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Winter's end - artichokes spring back

If you have ordered our meals over the winter, then many thanks and we hope you have enjoyed them. It is part of our plan that our autumn/winter meals end in February each year and we now have a new pasta sauce range, focaccia Barese, baked cheesecakes and biscotti to see you through spring until the summer menu.

So as we end the 'big cooks', I can devote more time to my fourth love (wife, children/grandchildren and cooking being the other three) - my beloved artichokes. I have 150 new plants to raise from seed and plant next to our existing crop. This year's harsh winter weather before Christmas did result in a few casualties and I will be more prudent in terms of earlier winter protection in the future. The good news is that whilst we lost some plants, the survivors are producing healthy suckers which will be cut out and transplanted to fill the holes. The new varieties are from California, from a grower called Rusty (well, what else did you expect?). He has cultivated varieties with fewer spines and some plants that can produce 30 heads per plant. We will see, as Bere Ferrers is not quite sunny California!

I return to manual hoeing (for now) to meet the endless onslaught of weeds as well as spreading muck. I am hoping that my 1970s Italian walking tractor (see below) is going to help reduce the labour burden and add a little Italian glamour to the proceedings. This little wonder is often used in market gardens as it's small and nimble to get through the plants - and I like to imagine I am on a Tuscan smallholding somewhere! I have managed to find a ridger to help with that 'earthing up' winter protection and a tine weeder to help with the inter crop row weeding. Weeding around the plants will still be done by hand and hoe, but I am hoping the tine weeder will help break the back of the work. Conventional farms would of course put down a good dollop of glysophate, killing weeds and much more. We don't do that!

I am getting more excited about the culinary output this year, as we will launch our range of artichoke creams - ideal to spread on bruschetta or stir into pasta - and also preserved artichokes to hide away and bring out when the season ends. To get you even more hooked on home grown artichokes, we will be doing a series of free 'meet the grower' sessions locally. I will talk about how artichokes are grown, show how to prepare and cook them and there will be tastings too! I hope to see you in person at one of them... dates and venues to follow soon.

Happy Spring!

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