When Clive Martin said he wanted to start growing organic asparagus, people told him he was mad. The seasonal favourite is notoriously hard to grow organically because of problems with weed control.
Undeterred, Clive sought the help of a Dutch company, and developed a compostable film made from starch to help supress weeds around the new spears. Every April we look forward to his tender organic asparagus appearing in our boxes, as a much-anticipated start to the short-but-sweet British season.
This kind of problem solving is typical of an organic grower, who must use a variety of tools to work alongside nature, pests and disease, without the help of artificial chemicals. For Clive, it’s this harmonious way of working that makes it all worth it: “The best thing about being organic is being in tune with nature and being able to produce top quality food in an environmentally friendly way,” he says.
Clive’s farm, Bedlam Farm, is in the Fenland area of Cambridgeshire, known for its rich, peaty soils. But farming organically on this land is actually more difficult than usual; it’s not only the crops that benefit from the fertile soils, the weeds also run rampant! The Cambridgeshire Fens are also one of the driest parts of the country, so irrigation from the farm’s two winter reservoirs is an important part of the job.
A fourth-generation farmer, Clive has been working on this land for over 20 years: in 2006 he converted some of his land to organic and has never looked back. “I have to say that despite the difficulties involved with weed and disease control on the organic side, organic farming is much more interesting and fulfilling than conventional farming,” he explains.
When starting out, he chose crops that were not readily available as organic and British-grown, so he could offer a genuine alternative to imported produce. “We specialise in the slightly different crops, like asparagus, rhubarb and artichokes, that’s our niche,” he says. The fact these crops are all perennials adds to the challenge. “Personally, I love perennials, you’ve just got to get your establishment right because if it’s not successful you’re stuck with it – I think that’s what puts some people off.”
Always on the look-out for new crops to try, Clive recently added Tenderstem broccoli to his list, and says the results have been promising.
“I like to spend around 50% of my time in the office, and the rest in the fields where I can keep a close eye on crops,” he says.