may still get a fair crop. Looking on the bright side, the field is a favourite for skylarks and there will be plenty of cover and weed seed to see them through the winter.

Guy Watson

share the Riverford love!

Introduce a friend to Riverford and you will get a £10 credit on your account when they place a regular order. Your friend doesn’t miss out either; they’ll get a free cook book and vegbox. Visit to find out more.

guy’s newsletter: TTIP my personal tipping point

Since retiring 25 years ago, my father has reinvented himself as a living example of low carbon existence with attempts at anaerobic digesters, solar panels, composting loos and a permaculture garden. In his spare time he audits the moral and ethical performance of his progeny and their businesses. It was he who dumped a mountain of genetic modification papers on my desk in 1998, and encouraged me to mount a challenge on the legality of a local GM trial that went all the way to the High Court.

Now he is hassling me about his latest bugbear; the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). After an evening of researching it myself my blood is up too so, at the risk of causing irritation by straying from vegetables into politics, here goes. The TTIP is being negotiated in secret between the EU and USA with the aim of removing barriers to trade, and thus promoting growth. Sounds positive in theory, but in reality any government action deemed restricting to trade in goods or services (and thus impacting on corporate profits) will be open to challenge. Disputes will be settled in secret by three ‘trade experts’ whose guiding rationale will be that anything interfering with free trade is illegal, whatever the views of a country’s electorate or government.

The TTIP would restrict our or any EU member government’s ability to set a minimum wage, legislate on human rights or even operate nationalised industries like the NHS. Under the TTIP we would be unable to fight the introduction of GM crops (or even insist on them being labelled), prevent hormone use in beef and milk production, or restrict the use of neonicotinoid insecticides to protect our bees, or indeed to enforce many laws protecting our health, the environment or animal welfare. To accept the TTIP would be to sacrifice democracy and any semblance of personal or national autonomy at the altar of growth and corporate profit. There must come a point where the human and environmental cost of marginal increases in GDP is too high; for me this is it. If you feel similarly concerned, please visit 38 Degrees to find out more and sign the petition, or write to your MP.

Guy Watson

guy’s newsletter: british edamame beans & squirreling inclinations

Reportedly Victoria Beckham puts her svelte figure down to a diet of frozen grapes, steamed fish, raw vegetables and edamame beans. For several years these immature soya beans have been dubbed a ‘superfood’ and are the snack of choice for urban, barfly hipsters while they wait for their sushi and discuss their omega 3 to 6 balance. Who knows what inspired John Walter Symons, a cider-making veg grower and one of our founder farming co-op members to sow a field of edamame on his Devon farm this year. Most of our crops are meticulously planned before the seed is even bought, but the first we heard of this was when a few bean-laden plants appeared on my desk last week. Always up for a challenge, I spent the evening researching and cooking, and they got a firm thumbs up from all, so John’s fresh edamame beans (most are sold frozen) will be on our extras list for the next couple of weeks at £2.75 for 200g, including a recipe. They are best lightly boiled, salted and eaten out of their pods as a snack; no-one will get me eating frozen grapes or claiming superfood status for anything, but they must be better for you than a pork scratching.

Meanwhile we’ve had a wonderful growing year and as the days draw in, contemplating winter’s approach with a shelf laden with your own preserves is hard to beat. We’ve a good range of kits to make this even easier, so for those of you with squirrel tendencies, this is the time to get your preserving pan out.

Guy Watson

plan your pickling

Our preserving kits will soon have your shelves heaving with flavourful additions to your cooking and snacking.chilli-drying-kit

choose from:

  • cucumber pickle preserve kit (a Watson favourite)
  • red onion & raisin chutney kit
  • green tomato chutney kit
  • pickled jalapeño chilli kit
  • chilli drying kit


Ben’s wine blog: The wine in Spain comes mainly from the plain and by Jove we’ve got it!

Spain, once European viticulture’s poor cousin, land of Don Simon tetrapak and worse, has woken from the dead. Drive south from Madrid to Granada and you ill still see the industrial stainless steel wineries of Valdepeñas, but elsewhere, in the north and east, vine growing and winemaking has taken giant leaps forward.

Unheard of regions from Rías Baixas in the North West to Yecla and Jumilla in the South East, are fast upping the ante to compete with old favourite Rioja and sleeping giants; Penedès, Rueda and Ribera del Duero.


A new beginning for Spanish wine

The land is cheap in Spain, and rather than grubbing up old vines it’s easier to plant new ones. Now many of the old, abandoned vineyards are being restored, and with judicious irrigation, are producing grapes with real character. It might be hot, but it’s also high. Around the south east of La Mancha many of the vineyards are 700 meters plus which makes for near perfect conditions – sundrenched days and cool nights.

We’ve been having a good look at our range of Spanish wines and have decided to start afresh. There’s so much out there to choose from, we thought it would be better to start with a clean sheet…

Sebastian’s Story

One of our favourite wines, Marsilea Verdejo, is from the mountains, 900 m above Valencia. It’s the apple of vineyard owner, Sebastian’s eye, cherished and nurtured for years before he got it off the ground. Winemaking the Riverford way.


Sebastian’s family came back to Spain after 30 years in Germany. On their return they set up a small business and slowly started buying some of the land around them. It wasn’t long before Sebastian started planting vines, his passion for wine meant he had a clear idea about what he wanted to achieve and a dream that one day he would have his own wine cellar and a wine made by his family.

He started out making wines in his garage after studying viticulture.  Slowly the business grew, as he tended to his vineyards, in his own words, like they were his children. His respect for the plants and the surrounding countryside meant that farming organically was an obvious choice from the word go.

Sebastian’s wine is a great match for fish and poultry but works equally well as an aperitif, with crunchy vegetable crudités and tapas.  It’s described as having notes of ‘crisp green apples with soft, creamy, nutty overtones, and hints of honey’, but I’m sure you can make your own mind up.


guy’s newsletter: organic september, shopping habits & worms

Most of us are creatures of habit; once we find a way of doing things that works for us, we stick with it until pushed in another direction by suggestion or force. With this in mind, for this year’s Organic September I’m hoping to nudge your shopping habits just a little, by encouraging you to switch something new in your usual shop to organic.

Obviously this does us no harm as a business, but more importantly it would make the world a better place. As the Soil Association has pointed out, making a small change to organic can make a surprisingly large difference: if twenty families switch to organic milk, another cow will be free to range on clover rich organic pastures; if two families switch to organic bacon, one more pig will keep its tail and stay with its mother for much longer; and if one family switches to organic eggs, another hen would have access to grassland and not be at risk of painful beak trimming. Organic farms also support 50% more wildlife, with 30% more species – that’s more birds, bees, butterflies, beetles, bats and wildflowers. If all of that is not positive change, then I do not know what is. As an extra incentive, every customer who has milk, eggs or a fruit bag delivered during September will be entered into a prize draw.

big-worm-digMeanwhile as the winter and spring crop planting draws to a close here on the farm, our thoughts turn to our soils and the life within them. As organic farmers we are reliant on the activity of soil microflora and microfauna to release the nutrients our crops need to flourish. Earthworms play a huge part in this process, as well as boosting soil drainage and aeration; without them, we’d be in trouble. With this in mind we launched our national earthworm survey in May this year, and hundreds of you have got involved by downloading or ordering our survey booklet. We need more results to get a good picture of the wellbeing of the UK’s earthworm population though, so visit big worm dig site to get involved.]

Guy Watson

guy’s newsletter: onions, yorkshiremen & a good year

I spend most of my time in Devon on the farm where I grew up, which has become Riverford HQ. My newsletters are inspired by daily encounters here and, as a result, tend to be Devon-centric. This is perhaps annoying for those of you in the east and north, so I thought I would mend my ways.

At Sacrewell farm (near Peterborough, serving those of you in the Midlands and the east) Nigel and his team are having the best year since we started packing boxes here in 2006. Conditions have been ideal, allowing well-planned planting and weeding. Timeliness is everything; we have lots of clever tractor mounted hoes to weed between crop rows and even between the plants but, for best effect, they need to be used at just the right time. This is generally in dry conditions within a week of the weeds emerging. If we get delayed by rain the result can be hours of expensive tedium on hands and knees, or even a lost crop.

Onions are one of the hardest crops to grow organically due to their susceptibility to weeds and fungal disease; as I write Nigel is harvesting our best crop ever, which we have managed to grow with almost no manual weeding. We will use some straight off the field, but most will go into the barn to be dried. Much as we try to grow things as locally as possible, some of the 30 acres of onions grown here will be used in damper Devon where our onions too often get buried in weeds and never keep as well.

Further north at Riverford on Home Farm in Yorkshire, Peter Richardson and his family are also having a good year. It started with him deservedly being named Green Farmer of the Year thanks to his use of solar panels, an anaerobic digester and heat exchangers that have massively reduced energy consumption on the farm and in the box packhouse. Peter grows a huge range of crops, mostly for box customers in the east and north, though he is so good at growing parsnips that some of them make their way to Devon at the end of the winter. Peter works with his son Jake in the fields, while his daughter Victoria is Production Manager in the packing barn and wife Jo-ann makes the staff lunches and helps out with the crops; as with much here at Riverford, it’s a real family affair.

Guy Watson