• Caption: Becky Searle using our Wool Compost for Seeds
    Caption: Delicious veg grown by Becky
    Caption: Becky’s productive garden
    Caption: Leave stumps in the ground as they are full of carbon and nutrients

    Sunday 5 December marks World Soil Day, when we can focus on the importance of healthy soil, so our sort of day! We’ve asked Becky Searle, expert kitchen gardener and ecologist, to explain why our soil is so vital and how you can take care of it....


    'As gardeners we are constantly being told to look after our soil, feed our soil and care for it like it’s a living organism. But very few of us actually understand what this means.

    Then there are those who treat their soil like dirt; as though it is simply a convenient place to put our plants. Sometimes a bit too clayey for our liking, or perhaps too sandy, but rarely considered for what it really is.

    The truth is that the soil is a diverse and teeming ecosystem. It’s absolutely full of tiny microscopic lives. In fact, there are more lives in one handful of healthy garden soil than people who have ever lived on the planet.

    Healthy ecosystems exist in a form of balance known as dynamic equilibrium. Ecosystems are subject to many factors that could destabilise them such as weather events, change in temperature and new species arriving. But a healthy ecosystem is resilient and will possess all the tools needed to cope with this change, and stabilise itself once more.

    All the organisms in an ecosystem interact with one another, fighting pests, feeding one another and maintaining their environment together. As they move about and feed they decompose organic matter, release nutrients from the bedrock and the sediments and aerate the soil. This means that if we have a healthy soil ecosystem we have soil that is rich in nutrients that doesn’t get flooded or dried out. This makes it the perfect environment for our plants’ roots that need to take in oxygen to respire just as much as they need to take in water. But also it is instantly hostile for those disease causing microbes that thrive in anaerobic conditions.

    In a garden ecosystem we tend to remove organic matter from the system either by clearing fallen leaves, pulling plants that have gone over or by harvesting from our vegetable gardens. Either way, we interrupt the cycle of returning carbon to the ground and feeding the organisms in the soil. It is therefore vital if we want to care for our soils and reap the benefits of having healthy soil that we add organic matter to our soils.

    Compost is the perfect solution. Whilst it may look fully decomposed to us, it is in fact just at the beginning of the decomposition process with much farther to go. It therefore makes a perfect feast for our soil life. This and it doesn’t create any nice hiding places for things like slugs!

    The life within the soil is programmed to come to the surface to feed, as this is where dead organic matter would fall in nature. Therefore it stands to reason that mulching, rather than digging in is the best way to feed the life in the soil.

    It is important when choosing a compost mulch that we make sure it is not contaminated with pesticides, herbicides or fungicides. Sadly there have been many issues in recent years with compost contaminated by the aminopyralid herbicides and reducing a thriving garden to toxic wastelands.

    Mulching with a good quality, peat-free compost such as Dalefoot provides a nutritious meal throughout the year for that all important soil life. And its status as certified organic reassures us growers that there are no nasty chemicals that will harm our plants and ecosystems.'


    To find out more about Becky, check out her website https://sowmuchmore.co.ukYoutube Sow Much More, Instagram @sow_much_more and Facebook Sow Much More 

  • The Rose Garden, Lowther Castle
    Caption: The Rose Garden, Lowther Castle
    Caption: The recently erected rose pergola with fountain makes a bold statement
    Caption: Four of the many thousands of roses looking spectacular in rain
    Caption: Head Gardener, Martin Ogle (Right) with Dan Pearson (left) who worked closely together along with the team to make the new rose garden such a success.

    We're lucky enough for Head Gardener, Martin Ogle to have taken time out from his busy schedule at Lowther Castle and Gardens to let us know a bit more about his gardening background and current challenges. 


    1. What’s your earliest gardening memory?

    Helping my grandad care for his garden with duties such as pruning roses and mowing lawns.


    2. Have you followed a formal route into horticulture via college?

    Yes, I trained at Newton Rigg College for a diploma in horticulture and then progressed to a certificate in gardening.


    3. When did you join Lowther and what was it like to start working on such a large garden?

    I joined the project at Lowther in 2012 and became head gardener in 2013. It is a pleasure to be able to work on such a large project and work alongside a talented group of gardeners and garden designer.


    4. What are the main challenges you face on a day-to-day basis?

    Regular challenges can always be weather or ground conditions, we also have the challenges of working around visitors and ensuring a safe environment is maintained.


    5. What are the best things about your job?

    Being able to influence and manage such a large-scale project which will have influence on visitors and gardeners, now and in the future.


    6. How long have you been using peat-free compost and what are the issues this poses?

    We have been using peat-free composts for many years now, so have become accustomed to it. We do not encounter any issues using peat-free products.


    7. Next year are there any exciting plans for the gardens?

    We have many exciting plans for the gardens at Lowther. Over the next few years we will be concentrating on developing our western gardens, which will see a new layer of horticulture implemented for the rock garden, Japanese garden and sweet scented gardens.


    8. If you hadn’t been a gardener, what would you be?

    I am sure my path would have led to horticulture in some form.


    9. What’s your favourite season?
    Autumn. I enjoy late flowering perennials and how they offer individual moments through a retreating planting scheme. In the garden, autumn marks the transition from a busy summer and allows you to slow the pace and enjoy the changing colours in the trees and shrubs. Autumn is a time to plant bulbs, which is a favourite task of mine, and preparing for what’s to come in the next season.


    10. What’s your favourite plant/plants and why?
    I am very fond of trees and shrubs and their use in gardens and landscapes, one of my favourite shrubs is Amelanchier Candensis for its spring flower and also its autumnal colours.


    If you fancy a trip to visit the rose garden, visit the Lowther Castle & Gardens website.

    *Photo credit Tony Rumsey MBE

  • Caption: Vicky Nuttall of GIMA, Arabella Barker Bland - Daughter of Simon & Jane, Pauline Lewington - Sales Manager, Lizzi Meth-Cohn - Production Manager, Vernon Kay

    We are incredibly proud to be the very first recipient of GIMA’s (Garden Industry Manufacturer’s Association) Sustainability Award for helping to promote and encourage sustainable gardening.

    We have championed the benefits of using peat-free composts for 25 years. Our nature-friendly composts made from sheep’s wool and carbon fixers bracken and comfrey, reduce the gardener’s environmental footprint and offer a climate-positive substitute for peat while contributing to global greenhouse gas savings.

    Our peatland restoration work was also recognised for its sustainability credentials by the GIMA judges who described Dalefoot as, “a company that has sustainability and the environment at the very heart of what it does. As well as delivering a great peat-free product, its peatland restoration work makes Dalefoot a worthy winner of this inaugural Sustainability Award.”

    Our work restoring peatlands across the UK is invaluable in reducing carbon release and returning bogs to functioning, healthy eco-systems. Peat bogs store more carbon than trees and many are now in a poor condition, releasing carbon rather than storing it which is contributing to climate change.

    It was a busy week for Dalefoot’s co-founder, Professor Jane Barker, who shared her extensive knowledge when she presented on the culture of horticultural peat at COP26 in Glasgow last week.

    Sustainability is key at Dalefoot, from the sourcing and harvesting of renewable, carbon-fixing ingredients through to our innovative blends, packaging and delivery.

    The GIMA win is the second sustainability award we have won this year. We are also thrilled to be the winner of the Rural Business Awards North Sustainability and Environmental Impact Award 2021. As regional winners, we are now through to the National Final in 2022, watch this space…. let’s make it a hat-trick!

  • Caption: Our Wool Compost for Potting is now endorsed by the Eden Project

    We are thrilled to announce our new partnership with the Eden Project to promote super-sustainable gardening. The Eden Project, a world-renowned environmental charity and social enterprise, connects us with each other and the living world, exploring how we can work towards a better future. Working together with the Eden Project to help fight climate change, we want to inspire Britain’s gardeners to embrace sustainable gardening and switch to using “climate positive” peat-free compost in outdoor spaces, window boxes and allotments.

    The urgent need to ‘protect, restore and sustainably manage’ global peatlands is one of the key messages being presented at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference, known as COP26. Using peat in gardens is environmentally damaging. Did you know harvesting peat for horticulture damages peatbogs? The peatlands release carbon into the atmosphere rather than storing it, contributing to climate change. The majority of peat use in the UK can easily be replaced by more sustainable alternatives.

    Here at Dalefoot our unique range of peat-free composts boasts materials grown on the farm using carbon-storing crops, making them climate positive. It is not only through our peat-free composts we are helping to fight climate change; we also restore damaged peatbogs throughout the UK using specialist techniques and equipment to help reduce carbon release and return the peat bogs to functioning, healthy eco-systems.

    Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do when making our sustainable, climate positive and peat-free range of composts. We harvest bracken from the Lakeland fells, and other sites of conservation across the country and blend this with wool from native hill sheep and comfrey grown on our farm. Our unique mix of fully traceable, fertilising ingredients provides slow-release nutrition for plants, so no need to feed, whilst also reducing the need to water.

    Our Wool Compost for Potting is now endorsed by the Eden Project and will include the Eden Project logo on each bag. We are planning other joint initiatives with the world-renowned environmental charity and social enterprise over the coming years.

    Working together towards a better future.


    For more information on the Eden Project visit their website here.

  • Caption: Kims Climate Change Garden in West Wales
    Kims Climate Change Garden, pictured above
    Caption: Kim allowing wildlife and Weeds into her swale to provide flood protection

    In an extract from the Dalefoot sponsored, The Climate Change Garden Book, co-author Kim Stoddart explains how to better protect your garden from flooding...

    As Cop 26 brings awareness to the on-the-ground importance of environmental action around climate change, many parts of the country are mopping up after a weekend of heavy rain and storms. In the UK an estimated five million homes in the UK are at risk of flooding and with the predicted rising sea levels, and greater extremes of weather, unfortunately flooding is going to become more commonplace. It already is.

    In the garden, compost rich soil is better able to hold and absorb a greater excess of water, so making your loam the best it can be is always a help all year round for natural resilience and vitality from the ground up. Working with perennials, which have deeper root structures and can help soak up rain, using ground cover over winter and not digging your soil are all incredibly important actions to take for our whatever-the-weather future.

    In a natural ecosystem, most of the rainwater soaks into the ground. While some is taken up by plant roots, most continues downward to the water table. The water is filtered through the rocks, so clean water recharges the water table. But, in gardens, hard landscaping and other impermeable surfaces mean that the water cannot soak into the ground so it has to flow elsewhere. To stop your garden from flooding you need to slow down the movement of water, giving it the chance to soak into the ground or flow gently into local water courses.

    Slow it, spread it, sink it. Here’s how:
    Work together with neighbours
    It’s surprising just how much difference a group of neighbouring gardeners can do to reduce flood risk, so work together. Joint actions might include collecting rainwater by using water butts, avoiding bare patches of soil, directing water away from neighbours’ gardens, to reduce the amount of water leaving one garden and entering that of a neighbours. And a really simple, but effective, idea to trap and slow down water is for everybody in the street to simply put a load of buckets on their deck or patio to catch water. They can empty them gradually after the rain has stopped or use them to refill water butts.

    Slowing down water
    Slow water means encouraging water to move into the soil and reducing run off and there are lots of ways you can improve the flood resilience of your garden by incorporating clever slow water features in your garden.

    1. Mulching Spreading a thick layer of compost over the soil each year will boost soil organic matter and create a permeable surface that water can penetrate and drain through. Bare soil can be surprisingly impervious as the impact of water droplets on soil creates a barrier, so don’t leave bare soil. Instead, mulch it with compost, cover it with plastic or grow a green manure. Trees are useful too, as their roots absorb water from over a large area, so a garden with trees and shrubs can absorb more water than the same area of garden without trees and shrubs.

    2. Raised beds can be incredibly useful in gardens where water collects. The advantage of a raised bed is that it lies above the water level, so the soil does not get waterlogged.

    3. Avoiding large areas of concrete and other impermeable surfaces is important as they create a lot of run-off. Instead, use paving stones, bricks or gravel so that water can seep through the gaps.

    4. French drains and weeping tiles A French drain is a small trench that is backfilled with gravel. It allows water to drain away from a building, driveway or lawn, stopping water from collecting and reducing the risk of flash floods. To improve the flow of water further, a perforated drainage pipe known as a weeping tile is laid along the bottom of the trench to help carry water away from the house to an area that can cope with the water or to a soakaway. Weeping tiles were once made from terracotta but nowadays they are plastic.

    5. Water butts and storage tanks are great for harvesting water for use in the garden in summer but, once they are full in winter, they are no help at all in slowing down water. After a storm, when they are full to capacity, it is best to let the water drain away gradually so that, when it rains again, they can collect a large volume of water. Make sure the valves are closed from April onwards so you have plenty of water for summer.

    6. Swales and berms Swales are ditches that are built along the garden contours and are physical barriers to slow down the movement of water and runoff. The raised bank beside the swale is called a berm and they work together to slow run off, with the swale filling with water and slowing down its movement. Swales can be built so that they direct water to a soak away, rain garden or storm drain.


    About the Climate Change Garden Book
    Kim is the co-author of The Climate Change Garden book with Sally Morgan, the essential guide to all things climate change savvy growing in our changing climate. www.climatechangegarden.uk

    About Kim Stoddart
    Kim has been writing in the national press on climate change gardening since 2013 in publications such as The Guardian. She has regular columns in Country Smallholding and Grow Your Own magazines and edits The Organic Way magazine for Garden Organic. Kim also runs in-person and online courses on resilient growing via www.greenrocketcourses.com

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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

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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