Or­ganic as­para­gus

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Organic Watercress -

There’s not a lot that beats fresh­cut, crisp as­para­gus for flavour, and you won’t get fresher than the Jersey Gi­ant spears pro­duced in the deeps soils of Green­fern Les Asperges.

The Cum­mings’ fam­ily and their work­ers start pick­ing at 6am, get the crop into the pack­house by 11am, and send it out within hours to en­sure their cus­tomers get the best pos­si­ble taste and tex­ture.

The process of grow­ing that as­para­gus has stayed the same for most of the 20plus years that Bill Cum­mings has been in the busi­ness, but these days he’s also get­ting his head around a very dif­fer­ent way of pro­duc­ing it. Half of the fam­ily farm is in con­ver­sion to or­ganic un­der Biogro and it’s a big change.

“Over the years of my in­volve­ment in as­para­gus I have no­ticed the ef­fect of chem­i­cals on soil struc­ture and the bi­ol­ogy and thought it about time we all started do­ing some­thing about im­prov­ing the land for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions,” says Bill.

“With con­ven­tional there’s only a cou­ple of op­por­tu­ni­ties you get to spray for weed con­trol... be­cause of this there’s some fairly tough chem­i­cals that are used. When you go or­ganic you’ve got to think of al­ter­na­tives.”

Last year he cul­ti­vated the weeds, but now he’s think­ing of gas or steam.

“(Fel­low or­ganic as­para­gus grower) John Kells has got a gas burner but I don’t par­tic­u­larly like gas and I just think steam would be much bet­ter. And steam may cause less harm to the spear too.”

Then there’s the new world of or­ganic fer­tilis­ers.

“It was a to­tal change on how I did it be­fore, I needed to get rid of all that old think­ing. There’s some good peo­ple I have been able to talk to.”

That’s in­cluded Tony Banks of the lo­cal Or­gan­ic­farm­snz group, and or­ganic farm­ers Steve Erik­son and Peter Dow­nard.

“I’ve talked to (Peter) quite a bit and I’ve ac­tu­ally got him to make me a com­post tea-maker, so now I have to find out how to make com­post tea!”

This is tea on a se­ri­ous scale, made in a large vat.

“The wa­ter bub­bles up through the com­post and it brings out all the bi­ol­ogy, then you add feed­ers like mo­lasses and fish fert for the bi­ol­ogy to feed on, then you quickly spray it.”

Us­ing or­ganic meth­ods has meant a lot more work for Bill who also runs a pack­house for as­para­gus.

“It is very dif­fi­cult to find the time to get out there and do things you need to. You can put a chem­i­cal on con­ven­tional and it will sit there and do its job for you for three, four, up to six months with­out you hav­ing to do any­thing more, but with or­ganic you need to be out there much more of­ten, and with a small WHO: Bill & Irene Cum­mings, Green­fern Les Asperges WHERE: Cam­bridge WHAT: as­para­gus LAND: 16ha (40 acres) CON­TACT: www.face­book.com/green­fern

pack­house that can be dif­fi­cult.”

Pro­duc­tion last year was down slightly and Bill says it could be from the changeover or maybe just a dif­fi­cult grow­ing sea­son, but he’s feel­ing pos­i­tive.

“The plus in it is you’re selling into a com­pletely dif­fer­ent mar­ket than ev­ery­body else - there’s only John Kells and my­self reg­is­tered.”

Irene Cum­mings is an avid farmer’s mar­ket at­tendee, selling at both Cam­bridge and Hamil­ton. She says many of the peo­ple who at­tend these mar­kets are look­ing for spray-free prod­uct and she loves selling their fresh as­para­gus.

There’s more com­pe­ti­tion now, with the in­tro­duc­tion of Peru­vian as­para­gus into the NZ canned mar­ket. That makes it even more im­por­tant says Bill, that con­sumers are able to buy a lo­cal, spray-free prod­uct, and it makes all the ex­tra work in­volved in go­ing fully or­ganic worth­while. n

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