Spring has well and truly begun here on Bedlam Farms. The first asparagus spears are being harvested by our team as we speak, the purple artichokes are just about ready to go, and the tops of the fennel are starting to poke out of the soil. We’re having an early season, helped on by this recent warm spell – and an early start generally means the season will be long.
Our new, bright green variety of asparagus, Xenolim, is growing really well, and is harvesting ten days ahead of the other varieties. But it’s not been cold enough for the rhubarb. In fact, it’s the first time in my memory that the first asparagus has been harvested before the rhubarb.
I’m particularly interested in perennial crops like asparagus, artichokes, and rhubarb; veg that only has to be planted once, then grows back year after year. It’s better for our soil health, because you disturb the soil less, not needing to plough it again every season. Even though it sounds like less work, it’s risky business, because perennials are in the ground for two years after planting before you can even harvest anything. That’s why there are very few UK perennial growers.
People thought I was mad in 2006, when I converted to organic farming, as well as from cereal crops to veg. They probably still do. But I thought our land was too good to just grow cereals year after year – and I also wanted to farm in a way that was more environmentally friendly.
My idea was to grow some interesting varieties of veg that weren’t readily available as organic and UK-grown, like asparagus, so we could offer a genuine alternative to imports. I’m always on the lookout for new crops; this year we’ve started to grow sprouting cauliflower. We also trialled some white sprouting broccoli, but admittedly that hasn’t worked so well. There’s a lot of trial and error, but if you don’t try something, you’ll never know.
There have been loads of bumps along the way, loads of disasters; it’s all part of the challenge, and it’s definitely a more enjoyable way of farming. Lots of people like an easy life, and we certainly haven’t got that – but there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing all the veg picked, packed, and enjoyed by hungry customers.