6 ISSUES FOR £6 Subscribe to Lancashire Life today click here

Growing tomatoes in Hesketh Bank

PUBLISHED: 00:00 01 June 2017

Tomatoes growing on the vine

Tomatoes growing on the vine

Archant

The Ascroft family in Hesketh Bank know what it takes to grow good tomatoes. Emma Mayoh reports

Michael Ascroft Michael Ascroft

What Brian Ascroft doesn’t know about growing tomatoes isn’t worth knowing. When the patriarch of the Croftpak business speaks about the fruit he sounds more a man discussing the delicate notes of a fine wine than something you usually put in a salad. But when you’ve dedicated several decades of your life to growing one thing, you’re bound to be passionate.

It was his dad, John, who started growing in the small agricultural village of Hesketh Bank after the Second World War.

‘Everyone had a smallholding and a few greenhouses back then,’ said Brian, 72. ‘We grew lettuces, cucumbers and other veg. I couldn’t wait to get involved. When I was 15 my dad paid £10 to get me out of school early and I began building glasshouses. That was the start of it all for me.

‘In 1970, my dad retired and sold me the business. He wasn’t sure about growing tomatoes and said I would be growing balls of water. Un fact, he played hell with me. But you get out what you put in.

‘Over the years we’ve bought more land and ran the business with my sister and brother-in-law before they retired, too. I absolutely love it. It’s been a lot of fun. Hard work, but fun.’

The business has gone from strength to strength. But it really took off in 1990 when they started supplying their tomatoes exclusively to Booths and were then asked to grow long season varieties. They built special glasshouses and they now supply the stores from May to November. They were the first to grow vine ripened varieties.

‘Some say it is risky, and I guess it was,’ said Brian. ‘But if we’re growing good tomatoes then we have nothing to worry about. We started with a few hundred plants and the following year we put in 6,000.

‘Booths have shown tremendous faith in us as we have in them. It’s a very good partnership. And for a grower of my size a future without Booths would be bleak. People say “are you not frightened of putting all of your eggs in one basket?” But it’s a strong basket.’

Peter Ascroft Peter Ascroft

Brian and wife Janet, who also helps out in the business, have officially retired. But don’t be fooled. You’ll still find them most days out in the glasshouses checking on the crops. Retirement has just meant they can squeeze in a holiday from time to time.

‘We call him Judith Chalmers these days,’ said son Peter, who with brother Michael, has taken on the running of Croftpak. ‘But he’s definitely earned that time off.

‘I said I would come here for a year to help out after my A-levels. But I’ve been here ever since. I love it.’

But while Brian admits he eats kilos of tomatoes, you’ll never catch son Peter stealing fruit from the vines.

‘I don’t like tomatoes,’ admitted Peter. ‘That’s probably not the right thing to say for a tomato grower but I just don’t like them. I think I’ve just probably seen too many.

‘I send my daughter Olivia to the taste testings at Booths. She’s 14 and she loves it. She’ll send my mum off for a coffee and she takes over.’

The family now grow several varieties of tomatoes including bianca, cherry, vine, conchita and pozzano. Demand for their tomatoes is high and they will often sell out.

What shines through from the Ascroft family is their passion and dedication. It is clear they love what they do. And they need to. During the harvest season is it all hands to the pump with all members of the family, along with a handful of staff, in the glasshouses hand picking tomatoes. Until recently they were also hand packaged but they now have a machine that does it for them.

The farm is also run by a biomass boiler – a huge contraption that needed its own vast building and thousands of pounds of investment. But it has meant they are now carbon neutral, meaning much lower costs for them and it is much less harmful to the environment. They use natural means to keep diseases and pests away from the fruit.

‘We use biological control and bees to pollinate our tomatoes – spraying is an absolute last resort,’ said Brian. ‘And, as I’ve said to the lads, “if you wouldn’t eat it yourself, don’t put it in the box”. That’s how we’ve carried on all these years. It’s the way we feel.’

And their dedication pays off. The tomatoes they grow taste divine – packed with flavour. Despite the hard work, the family clearly love what they do. But there is just one thing sure to get their backs up.

‘Fridges,’ said Peter. ‘People who store tomatoes in their fridge need a good telling off.

‘You just don’t do it. It leeches the nutrients out of them and takes away the flavour. I went to a party at a friend’s house and they were really proud they had our tomatoes. Then I saw them take them out of the fridge. It’s unforgivable!’

More from Food & Drink

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Bar & Grill at Holmes Mill, Clitheroe is now open 7 days a week and to celebrate we are offering a selection of dishes at half price until 13th July.

Read more
Friday, June 8, 2018

This Liverpool restaurant may serve small plates but the flavours are huge

Read more
Italian Food
Friday, June 8, 2018

The Lake District’s new World Heritage status was the spur behind a £19 million project to turn a landmark hotel into a luxury resort.

Read more
Lancashire Life Luncheon
Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Meet the newcomers creating a stir on Manchester’s thrilling restaurant scene

Read more
Manchester Restaurants
Monday, June 4, 2018

Make the most of the county’s stunning scenery by taking a seat outside this season.

Read more
Friday, May 25, 2018

Kara Johnson is following in her dad’s footsteps at one of the county’s legendary food producers. Emma Mayoh reports

Read more
Monday, May 21, 2018

Kids eat free every Sunday from 12 - 2 pm at The Feilden’s Arm Mellor Brook.

Read more
Monday, May 21, 2018

Join The Feilden’s Arms at Mellor Brook for their steak night every Thursday from 5pm.

Read more
Monday, May 21, 2018

Tea for two every Wednesday from 5pm at The Feilden’s Arms Mellor Brook.

Read more
Monday, May 21, 2018

Pie and Pud for just £15 all day every Tuesday.

Read more
Friday, May 18, 2018

Our prestigious Food and Drink Awards return this October, and we want your nominations to help find out who is the cream of the crop.

Read more
Friday, May 18, 2018

We have five copies of The Lakes and Cumbria Cook Book for readers.

Read more
Thursday, May 17, 2018

Afternoon tea has grown in popularity as a summer pastime, here are a selection of some of the best on offer across the North West.

Read more
Thursday, May 17, 2018

20 Stories in Spinningfields is Manchester’s newest restaurant to see and be seen in. Janet Reeder went along to check out what chef Aiden Byrne is up to now.

Read more
Manchester Restaurants Spinningfields
 
Great British Holidays advert link

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy


Subscribe or buy a mag today

Local Business Directory

Lancashire's trusted business finder

Job search in your local area



Property Search