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How is it grown?
Hairspring Watercress is grown to the National Farmers Union Watercress Association 'Code of Practice'. This is for your assurance of hygienic production. The requirements of this Code are that cultivation takes place in beds which have solid gravel bases and impermiable walls and the water comes from natural springs and deep boreholes. All surface water being excluded from the growing crop. We are inspected annually by an independent environmental health specialist.
We plant our seed in February in polythene tents with underfloor heating, the seeds being sprinkled on top of plug trays filled with peat which are watered by automatic overhead irrigation. After about four weeks, the plants are ready to go out to the empty beds which have been carefully prepared with the water now being shut off. The plants are scattered in the bed by hand where they take root some ten to fourteen days after. Prior to planting, the base of the bed is dressed with fertilizer. We use 'Fibrophos' which is a by-product of the electrical generating industry and is eco friendly.
In about six weeks, depending on the weather, the plants should be ready to cut for market. As you head towards summer, growing time becomes shorter because the days are longer and the ambient temperature is higher. Once the crop has been harvested, the stubbles are trimmed off and rolled down into the water where they will grow new shoots for the next crop.
There are alternative ways of planting cress beds, i.e. with cut plants that are taken from a growing bed and planted in an empty bed where it will throw roots and grow. We can also thin plants from a bed and use them in the same way. Some of our beds are cut six or seven times before they are cleared out and the bed is then prepared for the next crop. Some plants are saved for seed collection in later summer and to this end we keep bees to aid fertilization of the watercress flowers.
All our watercress is cut and bunched by hand, the bunches are packed into a large plastic box, this is transported to our packing shed where it is trimmed, labelled, washed and packed with ice.
Watercress will continue to grow throughout the winter in England, the rate of growth being dependant on the air temperature. The water temperature from the Springs and boreholes is constant throughout the year at 11 degrees celcius. The beds are kept rolled down so that the cress is closer to the water. In severe conditions we flood the beds, thus submerging the watercress to keep the biting wind from spoiling the crop.
We have 4.2. acres of watercress and this requires a permanent full-time staff of five.
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