Reconnecting with asparagus
This week if you take some time to quiet your mind and find a place where the edges of human & universal consciousness overlap, you may just be able to feel the subterranean vibration of asparagus crowns awakening in the swamps of Koo Wee Rup.
And it’s about this time of year I feel a strong desire to call Maurie Cafra, to reconnect and get the lowdown on this season’s asparagus crop.
Maurie says hello in his usual understated way, he’s not long back from a caravan trip up to Yeppoon and it’s possible he may even be sounding more relaxed than usual.
Maurie reports that this year’s growing conditions have been similar to last year. Like 2017 his first spears have copped late frosts (those ones we had last Tuesday and Wednesday) which have knocked things around pretty badly.
Maurie was only eighteen when he took over the family’s Koo Wee Rup market garden. I ask him if he was daunted? He casually brushes the question off saying he’d always grown up on the farm and his dad was still around to help him out.
Maurie recalls however that he did learn the hard way to read the local heavy clay and high magnesium soils. “If you cultivate here when it’s too wet everything compacts into a horrible mess.”
Maurie went organic in 1997 because he didn’t like putting on a suit and mask to apply poisons. Today Maurie and wife, Maria’s farming practice is based on a healthy soils equals healthy plants approach.
Building soils on a market garden isn’t easy; the Cafra’s rotate crops, plant green manures, add tonnes of compost & organic fertilisers and spray compost teas to build beneficial fungi and bacteria.
Maurie and Maria grow around twenty five lines, including onions, sweet corn, beans, pumpkins, capsicums, eggplant, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, fennel, artichokes and kale, but asparagus is their main crop.
You have to wait three years before the first asparagus spear is picked and after that it’s harvested from the same plant every spring for about a decade.
Maurie reckons asparagus is one of the most challenging crops to grow organically; it doesn’t like competition which means a lot of time is spent cultivating and hand-weeding.
Counter-intuitively for Koo Wee Rup’s swampy location asparagus does best in a dry winter – if it’s too wet the symbiotic relationship it has with a type of mycorrhizal fungi gets disrupted affecting crop yields.
But no matter what the conditions the weather always warms over September and the first of Maurie and Maria’s asparagus will trickle into market. Then suddenly the 20C days kick in and all the pickers are frantically cutting spears, trying to keep up with the world’s fastest growing and most delicious vegetable. Can’t wait!
Joe’s Farm-Raiser Party
Don’t forget to get your tickets to the Joe’s Market Garden Farm-Raiser. We’re having a party to raise funds for a cool-room to keep everything as fresh as fresh for the Saturday morning Farm Gate Stall.
There’ll be live music from the John Flanagan Trio, Belly Savalas & Dan Musil, home-cooked Italian food from the Garita family, trivia, raffles and more.
Location: Village Green Pavillion (where the old cafe was) at the main CERES site in Brunswick East.
Come one, come all. This Saturday, September 8th ,6pm-10pm
Find out more and book here
Have a great week