Watercress Production in Baldock
Traditional watercress growers are defined by Environment Agency licensing requirements as growers who would replant their beds no more than once a year between the beginning of June and the end of September. Most cleaning and re-sowing takes place between March and July.
Watercress is grown in shallow gravel beds fed by springs and bore-holes, which provide a constant flow of relatively warm, pure, chalk-filtered spring water.
Watercress is either grown from seed or through vegetative propagation. At the start of the UK season, watercress seeds are propagated on thin layers of compost within greenhouses and poly-tunnels.
After about 7 to 10 days, the seedlings are transplanted into the gravel beds outside.
Pure spring water is introduced to the crop, gently at first and then in ever increasing volumes with a mature bed needing an average of 5,000 gallons per acre per hour.
The growing time can be anything from 28 to 70 days depending on the weather.
Traditionally watercress was considered a winter crop, harvested during months with a R (September to April). (Jonathan Cox, 2009)
Watercress production in Baldock:
Watercress growing on stretches of chalk rivers developed from 1850 onwards. The growing population of London was hungry for fresh vegetables/salads and watercress offered a nutritious crop through autumn and winter months. The expansion of the railways made transportation to London quick and easy. In Victorian Britain it was called ‘the poor man’s bread’, it provided the working class with a good portion of nutrition for the day and became one of the first foods for on-the-go.
UK census records at Blackhorse Mill in 1891 and 1901 identify James Frederick Moody as a watercress grower.
An OS 25 Inch map dated 1892-1914 illustrates the Baldock watercress beds. (National Library of Scotland OS 25 Inch, 1892-1914). These were managed by Mr Moody during this period. Whilst the local historical society states the watercress beds cover a 12 acres area, detailed measurements of the watercress beds themselves shows an area of 5.177acres / 2.0952Ha.
The Baldock watercress beds required up to 5ML/day spring water and would have produced watercress from September to April.
The water cress beds were operational in pre-WW2 period but were stated as redundant by 1949.
- Watercress Growing and its Environmental Impact on Chalk Rivers in England.NECR027 Oct 2009. Jonathan Cox,2009
- UK Census record 1891
- UK Census record 1901
- National Library of Scotland -OS 25 Inch series, Great Britain 1892-1914
- Email correspondence with a leading watercress grower
- History of Harpenden watercress beds http://www.harpenden-history.org.uk/page_id__55.aspx