Category Archives: Growing

Harvest woes

As I write, a ridge of high pressure is edging in from the Atlantic and threatening to build into the high pressure system we have been waiting for all summer; too late for most schoolchildren’s holidays, too late for many a fair, festival and fête; too late for our stunted pumpkins and sweetcorn, blighted potatoes, mildew-stricken onions and rotten strawberries.

Any day now I will be asked to fill our local church with bounty for the harvest festival, as we have for twenty years, but the Big Man is pushing his luck. We could decorate the font with parsnips, which although notoriously fickle germinators, have taken well to the rain this year. Our carrots, swede and beetroot are also looking good, as are most of the winter crops of brassicas and leeks. Perhaps our mistake was ever assuming the sun would come out to nourish those semi-tropical plants that only begrudgingly tolerate even a decent British summer. If we had left the solanacae and concurbits in the Americas and stuck to our turnips & swedes, things would have been so much easier.

With a few exceptions, fruit has been equally disastrous. The farm team has sworn never to plant another strawberry unless in tunnels. Plums have been disappointing in yield and flavour. The apple season has started with the first Discovery; eat them quickly to enjoy them at their most flavourful. We should now have a good supply of English apples through to the end of March, with pears until the end of January. We are also pleased to have finally managed to grow a decent crop of juicy melons down in the Vendée. It took three years and though I am not completely satisfied with the flavour, they are almost there and definitely good enough to make me try again next year.

What will next year bring? How will that jet stream and its trail of depressions meander? Should we blame our gas guzzling and carbon burning rather than the Big Man for its deviations southwards? Another bad year would sink many of our growers. As we start to plan our cropping for next year the prevailing concern is how to cope with risk and uncertainty.

Guy Watson

Cornish new potatoes

Paul Babcock

Meet Paul Babcock. Paul grows our organic new potatoes on his farm in Cornwall, just one mile from the sea, within view of St Michael’s Mount.

Organic potatoes

Paul’s family have been there since 1958 and he has been growing organically for seven years. He also owns a pub locally, where  he sells his vegetables and meat.

Paul's potato harvester

This is Paul’s tractor, which he uses to harvest his organic new potatoes.

organic cornish potatoes

The high light levels and mild temperatures make Paul’s land ideal for growing new potatoes. The farm is above slate, which means it is free draining and has warmer soil. This rainy season has been particularly good for the potatoes, which you can order from Riverford.

 

News from the farms

Our regional farms around the UK (and one in France) are our way of growing fruit and veg as close to your home as practical.

Guy Watson, Wash Farm, Devon

Three acres of broad beans were sown in January and, hungry crows allowing, they should be ready in mid-June. We’ve covered the crop with mesh to help protect the emerging seedlings and warm the soil a little, so fingers crossed we get a decent harvest. Spring greens and purple sprouting broccoli have done well despite a little early flushing due to the mild weather. Meanwhile, our new polytunnel has earned its keep so far by easily meeting the planned yields for our winter salad leaves. The gentle start to the winter certainly helped. The final salad crops have been sown inside, after which they’ll move outside to clear the way for spring onions, tomatoes, mini cucumbers and French beans.

Nigel Venni, Sacrewell Farm, Cambridgeshire

After a good season of winter crops including leeks, cabbages, kale and spring greens, it’s turnaround time for Nigel. Two acres of garlic were planted before Christmas, which will be harvested in May as the Mediterranean-inspired wet garlic. Broad beans, Batavia and Little Gem lettuces will follow, as well as spinach. The farm has nearly four acres of wild bird seed plots too, and this winter brought visitors including corn buntings, grey partridge, lapwings, fieldfares, red kites and barn owls.

Peter + Jo-ann Richardson, Home Farm, North Yorkshire

After the mildest winter for several years, it’s been an almost seamless transition into the spring planting season for Peter. Broad beans went in back in February, to be followed by new plantings every few weeks to keep the supply coming. Novella, the first of his potatoes (easily the biggest crop on the farm) will go in during March, as will the early carrots for harvesting as bunches in June or July. This year Peter also hopes to try out Pink Fir Apple potatoes; fantastic to eat, but a devil to grow organically.

Chris Wakefield, Upper Norton Farm, Hampshire

The spring onions that Chris and his team planted in the polytunnels during November got off to a great start, thanks to the mild conditions. The crop should yield a very healthy 25,000 bunches around two weeks ahead of outdoor-grown plantings in March. Butterhead lettuce also went in during early January, and once those crops are cleared, the herb season recommences. Coriander, parsley and basil will be nurtured in the warmth of the polytunnels, while sage, thyme, rosemary and oregano will grow outside. There will also be a new crop of mint, after some culinary testing!

Guy Watson, Le Boutinard, France

Our autumn-sown carrots are doing well, putting us on track to have them ready in April to plug the supply gap before the UK crop is ready. Meanwhile our spinach is struggling; poor germination followed by some fairly extensive frost damage have taken their toll. Thankfully the Batavia lettuces are looking good under their mini-tunnels, and we are busy planning in chilli peppers, squash and 25 acres of sweetcorn, possibly to include a multicoloured variety. After experimenting with Cape gooseberries and tomatillos back in Devon last year we’re giving both crops a go here in France this summer, as well as the locally popular Mogette beans, for drying and relishing in winter stews.

Zest for life – citrus fruit is at its best

organic orangesThe Spanish citrus season kicked off in November and runs right through until May. You’ll notice the flavour of the fruit changing as the weeks go by, as different varieties come and go. Right now is the peak time for these bright, zesty beauties. Most of our oranges, lemons, clementines and satsumas come from a small group of farmers working in the hills behind Almeria in Spain. The group is headed up by Ginés Garcia, who is fiercely proud of his farm and the biodiversity it supports. He’s even inspired other farmers in the area to join up and convert to organic.

Now is also the time to grab blood oranges while they’re around – the flavour is wonderful but the season is short. Ours are grown in the foothills of Mount Etna in Sicily and the depth of their colour depends on light, temperature and variety. Try them in Jane’s vibrant lemon and orange tart, or squeezed into some chilled Prosecco for a seasonal cocktail.

make your own marmalade

Last January Guy took a trip to Ave Maria Farm near Seville, where 75 year old Amadora and her two daughters have been growing Seville oranges organically since 1986. Guy reckons you can’t get much more organic than their beautiful orchards and is convinced that the resulting bitter-flavoured fruit makes the very best marmalade he has tasted. Sevilles are at their best between mid-January and mid-February, so dig out some jars and muslin sharpish.
Try our marmalade kit £4.49. It contains 1.5kg of Amadora’s Seville oranges, two lemons and Jane’s marmalade recipe. You’ll need your own sugar and jars.

Veg heroes

The pick of the our seasonal vegetables to fuel your new year cooking.

Jerusalem artichokes

jerusalem artichokes

These knobbly little roots are a farmer’s dream: easy to grow, with no significant pests or diseases. They do particularly well at Wash Farm – in fact our biggest challenge is keeping them under control. They have a nutty, sweet, almost mushroomy flavour.
order jerusalem artichokes

how to cook jerusalem artichokes
Peel or scrub them, then use in stews and soups. They’re also good roasted in olive oil or sliced thinly and eaten raw in salads. Or try our recipe for jerusalem artichokes and mushrooms in a bag with goat’s cheese.

Celeriac

Another cosmetically-challenged seasonal root (although who looks their best in January anyway?), grown around our Riverford farms. Celeriac endures winter well and has a delicate, celery-like, fragrant flavour. It will keep in the bottom of your fridge for several weeks.
order celeriac

how to cook celeriac
Use celeriac to add depth to stews, mash and gratins or try our recipe for spiced celeriac with lemon.

Kale

Man cannot live on roots alone, so welcome the dark green leafiness of the kales. They benefit from slow growth and are at their best after some hard winter weather. This year our cavolo nero (black kale) is all but over, so look out instead for other varieties, including curly kale, which can be as good as cavolo nero once it has had plenty of frost. Store it in the fridge and eat it within a few days.
order kale

How to cook kale
You will normally need to discard the stalks before cooking – hold the stalk in one hand and run your other hand down it, stripping off the leaves. Curly kale is best boiled briefly or used in hearty, peasantstyle soups and stews. Try our easy ideas for kale.

News from the farms

Guy Watson, Wash Farm, Devon
Our new polytunnel is up and running, producing organic salad leaves for the winter. Come April the crop will be replaced with basil, mini cucumbers and tomatoes. We never heat our polytunnels and as the new crops will reduce our reliance on imported veg, they’ll be some of the most environmentally-friendly salads around. Meanwhile the mild autumn brought many of our crops forward; our Brussels sprouts were ready a good three weeks early and we were picking very good spinach through to mid November. Many of our leeks were also at harvesting size before Christmas, when normally they are not ready until March. All in all, it’s been a refreshing change from the difficulties of last winter.

Riverford Organic CambridgeshireNigel Venni, Sacrewell Farm, Cambridgeshire
The battle with the pigeons is continuing for Nigel and the team, so much so that we have had to cover the brassicas with fleece to stop the birds eating the lot. The cabbages have taken a bit of a hit from whitefly too, but things are back under control now and the first crop of cauliflower is set for harvesting in March. The organic spring greens and purple sprouting broccoli are looking really strong, while the wild bird seed plots on the farm are keeping the wildlife happy as the weather gets colder.

Peter + Jo-ann Richardson, Home Farm, North Yorkshire
The mild, dry autumn has made the weekly harvesting of Peter’s organic carrots and organic parsnips much easier this season, but with no cold snap to slow their growth, around 20% of the early cabbages have got ahead of themselves. They are so big they would almost fill the vegboxes if they went in. Thinking back to this time last year it seems daft that we are now hoping for a chilly spell. Back then the veg was frozen into the ground under a layer of snow and temperatures were as low as -15˚C. At least there are fewer frozen toes this year!

Chris Wakefield, Upper Norton Farm, Hampshire
The summer may be long gone, but Chris and his team still have the polytunnels working hard. Half are nurturing overwintering spring onions that should yield around 20,000 bunches at the end of March. They can be grown outdoors, but by bringing them under cover they’ll be ready a few weeks earlier. Meanwhile the rest of the polytunnels have been cleared and composted in preparation for 15,000 Batavia and Butterhead lettuces for planting in January. The perennial herbs are overwintering well after pruning last autumn and we are planning an outdoor mint crop to go with your new potatoes this year.

Guy Watson, Le Boutinard, France
Last year we sowed carrots here in the spring and subsequently were able to harvest some in late May, two weeks ahead of the UK crop. This still left a two week gap after our stored carrots finished. This year, after sowing in the autumn instead, we should be able to have our own carrots for 52 weeks of the year and banish Spanish carrots from the veg boxes. The crop has emerged well and we aim to get it covered with mini polytunnels before the first major rain of the season arrives; if they survive the winter storms we’ll be pulling tasty bunched carrots at the end of April.

Organic persimmons from Spain

organic persimmon fruitYou may find organic persimmons in your box this week. These are yellowy orange fruit with a sweet fragrant flesh and are grown in the South of Spain by Joaquin Pérez.

Joaquin has been farming organically for 10 years and bio-dynamically for 2 years. He also grows apricots and peaches on his farm, 60km south of Valencia, which he sells in the local area.

Persimmons are best eaten fresh, when still fairly firm. Eat them on their own or try in salads, with poultry, lamb or pork or in desserts.

Have you tried them?

What’s growing where?

Making the best use of soil type, climate and growers’ skills at our regional farms around the UK is our way of growing fruit and vegetables as close to your home as practical.

Guy Watson, Riverford on Wash Farm, Devon
Though we grow around 80 different varieties of veg in Devon, the biggest volume by far is potatoes. Along with our co-op of growers we’ve had 250 acres of spuds on the go this year, in an array of varieties selected above all else for flavour. Overall it’s been a good growing season with very little blight. Meanwhile our winter brassicas are looking very healthy too. The damp August got them off to a good start, with plenty of moisture to get them established. The dry September meant there was less fungal disease about, so our leeks are looking in fine fettle too. However all this good work can be undone if we have another harsh winter like last year, when 30% of our purple sprouting broccoli was lost to frost. Fingers crossed for an easier ride from Mother Nature this time.

Nigel Venni, Riverford on Sacrewell Farm, Cambridgeshire
After losing much of our six acre swede crop to a suspected attack of cutworm, and our chard to blackfly, things seem to have turned a corner for Nigel and his team. The beetroot and spinach crops were saved from devastation by an army of ladybirds, which arrived just in time to see off the blackfly and give the plants enough time to recover their growth. The eight acres of leeks planted between April and June this year are looking very strong, and the team expect to be harvesting them through to the end of January. They planted a mixture of varieties that mature at different rates. Meanwhile the last of the 30 acres of red and brown onions grown at Sacrewell (they love the free-draining soil here) have been harvested and are now snug in wooden crates in the drying barn, ready to see you through the winter and beyond. Half the purple sprouting broccoli crop was lost last year, but we’ve planted another four and a half acres for January.

Peter + Jo-ann Richardson, Riverford on Home Farm, North Yorkshire
It’s been a good year for Peter; after terrible crop losses last winter (all his cauliflower and purple sprouting broccoli crops were wiped out), the warm spring set the young seedling veg up well for the growing season. For the autumn crops it’s been a ‘forward year’, as Peter describes it, with much of the veg being ready weeks earlier than normal, especially the cauliflower. The ten acres of organic parsnips are looking particularly good, as are the leeks. All we need now is a good frost to set the sweetness in their flavour, but not so much of a freeze that we can’t get them out of the ground.

Chris Wakefield, Riverford onUpper Norton Farm, Hampshire
After a busy year harvesting herbs, chillies and banana peppers (yellow ramiro peppers) from our polytunnels, Chris and his team have cleared them out and now have the winter crops in place. We are growing Butterhead lettuce, which will be harvested for your vegboxes until a little before Christmas, and are overwintering a crop of spring onions, ready for harvesting in March and April next year. The perennial herbs growing outside have struggled over the last couple of winters, especially the rosemary, but Chris is hoping to dry the final cut from the sage bushes, so you can still enjoy it in the colder months. It’s early days yet, though!

Ed Walters, Bower Farm, Hampshire
Many of our organic turkeys are reared by Ed Walters, whose family has been farming turkeys for over 35 years. They are Kelly Bronze birds, a slow-growing breed that reaches full maturity naturally, spending the first five to six weeks snug in a barn under heat lamps, before going out to grass from around eight weeks of age. They are bedded down with fresh straw every day and tucked up in the sheds at night to protect them from foxes. They spend their days trotting and gobbling their way around the organic pasture and popping in and out of their sheds whenever it takes their fancy.

Ross Gardner, Spurtham Farm, Devon
For the first time we have organic geese available for your Christmas table and Ross is the chap charged with rearing them. The Gardner family has been farming poultry for over 40 years, so they certainly know how to keep their birds happy. The geese arrived at the farm as day-old goslings in May and were reared under gas brooders to keep them warm for the first 12 days. They now pad about the fields in a small flock of 250 birds and graze the organic pasture, along with a little supplementary organic feed. They are determined foragers and have plenty of outdoor space to express their natural behaviour, though they prefer to head inside their straw-filled barn at night.

What’s growing where?

Our regional farms around the UK (and one in France) are our way of growing fruit and veg as close to your home as practical.

Guy Watson, Wash Farm, Devon
Three years ago we decided to phase out our use of tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers from heated glasshouses, however local. Maintaining 20˚C in single-glazed glasshouses in frosty January is completely insane, making these easily the most environmentally damaging crops we sold. After a year of haggling with local planners, we’re now building sophisticated plastic-skinned greenhouses, which will grow tomatoes and cucumbers in the summer and salad leaves in the winter without heat. When they are in production we will have the best tasting, lowest impact salads money can buy.

Nigel Venni, Sacrewell Farm, Cambridgeshire
Nigel and his team have been hit by a bit of a mystery – almost six acres of our swedes have vanished. In mid-July the young plants were looking good, but soon almost the whole lot had gone, over 400,000 plants. We now think the culprit is ‘cutworm’ – caterpillars of the turnip moth and garden dart moth. They feast upon roots and stems, felling tender seedlings at the base, which then shrivel and leave nothing but bare soil. Fortunately, to balance things out, we’ve had a really successful broad bean season and our 8 acres of leeks and 30 acres of red and brown onions are looking very strong.

Peter + Jo-ann Richardson, Home Farm, North Yorkshire
Peter’s summer has gone well, with parsnips, leeks and Savoy cabbages looking very healthy for the boxes later in the year. Squash and pumpkins are also coming along nicely, just in time for Pumpkin Day. This year, Peter has avoided planting cauliflower or purple sprouting broccoli however. The last two harsh winters have lost him these crops, so he’s had to make a pragmatic decision. Fingers crossed for next time.

Chris Wakefield, Upper Norton Farm, Hampshire
Recently Chris and his team have been harvesting yellow ramiro peppers, also known as banana peppers, from the polytunnels. They don’t taste of banana, but if you have any fussy kids, they may help you in convincing them to try something new! Meanwhile, for the first time we have Hampshire dried garlic from our grower Mike Fisher. Normally our climate makes drying garlic problematic, but Mike is particularly pleased with the results, and we’d love to have any feedback.

Le Boutinard, France
The year started well with good crops of lettuce, spinach, fennel, chard and French beans filling the boxes through our ‘hungry gap’ at home, plus early sweetcorn and green peppers. However the normally sunny July delivered 80mm rain and with the high humidity, mildew swept through the melons. The heavily laden pepper plants look fantastic, but as the fruits start to turn red they are also developing rots. It is not all bad though; we have a small field of chillies which are coming along wonderfully, ready to add fire to all sorts of dishes.

What’s growing where?

Our regional farms around the UK (and one in France) are our way of growing fruit and veg as close to your home as practical.

Guy Watson, Wash Farm, Devon
There is plenty to keep our field workers occupied over summer, with broad beans, carrots, basil, gooseberries, a few artichokes and cucumbers coming through and plenty more crops to follow. The Devon-grown new potatoes started with the Ostara variety, then Lady Crystal and the wonderful Charlotte. The dry weather is taking its toll though; where we have irrigation, the main crop potatoes are healthy, but beyond the reach of the pipes there’s a danger the tubers will never get to harvestable size.

Nigel Venni, Sacrewell Farm, Cambridgeshire
Nigel’s summer crops started well, although there were a disappointing number of strawberries due to the winter frosts. Gooseberries, however, are plentiful and the new season bunched carrots have been excellent. Planting also goes on at a pace: the first 30,000 leeks out of 300,000 recently went in, along with (in Nigel’s words), “cabbages for Christmas”. He had to be the first to mention Christmas – in summer. It’s been an exciting time for wildlife too, with one of our pickers finding a sparrowhawk perching on the kettle in the farm shed!

Peter + Jo-ann Richardson, Home Farm, North Yorkshire
Peter’s kohl rabi and summer cabbages took a beating in the recent winds, with the soil sandblasting a couple of sowings into obliteration. Every cloud has a silver lining though and the soil-laden winds destroyed about 80% of the weeds in the adjacent field of courgettes. Elsewhere, planting and weeding continue as normal, with broad beans, calabrese broccoli, spinach and chard well on their way.

Chris Wakefield, Upper Norton Farm, Hampshire
Our tomato grower has reported a particularly well-established crop this year, so look out for them in the boxes. Meanwhile, Chris and his team have planted the last of the chillies, so all the polytunnels are now full, growing parsley, chillies and basil. We’re planning a chilli event on Friday 19th August, where you’ll be able to harvest your own hot little numbers, feast on an organic picnic and watch our Riverford Cooks demonstrate some fiery dishes. Check our website for details.

Le Boutinard, France
This is the second year of crops coming from our farm in the French Vendée, to help us bridge the ‘hungry gap’ and keep your vegboxes full and interesting when very few crops are ready in the UK. While last year was a bit of a disaster thanks to inclement weather, inexperience and some bad luck, 2011 has started well. We brought in the best fennel harvest we’ve ever seen, along with excellent courgettes and bunched carrots. This year we also plan to trial an early, autumn-sown crop of carrots, with the aim of bridging the gap between our stored and bunched carrots next spring. It’s a bit of a risky strategy but we’re keen to avoid having to import them from further afield.