• Dalefoot Composts celebrating 20 years in business

    PEAT FREE compost maker Dalefoot Composts, celebrating 20 years in business at this week’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show, has seen a big spike in sales this season as gardeners shift to green growing.

    Sales of its premium composts, made from sheep’s wool and bracken, have doubled in the last year showing gardeners are really waking up to the benefits of gardening more sustainably. Now used by commercial growers, gold medal-winning flower and veg exhibitors and a growing flock of gardeners around the UK, Dalefoot’s peat free range boasts composts for container growing, flowers, vegetables, shrubs, seeds and acid-loving plants.

    Owner Simon Bland said: “We’ve seen our sales double in the last year which is proof that gardeners want to garden more ethically and really do care about the quality of products they use on their allotment, back garden or balcony.”

    The entrepreneurial couple behind Dalefoot, environmental scientist Jane Barker and farmer Simon Bland, started making compost from the natural ingredients around their Cumbrian farm in 1997. Inspired by early 20th century gardening books that mentioned wool as a garden mulch, and a desire to make good use of the invasive bracken growing on the fells, the couple invented their secret compost recipe, bagged the product up themselves and started selling at local farmers’ markets. Twenty years later the compost is sold across the UK, been shortlisted for RHS Chelsea Flower Show Garden Product of the Year* and has just featured on BBC Two’s Back to the Land programme. The business employs 18 local people, and sources bracken and wool from local farmers.

    Growing benefits of the compost include:
    • Natural water retention of wool fibres means up to 50% less watering.
    • Wool provides a steady, slow sustained supply of nitrogen.
    • High levels of natural potash from the bracken promotes flowering and fruiting, healthy growth and hearty crops - NO need for any additional plant food.
    • Made from 100% renewable resources with great environmental benefits.
    • The compost has a similar soft texture to peat and has a wide range of naturally occurring trace elements for good plant health.

    Notes for editors:
    * Wool Compost for Seeds was shortlisted for the 2013 RHS Chelsea Flower Show Garden Product of the Year.

  • Caption: Unloved pot bound azalea
    Caption: Azalea pruned and repotted with Ericaceous Wool Compost
    Caption: Azalea in flower after pruning and repotting.

    Making the best use of the ingredients nature gives us from around our Cumbrian farm is integral to how we run our business at Dalefoot.

    Our peat free composts are rich with the wool from our flock and those of our neighbours, and the bracken harvested from the local fells. We tweak our different compost recipes so they suit the plants they will nurture and nourish.

    Our Wool Compost for Seeds has a finer texture with good drainage to provide the best start for seeds; our Wool Compost Double Strength contains a high concentration of naturally derived nutrients, if you like our equivalent of ‘compost max’, so it can be mixed with soil or spent compost. And so on…

    Acid-loving plants, such as blueberries, heathers and azaleas, need a compost with a lower pH. We therefore harvest bracken for our Wool Compost Ericaceous from the more acidic areas of the fells. And it works a treat.

    One of our Dalefoot team owned a pot-bound, unloved azalea desperately needing some TLC. Over the years, it had become straggly and faded. By pruning it back hard after flowering, and replacing most of the old compost with our Wool Compost Ericaceous, the plant is now thriving once again. Isn’t nature clever.

  • Kate Humble with Jane, Simon and Arabella
    Caption: Kate Humble with Jane, Simon and Arabella filming at Dalefoot
    Caption: Back to the Land film crew and team at Dalefoot

    Lambing season is here again – only sooner than expected.

    Rampant ‘tups’ last autumn has meant the early arrival of lambs just as the snow sweeps back in. Not to worry we have them all snug and warm in the lambing shed.

    As I delivered the first twin this morning my thoughts drifted to the second pair of hands I was missing – the famous Kate Humble hands which calmly delivered lambs alongside me last spring.

    It hardly seems a year since Kate and film crew descended to capture footage of our farm life and our farm diversification into making compost from bracken and wool.

    What a whirlwind couple of days that was! It was a truly amazing experience beyond our ‘ken. Working with ‘creative’ people is so different to our usual day jobs or working with animals or even children. Kate is a really warm person - engaging, professional, competent, insightful yet enormously practical. I am a complete fan. She arrived with quite an entourage - Researcher, Director, Producer, Cameraman, Sound Engineer and the ‘runner’ (yes, there really is a runner). They all descended on our farm on a cold wet spring day in the middle of lambing and as compost sales were beginning to build as warmer weather sends people out to the garden.

    We were asked to try and ignore the attention of the cameras as they zoomed in on every little aspect – what is to us everyday life. Kate asked insightful questions probing for intelligent answers when sometimes the reality is incredibly simple and had never been actually thought about before. Shots were taken from every angle and I believe the sheep, dogs and cats might possibly be up for an ‘Oscar’ with their natural diffidence.

    The ‘Back to the Land’ team came with their own sort of magic and I feel that the questions they asked, and the reflection they asked for, may just have prompted a look through a ‘different lens’ at all our achievements to date, all the hard work the Dalefoot team put in and our future plans for new compost recipes and life!!


    Here is a link to the BBC website for "Back to the Land"

    Editors note – a ‘tup’ local name for a ram

  • Due to business expansion, we are really excited to be looking for two new people to join our small but busy team to fill the roles of Customer Service Administrator and Finance Administrator.

    Customer Service Administrator
    Increased sales means we are looking for a dedicated customer service person to manage online and telephone sales orders and provide the fabulous assistance that our customers have come to expect.
    See bottom of page for attached role profile.

    Finance Administator
    Our current finance person is retiring and we are looking for somebody to take over. This is a bookkeeping role with additional variety for anyone keen to get involved in the wider business.
    See bottom of page for attached role profile

    We are a small team, so flexibility and willingness to help out in any practical way is important.
    How to apply:
    Please email a short CV with covering letter explaining why you are interested in either position to June@peopledecisions.co.uk. Because we are a small team and interested in your motivation to join us, applications without a supporting letter will not be considered.
    Any questions, please call Julia or June at People Decisions, our external HR provider, on 01768 753001.

    Closing date for applications: Monday 27 March 2017.

  • Caption: Red Alert tomatoes
    Caption: Akron Tomatoes

    Flavour - that’s what it is all about. That wonderful taste of home grown organic fruit and vegetables. Although I grow a wide range of vegetables and fruit, for me there is nothing to beat the taste of succulent, sweet, sun ripened tomatoes picked straight from the plant. Their juice, that exquisite blend of sugar and acid, wrapped up in that unique musky tomato aroma.

    To produce the best fruit a tomato plant needs access to a wide range of major and minor nutrients, minerals and trace elements and this is where Dalefoot Composts come in. With their unique blend of composted bracken and sheep’s wool the Dalefoot range of composts has produced some excellent crops of tomatoes for me - in both heated and cold glasshouse crops and outdoor plants here in Airedale, Yorkshire at 53 degrees North.

    Of the many varieties that I grow each year the season starts with ‘Stupice’. From a January 1st sowing, given a sunny spring, it will produce ripe fruit some 16 -17 weeks later. Stupice is an old Czech variety and is reasonably cold tolerant, so that once in their large pots heat is only needed during very cold weather. This variety used to stop growing after 6 trusses, but last year, planted in 30cm (12”) pots of Double Strength Wool Compost™ they continued growing to 8 - 9 trusses tall.

    Each year I grow some of the latest varieties and also some Heritage ones, bearing in mind that cherry types take around 6 -8 weeks from fertilized flower to ripe fruit, standard size around 8 weeks, while the larger beef steak type take 11 - 12 weeks plus any spells of poor weather during this time.

    Your ideal sowing date, is when, in your greenhouse you either know or can estimate when there will be several hours on several days in the week when your greenhouse temperature is in the 18 - 24°C (65-70°F) range. This is the date when the first trusses need to be in flower to ensure successful pollination and fertilization. Go 8 weeks backwards from this date and sow on that date. Thus sow early March for early May flowers. If you sow too early for your site and facilities there will be no pollen, too late and you lose valuable growing time, particularly in the North.

    Many modern varieties are expensive so to get a good germination fill a clean seed tray with moist Wool Compost for Seeds without compressing it. Sow the seed spaced 5cms (2”) apart and 1 - 1.5 cms (1/4- 3/8”) deep. Water gently and allow to drain, cover the seed tray and keep as near to a temperature of 20°C (68°F) as possible. Once germinated place the seedlings in a position with as much light as possible and in a temperature of as near 20°C (68°F) during the day and 13°C (55°F) at night as can be maintained.

    When the leaves of the seedlings are starting to touch, pot them on into next size pots filled with Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads, carefully lifting the entire root ball around the seedling. Place them in as light a position as possible in a temperature as near as is practicable to the above.

    When half of propagated plants are showing their first flowers it is time to plant them all into their final pots. They grow well in containers of Wool Compost for Vegetable and Salads or for very particularly vigorous varieties try the Double Strength Wool Compost. For plants growing in the greenhouse or outdoor border beds, replace a spade full of soil with a spade full of Double Strength Wool Compost at each planting position. They will then get off to a flying start!

    Less water is needed when growing in Wool Compost™ but the plants should be kept uniformly moist.

    Good crops of tomatoes can be grown outdoors in the North in sheltered locations. Strategically placed containers of Wool Compost™ can yield excellent crops as can a sheltered border. My ‘Ferline,’ and the latest ‘Blight resistant’ varieties will grow to 4 - 5 trusses here in Yorkshire, during most seasons.

    The secret to outdoor tomato growing lies in propagating well developed plants. From a mid- March sowing they usually have the first truss setting by the time the last frost has gone and they can take full advantage of the early summer weather. Whatever weather the coming season brings, strong healthy plants raised and grown in Dalefoot composts have the potential to create heavy crops with that luscious, unique tomato flavour.

    Editors note: Terry Marshall has been growing tomatoes, both privately and commercially, for most of his life. He is the author of ‘Tomatoes’ which details the history and development of the tomato plant with a range of growing methods to yield bumper crops.

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© Barker and Bland Ltd t/a Dalefoot Composts 2014 - 2017. All rights reserved.
Barker and Bland is a limited company registered in England and Wales. Registered office: Dalefoot Farm, Heltondale, Nr Penrith, Cumbria, CA10 2QL. Registered number: 8312959

This project is supported by the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) for which Defra is the Managing Authority, part funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in rural areas.

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