Country’s first salad crops gets off to good start in Broadland

Two of the country's first crops of early-sown salad are being grown in the heart of Broadland.

And the first eight-acre field at Reedham, near Acle, could be ready for harvesting by the third week of April if it continues to keep growing, said farm manager Rob Parker.

The combination of two inches of rainfall this month across east Norfolk and sunshine have helped the crops of spinach and wild rocket to make good progress, he said.

The first crops of spinach and wild rocket to be grown in the country were drilled in early March by East Coast Growers, of Grove Farm, Martham, which grows about 1,000 acres of salad crops each season.

'It is our first field. The spinach will be ready for the third week of April and the Wild Rocket will be ready for the second week of May – that is the first UK spinach and rocket being grown,' he said.

'This is destined for UK supermarkets for fresh bagged salads in all the major multiples. We started drilling in the first week of March as soon as the ground conditions are correct and soil temperatures are starting to increase.

'Then we're straight through with a weekly drilling programme right through to the end of September. We continue our harvest programme to the middle of October to late October depending on exactly when the first frosts arrive,' said Mr Parker.

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While he was concerned about availability of water, the Environment Agency has indicated that restrictions might not be needed until later in the summer. 'The two inches earlier this month has done a massively good job and also for cereal crops.

As crops were grown in succession, irrigation was needed to help the germination of salad crops. 'We sow these small seeds into a fine seedbed relatively shallow. We're drilling the Wild Rocket at about 2mm and the spinach about 10mm deep.'

'We are in a situation now, very much unlike last year, that once the crop has grown away, which it has, then we won't have to irrigate because the roots can tap into that water that came three weeks ago. It certainly saves a lot of irrigation for us – during April and into May.'

Overhead irrigators then apply about 6mm or 7mm of water at a time, said Mr Parker. 'It is nothing more than a very lighter rain, so it will be little and often and we're only trying to keep the to centimetre of soil moist,' he added.

The first crops should produce about 20 tonnes of Wild Rocket. And with luck, the yield of Spinach will be about double because the leaves are bigger and heavier, he said.

The recent spell of very cold early morning weather has not really troubled the crops, said Mr Parker. 'If it gets to minus 2C or minus 3C for a longer period overnight, then that's a problem. What we're actually experiencing at the moment is just a frost when the sun rises – and that small blip is fine. The plants can cope with that, no problem.'