Meet the grower
Scott Watson manages one of the biggest areas dedicated to growing radishes in the UK at Feltwell in West Norfolk. Radish growing started at Feltwell in the 1980’s when growers in the region were looking for crops which suited the rich black fen soil which is naturally very fertile. Radishes are an ideal crop for this location as the fenland peats retain their moisture, which reduces the need for irrigation and helps preserve the local area's water supply as well as reducing costs.
Radishes have been grown at Feltwell Farm in Norfolk since the 1980’s. I was working in the business and when the farmer retired, in 2000, I took over as farm manager.
My busiest time of year is early Summer, from May onwards – although it depends on the weather - and the orders of course!
On an average day at the beginning of the season, the most important thing for me to do is keep an eye on the emerging crops, make sure we’re not caught out by any late frosts. I usually start to see the green leaves appear in the ground in late March and enjoy tending to and watching the plants mature until they’re ready to produce radishes in April ready for picking. So much is weather dependent – a lot hinges on whether we have a mild spring or a lot of cold rain.
Radishes grow pretty well in a lot of climates, but the land round here is exceptionally well suited, being a good fertile peaty soil, with good moisture retention. This means we don’t need to irrigate so often, which preserves the area’s water supplies – important in the Fens, which is one of the driest regions in the country! Also, the soil is soft with very few stones, which can damage the radishes at harvest.
We work about 406 hectares - that’s cropping area, not the actual farm, as we might get more than one crop from a field in a season. We sell 40 million packs of radishes per year. Each pack has an average weight of 200g – so this averages out as about 8000 tonnes of radishes.
Last year we experimented with some oriental strains of radish e.g. the Watermelon variety but with no success. These varieties aren’t used to our weather – and the summer of 2011 was relatively cold and overcast. I will continue to trial different varieties, and to work on improving the existing ones. Trailing a variety doesn’t mean that we will go ahead and grow it commercially but it will add to our knowledge which will help us perfect how we grow our staple crops.
A very rewarding aspect of my job is that growing one of the earliest outdoor salad crops of the year, I get to see the results of all that hard winter work sooner than other farmers. On the flipside, a challenging aspect, common to all growers, is that we are at the mercy of the weather and it can be very frustrating when a late frost undoes all your good work.
If I wasn’t growing radishes, I’m sure I would still be doing something related to the land – maybe training champion sheepdogs! I started my working life as a shepherd, and I still work with my dogs when I’ve got time.
As for eating radishes, I think that my favourite variety for just snacking on is French Breakfast. I often eat mine straight from the field, but they’re very good the traditional way with butter and salt, and brown bread.