Good News Only
This spring was an especially unpredictable and difficult one for many UK farmers. You saw it first hand in your veg bags how up and down supply was and how the best-laid plans went awry with Mother Nature’s intervention from week to week. But that’s all behind us now! It’s summer and the UK veg is on the up and up. The bags this week are abundant and beautiful, thanks to the commitment and persistence of our farmers. Below, we share two notes of optimism, hard-work and good news from our local farms.
A note from Sarah Green, from her farm on the beautiful Essex estuaries near Tillingham:
It really feels like summer now that we are lifting and enjoying our new potatoes! They are absolutely delicious, and I hope you’ll agree with us that they are well worth the wait.
Following the recent rain the vegetables are really growing well in the fields, and so are the weeds! In late June, weeds seem to be at their most prolific and we feel swamped with the amount of weeding that must be done. However, last week we made good progress hand weeding celeriac, sweetcorn and parsnips. These three crops have smaller leaves so are unable to suppress the weeds around the plants and the weeds soon get established in the rows. At least the sun has been shining whilst the field team have been hand-weeding. Following the rain, the bigger weeds are easily pulled out of the ground.
It has been several years since we have had regular rainfall throughout the spring and summer months and we’re really appreciating every drop! We’re hoping that it will continue into autumn. The regular rainfall is ideal, as it has rarely held us back getting on with work in the vegetable fields and saves us irrigating the growing vegetables. Regardless of the weather the vegetable harvesting must be done daily so that we can get our freshly harvested vegetable deliveries out on time.
We have had a big delivery of plants from our organic propagators last week including lettuces, winter cabbages (January King and Savoy), various varieties of cauliflowers and purple sprouting broccoli. This week’s priority will be planting. Now that we have passed the longest day of the year, we don’t want the plants spending any longer than necessary in the farmyard – we need to get them growing in the field.
We have successfully weeded our squash beds and the plants are well established now. They are growing by the day and soon the field will look like a carpet of healthy plants with bright yellow flowers. The rows between the plants will disappear, and it will be a struggle to walk through them.
Cucumbers are in full production now and finally our courgettes have got going. They are set and swelling on the plants now. They seemed slow to start growing, but now they need to be harvested daily so they don’t get too big. Summer brassicas are growing well with crisp cabbage and leafy collard greens complimenting kohlrabi. The first Patty Pans have set and we have grown a new golden variety this year that we will look forward to trying. Green tomatoes are easy to spot in the poly-tunnels; some bright, sunny days would be welcome to ripen these summer favourites.
An update from Ripple Farm Organics in Kent, ‘the garden of England’:
It seems to be all or nothing in terms of rain this year, and it very quickly changes from being too dry to plant to being too wet. It finally stopped raining at the end of May and we now have lots of baby plants ready to transplant and lots of weeding to catch up on. Anything we planted before May’s rain kept on coming has grown OK but not as fast as the weeds have. We’re having to do a lot more hoeing and hand-weeding than we’d like as we can’t use the tractor mounted steerage hoe when the ground is too wet. Martin and the team managed to do some transplanting last week into fairly sticky ground, but it’s too wet again now and there is still a lot more to be transplanted. Mechanical weed control and hoeing is difficult too when it’s so wet and results in lots of hand-weeding later on!
Most of the crops that are in the ground are growing well though, and as well as new potatoes, spring onions, bunching carrots and beetroot, and new season's greens, we’ll soon be harvesting courgettes too. Our courgettes and summer squash were transplanted in early June, a bit later than usual, but should soon catch up with the current forecast. Our second and third plantings of chard are going to seed, presumably because of the fluctuations in temperatures and moisture levels, but we have another block to plant soon.
Our battles with the rooks and rabbits continue. The rabbits ignore the low electric fence to get to the sweetcorn, and have also developed a taste for beetroot (who can blame them!). A huge flock of rooks worked their way along the rows until they had pulled up several beds of onion transplants once they realised there were wireworms feeding on the roots of some of them. We had to do an emergency sowing of crown prince squash trays into trays the same day as rooks had taken all the ones we seeded direct into the field (luckily, we had only done a quarter of what we planned). The rooks are too clever for us and we don’t have enough crop covers for everything, so no more direct seeding of squash!
We’ve heard a couple of turtledoves singing at Ripple Farm during May, although not sure if they are ‘a couple’. We have had a trail camera set up on the area where we put out supplementary feed for the turtledoves and were thrilled to get some images with four turtle doves, as we’d only ever seen/heard two together before. There were also linnets, yellowhammers, red-legged partridge, stock doves and more. We had a pyramidal orchid pop up on one of our headlands last week, not something we’ve seen there before.
The excess of rain in May meant our two new, small ponds are filling up nicely and the winter’s hedge planting got off to a good start. Oh, and our newly installed 10m3 rainwater collection tank was soon full and the collected rainwater was used for watering the baby plants. Orchard field is bursting into colour as the crimson clover in amongst the rye and vetch is flowering now. It's there to feed the soil and feeds the soul and bees and other pollinators too.