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In Rhubarb Triangle growing is a woolly business
Derek Procter (L) and Adam Hainsworth
Derek Procter (L) and Adam Hainsworth (R) a lasting partnership

Derek Procter in Farsley is one of about a dozen growers in the Rhubarb Triangle continuing to harvest the crop.

It is the area between Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield that is known as the Rhubarb Triangle.

At its height hundreds of farms in the area grew the vegetable, providing most of the UK's supply.

The importance of local rhubarb is celebrated with the Wakefield Rhubarb Festival every February.

Now we can show that another local product has been one of the successful secrets of the rhubarb trade. Wool waste is used to help fertilise the ground that grows the rhubarb.

Unlikely partnership

Derek Procter has been using local waste wool on his crop for 60 years.

It sound like an unlikely partnership but the wool spread on the ground helps to slowly release nutrients including nitrogen into the soil. Wool spreading reduces the need for manure or chemical alternatives.

Microbes in the soil break down the wool, producing nitrogen on which the rhubarb loves to feed.

Yorkshire forced rhubarb
The end result - Yorkshire forced rhubarb ready to pick

Derek's wool waste is obtained from the Hainsworth's family business in Pudsey, a partnership between the two families that has lasted for generations.

The Hainsworth family has manufactured woollen textile for over 225 years and their wool waste has been the ideal fertilizer for Derek's rhubarb.

Derek said: "The rhubarb is grown in fields for between two to three years before it is ready to be harvested.

"Forcing the rhubarb takes place in large sheds, where the rhubarb is kept in cool, dark conditions".

Sweeter taste

This famous 'forced' cultivation method helps to produce a more delicate stalk, giving a sweeter taste because the rhubarb uses its own sugars to aid its growth in the absence of the warmth and light from the sun.

The rhubarb stalks can grew rapidly in these conditions sometimes over one inch in a day, and if you listen carefully inside the sheds you can hear the stalk 'popping' as it grows.

Derek likes to think that his rhubarb from Farsley, using only wool waste for fertiliser, gives the best taste.

The wool waste or 'shoddy' is now increasingly hard to get hold of, as it is a product of the declining woolen industry in Yorkshire.

Derek's rhubarb is sold through the Yorkshire Produce Centre or at St James' wholesale market in Bradford.

British products

The EEC has now recognised Yorkshire-grown rhubarb as a regional product, just like champagne in western France. There are more than 40 British products on the list.

The list also includes Grimsby Smoked Fish, Swaledale Cheese and West Country Cheddar giving Protected Designation of Origin status from the European Commission's Protected Food Name scheme.

Strange as it may seem rhubarb is a vegetable but with a taste that makes it an ingredient in pies, crumbles and desserts.

The plant originated in Asia thousands of years ago and was initially cultivated for its medicinal qualities including as a laxative. It took until the 18th century before rhubarb was grown for culinary purposes in Britain.




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