June 23, 2011 § Leave a comment
If you’ve ever been tempted by the mound of dainty salad leaves sold by weight in Chorlton’s legendary Unicorn grocers, you may have noticed not only that they beat supermarket sealed-bag salad leaves hands down for flavour and freshness but also that they are grown just down the road at Glebelands Road in Sale by an outfit called Glebelands City Growers.
Glebelands City Growers threw open their picket gates for last week’s Open Farm Sunday so I decided it was time for another visit to this idyllic little urban growing spot on the banks of the Mersey. Arriving via a very ordinary looking urban street, you turn down an alleyway between two semis and suddenly you arrive in the most unexpected haven of lush greenery.
Glebelands City Growers is not a faceless organisation but is Charlotte, Adam, Sally and Ed who collectively bear more than a passing resemblance to Velma, Shaggy, Daphne and Fred from Scooby Doo – no dogs in evidence last week though. The four of them have established a most happy blend of idealism combined with capitalism. They farm their small patch of Eden using organic methods and produce some of the products that we’re all clamouring for: unusual salad leaf mixtures complete with edible flowers if you’re lucky, coriander, basil, baby spinach, broad beans – the kind of stuff that finds its way into glossy food mag photo shoots at this time of year. So they’ve got the product range right on target and they succeed in making a profit but also follow sound ethical principles too – organic, sustainable, local, all with a healthy dash of pragmatism thrown in.
We were welcomed on our arrival by Adam with big mugs of tea or a glass of his home made elderflower cordial. The forecast rain arrived then, right on cue so we sheltered in one of the seed cultivation areas whilst people arrived ready for the first guided tour. We were in distinguished company – here’s Trafford Mayor Jane Baugh rubbing shoulders with the commoners in the high-tech potting shed:
When 30 or so visitors had arrived, the tour began. The team grow all their own plants from seed, unlike some growers who buy in seedlings to grow on. Polytunnels are used extensively to provide protection from the worst of the weather and play a part in keeping weeds and pests under control. Here’s Ed demonstrating the use of the hoe, the primary technique for keeping weeds under control:
Growing under cover provides protection from the wind and cold, but how are the plants watered if there’s no rain falling on them? The answer came as we entered the next polytunnel which housed a crop of fragrant basil. The plants are nurtured using efficient drip-hoses fed from collected rainwater where possible:
At the heart of an organic farming system is the idea of feeding the soil rather than the plant. This is achieved firstly by applying organic matter in the form of home made compost. The team has an arrangement with Unicorn whereby all the shop waste is composted down and applied to the soil. The second key feature is the use of a crop rotation plan whereby different plants are moved around the plot each year so pests and diseases never have chance to build up in the soil. After a period of trial and error, the team work to a five year rotation in which the land is left fallow in the fifth year. In the next picture you can see a fallow strip on the left and a crop of broad beans on the right, a legume performing its vital nitrogen fixing role as well as tasting good.
Finally, we learned about the harvesting of the leaves which takes place four times a week and is carried out by hand using a pair of scissors. The produce then travels some 3 miles to its primary retail outlet, Chorlton’s Unicorn Grocers (Chorlton is a suburb in South Manchester). It really is fresh and local.
Fortunately for us, there were a few bags of salad for sale on the day. I’m ashamed to say that once the tour was concluded, I raced to the trailer where the salad was for sale, shamelessly overtaking other visitors as I didn’t want to miss out. We were rewarded with a lunchtime salad to savour:
SO, if you can’t grow your own and live in the South Manchester area, get yourself down to Unicorn and try it for yourself. Just remember they’re not open on Mondays though.
89 Albany Road
Tel: 0161 861 0010
Glebelands City Growers