Teals - Artisan Producers, Makers, Farmers and Growers


Teals Articles - Good Stock

Author: Joanna Weinberg

In this new series, we go behind the scenes to meet some of the inspiring artisan producers, makers, farmers and growers that supply Teals, a new foodie destination off the A303 in South Cadbury and recent winners of Best Farm Shop 2022.


All I know is that I love this place. The feeling of it,’ says Nick Ross to me, stretchingout his arms to show that he is talking about the 2-acre plot that is Wild Garden, where he and his partner Tia Cusden live and work. I have arrived early one morning at the height of the harvesting season at their market garden in Galhampton, 10 miles north of Sherborne, which specialises in organic leaves for salad and cooking.

It is a magical place, a balance of nature-friendly wilderness and strictly laid out beds, filled with an abundance of healthy and bountiful green leaves. A chequerboard of lime green Expertise and deep purple-red curly-leafed Haflex lettuce sit alongside neat rows of ruby-stalked chard and almost black cavolo nero, their leaves whole and perfect and packed with intense flavours and dense nutrients.

Tunnels in the next garden section house tomato plants, their stalks supported by vertical strings, densely fruited with tomatoes of all shapes, sizes and colours, from the bright orange cherry Goldiana, and the rich purple variety Black Cherry to the ridged, pinky-red beefsteak Saint Pierre. The next tunnel is home to cucumbers which will never be coated in plastic, whose pale green flesh is dense, with an aromatic flavour and substantial crunch. Outside, peppery nasturtiums clamber the length of the tunnel like unruly children, joyful in their bright yellows, oranges and fiery reds.

The bags of their salad I hold in my hand are astonishingly beautiful. The leaves are varied and colourful, bright and vigorous, and nestled amongst them, fronds and tendrils of herbs, and the purple, blue and orange of edible flower petals. Tossed with olive oil, cider vinegar and a scrunch of flaky salt, they taste quite unlike any bagged salad you will buy from a supermarket. They are sharp and mild, peppery and milky, they have crunch and texture. They taste alive.

‘At the height of the season, we cut 60-80kg of lettuce a week to supply our customers. We get 2-3 crops from each depending on the type. We have played around with varieties and because we are organic, we’re very strict and fussy about what works. In summer, we add herbs like chervil and dill and edible flowers. In the winter we have rockets and mustards and small brassica leaves to add variety and interest,’ says Tia.

Teals Articles - Good Stock
Teals Articles - Good Stock
Teals Articles - Good Stock

Little has been mechanised in the garden. Seeds are brought on in the tunnels and planted out as seedlings by hand to ensure an ongoing supply throughout the year. ‘We’ve just planted our autumn crop which should get us through until spring and then we rotate them around the garden. It’s a loose rotation – we don’t have club root here so we don’t have to worry about the brassicas. We just make sure we don’t plant the same things in the same place year after year.’

The leaves grow 11 months of the year; it is only January that is quiet, when there is no growth. Nature, as well as Nick and Tia, need to take a month of rest to reset. The land, like so much in the area, was originally a cider and perry orchard, and several large apple and pear trees stand sentinel around the patch, which was, in 2015 when Nick and Tia found it, a pony paddock. They bought it with the dream of starting a market garden and eventually building a home on it. Part of the ethos of the Wild Garden project was to keep much of the area wild, so they grow on less than half of the land they own.

Inspiration came from a course they took in forest gardening – a fruit garden with nut trees and food bushes, creating forest conditions where there’s food to pick as well. ‘We’ve got walnut trees coming on, cobnuts and sweet chestnuts, and then we’ve got trees that are just good for the land, like Italian alders and these hedges around the side here are Elaeagnus umbellata (autumn olive) which are good for bringing up nutrients from the soil. They create a massive mycorrhizal network,’ says Tia.

It is an enchanted place for nature. Insects hover around wildflowers, and alongside birdsong. I stand still and watch the butterflies dance. I can hear the shush-shushing noises of the willows and Scots pines they have planted, moving in the breeze. At the top of the patch, there is a new pond to further entice wildlife, and 4 hives of wild bees which they have taken on from local beekeeper Jo Bleasdale, and are learning from him to look after with the least amount of intervention. They hope that over time, they will be able to take some honey off for the winter.

Weaving together theories of organic and bio-intensive gardeners such as John Geavens, Eliot Coleman and others, Nick and Tia have firmly established themselves as significant and inspiring growers in the organic movement. Wild Garden now attracts other growers who come and volunteer on their days off, to learn and share ideas, and over time, they plan to launch courses for people who want to learn their methods.

Increasingly they are interested in sharing their knowledge, in passing it on to a new generation of growers, particularly younger ones who are motivated by both finding ways to solve the food supply issues coming towards us, but seeking something else too, some kind of meaning and purpose. ‘You find meaning when you work on the land and when you’re surrounded by nature. It’s healing,’ says Nick, looking around him. ‘We’d like to start running courses here, to build a roundhouse where we can sit and talk over ideas for how to grow better. There’s so much noise and distraction in the world, and when they come, it’s peaceful here.’ Later that morning, I, too, find myself reluctant to leave, and hope very much, whether it’s through a bite of peppery salad, or a course one day in the future, I will find an ongoing connection with this special place.

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