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Strawberries - it's an early start to the season
Wednesday, 07 May 2014 13:30



According to British Summer Fruits, the trade body that represents suppliers of 98% of the berries sold to UK supermarkets, the first home-grown strawberries will appear on the shelves from 13 May, some three weeks earlier than the 2013 season. Growers are expecting a bigger, sweeter crop as well, despite the wettest winter in 250 years.  It's all down to the Spring sunshine, and the fact that the plants are producing more sugars as a result - and the fact that most supermarket strawberries are now grown under the protection of polytunnels which also helps to ensure first class fruit.

Pick-your-own farms will not be far behind with their first opening of the season.  Unlike 2013, this Spring has been mild and sunny for the most part. At the Winchester farmers' market on 27 April, growers from the south coast said that fruit had already formed on the plants and a week or two of warm sun (with no sudden frosts) would see them ripen up nicely. Pickwell Farm, at Netley, Southampton, plans to open on 24 May ( Is this the first farm to open? Generally the late May bank holiday signals the opening of fields in the south of England with farms in the midlands opening 1-3 weeks later and those in the north by end-June/early July.

Farmers don't mind their customers sampling a berry or two while picking, it is part of the experience. However, a minority of customers have taken advantage of this freedom, setting out to eat much more than they pay for at the till, and farmers have had to respond if they want to stay in business. Pickwell Farm has renamed its PYO as 'Pick & Pay', which makes the offer very clear.  Some PYO farms have introduced a deposit payment at the gate, refunded when customers pay for their harvest. It's great that growers are finding solutions to this problem without penalising genuine customers or, as has happened in worst-case scenarios, simply shutting the gate on PYO. Long live the wonderful freedom, enjoyed by young and old, to visit the farm on a warm summer day to soak up the aroma of ripening berries while picking the best fruit in the world!




2014 asparagus season underway
Tuesday, 29 April 2014 15:35

Seen at Winchester farmers' market on Sunday 27 April, the first asparagus of the 2014 season, some two weeks earlier than last year.  A mild winter and warm spring - with plenty of rain - has brought on a crop that's raring to go. So, if you're in an asparagus growing part of the country, take a trip to your next farmers' market to get in early on this beautiful food; and if not, your local farm shop or greengrocer should have some soon. Growers are delighted with the promise of a longer season than last year when the crop was delayed by cold weather into May. The UK asparagus season continues until 21 June (or thereabouts) when harvesting stops.

Alongside good news about asparagus, growers were optimistic about an early start to the strawberry season. Said one grower: 'The berries have formed, they need some rain, warmth and sunshine to get them plumped up and ripe - if we don't get a frost we could be picking the first outdoor strawberries before the end of May.'

However, right on cue there's a challenge coming up with overnight frost predicted in a short cold snap over the bank holiday weekend - provided the cold weather is short-lived and not to harsh, our favourite summer fruit should still be on schedule or a little ahead of usual timings.


2013 Sees the Best PYO Season in years
Thursday, 04 July 2013 10:00

The UK is enjoying one of the best pick-your-own season for many years, according to many farmers. The mixture of warm - but not too warm - sunshine and showers means that fruit and vegetables have been excellent, and customers of all ages are keen to pick.

'This is our best season in 20 years!' said May Draper, Pickwell Farm PYO, Grange Road, Old Netley, Southampton. 'We began picking for the farm shop with Christine and Sonata varieties from 1 June, and opened the PYO fields shortly afterwards.'

The delayed start of summer allowed the fruit to develop slowly making for very tasty fruit and the different varieties ripened as they should, a week or two after one another, to keep fruit available in the field.

Not only are the crops performing but the crowds have been coming too, with people keen to find great-tasting fruit. 'We have noticed a growing number of people with young families coming to pick, as well as older customers who have been coming here for years,' observed May Draper.

Over at Bourne Valley Pick-Your-Own Farm at Egbury Road, St Mary Bourne, nr Andover, farmer Dan Culley has seen similar trends. 'As people have become more aware of seasonal foods and provenance, they seek out pick-your-own farms that deliver on every count. The fruit has ripened on the plant so it's got excellent flavour, and this year's cold spring produced some of the best tasting fruit ever.'

Bourne Valley's south-facing, well drained fields with their neat rows of crops greet customers arriving at the small farm shop, where there's ready picked fruit for those with no time to stop. The season started with asparagus (not offered as PYO). Strawberries continued through the summer, joined by gooseberries in late June, which are experiencing something of a revival in popularity. Raspberries, black and red currants started in mid-July.

Visit a PYO

Pickwell Farm is open seven days a week for PYO. Call 02380 404616 for latest crop information or visit their Facebook page.

Bourne Valley PYO is also open seven days a week. Call 01264 738888 or visit their website.

Search for PYO Farms in your area - We advise phoning in advance to check opening times, crop availability and prices. Also be aware that some PYOs will ask all customers for a deposit on the gate to be redeemed against the crops that you pick.

Intensively Farmed Chicken is more Fattening
Wednesday, 03 July 2013 15:14

Organic Chicken Farmer. Courtesy of the Soil AssociationFindings of university researchers indicate that the quality of mass-produced chicken meat is actually measurably inferior, even compared to a few years ago. It appears that this could be yet another reason as to why customers are increasingly heading for independent retailers promising well-reared poultry.

The research, carried out by London Metropolitan University, indicated that chickens offered for sale at a supermarket contain 2.7 times as much fat as they did in 1970, and 30% less protein.

In fact, just 16% of these chickens is now deemed to be protein, down from almost 25% in the late 1970s. This means that an average serving of chicken has increased in calorific value by almost 50%. Organic chicken was found to contain a little more protein and 25% less fat, making them the evidently healthier option.

Advocates of free-range and organic chicken stress the superiority of flavour in well-bred birds, as well as the reduced fat and water content. It's simple: a happy animal makes for a better product.



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