According to The Watercress Company with farms in Dorset and Hampshire, watercress is riding the storm due to the unique way it is grown.
In Spain, where many winter vegetables and salad crops are grown for the UK market, bad weather and transport disruption has resulted in widely reported shortages of fresh produce. One crop able to hold its head above water there is watercress.
The Watercress Company moved a team of British experts to Jerez in Spain 20 years ago to train farmers there to grow watercress for the UK market.
Over winter, UK beds are only partly cropped due to the lower light levels and harder frosts. The UK season typically starts in May, so Spanish grown watercress is used instead.
In Spain, using techniques honed over 20 years and a sophisticated system of water recirculation that mimics the natural springs in which watercress is traditionally grown, the growers have been able to come through the frosts that affected Jerez in January and February with crops intact.
Good supplies of watercress are now available and the UK packing factories that buy watercress and other salad leaves to supply supermarkets, are using more watercress to help supplement the less available leaf varieties.
Watercress is unique amongst salad leaves as it is grown in specially designed beds in flowing water and not on land.
In the UK, where watercress has been commercially grown since Victorian times, the beds were built where water bubbles up from underground springs and aquifers.
It remains at a constant temperature of 10°c which means that in times of frost, the water doesn’t freeze, and the watercress plants actually bend down towards the water to keep warm, while in times of drought the water source is sustained underground so the watercress plants don’t go thirsty.
It is the effect of the flowing water created in the Spanish beds through recirculation that provides the same protection.
Tom Amery, MD of The Watercress Company said: “We are very lucky that watercress is so resilient; provided the day temperature is above 14°C, it needs neither heating nor protection unlike other salad crops.
“Demand for watercress is high at the moment because it is able to fill the gap left by other salad leaves whose harvests have been dramatically affected by the weather.
“We are currently bringing in 32 tonnes of watercress every week but I estimate that 50 tonnes per week are currently being sold in the UK.
“We rely on our Spanish grown crops to help us maintain all year-round supply of watercress but, at the moment, it is helping to keep the UK in salad – full stop.”
He further explains that watercress is recognised as one of the healthiest vegetables available, containing over 50 vitamins and minerals.
The UK watercress season is typically considered to start in May and continues through until November.
An annual watercress festival, held in Alresford, will take place on Sunday 21 May. For more details visit www.watercressfestival.org
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