The history of Chase Organics

//The history of Chase Organics
The history of Chase Organics2017-10-18T15:14:09+00:00

The history of Chase Organics and our involvement in gardening and agriculture stretches back more than a century to 1912.  The company has always promoted organic growing methods, with QR compost activator and organic seeds being important parts of our business from the 1940’s.  Seaweed extraction became significant part of the story in the early 1960’s.

Chase Organics – A colourful history in organic agriculture

Strawberries and lettuce under cloches small

Strawberries and lettuce under cloches

The company was first established in 1912 by Major L.H. Chase, an engineer, who built the Mersey Transporter Bridge in 1905 over the river Mersey between Widnes and Runcorn near Liverpool.  As a city gardener, he was concerned that his crops were being polluted by rising levels of dirt and soot in the air in the early 20th century. As a result,  he invented the Chase Cloche, a modular wire and glass crop protection system that could be easily moved for access to the crop and which did not take up much space to store when not in use. He then found that the cloches not only served their intended function to keep plants clean, but also allowed a longer growing season and improved growth. The design was a huge success, and rows of Chase Cloches became a common sight in gardens and smallholdings across the country.

His business was called Chase Protected Cultivation Ltd, and it later moved to Pond House in Chertsey, Surrey, historically a town whose economy was based on agriculture and market gardening. It became quite a large organisation employing hundreds of people manufacturing the trademark cloches that were sold all over the world. Several different types of Cloche were made including a tomato cloche which was 24″ (60cm) high and used to grow tomatoes and grape vines. Chase also made a basic, single ridge, tent cloche specifically for sale in Woolworths.

A surprising fact unknown to many people is that during the Second World War, Chase came up with the famous slogan ‘Dig for Victory’ which the government took over. They also had the slogan ‘Cloches v Hitler’ which didn’t catch on!

Jocelyn Chase

Jocelyn Chase

Major Chase died during the Second World War and the business was then handed over to his son, Jocelyn, (J.L.H. Chase) who was one of the founder members of the Soil Association. He wrote two books ‘Cloche Gardening’ and ‘Commercial Cloche Gardening’.

QR Compost Activator and Organic Seeds

In the 1940’s, the inventor of ‘Quick Return’ (Q.R.) compost activator, Miss Maye Bruce was been looking for a ‘Soil-conscious corporation’ to take over QR production. By chance and good fortune, Jocelyn visited Miss Bruce after he had seen the effects on the compost on his garden. In time, Chase would make 7000 tons of compost a year using the Q.R. method in large open heaps ready for distribution onto the crops. At one time, Q.R. compost powder was sold by virtually every ironmonger and horticultural establishment in England, and still has a faithful following today.

In these times, the Chase establishment at Chertsey was a centre of excellence for organic horticulture with trial fields, seed cultivation and a market garden. The estate was visited by thousands of people including representatives from the House of Commons (in 1946), the Minister of Supply and labour MP’s.

Chase also grew and processed their own organic seeds, the majority being grown at the Grange in Chertsey. The first Chase mail order seed catalogue was published in 1945 and is still going strong as The Organic Gardening Catalogue, published in partnership with Europe’s leading organic gardening charity Garden Organic since 1993.

Seaweed washes into Chase

After the war, Chase were approached by the government to provide help for the re-inhabitation of the Alderney in the Channel Islands, since the island had been evacuated and turned into a prisoner of war camp. There were crops of asparagus, melons, strawberries, radishes and flowers, some of which were grown under cloches. The horticultural trade from Alderney continued to thrive until the early sixties, exporting produce and flowers to UK markets.

Up until the 1950’s, the cloches had been the main business, but with the development of plastics, glass cloches became less economic to use.  The post war work in the Channnel Islands had alerted the company to the potential of using seaweed in horticulture and  Chase started producing seaweed extract in the 1950s,  with SM3 first appearing in 1958. In 1962, cloche production ceased and the company, now called Chase Organics and based in Sheppereton, Middlesex, focused on seaweed as its main product line, giving the benefits enjoyed by coastal crofters in an easily applicable form.  Even in the second half of the twentieth century when commercial agriculture made heavy use of chemical fertilizers, there was expanding demand for organic seaweed extract, as Chase were able to show that it could reduce the amount (and therefore the cost) of fertilisers and other inputs. With worldwide expansion in organic growing in more recent times, liquid seaweed extract is seen by many as an essential ingredient for improving crop health, yield, quality and income.

Mike Hedges

Mike Hedges (left) on the Chase Organics stand at the East Anglia Garden Show. May 1987

Jocelyn Chase was a wonderful ambassador of organic horticulture, writing articles and travelling the world in his later years to srpead the message . He retired in 1984 after selling the company to Ian Allan Group and died in 1986.

Seaweed Processing for Agriculture and Gardens

The first records of seaweed being processed come from China in 2700 BC, with Europeans coming into the market rather belatedly in the 12th century. In the UK, the agricultural use of seaweed was first restricted to bulk fresh weed as a manure and soil conditioner but as transport and labour costs rose, raw seaweed was replaced by processed meal, and the in the 1950’s the first methods for converting it into a liquid extract were developed.

In the 1950’s Chase Organics developed our original seaweed extract called  “Sea Magic”,  using selected seaweed varieties and a unique aqueous extraction process.  This version was then refined and made more concentrated to become  Chase SM3 Seaweed Extract, with 15% soluble seaweed solids, in 1958. The Sea Magic brand name was dropped to give the product a more scientific sounding title, as in those days organic growing was considered by the establishment to a fringe activity based on “muck and magic”. As worldwide demand grew for our seaweed extract it became clear that a super concentrated version would be more economic to ship and use, and the double strength Chase SM6 Seaweed Extract, with 30% soluble seaweed solids, was developed. By 1990,  all of our commercial customers in the UK and around the world were using SM6, while SM3 continues to be the favourite for garden use. The high concentration of the two versions make them more economic to use than many othe brands, and our unique process results in a sweet, natural smelling, chocolate brown liquid that enjoys a high level of loyalty from users.

The seaweed used by Chase Organics originates around the Atlantic shores of the British Isles where seaweed has been harvested for generations. It is a truly renewable resource as the seaweed is cut by hand taking care that about 15cm of stalk is left for re-growth. This means it can be harvested every four years without endangering its survival.

The cut seaweed is bound in nets and at high tide floated to the closest beach or slipway for transportation to a nearby factory. Here it is washed to remove sand, stones etc and chopped prior to drying. Temperatures are monitored to avoid overcooking and degradation.  The dried seaweed meal is shipped to England where it is processed in specialist equipment to make our concentrated  liquid extracts Chase SM3 and Chase SM6. A gentle aqueous, chemical free process is used, that can best be compared with coffee percolation on a huge scale ! The liquid is then concentrated by evaporation to the required level of soluble solids. Nothing is added apart from food grade preservatives to maintain stability. It is this natural characteristic that has enabled Chase Seaweed Extracts to be approved for use on organic crops by the relevant bodies in the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Spain and other countries.

It is good to know that modern science has in recent times backed up what ancient farmers just understood through using seaweed, and that a natural, rather than chemical, product can make the vital difference to a successful agricultural business.

Our thanks to Andrew E Davenport for allowing us to use part of his research into the history of Chase Organics and QR compost making, further details of which are revealed in his book, ‘Quick Return Compost Making – The Essence of the Sustainable Organic Garden’, available from The Organic Gardening Catalogue.