Category Archives: market


Putting the asparagus beds to bed

Kilo for kilo Asparagus consistently rates as one of top performers of the farm. When it’s in season it sells out. That is, by definition, product demand. As someone who spent countless hours over the past year, propagating, planting, weeding, hoeing and harvesting it fills me with pride and pleasure when folks are excited by and buying our veg. Feeling this way, is enough motivation for me personally to grow it.

In our modern society where a trip to the supermarket can supply you with nearly anything at anytime of the year, Asparagus being one of the few hold outs makes it special.  In the south of england, Asparagus season falls in between May and June, an incredibly small harvest season by any standard. Add to this that an Asparagus bed takes four years tending before a first cropping can be expected and it isn’t difficult to see why it is likely to stay a seasonal veg.

After the last harvest in June the plant is allowed to grow to its full potential, the delicate spears transform into beautiful branches and in the late summer and early fall it’s tiny spherical fruits ripen to a deep shade of garnet as the stocks die back transforming to a brittle stand of golden beige. It’s a this stage in the first weeks of December that we put the Asparagus beds “to bed.”

Before the dry stocks are cut back, we weed the bed a final time. Keeping the dry stocks in situ while doing this allows us to easily estimate where on the bed it is safe to dig. The next years growth of asparagus spears are dependent on their crowns sitting just below the surface of the soil and digging weeds too close to them can inadvertently cause damage.


blue ballet squash seeds

Growing diversity: Spaghetti squash seed saving

You could argue that relative to the return, buying seeds yearly is a small and justifiable expense. Pouring over the seed catalogues can be incredibly exciting with its’ inspiring descriptions and beautiful photography designed to tempt even the most intrepid gardener into trying new or rare cultivars.

Myself, I fall firmly into the category of growers who plan and purchase seed annually. Only a few years ago did i begin saving seed of my own and like many I began with my Tomato seeds. This autumn, with my mind focusing on narrowing the impending “hunger gap” we will undoubtedly face in the colder climes of Norway I’ve been paying close attention to the various cultivars of squash gracing the Market Stall. Hand on heart, I’ve yet to eat a squash I didn’t like.  Some I definitely like better than others and there are many I’ve only recently come across.

I’ve begun saving seeds from the ones that have gotten thumbs up from both of us. I know that this is slightly risky. Unlike saving tomato seeds which self pollinate and can be counted on to reliably reproduce true to type, squash are able to pollinate each other and if grown in close proximity to another type can cross pollinate. The result would still look like the parent however the seed would then not produce true to type the following year.

Professional seed sellers take great precautions to ensure their specimen plants are pollinated only from the correct male flowers often binding a female flower just before it opens opening it to hand pollinate and then rebinding it to ensure the only pollen present is that which they have introduced. It’s not complicated, it’s something I plan to do next season. But in the spirit of adventure, this year I have harvested seeds from those squash I have eaten and enjoyed. There’s a good chance I’ll be able to raise a successful squash crop from them, but no guarantee the vegetables I get will resemble their parents.

I’ve taken a calculated risk. I’ve done this for some specific reasons. Firstly, I would rather begin learning the successful techniques for cleaning and storing seed before i have to do so with the true type seed of the lovely and rare heritage Themla Saunders Sweet Potato squash I’ve purchased for next year. It took me two years to be able to purchase these 7 seeds as they sell out incredibly early, I want to do everything I can to ensure I don’t have to purchase them again!

clean squash seeds

Spaghetti squash seeds. Left is dried 10 days, with membrane still attached, right is with membrane removed and ready for storage and future propagation

Secondly, I happened upon a Spaghetti Squash grown here in the UK. It’s not popular here, but it’s one of my favourites from when I lived in Canada. Delighted and excited to find it, I’ve waxed lyrical and at great lengths to many people and intend to gift seed to everyone I can. As far as I am concerned It took a brave farmer to plan this little known and lovely squash and people need to know about it to develop the market for it. Knowing that allotment people tend to be adventurous and willing to share their bounty, I feel sharing the seeds may help develop a market.

Sharing the seeds out also lets me do some vaguely scientific research. My theory is since none of the people I have allocated seeds to are experienced in growing Spaghetti Squash but each has experience growing successfully in the past hearing of their successes will allow me to gauge if my seed saving techniques are correct. Like I said, “vaguely scientific”!

My method for cleaning seeds came from the packaging of my purchased Thema Saunders. It stated to remove the seeds, clean and allow to dry separated from each other on a flat surface. Further investigation on line suggested to remove the membrane which closely skins the individual seeds. My first attempts to do this was with the newly liberated seeds, it was slippery and difficult. In my second attempt to remove the membrane I waited until ten days of drying. This was also time consuming but much less slippery and therefore, assuming successful propagation will be how i continue to remove the membranes in future.



Local organic asparagus at the farmers market

Local food and direct relationships

I love working at the local farmers market, and do so every Sunday. For me, the farmers market is a place that restores my faith. It’s where I am reminded that I am not alone,  that other local people want local foods and that they want to have that relationship with their egg man, their vegetable grower or the man who cares for the animals that eventually graces their plate. People are interested in  quality, even when a typical shopper declares price as their primary motive, it’s not exclusively the case.

I’m not talking about everyone of course, I wish I were. Numbers and interest is growing in local produce. More and more of us are concerned with our health and our local economy. The BRC research every £10 spent in a local shop is actually worth £25 to the local economy. In a time when most of us are all feeling the pinch and pressures of tightening purse strings, local spending helps ease the strain. This is called the multiplier effect.

Recently, I saw this post on social media which stood out. There were nearly one million shares. There were also a high number of folks complaining the prices of their local farmers market were too high.

eat localThe price of food, what we are now accustom to paying in the grocery store is the product of mass buying power from the supermarket giants.

It often dictates the prices for the producer and in some cases this leaves the producer in a very tenuous position. The producer is more often than not the lowest paid person on the food chain and the one who bears the brunt of that low cost food.

Do you, the consumer benefit? Yes, in a way. The consumer benefits from the conglomerates buying power because they are able to buy cheaper product as the end result. The down side of this of course, is that a producer who can not make a profit growing vegetables or meat or grains won’t be doing so forever. No regular business in the world would continue to operate at a year on year loss, it’s simply impossible. If a business model is unsustainable, one can rightly assume the business model will change – or shut down. Imagine, producers stopping production. Demand for the product, in this case food, isn’t going to stop. We all need to eat. Where does that leave us? While it may seem a “bargain” in the short term, we may actually be setting precedence for an even more expensive future.

By expecting our food to be “cheap” we’re refusing to acknowledge that a farm is a business like any other that must also provide a living wage for the workers on that farm. The farmers market is a direct exchange between producer and consumer thus it is the most beneficial relationship for each party. The prices are a reflection of what the farmer feels is a fair exchange for the work he (or she) has done in order to bring a healthy product to you.

It’s funny when people complain about the cost of food but then buy soda or crisps or ready meals. These things are neither cheap or healthy, yet no one seems to complain that a 40g packet of crisps is 50p  (more than 1p per gram). More than anything this behavior exemplifies the truth that if we want something badly enough, we do as a rule, find the money for it.

The only question you should be asking is, “How much is good, healthy food worth to me?”