Veg Box Newsletter 20th February: How do Our Gardens Grow

In the Veg Boxes This Week

Subject to last minute changes

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The Nice Bit

It isn’t spring yet, but spring knows it’s on the way. Outside my window the birds, sparrows and blackbirds and seagulls, are swooping across the scene. They find a perch and settle, then, as if responding to some song I can’t hear they are off again, from bush to hedge to windowsill. They know as well as I do that the world is going to change.

As February draws to a close, we are standing at the precipice of the hungry gap, that tricky time when winter cabbages are bolting and supplies of stored roots and squashes from the previous year are diminishing, but the fresh greens of summer are not yet in place. While we do our best to keep your boxes as full as possible through these months, working with a range of suppliers to get the latest brassicas and the earliest broad beans, you might well notice lighter boxes, especially in April and May.

After that is when the produce from our own growing sites tends to be ready. In the summer months our boxes are full to the brim with Locavore-grown goodness, chard and kale and fennel and cucumbers and tomatoes, everything the sunshine that falls on Scotland coaxes from the soil. On the farm, now, Floortje and the other growers are preparing. I spoke to Floortje last month to ask about planning the growing year ahead, so we can look forward to the coming months of plenty in an informed way, appreciating also the hard work that goes into the growing. If this leaves you wanting more info, you can also find an interview from Chard Week 2021 on our website, in which Floortje shares info on what makes our growing and growing sites so special.

What are you working on now? the t
The team is busy doing bed prep, harvesting winter salads, cleaning and prepping the nurseries, checking and repairing irrigation systems, and much more of such tasks that we only have time for in the winter.

When planning for the next year, what do you have to keep in mind that we might not realise?

How slowly change happens at the farm. If we try out a new crop, it often takes a few years for us to get it right, as you only get one, maybe two, chances a year to try something new about a crop. For example, we’re on a mission to ‘nail’ True Spinach this year. We are trying 7 different varieties at 2 moments in the year. That will give us lots of information to go on in 2024, when we might try various spacings and different sowing dates. Then, it’s waiting for spring 2024 or ‘25 to come around to try again. It’s a long game!

For example it took us about 3-4 years to get the production of bulb fennel (more or less) right. Long standing customers might remember our first try in 2018 (sorry again. They were a bit sad). We know now to transplant it at the right time, give it lots of space, not to slack off on irrigation at any point, and to harvest it all within 4 weeks or it will bolt on us.

People might not realise how much work ordering seed is. We order up to £4000 worth of seed every year and it is a long process of selecting varieties with traits we like, sourcing them from the UK, Germany and France, then endless price comparing and cross-checking orders and deliveries. It is very enjoyable because it makes you excited for the year, but it shouldn’t be imagined as a cosy evening by the fire with a seed catalogue and a glass of wine. it’s more like updating spreadsheets…. Again.

How do the past years of growing help with the planning work?

We gather a lot of information throughout the year which informs our choices of crops for next year.

We have all sorts of sheets which we use to collect data which, collated and analysed, help us
determine what does and doesn’t work.

At this stage we are fairly good at predicting how much of something we’ll be able to harvest, as we have 6 years of yield averages to go back on.

For new crops, of course, it is always a bit of a guess. Also, nature can throw curve balls. The weather can speed crops up or slow them down, only to be ready to harvest all at at the same time! Or, for example, a few weeks back a neighbouring horse decided to break out and visit our kale plots with interesting results. We’re just happy she didn’t like our leek crop and that the tunnel (full of yummy salads and fragile infrastructure) was closed…

What are you growing this year?

I’ve already mentioned a fresh stab at producing tasty spinach reliably. Other than that, besides our high-yield staples of lettuce, salads, kale, celery, chard, garlic, cucumbers and tomatoes, we are trying out lots of new stuff seeing as we installed 2 more polytunnels at our Bellahouston site. Trial crops include small quantities of sweetcorn, sweet peppers, weird and wonderful salad leaves such as Huauzontle and summer purslane. I loved our wee Amoro squashes last year but am finding it really hard to source organic seed of this variety this year. Fingers crossed!

We are also adding a lot more cut annual herbs back into the mix such as chervil, rosemary, mint, tarragon, coriander. These may not yield enough to go into the vegboxes, but if not there they will certainly be found in our shops. Corn Salad, a lovely buttery salad leaf, very popular in Germany and The Netherlands, is getting another chance with some adjusted dates and growing methods. With a Dutch head grower and a German veg box manager it may be understandable we are fairly keen to make this work…

I am most excited about something I came across while traveling in Denmark in October. An edible gourd quite unknown in these parts of the world which looks a bit like a watermelon and has the most amazingly shaped leaves which itself are edible, too. It generally goes by the name of Fig Leaved Gourd or Malabar Gourd. I saw it thriving in a permaculture garden in Denmark, was gifted one and lugged it home with me to my friend’s home in The Netherlands (in my backpack) where my friend and I made a vegetarian version of shark fin soup with it (as it is often used as in SE Asia). It comes apart after cooking like spaghetti squash. It was the most delicious thing. My pal’s kids discovered you can eat it raw and it tastes lovely, quite like melon. It keeps for up to 2 years. Watch this space…. We will be testing germination rates, yields, and trying to get a handle on season length and storeability.

Also, shout out to founder Reuben, who somehow managed to grow some watermelon last year. We are giving it another go at Left Field this year…. So watch out for an extremely limited supply of Scottish watermelons in the shops. Maybe.