Spring Spotlight: Kindling Market Garden, Stockport

June 24, 2024
min read

Based at a one and a half acre ex-council-run plant nursery in Woodbank Park, Stockport, Kindling Market Garden is one of our most local growers.

It’s run by Aoife and her team of 2 assistant growers, Dan and Joe, and 2 part-time trainee growers, Jade and Louise. The site was converted to a Soil Association certified organic market garden when the Kindling Trust took over in 2016, and now grows organic veg each year for our veg bags as well as the University of Manchester, Unicorn Grocery and other buyers around Greater Manchester.

We caught up with Aoife in one of the first sunny weeks of the year to ask her some questions and hear what it’s like to be an organic market gardener in the heart of Stockport.

How long have you been growing veg?

I’ve been working at Kindling Market Garden for 3 years and I trained here the year before. Prior to that I’d been working/volunteering on farms on and off for 2 years.

"It's very physical and full on!"

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I feel like I’m very privileged to be able to work outside, moving about and doing a job that feels like it has real value. So when the glorious revolution happens and we don’t need to work for money anymore I’d still want to be growing vegetables for people!

What does a normal day look like for you during the growing season?

It’s very physical and full on. We get on site between 7.30am and 8am and I have to do a lot of coordinating of my work and my team’s depending on what needs to be picked and transplanted that day.

We’re led by what the plants demand on the day, so you can have the best plan in the world, but what the plants need changes all the time. We sow successionally throughout the year to try and space things out, but if you have a really warm week the plants will catch up with each other so everything ends up having to happen at the same time.

What makes a market garden different from a regular farm?

A market garden is more comparable to a small orchard than a field scale farm. We grow a wider variety of different crops, but we grow less of each than they do in fieldscale growing.

While we do use some machinery, we don’t use tractors. Instead, the sections of the land where we grow different crops are smaller and we prioritise growing more delicate crops that need a lot of attention because we can give them that. We also grow crops like lettuces, that are in and out, rather than squash that will be in the ground all summer.

Why do you follow organic principles at this site?

We follow organic principles because we belong to the land, the land doesn’t belong to us. Growing with organic principles is the best way we have to grow intensively while looking after the other creatures that live on the land.

We don’t use pesticides or fungicides, instead we try to attract beneficial insects and work with the birds. For instance, when we take the Mypex sheets [used to stop weed growth between plantings] off a veg bed we’ll lay the cover on the ground so the magpies come and eat the slugs. That way when we want to put the Mypex back down we’re not putting slugs back onto the prepared bed.

It’s all about doing simple things, like always having a brassica flowering on your site as this provides food for hoverflies. So if we have some rocket that escapes the polytunnel we’ll let it grow and flower, and rather than pulling out nettles we just cut them back as they provide a good home for ladybirds.

Are there any downsides to growing organically?

You’ve got to be very reactive, because it’s not just a case that you grow a plant and know that at this time we use this pesticide. Instead we have to use lots of different methods and react to what’s going on. Sometimes that means changing your crop planning or the rotation; sometimes it’s encouraging new predators; and sometimes you just lose a crop.

One way we encourage predators to help us manage pests is to grow beneficial plants to attract them. This year our 2 trainee growers have a project to grow flower strips. They’ve done a lot of research and sown a lot of flowers that we’re planting in and around our polytunnels to provide a food source for the predators we want to attract. It’s a continuous process of learning about the bugs we share the site with.

Kindling Market Garden: seven polytunnels and masses of outdoor growing space all managed using organic principles in Woodbank Park, Stockport

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced while growing at KMG?

The really wet winter and spring we’ve just had. Today (the 1st May) is the first day we’ve been able to get the rotavator out to turn the beds. We really need to do this because of the heavy clay soil we’ve got so we’ve had to do all sorts of jiggery-pokery, moving things around and picking which beds to use first.  It  has been much more complex than previous years. We’ve had to do all sorts of work arounds, like putting things in the polytunnels, or delaying planting. It’s been a real head scratcher!

What do you think the impact of this challenging start to the growing season this year will be?

We’re just about to start seeing it. We have a lot of undercover growing space here which we’ve been able to work on as normal, and maximise that space. There’s a funny time  around now for our salad leaves as the winter crops in the polytunnels finish and summer crops grown outside aren’t quite ready. We’ve had to compensate by utilising every bed in the polytunnel with new season salad crops.  This will  affect how much we can supply to our regular customers. This obviously has a financial implication for us and it’s a real knife-edge between making a profit and not. We might just get away with it this year, but there will definitely be growers that won’t.

What advice would you give to anyone who wants to become a professional grower?

There are plenty of market gardens and community gardens that do volunteer days, so go down and have a look at what they do and see whether it’s the right fit for you. You could also take a 2 week holiday and go WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) at a commercial farm and tell them you’re interested in growing. They’ll feed you and give you a place to stay, so it’s a cheap holiday. That’s what I did, and it’s how I knew growing was the job for me.

There are plenty of horticultural training courses out there. There’s also the Farmstart programme, which is what I did with the Kindling Trust, that’s more business orientated. You learn about horticulture, but also how to create a market, work with chefs and create a business plan.

A preview of some of what's to come this year: spring onions, rainbow chard and salad leaves

What’s your favourite veg and why?

Is it really boring if I say potatoes? They’re brilliant! I’ve never met a potato I don’t like.

We’re all thinking about climate change and our food miles and potatoes can be grown really locally to us in the UK, whereas rice needs to come from further afield. People are doing great work with seed breeding so we can grow quinoa and chickpeas in Britain, but with lentils, some types of beans and rice we just don’t have the light levels and temperatures to grow in the UK so they have to be imported. Whereas potatoes you can have with everything and they never disappoint.

My favourite way to cook potatoes is a dish one they cook in Dishoom called gunpowder potatoes which has loads of spices, spring onions and lime. Delicious!

What crops from KMG should VBP customers be looking out for this year?

We’ve got loads of good stuff this year!

Our poor broad beans have been in the wars this year, but they’re coming along great now. I think broad beans are really exciting because they’re always the first beans available. Later on you’ve got runner beans and French beans which are great, but when the broad beans arrive you know you’re out of the hungry gap and you’ve got some nice food coming!

We’ve also got lettuces we’re growing specifically for Veg Box, spring onions, rocket, salad leaves, summer squash and loads of courgettes coming your way.

So really you should be looking out for all of our produce because it’s dead good!


Keep an eye out for Kindling Market Garden’s broad beans in the next few weeks as we finally say hello to the start of the summer veg!

If you’re not already signed up for one of our veg bags and want to try some of the produce Aoife and her team are growing and support their nature-friendly farming you can do just that by signing up for one of our seasonal organic veg bags here.


Newsletter Signup

Keep up to date with the food revolution! Receive regular grower and produce updates, and recipes and tips to make your meals more exciting, healthy and sustainable.

By providing your email address you consent to being added to our mailing list. Find out more in our privacy policy.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.