Ben’s meat newsletter: Sandwiches & BBQ’d lamb

First a quick rant. What’s the problem with the sandwich? Everybody seems to be sticking the knife in. It’s great news that sales of ‘made up’ sandwiches are on the wane; a mishmash of E number enhanced fillings, placed between slices of mushy, stodgy white bread about a week before eating doesn’t have much to recommend it. It’s truly staggering how many E numbers they can fit in a sandwich. However, this isn’t to say there aren’t some great sandwiches out there for the making. Judging by Jay Rayner and Henry Dimbleby on Radio 4’s The Kitchen Cabinet last week, the anti sandwich movement has become a stampede. Pair this with the gluten free thing we’re not allowed to mention (out of respect to coeliacs) and you have a coalition that could well take over Europe. My point is that just because most bought sandwiches are pretty bad, that doesn’t mean we have to rule out the whole genre. Fergus Henderson, of St Johns, took the bacon sandwich to the pearly gates of organoleptic heaven and Brindisa Tapas, of Borough Market, did the same with their ciabatta, chorizo, rocket and piquillo pepper combo. I’m not ashamed to admit to a soft spot for a Riverford ham and Tracklements English mustard sandwich (Colman’s is a bit strong so you can’t give it a good slathering – and don’t spare the butter), and you can’t beat a leftovers sandwich; roast chicken and stuffing, beef and horseradish, pork and apple sauce… the list goes on. It’s as much to do with texture as taste so add a bit of crunch with lightly toasted bread, salad leaves etc. I’m sure Messrs Rayner and Dimbleby would exclude various pitta and kebab concoctions from their general condemnation – which rather proves the point that they’re scaping the wrong goat.

As BBQ season gets into full swing, two welcome new additions to the range are baby back ribs and boneless butterflied lamb leg. Back ribs are the cut from the top of the ribs adjoining the loin so, although lean, they don’t take as much cooking as spare ribs from the belly and shoulder. I’d still be inclined to give them an hour or so in the oven on a minimum setting to get the cooking process started and ensure the meat slips off the bone. Butterflied leg of lamb is definitely the cream of the BBQ crop. Cooking steaks on BBQs is notoriously risky. It’s far easier to sear the muscles whole, allow to cook through to your liking, and then slice into thin steaks. There’s a recipe on the website for Grilled Leg of Lamb with Swiss Chard and Anchovy Gratin. Here’s a simplified version of the lamb part adapted for the BBQ.

BBQ Butterflied Leg of Lamb
Serves 2-3, prep 10 mins (plus overnight marinating), cook 35 mins

3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp chopped rosemary
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp olive oil
1 boneless butterflied lamb leg

First prepare the lamb. Mix together the garlic, rosemary, lemon juice, olive oil and a little seasoning to make a marinade. Place the lamb in a large dish, pour over the marinade and leave at room temperature for 8 hours or overnight, turning the meat every now and then. Remove the lamb from the marinade and pat dry. Preheat a BBQ or char-grill to high. Cook on the BBQ/char-grill for 10 mins, turning every couple of mins. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, covered with foil or an upside down wok (the dog bowl works well) for 10 mins for medium, or until cooked to your liking. Transfer to a plate and loosely wrap with foil. Set aside for 15 mins to rest, then serve.

Guy’s News: Enlightenment in the cabbages

One of the things I love about being an organic grower is the constant challenge. The ever-receding horizon of perfect knowledge means that I will be learning to the end. After 30 years, assumptions are still regularly confounded in the field; in this case, why the cabbages won’t grow. Pre-enlightenment, our inability to explain natural phenomenon led to mysticism; I don’t rule out that the crop is stunted due to the the phase of the moon when it was planted, or that I failed to bury a corn dolly last autumn or to regularly prostrate myself before the appropriate deity, or didn’t apply activated carbon or mineral dust. Whatever the reason, our pointed cabbages do seem to have lost their spirit; like a whippet with its tail between its legs they seem nervous, unable to break out of themselves and get on with photosynthesising, growing and being eaten by you. As I stand among them, I am still searching for a more prosaic, scientifically conventional explanation. They have had the muck, the sun, the warmth and the water. The soil is not compacted and the weeds and pests are under control, so their purple leaves and pinched appearance remain a mystery.

After work and a few beers, I am still deliberating with the farm team. The consensus is that it’s down to a mixture of things, all of a post-enlightenment nature. Marco leads on stress brought on by wildly fluctuating temperatures; Scott on leaching of nutrients by February’s rains, plus too long spent in the seed trays waiting for a break in the weather to allow planting; Didier thinks they have been too dry. We’ve sent some leaves off for analysis but don’t expect anything conclusive, just another piece in the ever-evolving jigsaw. My enduring faith is that every year we will understand more and become better farmers and custodians of the land as a result. Conventional farmers might reach for a dose of ammonium nitrate to attempt to alleviate the immediate symptoms, but this contributes little to understanding the complex relationship of plant, soil, weather and just possibly the cosmos. There is no harm in accepting imperfect knowledge and occasional inexplicable failure; the enforced humility does us good. Though that sounds like something from The Pilgrim’s Progress, it actually reflects a healthy post-enlightenment acceptance that there is more to learn.

Antibiotic Resistance – why buying organic can help the crisis

We are really pleased to see that antibiotic resistance is hitting the headlines properly with the release of economist Jim O’Neill’s report, The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance. Guy wrote his newsletter, Dying for Cheap Meat in response to the news in November 2015 that bacterial resistance had been found against Colistin, often described as the ‘antibiotic of last resort’. We had a huge response back then and it’s good news that this massive issue is reaching a wider audience through the media in 2016.

One of the major contributors to antibiotic resistance is the routine use of antibiotics in farm animals, particularly those produced under intensive conditions (which are therefore more vulnerable to disease), such as pigs. Organic animals are reared without the routine use of drugs; so we believe organic meat offers the best way to avoid farming methods that are contributing to antibiotic resistance.

We only sell 100% organic meat at Riverford. The Soil Association is our organic certifying body, and they have put together this handy summary of why buying organic means you are buying meat reared to the very highest animal welfare standards:

Organic means happier, healthier animals which…

  • Must have access to pasture (when weather and ground conditions permit) and are truly free range.
  • Must have plenty of space – which helps to reduce stress and disease.
  • Are fed a diet that is as natural as possible and free from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Over a million tonnes of GM crops are imported each year to feed the majority of non-organic livestock which produce chicken, eggs, pork, bacon, milk, cheese etc. This practice is banned under organic standards.
  • Graze and forage naturally on organic pasture (grasses and other crops) where only natural fertilisers are used and pesticides are severely restricted.
  • Cannot be given hormones which make them grow more quickly.
  • Must not be produced from cloned animals.
  • Must not routinely be given antibiotics. Farm animals now account for almost two-thirds of all antibiotics used in the EU. These are passed to us through the food chain.

Take a look at our meat range at www.riverford.co.uk/shop/meat

Read more in Guy’s Newsletter: Dying for cheap meat

To find our more or sign the petition, go to www.soilassociation.org/antibiotics.

Picture By Jim Wileman - Andy Maciver-Redwood, Riverford Farm supplier.

Ben’s meat newsletter: New season spring lamb

We’ve all got so used to everything being available all the time that we forget that, outside the world of vegetables, there is little more than traces of seasonality in most of the meat we eat. Exceptions exist, in the case of Christmas turkeys and geese for example, but these are market driven. Bernard Matthews and his marketing team failed in their efforts to de-seasonalise turkeys and we, as a consumer group kept turkey as a once a year treat. I’m no expert on the breeding cycle of the turkey but I suspect that hatching turkey eggs in July and August isn’t the way it happened when their ancestors were flapping around the trees in North America pre-Christopher Columbus, but I still put it down as a rare victory against the big marketing machine. So while they are not breeding in their natural season, it’s seasonal for us. Other than that, excluding wild game, traces of seasonality are hard to find – with the exception of lamb; British lamb is available throughout the year but its flavour and texture evolve with age, so the seasonality is down to us and how we cook it.

Ignoring Poll Dorset sheep, which lamb perfectly naturally in late autumn, our relatively early January/February born lambs are coming through thick and fast now. They’re never going to be ready for Easter so we tend to phase them in slowly as the last of the late lambs from last year run out. This year, given the cold weather, a bit of more robust old season lamb seems like a plus rather than a minus and our farmers go to great lengths to ensure continuous supply. In return, we need to take the last of the crop in order not to leave them in the lurch, so it’s a rather slow transition.

New season lamb will always be paler, slightly milky in colour and tender to the extreme. Classical/cordon-bleu style chefs love it because, like veal, it provides a backdrop for all manner of fancy sauces, meaning the de-rigueur slow roast with Moroccan spices isn’t a good idea. Do the rosemary and garlic trick if you like, but what it’s really crying out for is fast and simple cooking with something just a tad sharp to cut through the richness.

I think I’m right in saying that Italian salsa verde originated as a partner for slightly gelatinous poached and boiled meats and it works equally well with the mellow fattiness of new season spring lamb. Recipes abound and can be adjusted according to the partner. If lamb is the game, Brexit minded outers will probably favour mint over basil, or more pervasive tarragon, and I agree.

Ben’s Salsa Verde
Makes 1 jar, prep 20 mins, cook 0 mins

Foodie aficionados swear by the pestle and mortar but by chopping everything beforehand and judicious pulsing, I find you can get a good result in a small food processor. Alternatively, cut everything a bit finer and mix it in a bowl. It keeps well in a sealed jar so doubling up is a good idea.

small shallot, finely chopped & soaked in 2 tbsp red wine vinegar for an hour
50g each of parsley & mint, leaves stripped & chopped
4 anchovies, rinsed if salted then chopped & crushed with the back of a fork
2 tbsp salted capers, rinsed & roughly chopped
120-150ml extra virgin olive oil

Quickly pulse the herbs, anchovies and capers in a small food processor, to a coarse paste. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the shallot with the vinegar and oil. Season to taste and store in a glass jar. Dollop onto your cooked lamb and enjoy with veg and spuds of your choice.

Ben Watson

Guy’s news: Doing it all & Russian salads

Here on our French farm we are frantically harvesting, cooling and dispatching a truck a day of lettuce, spinach, chard, wet garlic, broad beans, kohlrabi, turnips and cabbage. Every year we learn more about the farm, make fewer mistakes and get better organised; it’s early days, but year six has started well.

The extra sunshine 200 miles further south gives a narrow but invaluable five week lead over our Devon crops which, in turn, are about three weeks ahead of our crops in Yorkshire. Riverford Vendée has become a vital part of keeping your boxes full and varied in these crucial weeks of the ‘hungry gap’; we could buy crops from further south but it would add another day of transportation, plus we know we get better quality veg when we control every step from sowing to delivering to your doorstep. Whether we grow it ourselves or it comes from our long term relationships with other growers, the care put into planning, selecting varieties, growing and harvesting is the reason our veg is the best, and that we can avoid waste and be affordable, if occasionally a little inflexible.

In Devon we’ve started harvesting salad leaves and pak choi from our fields this week. The sudden rise in temperature has brought crops on quickly, but simultaneously triggered a flush of weed germination. As the season progresses we are able to control most annual weeds effectively by the time-honoured but, in the chemical age, largely neglected technique of making a ‘stale seed bed’. This works by creating fine, firm seed beds that promote weed germination, then after two weeks we run a wire 2cm under the surface to cut the roots and kill the young weeds. The process is repeated and with time, enough showers to germinate the weeds and a little luck, it is possible to reduce hand weeding to almost zero. We sometimes take a final ‘thermal weed strike’ with a tractor-mounted gas flame after sowing, but before our crop emerges. For the first crops sown in the spring we don’t have the luxury of stale seed-bedding, so the salad leaves in the boxes this week will have been painstakingly weeded by hand. The annoying thing is that chickweed, the predominant spring weed, is much-prized in Russian salads; but then they do say the definition of a weed is a plant in the wrong place.

Guy Watson

Live Life on the Veg for National Vegetarian Week

May 16th–22nd marks National Vegetarian Week, and we think this is a great chance to celebrate all the wonderful vegetarian recipes out there and #livelifeontheveg! National Vegetarian Week isn’t just for veggies, it’s a great chance for everyone to expand their recipe repertoire and get more veg into their diets.

Here are 5 ways you can use Riverford to get your creative vegetarian juices flowing:

Vegetarian recipe boxes
recipe-boxesEach week our team of Riverford cooks write recipes which are inspired by ingredients and cooking methods from all over the world, and the seasonal produce we’re harvesting on the farm at the time. With everything needed in exact quantities, and step by step instructions, it’s hard to go wrong. Our vegetarian recipe box is our best seller, and it’s not just vegetarians who buy it. We often get feedback from customers who say that the meals are so flavoursome and satisfying, that they really don’t miss the meat. In 2015 we won Best Vegetarian Recipe Box in the Veggie Awards.
See our recipe boxes here

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Recipe app
The Riverford recipe app has over 1,250 seasonal recipes to make veg the star of the show. Got carrots, peppers and broccoli in the fridge? Spin the wheel and get recipes to whip them into something special.

Master Veg cooking classes and Welcome Suppers
Keep an eye out for one of our Master Veg classes in a location near you. These hands on cooking classes are a great chance to get to grips with the green stuff, and learn a bit about live with a veg box.

Meanwhile, our Welcome Suppers allow new Riverford customers to experience a feast of seasonal vegetarian dishes like Aloo Gobi with Spinach, Chilli Chewra and Yogurt Dressing, and Broad Beans, Fennel and Courgette Salad, which should leave you feeling inspired with your own veg box delivery at home.

master-veg-class

 

Cook book and website
riverford-sping-summer-cookbookThe The Riverford Companion Spring and Summer cook book is full of recipes which celebrate the stars of the season. From simple veg side dishes, to vegetarian centrepieces, the book will help you tame your vegetables once and for all. We also have a huge number of vegetarian recipes on our website, with a whole section for vegetarian mains.

Our YouTube channel and social media pages
Head over to our YouTube channel to watch recipe videos and veg micro classes. Some of the videos are a bit retro – but good recipes never go out of date, and you’ll probably notice that Guy’s favourite jumper doesn’t either!

vegetable-quesadillasCustomer regularly share recipes and tips on our Facebook page too. Don’t be afraid to ask a question on our wall to the Riverford community, our customers can be very knowledgeable, often teaching us a thing or two.

We’d love to see your vegetarian masterpieces; you can share them with us on our Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages using the hashtags #livelifeontheveg and #nvw16.

Going behind the scenes at the Riverford supper club

jessEver wondered what an organic chef does all day? I spent a shift cooking with head chef James Dodd and his team in the Riverford Field Kitchen this week, preparing food for one of our special customer supper clubs. This is a bit of an insight into what happens behind the scenes when we’re preparing and cooking our incredible veg for 60 people.

My shift starts with a quick walk through the polytunnel to see if there are any ingredients that we can use. The Field Kitchen have their own undercover plot for growing any unusual or indispensable produce; things like lime basil, coriander and even vampire chillies! At the moment though everything is looking rather bare. We’re in the middle of the hungry gap and a lot of produce is coming from our French farm in the Vendée as well as our friends in Portugal and Spain. Having said that, there are still plenty of herbs about which we can use and the thriving seedlings are a welcome promise of things to come.

On the rest of the farm it’s business as usual. People are out in the fields picking cardoons and one of our fieldworkers, Raphs, is in the tractor rotavating land ready for planting. When I arrive in the kitchen, James and junior sous chef Craig are already at work discussing the evening’s menu and making adjustments in view of what crops are coming in.

behind-the-scenes5

James structures these events so that they run a bit like a vegetarian tasting menu. We start with bread, then six veg-centric dishes served two at a time. This is followed by a palate cleanser (which I’m slightly sceptical about the general concept of) and dessert.

I’m put to work making the courgette cake with lemon icing. It’s always very easy to underestimate how long it takes to make a cake when you’re multiplying the recipe by six. It now means that I have to, among other things, weigh out 1.5kg of butter, 1.2kg of flour and separate 24 eggs. That’s a lot of cake!

behind-the-scenes7The other dishes take an equally long time. The sesame fried asparagus requires each spear to be blanched before being coated in flour, egg and finally breadcrumbs and sesame seeds. It takes both Craig and I the best part of half an hour to get them all done and that’s before we’ve even turned on the fryer. There’s a lot to do, but luckily some of the waiting staff have come in and are happy to help. It’s brilliant to work in a kitchen that takes such care over the food that’s served; absolutely everything is made from scratch here. It’s a fantastic place to learn about how to make the most of your veg and to get plenty of ideas about what to do with your box each week. These chefs are veg maestros.

JJust as I get the cake in the oven after struggling with the ginormous mixer (which is almost as tall as I am), the rest of the front of house team arrive and start setting up the dining room ready for our guests. Rosie, who’s organised the event, has arrived with beautifully written place names tied around sprigs of fresh dill, and Penny our head gardener has decorated each table with wild flowers from the farm. Suddenly everything is coming together and the pace in the kitchen picks up. I’m frantically set to work making icing, preparing kale and laying things out ready for service.

behind-the-scenes8

The next time I look up the restaurant is almost full and James is busy stretching and baking the flatbreads for our first course. Eventually everyone settles and there’s a growing atmosphere of expectancy in the room. Rachel Watson, Guy’s sister, stands up to say a few words. She speaks about growing up on the farm, as Millie and Jo bustle around pouring prosecco and cider for guests, and about how much she enjoys meeting our customers at these special events. Craig follows her and talks about the menu we’ve prepared. I can’t help but feel a little nervous; I hope everyone likes what we’ve made.

The dishes flow perfectly through service and before I know it we’re serving the palate cleanser which, I have to say, surprises me completely. The frozen fennel and tangy sherbet are beautifully fresh and totally unlike anything I’ve ever tried. This is what I love about the Field Kitchen, getting to try completely new ideas which use such familiar ingredients.

Finally it’s time to serve the cake. My panic about runny icing is unfounded and it all comes off quite nicely. I cross my fingers and hope that everyone enjoys it. The recipe balances moist courgette with zingy lemon and the whole affair somehow manages to be both comforting and refreshing at once.

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Eventually after chatting to our guests, sweeping, cleaning down and setting up for lunch the next day, I can head home to bed, feeling very satisfied and completely inspired.

Courgette and lemon cake
This recipe is adapted from the Riverford Companion Spring and Summer veg cook book.

75ml whole milk
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
250g unsalted butter, plus a little extra for greasing the tin
250g soft light brown sugar
4 eggs, separated
½ tsp amaretto
200g gluten-free self-raising flour
75g ground almonds
250g grated courgettes
For the icing:
300g icing sugar
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
30g unsalted butter
2 tbsp lemon juice

1 – Preheat oven to 180˚C/Gas 4. Lightly grease a 23cm spring-form cake tin with a little butter and line it with baking parchment.
2 – In a small pan over a low heat, warm the milk with the lemon zest for a couple of minutes, then set aside to cool.
3 – Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl until pale, light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time. Gently fold in the almond extract, flour and ground almonds, then fold in the courgettes and cooled milk.
4 – Whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl until they form stiff peaks. Add a large spoon of the egg white to the courgette mixture and stir it in, then gently fold in the rest, retaining as much air as possible.
5 – Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for about an hour, or until just firm to the touch; the cake should spring back when you press the middle lightly. Cool the cake in the tin for 15 minutes then turn it on to a wire rack to cool completely.
6 – To make the icing, sift the icing sugar into a bowl and stir in the lemon zest. Melt the butter and, working quickly, whisk together adding a splash of hot water, until you have a thick but spreadable icing. Use a palette knife to spread it over the cake. Leave the icing to set for about half an hour before cutting into portions and serving.

For more of Jess’s cooking adventures, and photos from the farm, take a look at her Instagram.

Hemsley + Hemsley recipes

We’re pleased to see our friends the Hemsley sisters have a new series starting on Channel 4 this month. Here’s a video of Melissa and Jasmine visiting our farm in Devon back in 2013:

We like the way they have always put an emphasis on eating organic food and cooking from scratch. They make vegetables the star, and encourage a ‘less and better’ approach to eating meat, ie the better quality the meat you buy, the less you need, as the flavour goes further.

They were guest chefs on our recipe boxes last year, and we’re hoping to have them back again soon. Watch this space!

Here’s a recipe from their new cook book, Good + Simple, which features in the TV series. For more veg-centric recipes and inspiration, follow Riverford on Facebook or visit our website to see our organic veg box range.

Green Goddess Noodle Salad
(serves 4)

Green-Goddess-Salad300g buckwheat (soba) noodles (10.5 oz)
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
300g broccoli florets or purple-sprouting broccoli, asparagus or green beans (10.5 oz)
1 medium green cabbage or pak choi, leaves finely shredded
1 medium fennel bulb, finely sliced
1 cucumber, halved lengthways, seeds scooped out and flesh chopped
4 spring onions, finely sliced
1 large ripe avocado, sliced
2 handfuls of fresh green (such as watercress, baby spinach, sliced lettuce or leftover cooked kale)
1 small handful of nuts (such as cashew nuts, peanuts or almonds) or seeds (such as sesame, sunflower or poppy seeds)
4 large handfuls of fresh herbs (such as coriander, mint or basil, or a mixture) roughly chopped
For the Dressing
Grated zest and juice of 2 limes or 1 lemon
2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, grated
4cm piece of fresh root ginger (unpeeled if organic) finely grated
2 tsp tamari
A pinch of cayenne pepper or chilli flakes (optional)
Sea salt and black pepper

Method
1. Cook the buckwheat noodles in a large pan of boiling water according to the packet instructions (about 7 mins). Use two forks to tease the noodles apart during the first minute of cooking.
2. When they are tender, drain and rinse under cold water for 15 seconds. Drain again and then toss in the olive oil in a large serving bowl to stop the noodles sticking together. Set aside.
3. Using the same pan, after a quick rinse, steam the broccoli (or other vegetable), covered with a lid, in 4 tbsp of boiling water for 4 minutes until tender.
4. Whisk all the dressing ingredients together in a bowl or shake in a jam jar with the lid on. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then drain.
5. Add the raw veg. spring onions and avocado to the noodles with the greens and steamed broccoli. Pour over the dressing and mix everything together. Top with the nuts or seeds, toasted in a dry pan for a minute if you like, and the fresh herbs.

Good + Simple by Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley (Ebury Press) £25
Eating Well with Hemsley + Hemsley starts Monday 9th May at 8pm on Channel 4.

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News from the dairy: A different sort of milk

Guy is away this week, so we thought we’d share the story of our milk instead. Most milk sold in the UK travels from farms to processors, whose commoditisation of milk means British dairy farmers are forced to compete in a global market. As a result the price they are paid at the farm gate fluctuates, leaving them financially vulnerable and often unable to invest in their farms for the long term. In contrast, the two farms that supply Riverford customers with milk have been able to remove themselves from these unpleasant pressures by building on-site dairies, and bottling their milk themselves.

Riverford Dairy milk is delivered to veg box customers in the south and south west of England; it only comes from the Riverford herd (though occasionally it’s topped up from other organic herds when demand is high), so its flavour and character changes through the farming year – and the milking parlour is just 200 yards from the dairy. The 300 cows are very different to the typical high-yielding Holstein-Friesian too; it’s a mixed breed herd of British Friesians and Shorthorn Ayrshires crossed with Swiss Alpine breeds like Montbeliard and Swiss Brown. This creates a robust animal that is happy with a largely pasture-based life in rotation with our organic veg, and the male calves can be reared as beef animals. It’s a similar situation with Acorn Dairy, the family farm near Darlington who supply our customers in central and northern England. Here the Tweddle’s herd of Dairy Shorthorn crosses are similarly well suited to producing beautiful, flavourful milk from organic, clover-rich pasture.

We believe that pasture-reared cows make the most flavourful milk, and the same applies to Riverford Dairy’s new traditionally made mascarpone and cottage cheese. Sicilian lemon juice (as opposed to citric acid) is churned with their buttery cream to make the only organic mascarpone in the UK, while their beautiful cottage cheese is creamy and whey-free.

All our milk is now delivered in recyclable plastic bottles as opposed to waxed cartons, and with more size options to follow, we hope it will be even easier to enjoy a proper pint.

Guy’s News: Stress & rhubarb

There has been frost on the ground in the morning but we have been irrigating by midday. The recent cold, dry weather is ideal for ploughing, mucking and preparing seedbeds, especially from a heated tractor cab, but outside it’s hard on both the plants and the planters. Even with the protection of crop covers the cold, dry north-easterly winds of the last two weeks can desiccate lettuce and spinach plants before they are able to get their roots into the moist soil two inches down. But with half a million spinach, chard, lettuce, cabbage and more to plant in the next month we cannot wait; in Devon the warmer westerlies normally bring the rain that stops planting, so we have to get on the land while we can. Our plants will just have to tough it out; getting good crop establishment in a year like this is all about managing the transition from the warm, humid glasshouses where the seedlings were raised, huddled in a tray with regular computer-controlled watering, to sitting in an open field blasted by an easterly wind. Our tools are irrigation, crop covers and preparing seedlings by slowly hardening them off before planting out. Generally, it works.

Meanwhile, when time allows, we are splitting and replanting rhubarb crowns. Given plenty of muck, the huge umbrella leaves of an established rhubarb crown will outgrow most weeds, but as soon as we harvest even a small amount from each plant, we are robbing it of its competitive ability. Over the years we have lost the battle with couch grass, creeping buttercup, nettles and docks; rather than dig up the weeds it is easier to dig out the crowns and divide them into three, carefully remove the weed rhizomes, and replant the crowns in a clean, fertile field. Over 20 years we have experimented with many strategies for controlling perennial weeds in perennial crops, and settled on covering the rows with biodegradable starch-based plastic mulch in late autumn, which lasts long enough to suppress weed growth before breaking down the next year. It’s not perfect because turning plant starch into compostable plastic is an energy-intensive process, so we will keep experimenting, as we always do. The newly planted rhubarb will not yield much this year, but we have another established field which we will be picking for your boxes, starting next month.

Guy Watson