Asparagus season in full swing for Sopley farmer Dan Tanner
WITH asparagus season in full swing, Sopley farmer Dan Tanner and his team of pickers are busy harvesting one of the nation's favourite spring vegetables ready to sell in his shop from this weekend.
Dan has been growing the super food at his Derritt Lane farm for nearly 30 years, and says that unlike asparagus grown in polytunnels his crop is slow growing and full of flavour.
"We harvest between 1st April to 1st June, so it's one of the first crops of the year for us, along with rhubarb," he told the A&T. "Field grown asparagus is harvested in its third year, and while our farms are pick-your-own for many other fruits and vegetables we collect this vegetable ourselves because there is a cutting technique to it."
Dan lists the many health benefits of eating the nutrient-rich plant, which is well-known as a natural aphrodisiac that stimulates the production of sex hormones.
"It promotes weight loss, improves digestions, lowers blood pressure and contributes to a healthy pregnancy because of its high levels of folic acid," said Dan. "Asparagus also has a diuretic function, helping the cleansing process by activating the functions of the liver and kidneys that eliminate toxins - hence why your wee can be rather smelly."
Dan says his 12-acre patch will produce asparagus for 15 years, but as any good farmer or gardener knows, harvesting the delicate spears too early or late will be detrimental to the following year's crop.
"There is 36 hours between the time they emerge and are picked," he continued. "And if the weather is hot just 24 hours.
"The season reliably runs from April to June and if you pick any later it grows to fern which can be up to 5ft tall."
Dan's asparagus will be sold in his on-site farm shop from Saturday and at farmer's markets across the south; the majority goes to wholesalers which supply hotels and restaurants.
Across his Sopley site and his Cat & Fiddle Farm at Hinton, Dan grows a huge variety of fruit and vegetables, many of which are pick-your-own. These include strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, runner beans, broad beans and pumpkins.
"This time last year, we gave away a tonne of asparagus to the surrounding hospitals because there wasn't the customers, hotels or restaurants to buy it," he said. "But for pick-your-own it was the best year we've ever had.
"I started growing fruit and vegetables in the late 70s when there was a demand for pick-your-own. It was losing momentum until last year - now people want an outside destination with lots of fresh and plenty of space that offers a healthy, time consuming activity.
"People want to contribute food to their households which they have picked themselves from the field, and it has become a very popular activity with mothers and their children."
Another draw of Dan's farms for families is the play equipment, display farm vehicles, cafés, farm shops, picnic areas and ample parking.
Visitors can now also pick their own flowers, including gladioli, sunflowers, dahlias, marigolds and helichrysum, which Dan says has been hugely popular.
Dan will spend from now until November harvesting his crops seven days a week.
"I get fuinvolvedoved," he said. "It's a way of life for me."
Dan also owns the lake and surrounding woodland behind Sopley Farm, which he hires out for private events, along with a shepherds hut, log cabin, camping pod and yurts.
The site is also available for camping and fishing.
For information about Dan's farms, visit www.dantanners.co.uk