Rachel Curran meets a selection of Somerset's asparagus farmers

PUBLISHED: 19:49 17 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:58 20 February 2013

William and Liz Hebditch of New Cross Fruit Farm

William and Liz Hebditch of New Cross Fruit Farm

It's local, it's in season and the stuff grown in Britain is hailed as the best in the world! Join Rachel Curran as she digs into the story behind Somerset's asparagus farmers.

Rachel Curran meets a selection of Somerset's asparagus farmers

My first experience of the art of asparagus growing involved helping my Dad in his veg patch when I was about seven. As we planted the seeds he explained how it takes two or three years before you can actually eat the asparagus, but that is definitely worth the wait.

While we might all grumble about the British weather, the UK climate allows asparagus stems to develop slowly, producing a full, sweet flavour and a fine, tender texture quite unlike any other crop. The season lasts just eight weeks and we eat every last spear ourselves, not one is exported overseas! Perish the thought.

Sadly the young asparagus crowns in our garden never made it this far. The year after we planted them my absent-minded Dad dug up the same patch to plant some carrots. When I pointed out his mistake, his reaction was entertaining to say the least. But there are plenty of devoted and thankfully less forgetful asparagus growers here in Somerset! Let's meet three of them:

Farm: New Cross Fruit Farm, West Lambrook, sits in the golden sandy South Somerset hills, halfway between South Petherton and Kingsbury Episcopi.

Who: William and Liz Hebditch, along with their colleague Ian Dyke, now farm the 170 acres of fruit and asparagus, with students helping with the summer harvest.

The story: The Hebditch family has farmed here for three generations, mainly growing apples and plums, but more recently asparagus, cherries and peonies.

What is your top tip for growing asparagus (excuse the pun)? We usually start harvesting around 14 April, weather permitting, and finish by 1 July. This allows the plants to rebuild reserves of carbohydrates in the roots to produce spears the following year. So we are actually harvesting last year's sunshine!

Favourite asparagus dish: Asparagus should be eaten as fresh and simply as possible. Steamed gently then covered with butter... or with Hollandaise sauce... and should be eaten daily! Simple, healthy, delicious.

Best moment of the asparagus year: We love it when the first spears emerge through the soil, sometimes lifting up impossibly large clods of earth! There is always a great buzz when the first beautifully boxed bundles of 'gras, with our logo on the wrap, leave the farm.

Where do you sell your asparagus? We sell direct from the farm, Sunday till Friday mornings. We serve local shops like The Fruit & Veg Shop in South Petherton, Brown & Forrest at Hambridge, various local pubs and restaurants, then a wide variety of shops via M&D Kidner at the Bristol Wholesale Market. 01460 241561, or whebditch@yahoo.co.uk

Farm: Court Place Farm, Withycombe, Minehead. Signposted from the main road (A39) just on the edge of the Exmoor National Park close to Dunster.

Who: Stephen Crossman's mother ran the farm for 20 years, then he took it on upon her retirement. His teenage daughters both work in the asparagus shop during the season.

The story: When I was a teenager my mother used to come in from the garden clutching mysterious green spears and made the dismissive comment, as mothers do: "Oh you could never grow these." That comment lodged in my brain and festered for 20 years until I decided it was time to see if I could grow asparagus! I seem to have got the hang of it now. My mother doesn't grow it in her garden anymore, she gets it from me.

Favourite asparagus dish: New potatoes, ham and asparagus with lots of butter and ground pepper. To drink - my mother's elderflower cordial. All available from this farm.

What is your top tip for growing asparagus? Start with the best quality crowns you can get.

Best moment of the asparagus year: Meeting customers in our shop who have become friends over the 20 years we have been growing asparagus.

Where do you sell your asparagus? During the May and June season Withycombe Asparagus is available from our farm shop, open every day from 10am to 6pm. We also serve our more remote customers by our postal service, www.asparagusbypost.co.uk or call 01984 640236. All good local eateries serve Withycombe Asparagus.

Farm: Thurloxton Fruit Growers adjoins the A38 between Taunton and Bridgwater.

Who: Edwin and Ann Quick and their son Andrew, and his son Charlie, are all involved in the growing and selling of the crops.

The story: We have farmed in Thurloxton for three generations. The fruit farm has been established for over 35 years and the asparagus was started seven years ago, because the PYO customers asked for asparagus and we had a field with ideal soil.

Favourite asparagus dish: Once the shop is closed, and if there is any left at the end of a busy day, we will sit down and have a plate of lightly steamed asparagus with Hollandaise sauce - what could be more simple - followed by a refreshing cup of tea.

What is your top tip for growing asparagus? You need to know when to stop cutting. As soon as the spears start to become small, let the crop grow away and fern. This will enable the plant to reinvigorate ready for the following year.

Best moment of the asparagus year: Going to a field as the sun comes up on a bright summer's morning, seeing the fresh dew-covered spears ready for harvesting.

Where do you sell your asparagus? We have a farm shop which opens at 9am every morning. Our customers include chefs from The Blue Ball, Triscombe, The Walnut Tree and Hestercombe House Restaurant. Visit http://www.thurloxton.comfor details or call 01823 413413.

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