• Caption: Steph visiting Dalefoot
    Caption: Lay & soak the cardboard - overlap to avoid weeds
    Caption: Add top quality compost
    Caption: Do the 'No Dig Dance'
    Caption: No Dig Dancing

    We are delighted to present this first installment from gardener, cook and writer Steph Hafferty. An expert in all things ‘no dig’, she generously shares her knowledge and expertise with us for Dalefoot’s May blog and even spoils us with a recipe!

     

    Healthy soil is crucial for a healthy planet, and growing using no dig gardening methods is a key way that we can help to create and maintain a vibrant soil ecosystem. Soil is the largest sequester of carbon on the planet. Digging releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, so one of the simplest ways we can all help to reduce climate change is to stop digging.

    No dig is not a new idea. It has been used by growers across the globe for centuries, as an effective way of growing abundant food in harmony with nature. Techniques vary from place to place. In hot dry climates a deep mulch of plant matter is often used to help prevent loss of moisture, but here in the UK that can create a habitat for slugs, snails and woodlice: not ideal next to your veg crops. In the UK composted mulches, which do not create this habitat, are mostly used.

    What does “no dig gardening” involve? Of course at times some digging is necessary, to plant a tree or remove rubble, for example. No dig gardening means growing with as little soil disturbance as possible, so that the soil structure remains intact and soil life can thrive. Every year, I spread a little compost (about 1cm) on the surface of the beds. This mulch feeds the soil life which in turn feeds the plants. That’s all that is needed: just an annual compost mulch.

    No dig also reduces weeds because you’re not bringing up annual weed seeds by digging. It doesn’t mean no weeds, you still need to hoe and trowel out any weeds that blow on and germinate, but there are significantly fewer. It’s important too to ensure that weeds don’t try to sneak in from grassy paths and edges. I have creeping buttercups here in my garden which keep trying to colonise the veg beds by stealth so I regularly weed the edges.

    Keeping the structure of the soil intact allows fungi, worms and other soil life to create tiny tunnels in the soil, which creates a superb soil structure, increases drainage and oxygenates the soil. Mycorrhizae networks remain intact, connecting all of the plants in a symbiotic relationship which aids plant and soil health. Digging breaks up and destroys this balance in the soil. Stopping digging enables the soil to recover and thrive.

    The compost mulch also creates a habitat for a huge number of creatures, including black beetles which are predators of slugs, and a foraging area for birds, hedgehogs and other wildlife.

    There is a misconception that no dig gardening requires a lot of compost every year. Thankfully that’s not the case, as it just wouldn’t be affordable for most gardeners if so. Annually, it does not use any more compost than digging methods (digging in itself doesn’t make a soil fertile, the opposite in fact because it is breaking up the structure and killing soil life). The annual mulch of compost works for all of the plants I grow, from parsnips to courgettes to aubergines. Because the soil structure is thriving and remains unharmed, the nutrients are more readily available to the plants, which also means that you can grow many more plants in each bed. Using intercropping and multisowing techniques (both also ancient methods) I regularly grow five or six different veg crops per bed each year.

    The compost can be any composted matter: homemade, well rotted manure, well rotted wood chip, leaf mould, shop bought compost. I love making compost. It’s such a treat to use delicious crumbly fertile compost made from kitchen scraps and garden clippings.

    In March 2021 I moved from my garden of twenty years in Somerset, to just under half an acre on a hillside in West Wales. The land was mostly weedy grass with areas of flower borders and established trees. Wanting to start making beds as quickly as possible, and of course having no home-made compost because I had just moved house, I ordered in a delivery of Dalefoot veg compost (the one in the green bag) and started to make my new no dig garden on the weedy grass.

     

    Making No Dig beds

    To make the beds, I cut the lawn on a low setting and rakeds the clippings, adding those to the compost heap.

    Next, I covered the area with card, making sure it overlapped to discourage weeds from sneaking through, and watered it well.

    I decided to make the bed 1.2 metres wide, and covered that area with compost, raking it to level it.

    To gently firm the compost, I did the “No Dig Dance”! This is a gentle dance on the bed to make sure all of the compost is firm.

    Once the bed is finished, it is ready for sowing and planting right away. Any deep rooting plants will grow through the cardboard into the soil beneath.

    These beds were made with 5cm of compost (after the dance!) on top of the card, on top of the weedy lawn. During 2021 I harvested so many things, including carrots, parsnips, squash, sweetcorn, cabbages, kale and leeks.

    After cropping all winter, I am now planting it out again. It’s amazing to think this was weedy grass not very long ago. In August 2021 the polytunnel was put up here and I mulched it in exactly the same way.

    There are other ways to make no dig beds using different amounts of compost and also no compost. Follow my You Tube channel and social media to discover how I am using different methods to make beds here in my half acre homestead.

     

    Quick fridge pickles

    These tasty pickles are an ideal accompaniment to all kinds of summery dishes and can be made using whatever you have in the garden (or buy from the shop). In late summer, sliced chillieschilies add a delicious kick to the pickles.

    I find it a lot easier to use cup measures for this recipe, rather than weighing everything out. If you don’t have US cup measures, just use a tea cup.

    3 cups of finely sliced vegetables: Florence fennel, spring onion, radish, cucumber, summer squash, courgette, carrot

    1 cup light vinegar: cider, white wine or even champagne vinegar if you’re feeling fancy

    1 cup water

    3 tbsp sea salt

    4 tbsp seasonal herbs (optional): dill, parsley, thyme, coriander, chopped garlic, herb seeds (fennel, coriander, dill)

    3 tbsp sugar (or other sweetener eg agave) - optional (I usually skip this part but I do like tart food)

    Clean glass preserving jar/s with lids

    Layer the veg in the jars with the herbs (if using).

    In a pan, gently heat the vinegar, water, salt and sugar (if using) and simmer until everything has dissolved.

    Carefully pour over the vegetables and place the lids loosely on top.

    When the pickles have cooled, screw the lid on tightly. The pickles are now ready to eat.

    Keep in the fridge for up to a week.

    (nb: this is not a long term preserving recipe)

     

    Stephanie Hafferty is an experienced no dig gardener, homesteader, speaker, garden and food writer, and author of award winning No Dig Organic Home and Garden (with Charles Dowding) and The Creative Kitchen: seasonal plant based recipes using ingredients you can grow on an allotment. She is currently working on a new gardening book and creating a no dig homestead on half an acre in West Wales. She shares this journey on her blog, Instagram and You Tube:

    Website and blog : www.NoDigHome.com

    Instagram: www.instagram.com/stephaniehafferty/

    You Tube Channel: www.youtube.com/c/StephanieHaffertyNoDigHomesteading

  • Caption: Becky Searle - Sow Much More
    Caption: Bolton Fell Moss, a functioning bog restored to glory.
    Caption: Bigger pools, offer habitat at Bolton Fell Moss, to increase biodiversity.
    Caption: After restoration, Bolton Fell Moss, showing typical bogland plants.

    Kicking off for ‘Peat-free April’, is soil scientist, gardener and podcaster, Becky Searle (Sow Much More). Becky explains why our peatlands are vitally important and why we should all switch to peat-free.

     

    Peat sales to gardeners in England and Wales are due to be banned by 2024. High-profile gardeners such as Monty Don have spoken out against the use of Peat in horticulture and initiatives like the Peat Free April movement have gained staggering momentum. For many years we have been told about peat’s importance in the horticultural industry, but only now are we beginning to shout about its importance in the natural world. Many people know that extracting peat isn’t good for the environment, but not as many know why.

    WHAT IS PEAT?

    Peat is a rich, dark type of soil that is made mostly of plant matter that has been decomposed under waterlogged conditions. It is incredibly rich in carbon but very low in nutrients. It has excellent water-retentive properties and a nice crumbly texture making it an apparently desirable commodity for gardeners.

    Peat is formed under a unique set of circumstances. When soil is waterlogged, it becomes anaerobic, meaning that it doesn’t contain oxygen. Organisms such as earthworms cannot survive these conditions and therefore are not present to help with the decomposition process, meaning that it decomposes very slowly. A large part of what makes up peat is decomposed moss. Mosses are non-vascular plants. This means that they do not contain a vascular system, like a lot of other plants to transport water up a stem. For this reason, moss grows very slowly, and very low. As a result of these things, peat is created very slowly, in very acidic, nutrient deficient conditions.

    The problem for peat is that it comes out of the ground very easily and requires very little in the way of processing. It is clean and rich in organic matter, making it very easy to bag up and sell. Some large horticultural companies own vast swathes of peat bogs, which they drain and extract, simply scraping it out of the ground with diggers.

    Around 3 million cubic meters of peat is sold for horticultural use every year just in the UK, with around two thirds of that being sold to amateur gardeners and the rest being used in nurseries, commercial farms and gardens and for growing button mushrooms. Peat builds up at a rate of about 1mm per year meaning that the rate of extraction far exceeds the rate at which it is created. To make matters worse, peat extraction isn’t the only thing threatening peat bogs. Many lowland peat bogs in the UK have been drained to produce fertile lands for arable farming. Upland peat bogs such as those on Dartmoor have had drainage ditches dug into them so that they are suitable for rearing livestock.

    WHY IS PEAT SO IMPORTANT?

    Peat really is a wonderful resource for us and our environment. Peat is an incredibly unique and diverse habitat, playing home to many specialist species that cannot exist elsewhere. It is also a powerful water filter and a huge carbon sink. Once we are aware of all the amazing natural services that peat provides, we are sure to see it as more valuable in the ground, than in our gardens.

    FLOOD PREVENTION

    In recent years we have seen more and more towns that are in the shadow of upland peat bogs getting flooded. Peat bogs act like huge sponges, holding enormous amounts of water. They can regulate the amount of water entering rivers and being deposited in flood plains lower down.

    We have seen more and more extreme weather events in the last 10-20 years as a result of climate change. In the UK this often presents itself as very high rainfall. When coupled with the draining and depletion of peatlands, the result is catastrophic flooding, which has a very real impact on those living in these areas.

    WATER PURIFICATION

    Peatland may be a relatively rare thing, but just here in the UK it is estimated that around 70% of our water is filtered through peat bogs. As water moves through healthy peat bogs it is cleaned. The peat is incredibly good at removing impurities, acting as a giant filter. The water that comes out of healthy peat bogs needs very little in the way of treatment before it can be used for human consumption. Unfortunately, peat bogs that are exploited do exact the opposite. They deposit bits of peat into the water, which then needs to be filtered out by water companies, at the expense of the taxpayer, along with the other pollutants no longer being filtered out by the peat.

    BIODIVERSITY

    Biodiversity is a word used to refer to the number of species and individual organisms in a particular area. When we look at biodiversity, we are often looking at specific areas, like our gardens or nature reserves. Peat bogs are wonderfully biodiverse environments, supporting a whole host of life. Because of the specific environmental conditions in peat bogs, there are many species of plant, insect and animals that rely on these areas. They have formed specific niches within these environments and cannot easily adjust to life elsewhere.

    Because of this, peatlands also play a huge role in supporting global biodiversity. You may wonder why this is important. Many campaigns use flagship species such as Polar Bears, Tigers and more locally, Otters to signify the importance of biodiversity. It seems a terrible shame that future generations may exist in a world where these species do not exist. However, there is a lot more to biodiversity than just the “when it’s gone it’s gone” problem.

    Ecosystems and the earth as a whole, (as the first name suggests) are systems. In her book “Thinking in Systems” Donnella Meadows describes a system as “a set of things, people, cells, molecules or whatever interconnected in such a way, that they produce their own pattern of behaviour over time”. Each of the species and organisms within a system contribute towards how the system can behave and regulate itself, both on a local and global scale. The more biodiversity we have the more likely that our ecosystems and therefore our planet will be in balance. This means that they will be more resilient to disturbances and natural disasters, and able to adapt to change. The more we degrade the system by losing these species, the less resilient it becomes. We can already see this with climate change and the loss of our natural carbon sinks such as woodlands and peat bogs making the earth less resilient to the change in our fossil fuel use.

    CLIMATE CHANGE

    Although peatlands only cover around 3% of the earth’s surface they are estimated to hold twice as much carbon as all the world’s trees. They also lock in many other greenhouse gases. When peat is drained and no longer waterlogged, the carbon rich organic matter starts to oxidise and release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It goes without saying then, that peat extraction is utterly disastrous for our CO2 emissions. Not only does its extraction actively add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, but it also removes its future capability to drawn down carbon dioxide.

    We gardeners are generally quite conscientious. There are numerous schemes to plant more trees, often getting gardeners involved to grow more too. This is all very well, but if we continue to use peat in our gardens, we can’t possibly hope to offset our carbon footprint.

    As gardeners, the single most powerful thing that we can do is to try and build organic matter in our soils. Organic matter locks in carbon, providing that it is left undisturbed. On top of this, as plants photosynthesise, converting atmospheric carbon into carbohydrates, they pump down up to 40% of this into the soil, feeding the soil organisms. In exchange, the organisms living in the soil release nutrients to our plants, living in a symbiotic relationship with our plants. When we leave our soils as undisturbed as possible and simply add organic matter, we will facilitate this reciprocal relationship and build healthy soil that stores carbon. Our plants will thrive on the naturally available nutrients and continue to draw down and store more carbon.

    Peatlands have been doing this for many thousands – and in some case many millions of years, with peat being the precursor to coal formation, which is almost pure carbon.

    ALTERNATIVES

    Peat is now being banned in horticulture so we must move to find alternatives. Over the last few years several alternatives have become more popular, such as coir. Coir is a fantastic resource made from the discarded husks of coconuts. Unfortunately, here in the UK we live a long way from the nearest coconut trees and therefore this resource needs to be shipped so that we can use it. Not only does this come with its own carbon footprint, but it is also problematic because it is removing this valuable resource for use from local farmers.

    Luckily, compost has always been easy to make ourselves. A lot of home gardeners already do a brilliant job of making their own composts, turning waste products into garden gold. If we need to buy more compost there are brilliant peat free composts available on the market, including Dalefoot’s organic compost.

    When choosing a compost consider where the original material has come from. Peat is a very unsustainable product that we extract and use at a much faster rate than it can rebuild. Furthermore, destroying peat bogs for our own use seems wholly unwise given the host of incredible natural services that peat can do for us when left in its natural environment.

    Following the Peat Free April movement on social media for more information on why peat is such an incredible resource, and what we can do to preserve it.

    ..............................................................

    Becky is an ecologist and kitchen gardener passionate about growing her own food at home in a sustainable, organic way. Visit her website here.

  • It’s a pair! Not one but two of our peat-free composts have been shortlisted for this year’s RHS Chelsea Sustainable Garden Product of the Year.

    Our Wool Compost for Potting and Wool Compost Double Strength, both recently reformulated with added comfrey, have joined eight other environmentally-friendly products on the shortlist for the annual awards that champion sustainability in the horticultural industry. They will be judged at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2022, sponsored by The Newt in Somerset, which returns to its usual May dates for the first time since 2019.

    The judges include Dragons’ Den investor Deborah Meaden and sustainability expert Chris Harrop OBE who commented on this year’s innovations:
    “It’s been really encouraging to see such a broad range of products making the shortlist that are affordable and accessible for most people’s pockets. We’re also pleased to have independent makers as well as household brands in the selection, which indicates how much demand there is from consumers to have more sustainable gardening products out on the market.” All of the finalists will be on display to visitors at RHS Chelsea Flower Show with the winner announced on Monday 23 May 2022.

    Our products shortlisted are:


    Wool Compost for Potting
    This climate friendly, nutrient rich peat-free compost uniquely blends sheep’s wool and dynamic accumulator crops, bracken and comfrey, which capture carbon and at the same time, yield significant levels of natural nutrients, trace elements and minerals to nourish growing plants.


    Wool Compost Double Strength
    This fertiliser strength wool compost, has the power to enable gardeners to reuse existing compost rather than throw it away, making it a sustainable option to their growing. Made from 100% natural, fully traceable, UK sourced and renewable ingredients, this nutrient rich compost offers a credible answer to the pressing needs of peat-free and climate change gardening.

    The RHS Chelsea Flower Show Sustainable Garden Product of the Year was launched in 2021 to recognise the best new sustainable garden products at the show. In line with the ever increasing importance to ensure products offer sustainable solutions, an expert judging panel assess the shortlisted products placing prominence on environmental sustainability as well as taking into account their innovation, visual appeal, functionality and quality. Read about the other finalists here...

  • In an unique exhibit at this May’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show, we will be teaming up with the Eden Project to bring home to gardeners the critical importance of UK peatlands to our climate.

    In an immersive Discovery Zone display, gardeners will be invited ‘to step into’ a restored Cumbrian bog - Bolton Fell Moss - to experience the secrets, sounds and beauty of these enormous bog gardens.


    Alongside, a bountiful potager of vegetables and companion planting grown in our peat-free compost by gold-medal-winning Pennard Plants, will illustrate what gardeners can achieve in their own plot by switching to peat-free gardening.


    Peatlands only occupy about 3% of the Earth’s land surface but are the largest terrestrial carbon store on the planet. UK peatlands cover around 12% of its land area and store 3.2 billion tonnes of carbon, more than twice that of the UK’s forests*, as well as being very important habitats for biodiversity.

    We are not only a major manufacturer of peat-free compost but also a leading restorer of damaged peatlands, including the restored site at Bolton Fell which is now a National Nature Reserve. Our co-founder Professor Jane Barker said: “Up until now, the scientific understanding underpinning individual gardeners’ responsibility to climate change gardening has not been well communicated. We want to demonstrate how you can easily make a difference in your own garden by ditching the use of peat and switching to peat-free compost.

    “The importance of peat and peatlands to our climate and the planet have also not been made clear or accessible for our gardeners, whilst trees have taken centre stage and are much easier to relate to. However, peat is hugely significant to our climate’s future.”

    The timeline of a bog will be illustrated in the RHS Chelsea exhibit to show the thousands of years peat represents. Peat grows at only 1mm per year and this will be contrasted to the bags of peat compost it would yield and the short season of growth that peat might give gardeners.

    Whilst the Government has set targets for peatland restoration and is currently consulting on a peat ‘ban’ in amateur gardening there remains a significant resistance to switching to peat-free and it is predicted even more peat could be used in the future. Of the 5.44 million cubic metres of growing media used in 2020, 79% was used by amateur gardeners. Two-thirds of peat sold in the UK is from Europe, meaning we are effectively exporting our carbon footprint. Voluntary targets set for peat sellers have had little impact and the new target of ending peat sales by 2024 is being questioned for being too slow and not enough.


    This is our latest initiative with the Eden Project to promote the sustainability benefits of peat-free gardening. Our Wool Compost is endorsed by the world-renowned environmental charity and social enterprise, and we have plans to work together on other future initiatives.

  • This Spring we teamed up with renowned kitchen garden writer Rekha Mistry to explain how she uses our Wool Compost for Seeds... 

     

    'Time to sow onion seeds. You asked when I sow and in particular HOW I sow. HOW I have achieved those magnificent harvests over the past 3 years from seeds!

    For the past 3 winters, I get very excited when I receive @dalefootcomposts seed compost. And onion seeds are the first on my list to be sown. I've found the quality of this peat-free seed compost to be fine in structure and always of superb quality. Oh my joy to find it now contains comfrey too! Fantastic! I do not need to worry about the nutrient boost seedlings will need whilst in a seed tray!

    To save on space, compost and trays. For 'spring sown' onion seeds, I always use full size deep seed trays with drainage holes. Fill it with lovely fluffy Dalefoot compost. Tap down the tray and then tamp down the compost gently with a tampering tool or a similar sized tray to create an even growing space. This not only removes air pockets but helps achieve even germination for such a large number of seeds sown too. Carefully scatter seeds evenly. (I scatter no more than 80 seeds, because I will not fuss over this tray again. I will not thin out individually until planting out day in April). Next I always prefer to seive over 1cm layer of seed compost. Tamp down again, so seeds and the "compost sandwich" are in contact with each other. Then label and water from base. Tray is now set in the unheated greenhouse with a propagator lid until germination takes place. As soon as seedlings appear, the lid is off and all I will do until April is keep this tray watered when needed.

    That's it. Next time you see this tray, it will be in April when I plant out. For successful onion seedlings good quality 'seed compost' and seeds are required.

    I'm here for you should you need my guidance. Happy sowing!'

    Rekha

     

    Rekha runs her blog Rekha's Kitchen Garden where she shares her wealth of gardening knowledge, tips and recipes. You can also find her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter

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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

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