We source our high-quality asparagus and sumptuous strawberries from the Spilman family farm near Thirsk. Richard and his wife, Sally, grow an array of produce all year round, including raspberries, wheat and barley. We asked them for some top tips for cooking their favourite vegetable, asparagus:
“We eat asparagus every day when it’s the harvesting season. It’s extremely good for you! My favourite way to eat it is drizzled with olive oil and lightly roasted”.
How long have you been growing asparagus?
This is the twelfth season now. It is a crop that requires a sandy soil type which means it’s an ideal crop for some of our land.
What is the growing season?
Crowns are planted in a trench at the end of April. It is covered with soil and within ten days spears start to come through. For the first season these are not harvested so the plant grows into a fern, which then dies down in autumn. The nutrients within the growth absorb into the crown so it has energy to grow vigorously the following year.
Asparagus does not require much moisture at all, and the roots bed deeply into the ground.
It is however temperature dependent which means that it only starts to grow with any vigour when the soil warms up, usually in late April. The season usually lasts 7 to 8 weeks.
Each crown will produce several spears every day when the conditions are right. In very hot weather, the spears can be cut first thing in the morning, then another cut can be taken in the evening, from the same crowns, because the spears grow so quickly. Towards the end of the season, this growth slows down and 7 to 8 spears are left on each crown in order to allow the plant some energy to produce a good yield the following year.
How many varieties do you grow?
We grow an early variety but the most common variety, which produces 90% of the entire English crop, is Gynlim. It produces nice thick spears with a tight head. We grow 10 acres of asparagus. The process is very labour intensive with every spear cut by hand. A team of 8 to 10 people cut the spears, put them into wicker baskets, then take them back to the farm to be graded and bundled by hand.
What is your favourite way to eat asparagus?
We eat asparagus every day when it’s the harvesting season. It’s extremely good for you! My favourite way to eat it is drizzled with olive oil and lightly roasted.
How long have you been growing strawberries Richard?
On the advice of one of my lecturers, in Autumn 1970 I planted my first acre of strawberry plants which I harvested in the summer of 1971. I sold all the fruit to a shop in Thirsk which I still supply today. The following year, I started ‘pick your own’ as well as supplying local shops. My lecturer thought it would be a great experiment to grow strawberries in Yorkshire.
What’s the growing cycle?
I buy runners from a company in Kings Lynn in May each year. They are transplanted and the first flowers are nipped off to prevent them fruiting for the first year. This allows the plant to use its energy to become well established, after which it will fruit for the following 3 years. All my strawberries are grown in fields in the natural soil, and they are left uncovered. They are exposed to all weathers and it’s this traditional way of growing, and the naturally occurring micronutrients in the soil, which give my strawberries their superior flavour.
How many varieties of strawberry do you grow?
This year we have six. They all mature at different stages so this means we can stagger the season to ensure we have a good supply of fruit from mid-June to the end of August.
What is your favourite variety?
Malwina, the latest variety which will fruit in August. It’s a deep red, violet colour and very sweet.
What is your favourite way of eating them?
I always eat them unrefrigerated as cooling them too much kills the flavour. I particularly like them with a drop of cream.