Short of Water

The beetroot, salads, parsley and basil continue to crop apace, as do now the outdoor french beans “Borlotto di Fuoco”, and the tomatoes, from seed sown in the chilly depths of early March. The cucumbers, after their woodlice-induced false start, have been going to market for the last couple of weeks and are of notably firmer texture and stronger flavour – some might even say cucumbery – than the watery supermarket specimens.

One of the many reasons that small-scale organic produce is often regarded as tasting better is because its flesh is not drowned in water in an attempt to add weight to increase slim profit margins. It’s not that irrigation rates are set by organic standards: it’s just a spin-off of having in place a grower for whom sustainability, ecology and quality are the raisons d’etre. People are often surprised at how little we water at Hawkwood. But, provided the soil is given a thorough soaking once a week (and provided you have a medium to heavy soil with good levels of organic matter) it seems this is usually enough and, as the old adage goes, “enough is as good as a feast”. Water too much and you might spoil the plant, or at least the flavour.

That said, ecology is so much fine balances on swings and roundabouts. I am delighted, nay smug, to report the squash and beans swell lusciously despite no watering since they were planted out, bar the measly 95 millimetres the heavens have tossed their way in the last three months. But I must also confess that that unwelcome guest of hot dry glasshouses, the red spider mite, is starting to make a meal of the tasty cucumbers, and the delicious “Berner Rose” tomatoes are yet to make an appearance at our outlets due to the disfiguring blossom end rot. The latter is an ugly symptom of calcium deficiency, which in turn is a symptom of water shortage, UK soils being virtually never short of calcium.

We control water in the glasshouse, so can begin to remedy these: not so the first early potatoes, left Spartan-like to fend for themselves high and dry at the top of the Entrance Field. the foliage is dying back yet the tubers stunted by lack of moisture. they’ll be fiddly and time-consuming to harvest, likewise to prepare , but I’ll bet all the sea round China they’re as tasty as any spud on a London plate next week.

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