Norfolk radishes kick-start the British salad season after £1m production line opens at Feltwell
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
After a long cold winter, the British salad season is finally under way as the first crops of radishes make their way through a new £1m production line in west Norfolk. CHRIS HILL reports.
It's been a long time coming – but the harvesting of Norfolk radishes is a certain sign that summer is finally on the way.
This colourful vegetable is the first field-grown salad crop of the year, with a production season traditionally starting on St George's Day.
And despite a harsh winter and a wet start to spring, the first batches are now on their way to the shops after growers raced against time to get a £1m washing and grading line commissioned in time for its first trials on April 23.
The improved facility has been built at Feltwell Growers, the UK radish-growing hub for the G's Group, a major Fenland salad and vegetable producer based near Ely.
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At the end of the previous season in October, bulldozers cleared the existing structures. The team then battled the severe winter weather to construct a 980sqm new building to house five new lines to wash and grade the crop as it comes out of the black fen soil.
Construction was completed in less than six months, and now Feltwell is expected to process more than 200 tonnes of radish per week throughout the season, which runs from April until the end of October or early November.
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Scott Watson, general manager of Feltwell Growers, said: 'Production of UK radish traditionally starts on St George's Day, so given the cooler than average weather conditions through February and March we are pleased to have UK crop being trialled through the new line.
'The new facility is almost double in size, however the equipment is broadly similar to what we had before, however is newer, more energy efficient and gentler on the radish, leading to better quality.'
Mr Watson said west Norfolk's black fen soil, with its high organic matter, fine climate, and ready availability of water, created perfect conditions for growing radishes. This year, the cold spring mean radish production has started about three weeks later than in 2017, when the weather was significantly warmer.
G's said the new washing and grading line was one of the 'final pieces in the jigsaw' after 10 years of investment in modernising the group's radish business to keep up with demand in one of the UK's fastest-growing salad categories.
During 2018 the group will continue its 'Love Radish' PR campaign and is preparing to launch new radish-related products during the summer.
• Radishes are a root vegetable of the Brassicaceae family.
• They were cultivated in China for thousands of years before being grown in ancient Egypt and Greece. They arrived in England in the 16th century.
• Radishes were paid as wages to the Egyptian labourers who built the pyramids.
• 40 million packs of radish were sold in the UK last year, weighing a total of 8,000 tonnes – heavier than the Eiffel Tower.
• UK growers harvest more than half a billion radishes every year.
• East Anglia is responsible for about 70pc of total UK radish production.
• The largest proportion of the British radish crop is grown on farms in the Norfolk Fens, where a combination of low rainfall and light water-retaining soil make for perfect growing conditions.
• They grow rapidly, in around 25 days, and are the first field-grown salad crop of the British growing year.
• The radish season traditionally starts on St George's Day, April 23, and crops are harvested until late October, depending on the weather.
• One square metre of land can yield up to 1,500 radishes per season in ideal growing conditions.