Our head chef Az in Monart loves to cook with local produce from around Wexford. Cullens Vegetables have been supplying locally grown produce to Monart for the last 9 years. Dara Cullen from Cullens Fruit & Vegetables brought me out to visit Patrick Kehoe from Kehoes farm a grower in the local area. Patrick grows potatoes, cabbage and rhubarb for Monart which is supplied through Cullens Fruit & Veg for Monart. Kehoes farm is 2 miles from Monart. We pride ourselves on local produce.
‘The cabbage is cut by hand at 7am in the morning and the Monart will have it by lunchtime. This is a huge advantage of using local producers; you can’t get fresher than that’ says Patrick.
How many potatoes would you get from one plant?
Under each plant there would be about 8 or 9 potatoes in early season. When you get in to main crop season there could be up to 20 potatoes per plant.
What weather is needed for potatoes to grow?
We need good weather but we also need rain, not too much rain now but we do need a bit of rain!
The leaves are like solar panels they just absorb the sun so it’s great to see the sun coming out because they will mature a lot quicker. This is one of the best advantages of growing crops in the South east.
Have you ever had too much sun?
(Laughs) That has never happened no!!
How do you decide where to grow the crop of potatoes?
When the potatoes are grown we have to plant a different crop in there to stop diseases. Crop rotation is essential when growing vegetables! We would probably plant barley in this field next year. You would never plant potatoes in the same place the following year. The land would need some rest.
We are always planning about 2 years ahead of what will go in to the field next.
Potatoes are graded by the size. They are put through a grader, this machine also takes out all the soil & stones. Light affects the colour of the potatoes and so does the heat so they are kept between 2.8 & 3 degrees in a dark room. The potatoes are then stored in big containers with the date on them, the name of the farm, the field they were grown in and the date and time that they were harvested. Traceability is essential. We pick the potatoes by hand.
When did you plant this crop of rhubarb?
We planted this particular crop of rhubarb in 2008, we are only digging it up now.
‘You need a lot of patience with rhubarb’
Rhubarb is different to other vegetables it could be in the same place for up to 10 years. It takes about 3 or 4 years of growing rhubarb before the crop really starts to mature.
The advantage of growing crops in Wexford is that the weather is warmer than anywhere else in the country so we can be the first in the market with our crops.
The great thing about rhubarb is when it’s ready you can cut the root ball in to 4 and then replant the 4 pieces.
We have this rhubarb for the last 40 years. I remember my dad and grandad working on the same rhubarb so this particular rhubarb has been in our family for 3 generations and it’s still going strong.
Do you think you will ever have to buy rhubarb again Patrick?
Yes, I am always experimenting with different varieties of rhubarb. But this will always be my main crop.
‘Rhubarb really takes care of itself, it’s great! Rhubarb is a relatively easy crop to manage you never pull all of the rhubarb, you look for the red coloured sticks as these are ripe. The nice average sized sticks are the best.’
How often do you plant the cabbage?
We plant cabbage every 10 days so we always have a crop ready to harvest. We love growing lots of different varieties of cabbage here.
If the weather is cold we cover the cabbage with a big fleece to encourage the crop to grow and protect it from the weather.
What would be the biggest obstacle you face with growing cabbage?
‘Birds would be our biggest problem, although it hasn’t been an issue this winter though. This is the first year I can recall that we haven’t had a problem with birds. There is obviously something else that the birds are interested in this year. Cabbage takes a lot of minding, especially in the winter. Rabbits are a big problem for us so we are constantly keeping an eye on the cabbage.’
There is 35 acres of cabbage in this field.
It would take a few weeks to cut all the cabbage because it’s cut it all by hand.