Chris Molyneux farms the rich, dark soils of south-west Lancashire. But this is no recent story. The family has a long history of farming in the area, with a lineage stretching back to the Norman Conquest.
So generations of experience has helped to make Chris an expert in growing kale.
The family have maintained the use of traditional methods for plant selection. By identifying attractive characteristics in naturally growing plants from one year to the next and cross breeding these with different plants with other appealing characteristics, it is possible, over a number of years, to develop a new strain of the plant.
This process takes unique knowledge, commitment and a certain intuition but the rewards are worth it.
Over the years, the Molyneux family developed their own strain of spring greens which Chris has used to cross with curly kale.
The result was a new version of curly kale which has a particularly sweet, mild flavour. And, in a first in the UK, was available all-year round.
The grainy black and white picture above shows this traditional process in action at one of the families farms back in the early 1900s. You can just make out the spring cabbage seed drying on the outside of a barn during the summer. It would be stored over winter, ready to be sown for the new crop the following spring. So continuing the Molyneux’s own strain of spring cabbage for future generations.
It’s a lineage and history of which the Molyneux’s can be proud. But, despite the tradition, innovation is at the heart of their ethos.
In his test field, Chris continues to trial a wide range of kale varieties to identify which are best suited to the local climate.
“What we don’t know about growing kale is not worth knowing.” Chris Molyneux (New Covent Garden Grower)
Chris understands the benefits of working with nature to develop the best kale crops. He is LEAF marque-accredited and uses a wide range of sustainable farming practises, including trailing various combinations of green manures. Working in partnership with the Soil Association he is leaving the fields fallow for a year after two years of growing kale.
During the fallow period he plants the fields with green manures, like perennial rye and red clover. The benefit is a naturally nitrogen rich soil which improves the colour and flavour of the kales.