NZ Lifestyle Block - - A Country Life -

Mickey mouse plant has a strong tap­root, making it dif­fi­cult to con­trol by pulling out. 1. Spray seedlings and dense ar­eas with 330 ml/10 L 600g/l tri­clopyr or 165 ml/l Yates Hy­dro­cotyle Killer. 2. Cut plants close to the base, then swab the stump with 330 ml/10 L 600 g/l tri­clopyr or 165 ml/l Yates Hy­dro­cotyle Killer im­me­di­ately (less than a minute) af­ter cut­ting.

EV­ERY TIME I mow the lawns, it seems to end in dis­as­ter. The lat­est trim re­vealed that a good-sized patch of lawn has been in­vaded by a rather ir­ri­tat­ing pest of turf – selfheal. This in­vader needs to be dealt with if my hopes and dreams of a per­fect lawn are ever to be re­alised.

Selfheal ( Prunella vul­garis) is a com­mon peren­nial weed of turfs across New Zealand, but its ori­gins are shrouded in a bit of mystery. We think it’s prob­a­bly na­tive to Europe and Asia but it has been found in North Africa and North Amer­ica since be­fore any­one can re­mem­ber so noone can be 100% sure where it came from.

Selfheal is a mem­ber of the Lami­aceae fam­ily of plants, oth­er­wise known as the mint fam­ily, which in­cludes such no­ta­bles as mint (sur­prise!), sage, laven­der, basil (my favourite), cat­nip, thyme and even our re­cent topic, hen­bit.

Like most mem­bers of the mint fam­ily, selfheal is com­pletely ed­i­ble and young leaves can be used in sal­ads, soups and stews. How­ever, it’s more com­monly used in herbal medicine (the al­ter­na­tive name for selfheal is heal-all) by many cul­tures around the world to treat a wide va­ri­ety of ail­ments, in­clud­ing sore throats, fever, di­ar­rhoea, bleed­ing, and skin ir­ri­ta­tion.

Ap­par­ently selfheal does it all, al­though I must pro­fess to a lit­tle scep­ti­cism as sci­en­tific work has yet to de­ter­mine ex­actly what health prop­er­ties it has, so un­til then I would ad­vise a lit­tle cau­tion*.

Iden­ti­fy­ing selfheal is a cinch! No, really, I mean it. It’s a mint so it’s go­ing to have a square stem. This stem throws out roots to an­chor it­self to the ground, creep­ing along and forming large patches within the turf. If al­lowed to it will ac­tu­ally grow to ap­prox­i­mately 30cm, al­though this is rare if you’re reg­u­larly mow­ing it off. The leaves are typ­i­cal of the mint fam­ily, lance-shaped and grow­ing in op­po­site pairs along the stem. How­ever, un­like many mem­bers of the mint fam­ily, selfheal leaves have no minty scent when crushed.

Dur­ing late spring and sum­mer it will pro­duce its dis­tinc­tive club-like flower heads, a blocky struc­ture chock-a-block full of lit­tle flow­ers that turn brown and die off af­ter flow­er­ing. Due to its na­ture it is nearly im­pos­si­ble to get it out of a lawn as it hides it­self too well, so if you want to get rid of it there are only chem­i­cal op­tions.

Un­for­tu­nately, like most mem­bers of the mint fam­ily, it is re­sis­tant to many chem­i­cals. You’ll prob­a­bly have the most suc­cess with 2,4D spiked with a lit­tle Di­camba, but even then it will take a couple of sprays for it to be gone for good.

Go be­yond the ba­sics and in­clude weight, cook­ing in­struc­tions and any other ex­pla­na­tions that may be use­ful (or just plain fun).

Cus­tomers love signs and ex­pla­na­tions. You must la­bel ev­ery­thing with a name and a price. For some rea­son, food with­out prices doesn’t sell well. Many peo­ple are too shy to ask di­rectly about prices. But there is much more you can say:

Write a de­scrip­tion of your farm (lo­ca­tion, size, own­er­ship, fam­ily history, crops, an­i­mals, cli­mate, work­ers). Write a de­scrip­tion of your meth­ods of pro­duc­tion. Are you or­ganic? What does in­te­grated pest man­age­ment mean? What breeds do you raise and why?

If you an­swer a ques­tion of­ten, write it down. Save your time and help shy cus­tomers who will read a sign but won’t ask you a ques­tion.

Bring ar­ti­cles and in­for­ma­tion about your farm and its role in agri­cul­ture. When an agribusi­ness meat pro­ces­sor re­calls tons of beef be­cause of E. coli, or E. coli is found on or­ganic let­tuce, be ready to an­swer ques­tions from cus­tomers. Tell them what you know about agri­cul­ture, food safety or an­i­mal wel­fare. Good cus­tomers want to learn about farming and foods. You must help them.

A brochure with cuts and prices is par­tic­u­larly help­ful for meat, poul­try, and cheese pro­duc­ers, es­pe­cially when your prices and cuts are steady through­out the sea­son.

Recipes are the in­dis­pens­able hand­out.

In a cus­tomer sur­vey we’ve taken at a pop­u­lar Lon­don farm­ers’ mar­ket, fresh­ness and qual­ity were the top things cus­tomers vol­un­teered in an­swer to this ques­tion.

No other an­swer – meet­ing the farmer, saving fam­ily farms – came close. Cus­tomers did cite th­ese (and other) con­sid­er­a­tions, such as or­ganic foods, and value for money was also at the top.

But fresh­ness and qual­ity were tops, and fresh­ness is really a form of qual­ity which means that qual­ity and value for money are the main rea­sons peo­ple come to mar­ket. BY THE AGE OF 12, I was run­ning my fam­ily’s farm­ers’ mar­ket stand on my own. The dual im­por­tance of a high qual­ity prod­uct and a high qual­ity re­la­tion­ship with reg­u­lar cus­tomers was one of my ear­li­est lessons.

Ul­ti­mately, farm­ers’ mar­kets will not suc­ceed sim­ply be­cause we are farm­ers and the folks down the road are not. They will suc­ceed be­cause the pro­duce is su­pe­rior to what con­sumers can buy else­where and the price is right. If your peaches are green or mealy, your corn is im­ma­ture, your beans are tough, your meat is poorly pack­aged, your bread is stale, your let­tuce is wilted, or your toma­toes are taste­less, cus­tomers won’t come back. Taste your prod­ucts. Do they mea­sure up?

We are lucky that farm­ers’ mar­ket cus­tomers are dis­cern­ing; that’s why they shop at the farm­ers’ mar­ket. But with reg­u­lar ex­po­sure to fresh, sea­sonal, high­qual­ity pro­duce, they will be­come more dis­cern­ing, not less. You can­not give them the same old ap­ples week af­ter week, or un­even qual­ity, or bad prices – and ex­pect them to come back sim­ply be­cause you are a farmer. They will shop else­where. SU­PER­MAR­KETS OF­FER the same cos­met­i­cally per­fect bland foods, from ap­ples to bread to cheese. We need to of­fer some­thing bet­ter, and dif­fer­ent: the sweet­est straw­ber­ries, hand­made bread, pas­try with real but­ter, raw honey, fresh eggs, mar­bled, well-hung beef.

For pro­cessed foods, use good in­gre­di­ents and tell cus­tomers why your jam or cheese or bread is dif­fer­ent, like that it’s hand­made, cured prop­erly, or not treated with chem­i­cals.

Flavour is the most im­por­tant qual­ity in food. But there are other ways to dis­tin­guish your prod­uct from what they’ll find in a su­per­mar­ket. It should be fresher be­cause it hasn’t trav­elled far, it should be ex­actly the right ma­tu­rity and tex­ture (some­thing su­per­mar­kets of­ten get wrong be­cause of trans­porta­tion needs which means hard pears and mealy toma­toes).

Rar­ity it­self can be a virtue. Grow tra­di­tional and un­usual va­ri­eties and breeds.

If your prod­uct has a good qual­ity, eg plum toma­toes make thick sauce, a breed of beef is good on the bar­be­cue be­cause it’s lean, a peach is easy to peel, then say so. It’s not worth com­ing to mar­ket only to sell as­para­gus for three weeks a year. To make a good re­turn from mar­kets you need to have spring, sum­mer, au­tumn and win­ter crops. Ex­tend the sea­son by grow­ing cold weather crops, or by plant­ing sev­eral batches of car­rots for a steady sup­ply of young car­rots if they are pop­u­lar. If you want to sell se­ri­ously at mar­kets, you may need to change your grow­ing pat­terns.

MEAT, POUL­TRY, DAIRY, and egg pro­duc­ers, and those sell­ing chilled pro­cessed food like pasta, have par­tic­u­lar chal­lenges in dis­play. You need to show off your food just as the peach and tomato farm­ers do, piled high and colour­ful and se­duc­tive. Some­times a meat or poul­try farmer seems to be sell­ing noth­ing at all. There is a sign with prices – or there should be – but there’s no food in sight.

At many farm­ers’ mar­kets, in­clud­ing Lon­don Farm­ers Mar­kets, there is ac­cess to elec­tric­ity. Farm­ers use chilled glass dis­play cab­i­nets, which look beau­ti­ful and al­low them to sell fresh meat, sausages, meat pies, smoked fish, cheese, and more.

Mean­while, most pro­duc­ers sell fresh or frozen meat from plas­tic cooler chests. No one can see the lovely foods and they can’t choose their own. They can’t browse with­out making a com­mit­ment, and they find that em­bar­rass­ing. Th­ese are all bar­ri­ers to more sales.

I ad­mire the set-up of a buf­falo pro­ducer, Ci­bola Farms who sell at a farm­ers’ mar­ket in Vir­ginia, USA. Ci­bola has cre­ated the sense of a butcher shop in the open air, with a U-shaped stand to in­vite cus­tomers in with­out making a com­mit­ment, so brows­ing is pos­si­ble. Cus­tomers are in­vited to rum­mage through the plas­tic bins for frozen meat, so self-se­lec­tion is pos­si­ble. One im­prove­ment they might con­sider is a nice color photo of each cut on the chest as their white plas­tic con­tain­ers aren’t very dis­tinc­tive.

Check out how Ci­bola run their stand:­bo­la­­farm­ers-mar­kets BRING NOT ONLY YOUR FOOD but also your farm to mar­ket. Pic­tures of crops, an­i­mals, pro­cess­ing (say, making cheese), and work­ers with crops and an­i­mals are in­ter­est­ing and charm­ing to non-farm­ers and bring life to your stand. Pic­tures also re­in­force the mes­sage that we are all linked to farms through food.

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