A Country Wedding

The old pews await the guests in the garden to the rear of the store - encircled by bunting...

We’re sorry if we missed your call last Thursday. We had a wedding in the Country Trading family last week so we all downed tools and headed across to the Langford Store in Golden Bay. It was a very special, very country, wedding. The lovely Jess married her Carl in a 1920s themed wedding that gave us all a great chance to frock up and celebrate life, love and all things country.

Country Trading ladies on the loose!

Jess and Carl had been planning a wedding earlier in the year in America (Carl’s home) but had to cancel it when Jess got sick. While Jess was going through treatment, they entered a competition to win an amazing wedding and – low and behold they did, which was a bright spot in an otherwise pretty grim year for them.

The wedding was organised by Terri Everett, marriage and event planner from the Dream Maker.  She put together an amazing wedding for Jess and Carl with the help of over 20 local businesses who provided everything to make the day a special one. The cake, dress, rings, venue, catering, photographs, flowers, hair & makeup, accommodation and even the invitations and horse and carriage were all provided by local businesses.

Jess does a good job of looking like she always travels by carriage.

The venue was the historic Langford Store in the magnificent Aorere valley, on the road to the start of the Heaphy Track. It is a stones throw from Collingwood and has been operating since 1928. The current store keeper, Sukhita Langford, is the 4th generation of the Langford family to operate it and she has skillfully and sensitively extended its services into afternoon teas, local art, amazing vintage goods and a unique and beautiful venue. Oh and it is still a store where you can get ice creams and $1 mixtures!

Langford Store - NZ's oldest working post office!

Old wooden pews were set out in the grounds to the rear of the store. The ends of each pew were festooned with beautiful bunches of rhodos and spring greenery. The pews faced the solid mountains that provided a suitable permanent backdrop for proceedings. The mighty patch of garlic behind the pews tickled my fancy and was entirely appropriate as Jess grows a mean patch of garlic in her own garden.

...and a very fine bed of garlic - very appropriate as Jess is a mean garlic grower!

The sun shone on us all as we assembled and admired each others finery. Everyone had entered into the spirit of the theme. One lady even had her Aunts fox stole around her neck, complete with head and feet! Others had feathers and flapper dresses. The men had waistcoats and flat caps and some had spectacular beards and mo’s grown for the occasion.

12 Jess Wedding-21

The service was beautiful and the couple were relaxed with each other and the guests. We all laughed together as they shared their vows and signed the register to the clinking of champagne glasses.  Jess looked amazing and elegant in a stunning dress topped with a fine chain neck and shoulder piece.

Geraldine checks out the shoes and dress.

We toasted their happiness and got to know the guests while they had their photos taken. Then we had a fabulous afternoon tea in the store and listened to the modern telegrams (skype messages) from family and friends overseas.

The bride and groom relax over cake and tea with the guests - job done!

Our congratulations to Jess & Carl from all the Country Trading crew and we wish you all the best for many happy years together. And a huge round of applause to Terri from the Dream Maker for putting it all together.  Here are some more of our photos from the day… and for the full story, visit the Dream Maker and Langford Store on FaceBook.

Best Dressed – Top 5 Summer Salad Dressings

classic ranch dressing recipe

Summer salad season is here and to help you make the best dressed salads on the block, we’re sharing our top 5 all time favourite salad dressings. There is one for every type of salad you might like to make – and some of them even double as dips, marinades and sauces! And lets face it, salad goes down much better with a tasty dressing.

Our star cast of salad dressings includes:

  1. Creamy Mayonnaise
  2. Thai Dressing
  3. French Vinaigrette
  4. Ranch Dressing
  5. Green Dressing

The green dressing is a wonderful new take on green goddess dressing that is like a green smoothie for your salad. We know you’ll love them as much as we do. The classic French vinaigrette is our most used dressing and we’re giving you the magic “oil to vinegar” ratio and an easy way to remember it – no one wants to look up a recipe for vinaigrette right?

And now is the perfect time of the year to be using them. A couple of these in the fridge and all you have to do is grab some fresh greens from the garden, fling something on the BBQ and you’ve got dinner.dill mayo recipe-01

We’ve also given you oodles of variations so instead of our top 5 salad dressings you’re actually getting around 10 or 12 different dressings and uses for them. And if your gardens are anything like ours, the salad greens are hoofing away right now. Heading into holiday season we’re getting dressed up at every turn so why not our salads?

green dressing

If your diary is filling up with festive holiday BBQ’s and parties, then a jar of one of these dressings also makes an easy and appreciated gift for the host. Make a double batch, one for you and one to give. Print them out the recipe to go with it!  Happy holidays and salad munching.  Here are the recipes:

Country Trading – Thai Dressing

This versatile dressing gives an Asian flavour to any salad. Use it on noodle salads with fresh coriander and chopped peanuts to serve. Add some diced fresh red chilli if you like a little heat. It also makes an excellent dipping sauce for Thai fish cakes, tempura battered veges or prawns. When the limes are ripe in late winter, make a large jar of it. It keeps in the fridge for a long time.

  • ½ teaspoon palm sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • ½ teaspoon soy sauce

Whisk together all ingredients and toss through salad before serving.  Great with grated carrot salad.


Country Trading – Green Dressing

This great dressing is so full of green it has to be good for you. It is like a green smoothie for your salad! And it is good for more than just salads – try it on new baby potatoes, tossed through pasta or as a dip for vege sticks. Substitute a ripe avocado for the cucumber if you want to make it creamier.

  • ½ cup roughly chopped parsley – flat leaf is best
  • ½ cup roughly chopped green herbs – chives, basil, mint, chervil are favourites.
  • ½ cup white wine or cider vinegar
  • 2 gherkins
  • 2 cloves of fresh garlic
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • ½ cucumber
  • 4 leaves of silver beet or 1 cup of rocket
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Whizz all the herbs and veges in a food processor until blended then add the salt and oil and blend until smooth. This will keep for 1 week in the fridge.


Country Trading – Mayonnaise

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 cups rice bran or grape seed oil – Substitute ½ a cup of good olive oil for more flavor.


Whizz all the ingredients, except the oil, together. Add the oil in slowly and keep the food processor running until the mayo thickens. This will keep for 2 week in the fridge and can be used as the base for a lot different dressings.

  • Add chopped dill and a shot of wasabi or horseradish for an accompaniment to smoked fish.
  • Add chopped capers, gherkins, anchovy and parsley for a quick tartare sauce.
  • Add squished roasted garlic for a quick aioli.


Country Trading – Classic Vinaigrette

Sometimes all you need is a simple dressing. The classic salad dressing is a French vinaigrette and knowing how to make it is a great asset to your dressing arsenal. The ratio is 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil and whisk well. I prefer a more bitey, less oily mix and I remember it as 1 – 2 – 3 – I part vinegar, 2 parts oil and 3 minutes to make.

It is so simple that the quality of the oil and the vinegar shout out so don’t go cheap on either of them. If you’ve made some nice herb vinegars this is the dressing to show them off. I made a blueberry and basil vinegar last summer that makes a beautiful vinaigrette. Also a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a pinch of sea salt and a grind of black pepper is a nice mixture with loads of green herbs for a potato or pasta salad. But straight up, this is the dressing to use for any bowl of fresh washed salad leaves.


Country Trading – Ranch Dressing

Where would your Caesar salad be without a classic ranch dressing? Crumble blue cheese through this and use it on pear, walnut, fennel, apple, celery salads. Ranch is a thin dressing – use less buttermilk to make a thicker version. When you make your own butter, buttermilk is always to hand.

1 cup fresh buttermilk (culture is great for an extra tang)
2 cups thick mayonnaise
1 tablespoon cream
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 teaspoons chopped fresh green herbs (tarragon, parsley, dill, chives)
½ teaspoon prepared Dijon mustard
½ clove fresh garlic, finely chopped

Whisk buttermilk, mayonnaise and cream together in a bowl until well combined. Blend in remaining ingredients and adjust seasonings to taste. Keep in the fridge in a glass jar and use within 7 days.

summer salad dressing recipes


newcastle apricts

I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t love apricots. Plums are plentiful and peaches are nice, but apricots are really special. They top most sun-ripened summer fruit wish lists. Unlike other stone fruit, apricot trees are long lived. An apricot tree will start producing after 4 years and can be productive for a good 30 to 40 years. So if you are contemplating putting in an apricot tree, do your homework to ensure you get the right variety for your climate and the right root stock for you soil.

Apricot trees available to the home gardener are usually grafted onto either peach or plum root stocks. Plum root stocks produce a more vigorous tree, especially in heavy soils. I planted 4 different varieties of apricots in our orchard, one of them was grafted on plum root stock and it has done very well, the other three varieties on golden queen peach root stock languished for several years in our heavy clay, putting on very little growth, and no fruit, before I finally pulled them out.

moorpark apricots

Most apricots also do better with a good cold winter; what is known as “winter chilling” helps the trees productivity. If you live in a warmer part of the country, look out for varieties that need less winter chilling such as Sundrop, Katycot, Trevatt, Garden Annie or Royal Rosa. Apricots are largely self fertile so you only need to plant one. Sundrop is the exception and prefers the company of Trevatt to set really good crops of fruit.

Apricots are one of the first trees in the orchard to blossom and in some parts of the country, pollination can be affected by a late frost or cold snap while the apricots are in blossom. Try and select a sunny, airy spot for your tree. Good airflow around your apricot will lessen the risk of frost damage to the blossom and also fungal diseases and brown rot on the fruit.


how to prune apricot trees-01

Apricots like an open centered, multi-leader tree. When you prune, keep the tree nice and open so that plenty of sunlight gets in to ripen the fruit. The less vigorous branches tend to produce more fruit. Any vigorous branches going straight up should be removed and you should aim to take about 30% of the tree out each year. Late summer pruning after harvest is also a good way of reducing the vigour of the tree. Pruning back to downward facing buds also reduces the vigour.  You’re aiming to have a mixture of old wood with new growth coming on, as apricots fruit on second year wood.

If you do have room for more than one apricot tree, you can choose different varieties to make sure you have apricots throughout the height of summer. If you have room for two trees, choose and mid and late variety as the apricots that ripen after Christmas always seem to have better flavour. Aside from pruning, apricot trees do benefit from a spray of copper in late winter to kill off any fungal disease.

Early Varieties – Dec/Jan

  • Royal Rosa (low chill)
  • Katy Cot (low chill)
  • Sundrop (low chill) (partially self fertile but best with Trevatt as a pollinator)
  • Newcastle

Mid Season Varieties – Jan/early Feb

  • Robada
  • Moorpark
  • Cluthagold

Late Season Varieties – Late Feb

  • Trevatt
  • Cluthalate

homemade dried apricots

When your tree starts producing more apricots than you can scoff fresh, you will be looking for some ways to preserve the excess. Here are a few of our favourite ways to store them for use throughout the year.

Apricots don’t really need a lot of accompaniment, but if I had to choose one thing to partner them with it would be cream. This great recipe for apricot ice cream from Homegrown Kitchen is fantastic made with real cream, or coconut cream.

My second favourite way to preserve the excess crop is to dry them. Drying your own apricots couldn’t be easier and gives you a fantastic store cupboard ingredient for use in cookies, cheesecakes, muesli, desserts and even chicken casseroles. Homemade dried apricots don’t contain the sulphur used in commercially dried apricots and they store very well in a glass jar with a screw lid.  I am just under two months away from my next harvest and I am still happily using dried apricots from last season. To dry apricots, pick fruit that is ripe but still slightly firm. Pour boiling water briefly over the whole fruit in a colander to wash and soften the skin. Drain well, halve, stone and place in the dehydrator until the fruit is no longer squidgy between your fingers. If you don’t dry them properly they will go mouldy in the jars. They are not as soft as commercially dried apricots but you can re-hydrate them before use.

Another great thing to do with apricots is use them in your favourite plum sauce recipe instead of plums. The resulting spicy apricot sauce makes a mean glaze for pork ribs or grilled chicken. My sister gave me this idea and it is a total winner.

A final sweet treat is dried apricots steeped in a syrup made from a sweet wine, like autumn muscat or a sweet Riesling, with a little vanilla pod. A jar of these in the fridge is handy for serving with a good vanilla ice cream. So what are you waiting for, plant an apricot tree next winter.

And to prove how long-lived apricot trees are – look at this 60 year + tree on a Motueka hop farm. So big it is being picked by hydra-ladder.

massive apricot tree



How to Make Greek Yogurt & Best Ever Pastry Recipe

How to Make Greek Yogurt

Hands up who buys Greek yogurt at the supermarket? You’re not alone. We can’t get enough of the thick, creamy tangy stuff can we. But what if I told you that most of those pots on the supermarket shelf aren’t the real deal.

Many brands of Greek yogurt contain gums, stabilisers and sweeteners to thicken, extend shelf life and create product that tastes more like a pudding than a yogurt. True Greek yogurt is delicious and so easy to make you won’t buy it again once you’ve made your own.

Make a batch of yogurt, (if you don’t know how, buy our ridiculously cheap book called “How to Make Yogurt”), cool it completely, then strain it through a double layer of cheesecloth for an hour and voila you have Greek yogurt the way it is made in Greece. True Greek yogurt is simply strained to remove some of they whey, which is why it is thick. Check after an hour, and if it is thick enough for you, stir it into a jar and add a swirl of honey or leave it as is.

Straining out the whey like this doesn’t just make the yogurt thicker, it increases the protein and reduces the lactose. Because of this concentrated protein hit, Greek yogurt is less likely to split during cooking, (if you’re careful with it), and makes a great cream replacement. The strained whey is full of minerals and live cultures and can be used like buttermilk in baking and smoothies.

Greek yogurt also makes the best pastry in the world. Big claim I know, but my friend Rose introduced me to this recipe recently and I’m completely won over by it.

best ever pastry recipe

Best Pastry Recipe Ever (sorry flaky, filo and sweet short crust – you have been out-rolled)

  • 200 g Butter (you know any recipe that starts with that much butter is going to be good – you could probably use a little less)
  • 200 g Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Sea salt
  • 375 g Self-raising flour
  1. Cut the butter into small cubes and bring up to room temperature.
  2. Beat it in a large bool with an electric egg beater until it is fluffy.
  3. Add the yogurt and salt and mix to combine.
  4. Add 3/4 of the flour and mix with your hands until it forms a dough.
  5. Add handfuls of flour until it stops sticking to your hands.
  6. Rest in the fridge for at least 40 mins before using.

Rose used the pastry to make Tiropitakia – a little Greek meze dish of Feta cheese parcels. The pastry has a lovely soft consistency from the yogurt and it keeps for at least a week in the fridge.  I’ve used it for topping pies, empanadas and flat discs for pastry pizza pie creations. It is very tasty and forgiving.

I’ve also made it with wholemeal flour and a batch with 50/50 sr flour and buckwheat flour which was nice.


Are you worried about lactose? Do you know why?

Lactose in Cheese

I’ve noticed a fashionable trend to regard dairy and lactose as something of a food nasty, a bit like gluten is regarded these days. And if you’re unfortunate enough to have an allergic reaction to it I’d imagine you would agree. But is it really as bad as the food marketers are making it out to be?

Are all these dairy and lactose free products that are popping up better for us? Or just more processed food being foisted onto unsuspecting consumers by marketers looking for a new angle? Lactose free ice-cream, cheese, even milk. After 6 years of having this conversation with customers who want to make dairy free yogurt and cheeses I thought I’d share what I’ve learnt about the issue.

Lactose is a natural sugar found in milk, just like fructose is a natural sugar found in fruit. Some people have trouble digesting it and some people don’t. Lactose intolerance is different than having an allergy to dairy – being lactose intolerant means you have trouble digesting lactose – you don’t have an allergic reaction. If you have an allergic reaction to dairy you’ll know about it.

The folks that say we shouldn’t be eating dairy foods claim they’re only intended for infant mammals. But a lot of the adult population have the ability to digest dairy – we have the lactase enzyme in our intestines which is the same enzyme calves and lambs have to help them digest milk. If you are lactose intolerant your body doesn’t produce enough of this lactase enzyme to digest the lactose and you get stomach cramps, gas and diarrhea after eating lactose. Many people who are lactose intolerant can have small amounts of lactose without these severe effects.

The scientists seem divided on whether lactose intolerance is genetic or cultural. For a while they thought populations from certain geographies that historically ate a lot of dairy, such as Europe and India, had lower rates of lactose intolerance and cultures without a history of high dairy consumption, had higher rates of intolerance.

Now they’ve got our DNA nutted out, some of them think it’s more about genetics than geography. It also seems to be something that can change in an individual over time. Some folks say that drinking raw milk is the solution for the lactose intolerant but recent research by Stanford University Med School doesn’t back up this claim.

lactose free cheese

Aside from digestion, which is valid, the other reasons recently cited for not eating dairy range from cancer and cholesterol to fat and calcium absorption and try as I might I honestly can’t make head nor tail of any of them. Dairy is a natural food that a lot of us are designed to eat. It has a lot of vitamins, minerals, fats and proteins that our bodies can make good use of. I do have more sympathy for an objection to dairy goods on the basis of the environmental damage and animal welfare of modern dairy farming practices rather than on any health related basis. Dairy products from well managed, organic grass fed herds are infinitely better for the animals, the planet and you than dairy from factory farmed, grain fed animals.

So how should you approach dairy in your diet?  Well if you think you are lactose intolerant there are tests available – get yourself properly diagnosed. Don’t just jump straight to coconut yogurt and soy milk at the first sign of a tummy upset. And here is the actual lactose content of different dairy goods. It could help you make a more informed choice before eliminating dairy altogether from your diet.

  • Whey & Whey Powder – high levels of lactose
  • Pasteurised Whole Milk – 5%
  • Soft Cheeses, Sour Cream, Cottage Cheese, Cream Cheese – 3%
  • Natural Yogurt and Milk Keffir – 2%
  • Butter – 1%
  • Clarified Butter – 0%
  • Hard Aged Cheeses – 0%

I always giggle at the “lactose free cheese” being sold in supermarkets now. Great marketing but the reality is that most of the lactose present in milk is in the whey. Whey is largely discarded during cheese making. As the cheese dries and matures it loses more lactose – so the older and harder the cheese, the less lactose it is likely to contain.

Beware the marketers ploys and read the fine print. If you have been diagnosed as lactose intolerant, avoid whey and whey powder products, try good hard cheese, clarified butter and small amounts of natural Greek probiotic yogurt before you discard dairy from your diet altogether. Go for natural unprocessed dairy goods – processed cheeses and yogurts with “milk solids” added back in as bulking agents will have higher lactose content than the list above.

Maybe dairy and lactose aren’t the enemies they are being made out to be? Maybe we should just avoid overly processed dairy foods and eat a good balanced diet from all the food groups, in as natural a state as possible? There’s a thought.

Growing and Cooking with Elderberries

how to grow elderberry

There is nothing new under the sun and when it comes to the elder, never a truer word was spoken. Hippocrates mentioned its purgative qualities over 2000 years ago and through the centuries the flowers, leaves, bark and berries of the elder have all been used by herbalists and cooks for their varying properties.

The showy fragrant flowers of the elder are currently back in fashion, popping up as a flavouring in more artisan products than you can shake a stick at. These days you can wash down your elder flower ice-cream with an elder flower cider while sniffing wafts from your elder flower scented soy wax candle. But they are most commonly used at home for making cordials and homemade champagne; bursting forth in spring, bringing the otherwise nondescript elder trees out of hiding across the countryside.

This is when that other recently trendy pastime known as “foraging” takes place and roadside elder trees get denuded of any flower heads within arms reach. If you are lucky enough to find a tree laden to the ground with elder flowers you will probably find a very large ditch between you and it – explaining why it still has flowers. Roadside foraging is all well and good, but I’ve never been a fan because of all the exhaust fumes the poor old plant has endured and also because of the prodigious ability for local councils to drench roadside foliage with herbicide each spring. Finding a friendly farmer was always another option as elder trees can often be found around old cow bales and in hawthorn hedges.

Elderberry Growing-01

But old cow bales and hawthorn hedges are also on the endangered list and growing your own elder tree is a more straightforward option to ensure your supply of flowers and berries. The elder is a medium-sized deciduous tree that grows prodigiously. It can be pruned heavily to keep it in check if size is an issue. I probably shouldn’t tell you they’re easy to propagate from cuttings, seeing as we sell elder trees, but they are.  Take cuttings from elder trees in winter and put them closely together in a pot of damp sand. Come spring they will sprout away and you can prick them out into pots to grow on before planting out the following spring.

how to grow elderberry trees

Pick elder flowers by snipping the whole flower head from the tree. A gentle shake before putting them in your basket helps dislodge insects. I don’t wash them as I don’t want to lose the precious pollen – another reason to make sure you harvest them from a clean, spray-free tree. The flowers infuse jams with their floral fragrance. Gooseberries are ripe at the same time and make a wonderful jam combination. Nicola Galloway from Home Grown Kitchen steeped elder flowers in a jar of honey last year, which I thought a lovely idea.

I’ve also dried elder flowers by snipping the blossoms onto trays in the dehydrator and have found the dried flowers keep very well in a glass jar. They are great for flavouring fermented sodas and wine vinegar, for use in dressings. A handful of dried flowers steeped in a simple sugar syrup also makes a lovely elder flower concentrate. A bottle of this in the fridge keeps forever and makes an instant cordial with a squeeze of lemon or lime and a summery addition to a glass of bubbles.

elderflower syrup

There are several varieties of elder you can plant. Elderberry Adam is known for its fruiting qualities, producing large bracts of showy blossoms which ripen into heavy heads of berries late summer. Elderberry Purple Guincho has deep purple foliage and blossoms with a sweet purple tinge.  The Golden Elderberry has a showy yellow foliage and creamy white blossoms. These two colourful varieties are not as vigorous as the green leafed elderberry so they make a good choice for a small space. I also have a delicate lacy leafed elderberry which I haven’t formed an opinion on yet.

buy elderberry plants nz

Although the flowers often steal the show, I am more of a fan of the berries – if I can beat the birds to them. A good bit of advice is not to plant an elder near your clothes line. Let’s just say the purgative properties work as well on the birds as they do on humans and on the stain-o-meter, elder berries are off the chart. When I was a student I used to make a mean elderberry wine with berries “foraged” from Otago beaches and the carpet in one student flat bears testament to the permanence of pigment from an over-zealous fermenting bucket of elderberries.

The berries of the elder ripen in mid summer but they look ripe a lot sooner than they are, due to their intense dark colour. You know elderberries are ripe and ready to pick when the large bracts of berries droop their heads and the stalks start to lose their vigour. Even when they are ripe, elderberries still need to be cooked. Raw elderberries, stalks and leaves contain a toxin that is neutralised by cooking. The good news is that they taste terrible raw, so you are going to want to cook them anyway.

how to grow elderberry

The cooked berries have a lovely rich smokey flavour that lends itself to all sorts of culinary marriages. The sweetness of apple works beautifully with elderberry in jams and jellies and these creations are wonderful with pork or chicken dishes to flavor gravy or serve with cold meats.

Spices like cinnamon and star anise also partner really well with elderberry in a syrup that makes an excellent tonic for what ails you. In particular the treatment of colds, inflammation and those infamous purgatory qualities are all delivered by a good shot of elderberry syrup.

Preparing the berries is best done by running a sink of cold water and giving them a good wash to remove dust and bird poo, then hold the stem of each bunch and run a kitchen fork through it to strip off the berries then discard the stalks. I don’t like using the stalks as they give the cooked berries a stalky bitter flavour.

growing elderflowers

I adapted my fruit cordial recipe to make the elderberry syrup, adding whole cinnamon and cloves for spice – it has proven a bit medicinal for some palates, so adjust the sweetness to suit. A spoonful of sugar does make the medicine go down after all.

Sex in the Asparagus Bed

how to grow asparagus

Growing asparagus at home isn’t a crop, it’s a relationship. An asparagus bed can last for up to 20 years so it is little wonder that those considering the endeavour want to do a bit of research before making their bed and lying in it. And when doing their homework, one of the first issues that would-be asparagus growers come up against is the complicated sex life of asparagus. Well it seems complicated but it’s really quite straightforward. In fact antics in the asparagus bed are more like those in the human bed than the plant world – not that that is necessarily always straightforward, but at least it’s understandable.

You see unlike most plants, asparagus plants are either male or female and, a bit like us, the female plants produce the fruit. In their case, bright red berries on the ferny foliage denotes the plant is female.  So we get a lot of questions from people wanting to know how to tell the difference between male and female plants and do they need one of each?

The simple answer is that, until they produce ferns with berries you can’t tell them apart but the good news is you don’t need one of each. We don’t eat the fruit of asparagus, we eat the new shoots – and both sexes produce these. The fruit is actually a bit of a nuisance. Male plants that don’t fruit start producing spears earlier in the season and produce between 10 – 20% more shoots than the female plants. Probably because they don’t have to spend energy raising the kids. The berries from the female plants can also self-seed in the bed, clogging things up. But the story doesn’t end there…

asparagus female plants-

Asparagus is one of the oldest vegetables in human cultivation and so over the centuries growers and breeders have kept a keen eye on it and selected varieties for different characteristics including colour, longevity, size, disease resistance, climatic tolerance and even sexual orientation. Yes as it turns out not all asparagus plants are male or female. In the 1960’s Professor Howard Ellison from Rutger State University, New Jersey discovered some hermaphrodite asparagus plants which he self-pollinated and through further breeding created hybrid varieties that produced all male offspring. These varieties often have “Jersey” in the name and are marketed as all male producing.

To confuse matters further home gardeners can also choose from a range of modern hybrid varieties resulting from arranged marriages. These hybrids still produce both male and female plants but may outperform their open-pollinated heirloom cousins in certain departments like disease resistance and longevity.

Confused yet? Well I will admit all this can make choosing a variety of asparagus to grow in your garden quite baffling. Is that fancy violet Italian renaissance model a good idea or should you opt for plain American Mary Washington? Is a same sex marriage from New Jersey going to be any good or should you go for a performance enhanced Pacific 2000 hybrid, with girls included but bred for NZ conditions?

Asparagus eh! Who would have guessed it was such a hot bed. Personally I’m normally all for open pollinated varieties so folks can save and sow the seeds again and again – but when it comes to asparagus – how many beds are you going to have? So I opt for the modern hybrids.  The Pacific 2000 is such a good performer that I don’t mind the odd girl in there bringing down the average and I know it does well in NZ conditions. I’m not against the all-male hybrids but I’m not sure how well they do here.

Some tips on Growing Asparagus

  • There is a common myth that a bucket of salt water will do wonders for your asparagus patch but I can vouch for the fact that a bucket of alpaca poo or any well-rotted manure will be more welcomed. Just because asparagus is salt tolerant doesn’t mean it loves it. I mean I’m brussel sprout tolerant.
  • If you’re growing asparagus from seed, grow the plants in individual pots for the first season and then plant them as one year old crowns the following spring when the soil warms up.
  • Prepare your asparagus bed well in advance of planting. It’s going to be there for a while so it is worth putting time in up front to get it right. Asparagus likes a good free drained soil and plenty of well rotted compost and manure. It is a good idea to dig your row around 30cm deep and the same width and fill the bottom with a mixture of sandy soil, compost and well rotted manure.
  • Asparagus likes a slightly acidic soil so if your soil is really acidic add a few handfuls of lime to make it more palatable, if it is more alkaline add some garden sulphur and mix it in well before you plant your crowns.
  • Place your crowns in the trench in a two rows spacing each crown 20 cm apart and cover them up until the trench is around 10 cm from the top with more of the soil and compost mix. In the first winter fill in the rest of the trench.
  • Leave your bed the first year without picking it. In its second spring you can start picking and you’ll get a good 3 or 4 weeks of picking spears before it starts to run to ferns. From your third year on-wards you should get a harvest period of around 7-8 weeks from your bed.
  • A well tended asparagus crown from modern hybrid should produce a pound (450g) of asparagus a season so allow 4-6 crowns per person depending on their love for the stuff. If you’re growing the older heirloom varieties allow more crowns per person.
  • Keep the water up to your bed during the growing season and pick daily as it becomes fibrous if left to grow bigger.
  • Eat daily too as once picked it starts losing its natural sugars. Purple asparagus is sweeter and more tender and is good to eat raw sliced in salads
  • White asparagus can be grown by covering purple asparagus with black plastic or mounding it with soil. It is very sweet and popular in Europe.
  • You will know when to stop cutting the spears as they start getting spindly. Don’t over cut it – leave the spears to go to ferns as these provide food for the crowns to produce next years crop.
  • When the ferns start to die off in autumn cut them back to just above ground level and cover them with a good layer of compost for the winter.

Now all you have to do is make the hollandaise!

To purchase 1 year old asparagus crowns click here and put your email down to be notified when they are in stock.


How to Prune Grapevines like a Pro…

how to prune grapevines

Here is another installment in our fruit tree pruning series – this week we’re tackling grapevines. For a list of our other pruning blogs click here. On a recent sunny winters day I caught up with my friend Julie pruning her 11 year old vines at the beautiful Kina Cliffs vineyard. Julie and her team prune 8,500 vines each winter and what she doesn’t know about pruning grape vines isn’t worth knowing.

She gave me a beginners guide to the most important things to know about pruning grape vines, which the home gardener can put into practice just as easily as the commercial grower. The first thing to know is that grape vines put on a huge amount of growth each season and need a regular pruning regime throughout the year. The bulk of pruning is done each winter. When the leaves drop and you’re left with a big old tangle of vines, where do you start to knock your vine into shape for the coming summer?

how to prune grapevines

The most fruitful wood grows from one year old canes. This means that each winter you want to prune off 90% of the old growth and leave just a few new canes for next years growth to come from.  Last years growth is always cut back to the head which is the top of the trunk of the vine. On a commercial vineyard the trunk is just under a meter tall to allow for easy maintenance between the rows. Over time the trunk thickens and the head forms a gnarly old fist from which the new canes spring forth. The one year old canes growing from closest to the head form the new replacement fruiting canes, and the suckers that sprout straight out of the head can be cut to 3-bud spurs which then grow replacement fruiting canes to tie down the following winter.

pruning grapevines

There is quite an art to keeping the head of the grape vine well maintained and low. If you’re not careful the head can get higher and higher each season so the trick is to select new canes to keep that are lower down the head. You also want to make sure you don’t get two heads developing, so don’t be afraid to lop off part of the head to correct this. If you have a double head you get a big window of low productivity in the middle of the plant. Paint big cuts like this with pruning paste.

how to prune grape vines

It’s pretty brutal watching 90% of the plant ending up on the deck, but it truly makes for productive healthy vines. You’ll find many different methods for pruning grapevines in books for the home gardener – most of them don’t cut back the vines as brutally as this commercial method. But the problem with these home garden methods is that the vine laterals that aren’t cut back keep getting thicker and thicker and you end up with vast trunks all the way along your trellis or fence.

These thick trunks can eventually break their supporting structures, harbor pests, and diseases and produce less vigorous new growth and poorer quality bunches of fruit. With the commercial method you strip out all but a few of the canes each year so this heavy upper story never develops.

how to prune grapevines

The canes that are retained in this commercial method form the framework for all the fruitful new summer growth to come. The best canes to keep are 10-15mm in diameter – larger canes aren’t as fruitful. How many canes to keep each year varies by variety. For her Pinot Noir, Julie only keeps one cane to tie down per plant and three for the more vigorous Sauvignon Blanc vines.

For the home grape vine, leaving 3 or 4 canes for tying up is about right. Another good tip Julie showed me is to leave a couple of spare canes before tying down and that way if you break any of the canes while you’re tying them down you’ve got a replacement – once you’ve cut them off you can’t stick them back on if you need them!

pruning grapevines

The canes that are retained are wound around horizontal wires, about 20cm apart, being careful not to rub the buds off or crack the canes in the process. They’re then tied and cut off at around 10 buds along the cane, leaving them any longer overworks the vine and reduces the quality of the fruit.

how to prune grapevines

By early summer the shoots are all sprouting up, off the new canes. When they’re around 15cm long Julie goes along and thins out double shoots to singles, leaving around 8 or 9 shoots per cane. The fruit will grow off these shoots and during the summer Julie tucks them up through wires into a vertical growing pattern that forces the canes up and exposes the fruit. Each shoot will produce 1-3 bunches of grapes off the lower buds making a harvest of 25-30 bunches per vine.

The bulk of the pruning work is done in winter but during the growing season the vines get laterals around the fruiting zone removed, the fruit thinned and a bit of leaf plucking too around Christmas / New Year to ensure maximum sun on the fruit. The canes are shortened, leaving just enough of a canopy to  produce enough energy to ripen the fruit – leaving around 1m of canopy, above the fruiting zone is about right.

pruning grapevines

Heavy pruning produces consistent large bunches of healthy grapes from new fruitful growth. To sample the Kina Cliffs range of award winning wines visit Kina Cliffs. In the interests of research I’ve tried them and they’re all good.