I went to visit an organic grower called Libby Flintoff on 27th April. She grows on 5 acres on the Fylde, which is near Preston in Lancashire.
My customers at Levenshulme market and my veg box customers will have had lots of her veg. I always try to get it when I can, as the quality is incredibly high, but so is the demand. She also sells a lot to Unicorn Grocery in Chorlton, which is where you might also remember the name.
I found out why the quality is so high though. She only grows in polytunnels, and she has 15 of them. So, even crops like onions and Cavelo Nero were in a polytunnel, which I never would have thought. And her perpetual spinach filling a tunnel, no wonder its so tender. And her Little Gem lettuces are so perfect and free from blemishes.
She was incredibly modest about what she does. And just gets on with it, on her own, with some help from her husband. I found this so refreshing as there can be an awful lot of spin surrounding organic growing and food projects. Going there and seeing what she does in her tunnels really helped me think about how I’d want my own farm to be. And that actually I’d need less land, but use it more efficiently. Previously I’d had 1-5 acres on my mind, but afterwards I started to think 1-2acres would be sufficient.
Technical tips for growing tomatoes
This is one for the geeks, but I got some really helpful tips on honing my tomato growing. So, Libby only grows Cherry Tomatoes, and she spaces them 30cm. I also only do cherries, I love them, but space at 45cm,and even this can feel overgrown. She doesn’t measure them, but gets perfect cherries, by restricting her watering. So this is where I’ve been going a bit wrong.
I asked her about Jean Martin Fortier’s tip which involves harvesting the tomatoes when they are ready and keeping them in the fridge. Rather than letting them go over on the plant.
Libby also doesn’t train a side shoot, in order to as Alan Schofield andJenny Griggs do. I did this last year, and did get a good yield, but it did turn into a jungle. So, I’m not going to do it this year, and compare the yield.
She also doesn’t shave the plants of their leaves as the tomatoes above them are harvested. Pointing out that the plants get nutirients through their leaves. So, I’m not going to do that this year either.
Libby also doesn’t plant raise, or does very little of it. She buys organic plant plugs in from Delfland Nursery. Which made me think I am plant raising, growing and selling my veg. And doing all three can be very challenging in the heigh tof the season. So, perhaps it is ok to buy some plugs in when seedlings fail. I’ve ordered 100 courgette plants in to start, as only 38 out of the 100 I sowed germinated, so we will see if this pays off.