The British Asparagus season typically lasts a mere three months, between April and June (British weather depending!), giving all the more reason to make use of it while it lasts.
It is known to have high levels of Vitamin A (an antioxidant) and folic acid, helping to fight against cancer, and at an average of less than 4 calories per spear, it really is a super food!
At the Hundred House, we are lucky enough to have one of the top UK Asparagus growers a mere five miles up the road in Quatt. Lodge Farm has been in three generations of the Lees family, with Asparagus produced there since 1972. At the peak of the season in June of this year, Head Chef Stuart Philips, went to visit Father and Daughter team, Caroline and Trevor Lees, to find out more about one of his favourite ingredients (and have a go on one of their buggies used for picking…).
Lodge Farm currently has up to sixty acres in full production of Asparagus growing. Waitrose are their main buyers, who take a keen interest in the Lees family as one of the biggest growers in the UK for Asparagus trials. Caroline and Trevor explain that they currently have around 1000 different varieties of Asparagus in testing that have already spent five years in a lab before reaching their farm. Out of these thousand, only about five varieties will actually make it to market, and that will take up to another fifteen years before you see them on the shelves.
Asparagus is grown from seed and planted as a one year old crown. These crowns are then harvested and sent to Lodge Farm at the beginning of April (this year was a little different, with unseasonal weather meaning they could not plant until May). Very little is done to the Asparagus in the second and third year of its life, but in the fourth year the first cut is taken. The farm will then get eight years of harvesting the plant, with one spear per week per crown being produced in the eight week cutting season from crops around 10-12 years old. This year at Lodge Farm, 140,000 crowns were planted, around 12.5-13,000 per acre (hence the buggies).