• We're delighted that Sara Venn of Edible Bristol will be sharing a nugget of wisdom with us each month - she will share her gardening know-how and experiences acquired over many years running the community growing scheme, Edible Bristol. If you think small changes don't make a difference, read on...

    In 2016 Edible Bristol, made an open commitment to go peat free. Now, it’s fair to say we had been 90% peat free up to that point, but as a community based organisation every now and then we are gifted compost, and it was mainly that we were turning those gifts down, and committing to paying a premium for peat free products.

    Not the easiest thing to do you might think?

    What we did was lead the way.

    Now the local authority is peat free, the local waste company is making compost, the local garden centres are peat free!

    That’s community making change.

    Sara.

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

    Follow Sara Venn on Instagram @saralimback , Twitter @Saralimback and Facebook @Saravenn - The Community Gardener or visit The Community Garden website

  • Caption: Ade
    Caption: Aubergines in a pot
    Caption: Sweet Potatoes
    Caption: Tomatoes

    There’s no doubt Spring is here, and for us gardeners it’s a busy time in the calendar as we sow, grow and pot on. Every year we tell ourselves the same thing, “I’d love to grow that, but I just don’t have the space”. Yet, the first sign of warm weather and common sense goes out the window. Greenhouses are crammed with precious seedlings, whilst flowerbeds begin to bulge with newly planted possibilities.

    Garden areas are truly precious. For many of us it’s limited, but for many more people they have very little space, leaving them to think ‘growing your own’ is a pipe dream. So, whether it’s a patio, balcony or a few pots, what can you do to make your small space shine?

    A sunny balcony can offer so much growing opportunity for trailing plants. Potted into hanging baskets, or secure flower boxes, the plants can hang down, filling the area with colour and interest. Plants to consider are petunias, lobelia and trailing fuchsias. Ensure you use Dalefoot’s Wool Compost for Potting, as this will not only provide all your plant needs, but will help to retain moisture as we head into those warm summer months.

    If you have a little more space on your balcony, patio or courtyard, add a few large pots or containers with summer bedding plants. You don’t need to grow them from seed if you’re lacking growing space, as your local garden nursery will have a wide range, and often they don’t cost the earth. For a bit of flare, mix up your planting scheme with osteospermum, gazania and gerbera. Or, if you’re looking for plants with height, cornflower, bishop’s flower and tithonia are worthy contenders. They will happily grow in pots and hold the promise of entertaining bees and other pollinators.

    But, if you really want your area to shine, and don’t mind getting your hands dirty, try sowing a few sunflower seeds using Dalefoot’s Wool Compost for Seeds. If you have the budget, pot up a few canna or dahlia tubers. All easy plants to grow, that offer a huge variety of size, colour and bloom, that will guarantee something for every growing area. Even a packet of wildflower seeds sown into a container can offer colour and interest, and give a child the chance to garden and get closer to nature.

    However, small spaces can often be shaded spaces, so what can you do to bring interest to these areas? Hostas and ferns are low maintenance plants, that offer wonderful interest and structure. Fuchsias, coleus and heuchera are also excellent plants for a shady spot. Consider planting a small acer into the ground or a container or pot. Slow-growing, and with its attractive foliage changing over the seasons, it can be a real focal point for the space.

    There’s a train of thought that you need a lot of space to grow vegetables, but this isn’t the case as there’s so much you can still grow in a limited space. Many varieties of veg now have a dwarf variation, giving you a healthy crop and a plant that doesn’t grow as large.

    Potatoes are always an easy veg to start with. Grown in potato sacks and containers, they take up little space. Also, once the flowers and foliage appear, they make for an attractive feature. For a change of scenery sweet potatoes are fun to grow. Courgettes are a must for a sunny corner, that will also happily grow in sacks and containers. For a continual harvest, plant them up with Dalefoot’s Compost for Vegetables and Salad, and establish a regular watering regime. Once they start to produce fruit, the key is to pick the courgettes regularly. Not only are you getting a constant supply, but it tells the plant to continue producing.

    Of course, if you can’t grow out, grow up. Smaller variety of squashes can be grown as trailing plants such as uchiki kuri and little gem. Beans, peas are vertical growing plants that have a minimum footprint, and you don’t need to grow many to get a good crop. The key is to create a strong structure so they can latch on and pull themselves up.

    Hanging baskets are not just for flowers, they’re also ideal for growing tomatoes such as ‘tumbling tom’ and ‘pear drops’. Also, small cucumber varieties like ‘Hopeline’ and bush chilli plants will also grow in these baskets. If you enjoy fresh fruit, then you have to try growing strawberries in hanging baskets. Long window boxes on a balcony or window’s edge are a perfect setting for strawberries. Plant early, mid-season and late varieties, and you could be eating freshly picked strawberries throughout summer.

    Salad leaves, such as rocket and little gem, are versatile and perfect for the summer menu. Treat them as displays by potting them up in hanging baskets, pots or window containers. Don’t be too concerned if they’re grown in a slight shady area, as this will restrict their chances of bolting as summer temperatures increase.

    Believe it or not, fruit trees can still be an option in a limited space. Many varieties are grown on dwarf root stock, which determines the vigour of the tree thus producing a smaller specimen. As these trees take up less space, they can be grown in pots and containers, and kept on a sunny patio or balcony allowing you to enjoy freshly picked fruit. Stepover fruit trees alongside a path are also a great option, taking up little space that make a great feature and help to create structure to a small area. When choosing your tree, opt for self-fertilising varieties. That way, you won’t need another similar variety for cross pollination purposes. Also, if you do have the space for another fruit tree, it means you can go for a different fruit altogether, giving your tastebuds and space more choice.

    If you are lucky enough to own a few flowerbeds, why not try growing a bit of veg in amongst your flowers. They’ll grow happily together, and if you get the right combination you’ve got companion planting. Where flower and veg plant work together to attract pollinators and deter pests. Also, this informal design of ornamental and edible plants closely planted together can give your growing area that charming ‘cottage garden’ look, which will make many onlookers stop and stare at your functional space.

    Intercropping is an ideal option if you have a limited growing area. For gaps between flowers and vegetables, try filling them with short-term veggies such as lettuce, radishes or spinach. By starting these seeds off in a greenhouse, they’ll germinate quicker, giving you a plug plant, you can pop into the ground where you see gaps appears.

    Don’t let the size of your growing space restrict you ambition. Although garden books, magazines and garden shows can instruct you on what you should do, I believe a little garden anarchy, and breaking a few rules can be a good thing. Afterall, if you can’t make mistakes free of judgement, how will you learn, discover and be encouraged to go further on your garden adventure. Gardening is for everyone, no matter what your space is. It’s not an exclusive club for the few, it’s shed doors are open to everyone.

    BIOG
    I’m Ade Sellars the ‘Good Life Gardener’, and I’m am award-winning garden writer, gardener, presenter, and content producer, with a passion for growing my own food in my kitchen garden. As well as running my own gardening business, I design kitchen gardens, write for magazines, produce tailored video content for gardening brands, flower shows and outdoor events and I regularly deliver talks and demonstrations around the country.

    Website: www.adesellars.com
    Instagram: adesellars
    YouTube: @TheGoodLifeGardener
    LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ade-sellars-the-good-life-gardener-7429ba42/

  • Caption: Constructing the garden in my old house
    Caption: July after sowing everything in March
    Caption: My currrent garden, with lots of flowers and my greenhouse in the sunniest spot

    There you stand, the tingle of spring on your skin and the seed of an idea sprouting in your mind: you want to start a garden. If you have let this thought escape, you will likely have been met with a barrage of well-meaning advice. People have likely listed their favourite plants and told you to dig them all over, not to dig them or cover them with weed membranes, or never use that awful weed membrane. The information out there is conflicting at best and, at worst, overwhelming.

    As an ecologist, I have studied plants and their interactions with nature. I have tried to weave this into my gardening, too, and along the way, I have had plenty of opportunities to practice. As an average millennial, I have moved house too many times to count. I have started more new gardens than I care to remember. But along the way, I have honed my technique, and nowadays, I can confidently say that I can start a garden in a day.


    The thing with gardens is that they are—and should always be—a journey. DIY programs on TV that roll out cookie-cutter gardens for people in desperate need of some outdoor space fail to recognise one thing: gardens are transient. They are subject to seasons, weather, changing needs, and, of course, the dreaded garden pests. That being said, starting your garden journey needn’t be arduous.

    Getting Started

    When starting a new garden, vegetable patch, or allotment, you must first decide how you want to use the space. Whether you really like holding big family barbecues or your kids want to play football, your outside space must reflect the needs of the users.


    The next thing to consider is your budget. Gardens can be done on a budget, but it takes more time. This can be wonderful if you are happy to sit and let nature do its’ work, filling your garden year after year with surprises and joy. If you have a decent budget, you can consider doing some hard landscaping and buying more mature plants, which will have a more instant impact.


    Next, you must assess the conditions in your garden. You might be well-acquainted with them, but if not, spend some time outdoors. Doing some weeding is an excellent way to find out how you move around your garden, where the shady spots are, and what the soil is like. If you’re unsure what the light will be like in your garden, you can talk to your neighbours or try to work it out roughly. Do this by finding out which way your garden faces and then working out what will cast shade on your site. Don’t forget that the sun will be much higher in the sky during summer than in spring, spring, and autumn.
    Lastly, work out what you like. With this, I encourage you to trawl Pinterest and Instagram, open books and visit other gardens. Get to know what excites you, and if you’re unsure, leave your options open when designing your garden.

    Designing your garden

    Sketch your garden. This can be precisely measured or just rough. Hard landscaping will take more than a day, and you will need an exact plan; otherwise, you can get away with drawing it roughly.

    In your garden, you will need:
    - Somewhere to sit (this is essential, even if it’s just somewhere to perch)
    - A plan for how you will move around; this can be a path, but it doesn’t have to be.
    - Somewhere for plants, this can be borders, beds or containers.

    You might also want:
    - A shed: this is essential if you have gardening tools that need housing. Place your shed somewhere easily accessible but otherwise not valuable for planting space, such as a shady area.
    - A water butt: this will help keep watering costs to a minimum. Choose somewhere near a guttering downpipe or next to something with a roof to collect water from it.
    - A compost bin: This will help you recycle nutrients in your garden and reduce costs. Place this somewhere sheltered, away from the house. Compost bins are a good use of spaces where you would struggle to grow plants.
    - A greenhouse: this is great if you want to raise some plants from seed or if you want to keep plants that need protection in winter. To get the best out of your greenhouse, put it somewhere with as much sun as possible. Make sure it is well-anchored so it doesn’t get damaged.
    - A pond: This is the best thing you can do for the wildlife in your garden, and it will help you to balance your garden ecosystem for natural pest control. You can build a container pond or have a pond sunken into the ground. Build your pond somewhere that won’t get in the way and won’t pose a risk to people moving around your garden. Building ponds under trees isn’t recommended as they fill with leaves in autumn and become more challenging to manage.

    There are plenty of other things you might choose to have in your garden. Some you can add right away, and others will have to wait. So, you must plan where everything will go at the outset so you can work to that idea, although, of course, plans can always be changed!

    My Garden

    When I moved into an uninspiring newly built terrace house at the end of 2020, the garden was completely bare—an unloved patch of scrubby grass. I knew I wanted to grow vegetables and fill it with colour and flavour. In March 2021, I built some raised beds – with the sole aim of keeping my tortoise away from my vegetables. Unfortunately, my little shelled friend is an accomplished climber, and the beds did little to protect my precious seedlings. However, they created plenty of habitat for slugs, snails and woodlice. If I had a choice, I wouldn’t use raised beds for this reason.

    Before constructing my raised beds, I mowed the grass as low as possible. I then covered it with cardboard. This helps suppress the grass and the weeds and breaks them down quickly. It adds structure to the soil and doesn’t add microplastics like weed fabrics can. Once I had added several layers of card, I watered it and covered it with a few inches of compost. As soon as this was done, I was ready to plant! I planted flowers and vegetables and later that year feasted on my home-grown food.

    Preparing the soil

    Many people struggle with preparing soil in their gardens, but the truth is, it couldn’t be easier. You need to start by assessing your soil. Does it regularly get waterlogged? Is it acidic, alkaline, or neutral? You can’t easily change what you have, but the conditions will give you an idea of what plants will work best in your garden. If your soil routinely gets waterlogged, you must add some drainage. This can be in the form of soakaways, drains, additional organic matter, or raised beds to create height and lift your plant roots away from waterlogging.

    Once you have determined what soil you have and marked out where your beds will be, you need to add organic matter. Do this where you intend to plant. You might want to build some raised beds first, but this is an aesthetic thing and purely optional.

    Almost all soils are depleted in organic matter. Depleted soil will not hold onto water well or become waterlogged easily and will not supply your plants with enough nutrients. If you want to combat all these problems, add organic matter. Do this in the form of a mulch on your beds. I recommend using compost as it doesn’t create habitat for garden pests. If your soil is heavy and sticky, use a compost such as Lakeland gold to add more structure to your soil. If you have light, sandy soils, consider something nutrient-rich, such as Double Strength, as this acts as a fabulous soil improver. If you want to plant seedlings or sow directly into your beds, I recommend using an excellent all-purpose compost such as Veg and Salad compost, as this will support seedling growth without overpowering them.
    Refrain from digging your soils as this will further deplete them of organic matter, which is oxidised and broken down by the sun during digging.

    Weeds

    Most annual weeds can be suppressed under cardboard or simply hoed out. More pernicious weeds, however, may need to be removed more forcibly. If you have brambles, they will need to be dug out. Thistles, doc, and dandelions all have long taproots and should be gently levered out with a long weeding tool as they can regenerate from their roots. Couch grass doesn’t usually back down when using weed suppressant, so I tend to pull it up, roots and all.

    Nettles and bindweed can also be pulled up and should be regularly hoed to drain them of energy and stop them from growing. Mares' tails should be routinely hoed, too, but can be challenging to eliminate. With all these weeds, avoid digging the soil as you risk spreading them and allowing them to multiply from fractions of their roots.

    Planting

    Once you have given your beds a good dose of organic matter, it’s time to start planting! There are several ways you can add plants to your garden:

    - Direct Sowing: Sow seeds directly into the bed. Do this with robust annual plants, and mark where you sowed them so you don’t accidentally mistake them for weeds. Annuals are wonderful for direct sowing.
    - Sowing in a greenhouse or on a windowsill: Raise your plants using some seed compost and then plant them out when they are a few inches tall and robust enough to withstand light pest damage. Make sure you don’t plant tender seedlings before the last frost!
    - Buying plug plants: Make sure to buy from a reputable source and avoid cheap plants, as they often contain systemic pesticides. Perennial plants will give you a show year after year, whereas annuals will bloom just this year and then die off. Biennials will grow in the first year and flower in the second, dying off after flowering. Perennials are, therefore, more expensive than annuals and biennials, but you get better value for money.
    - Buying mature plants: This is a great way to get instant impact, but it can be expensive. I recommend doing a mix. Visiting a nursery regularly and choosing plants that are in flower at different points in the year is an excellent way to bring colour into your garden throughout the seasons.

    When planting borders, try to use several different heights. You can put tall plants towards the back, with shorter plants at the front. Ensure that you are buying or sowing plants that will be suitable for your light and soil conditions. Don’t be afraid to move something if it doesn’t look right or is not thriving. Using a mixture of annuals, perennials, shrubs, trees, seedlings, and plug plants is the best approach to creating full and fun borders.

    The most important thing when creating your garden is to look after your soil. By adding organic matter and trying to reduce disturbance to the soil, you will allow the natural processes in the soil to work. This can help aerate and create drainage in your soil and release nutrients to your plants. None of this is possible without adequate levels of organic matter.

    I have started a new garden, primarily for growing flowers, and am setting up a new allotment, which I will use for vegetables, fruit, and flowers. If you want to follow my journey, see me on @Sow_Much_More on Instagram or Sow Much More on Facebook.

     

    Becky

     

    About Me:

    Becky is a garden writer with a background in ecology and botany. She has a keen knowledge of soil and spends the time outside her garden speaking and writing about natural gardening and soil ecology. Becky has a podcast called The Seed Pod and is active on social media as Sow Much More.

  • Tom is one of our gardener’s here at Dalefoot. He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to our team, and part of his job is to continually test our compost and grow food for the rest of the team to take home!

    Now that we are in March, the daylight length is longer and seed sowing time is upon us! Tom has kindly shared with us some of his knowledge with us on how to sow seeds effectively. Here are Tom’s Top Tips:
    • Always sow to the recommended depth. Some seeds do not have the power to put through a lot of compost, so make sure you read the planting depth properly. Small seeds need to be sown closer to the surface or on the surface. Don’t forget that some seeds need light to germinate.
    • Make sure you are sowing in a suitable size pot, cell or tray – the bigger the seed – the bigger the pot you need. Ensure that your cells, pots or trays are well-filled to allow maximum root growth.
    • Keep your seed compost moist but not overwatered or soggy. Water your seedlings with a spray bottle or fine watering rose. Some compost is not suitable for small module cells unless you can monitor them often.
    • Depending on the seeds, you should avoid exposing them to extreme temperatures and light to prevent the compost from drying out. Using a propagator lid can help to preserve moisture. For example, Big seeds like beans need to be treated differently from small seeds like petunia. If you are leaving them in a sunny greenhouse all day, the petunia will need covering, but the beans won’t, provided they were watered correctly.
    • Sow seeds according to your local average temperatures or last frost dates. This ensures you’re not putting plants out too early. Your temperatures and last frost dates will depend where you are in the country. If you have a protected or even heated growing space you can sow earlier, provided you have enough light.
    • If you need to pot on seedlings, it’s best to pot into seed compost if they are small or slow-growing. More vigorous plants can go straight into potting compost.
    • Sow greenhouse crops like tomatoes and chillies inside, earlier than your outdoor crops as they need a long growing season to produce a good crop. Make sure you have a space that’s ready for them at the right temperature and light levels. In the north of the country in an unheated greenhouse you will need to sow later than in the south.

    Using these simple tricks, making sure to use good quality compost and ensuring you follow the instructions on the seed packet, you are sure to have success with seed sowing. Order your seed compost now so you can get the season off to a great start.

  • Matterdale hag reprofiling before
    Caption: Matterdale hag reprofiling before
    Matterdale hag reprofiling after
    Caption: Matterdale hag reprofiling after
    Caption: Comfrey Bocking 14
    Caption: Looking at the roots of comfrey bocking 14
    Caption: Ground penetrating radar (scanning the comfrey roots)

    Dalefoot Composts is upping the environmental stakes by measuring how well the ingredients in its peat-free composts store carbon, as well as identifying the most eco-friendly way to restore a damaged peat bog.

    The Lake District company is using 21st century science to work out the environmental benefits of the traditional ingredients in its ‘old recipe’ gardening products. Teaming up with the University of Cumbria, it is investigating how much carbon is being stored by comfrey, a key ingredient in its peat-free compost range.

    Researchers are using ground penetrating radar to carry out the work on the comfrey crop, which is grown at Dalefoot Farm and then mixed with bracken and sheep’s wool to create the company’s unique composts. With its extensive root system, comfrey is renowned as a dynamic accumulator plant, tapping into beneficial nutrients deep underground. Knowing how much carbon it stores will enable Dalefoot Composts to share the carbon saving this carbon capture crop can yield.

    In a UK-first, Dalefoot Composts’ sister company, Barker and Bland Ltd – a leading peatland restoration contractor - is also working with the University of Cumbria to pinpoint the best methods to restore peat bogs. UK peatlands are our largest terrestrial store of carbon, and when healthy, store up to 20 times more carbon than trees. However, many have been devasted by peat harvesting, including for horticulture, and now release carbon into the atmosphere rather than storing it.

    The Government has been investing millions in repairing these precious landscapes, to halt the emission of carbon through erosion – but little thought has been put into how eco-friendly each restoration technique is or how it contributes to achieving a functioning, sequestering peatland.

    Professor Jane Barker, MD of Barker & Bland and Dalefoot Composts, said: “People are now beginning to question where their gardening materials, plants and composts come from, which is great news, and with the imminent Government ban, peat-free compost is finally becoming the norm. At Dalefoot, we have always pioneered climate-friendly horticulture by making peat-free composts, whilst at the same time, restoring peatlands – a 360 degree approach to eco-conscious gardening.

    “But we’ve noticed that on some restoration projects, led by other organisations, imported materials such as coir, lime and fertiliser are being used, and helicopters are then used to fly thousands of tons of these ‘alien’ materials to these remote sites as convention. We are confident our methods of using specialist equipment lighter than a human footprint and a ‘whole bog’ approach to restoration are much more environmentally effective. With this new research, we will be able to scientifically-prove the carbon footprint of our projects, something that has never been done in the UK before.”

    The peatland research project is being led by Dr Simon Carr of the University of Cumbria and Professor Barker with funding from Innovate UK, the country’s national innovation agency. In another exciting project, research will also be undertaken into using wool in peatland restoration.

    Dalefoot Composts is renowned for its premium composts made from sheep’s wool, bracken and comfrey. A carbon capture crop, comfrey is grown on a commercial scale at Dalefoot Farm in the Lake District and harvested up to four times a year. The company sources bracken from Wales, as well as locally in Cumbria – helping a diversity of farming communities and local landscapes.

    This unique mix of fully-traceable, natural, fertilising ingredients provides slow-release nutrition for plants, so no need to feed, whilst also reducing the need to water. Dalefoot’s entire range, which includes composts for potting, bulbs, seeds, vegetables, tomatoes, clay-busting and a double strength, is Soil Association-approved for organic growing. Its Wool Compost for Potting benefits from endorsement by the world-renowned Eden Project.

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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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