Potato trials


David, who has become a regular volunteer at the community garden with a sign for the compost area he has made for us

img_3762Suddenly the sun is shining, that bitter winter a distant memory and it is all go in the garden. We had a great team of volunteers this week for our regular Wednesday session at Pen Dinas and having spent the winter building the paths and raised beds we can finally turn our attention to planting the main crops.

We believe strongly that it is our role to try out different ideas and to test different varieties, growing strategies and methods as part of the garden’s contribution to local growing. Emma our lead horticulture trainer is also currently studying for her MSc so we are all encouraged to be more scientific in our approach to the work here.

Last week we firstly ploughed and then rotovated three areas of ground ready for planting our main crops in. We are very keen on zero tillage methods  but with a field of pasture full of couch grass to contend with we have to make a start somewhere  We hope that if we stay in control of the land and keep it covered when not in use that we wont have to plough it up again. We have also discovered in the process that much of our land has very thin soil with a very compact clay layer underneath it, so it is going to take some work, muck and compost to improve it and make it suitable for horticulture.

img_3750 So our approach here is informed by challenges, firstly shallow not that good soil, and secondly that the muck we are using is really fresh and would burn the potato shoots if we were to plant them in contact with the fresh cow manure. So we have dug a series of trenches, in which to put the muck, which we then covered with a thin layer of soil, before mounding them up into ridges.

A lot of work.. but it will be worth it in the longer run, as it will deepen and improve the soil a well as giving us a crop of spuds.

The potato trials using varieties such as Sarpo, newer varieties bread for blight resistance as well as resistance to weeds will form part of a much bigger series of test looking at the viability of certain new varieties. What we are testing here specifically is resistance to weeds.. and we are testing 5 varieties.. planted in a grid in a random patter, half of which will be weeded during the growing season and half not. This should give some clear results which can be fed back to the wider national survey.


Big pile of muck from the Coleg Powys farm

We used muck from the Coleg Powys stock farm.. who have an intensive unit raised beef cows indoors and feeding them on silage and grain. We have to say that we are not convinced by such methods that they are sustainable.. but it represents what is seen as the cutting edge of intensive meat production. This is an area we have not been involved in before.. with our main interest in horticulture or integrated systems like permaculture.

Anyway we are very happy to sue the muck that comes from it as it will be ideal for building our and its fertility.



Stopping for an choc ice break


It is fantastic when we get a whole team of people like this, hard at work on a big task together. We have 2 work experience students, a Wwoofer, some of our regular volunteers and staff.


A hand potato ridger tool and the finished beds


Beautiful blossom on the flowering currents


Raised bed with seat… designed by Coleg Powys students and made on a training day here at Pen Dinas



Regular community gardener Chris is testing to see if there is a discernible effect of reiki energy treatment on plants. ” beds have been planted up identically.. but only one is receiving special attention.

Plant nursery at Pen Dinas, veg seedlings and perennials for sale

With the winter finally receding we are at that lovely time of year when all the seedlings are sprouting and its time to think of the garden again. Emma and the horticulture team have been really busy germinating seedlings both for our garden here and Newtown and for sale.

To that end we now have peas, broad beans and lettuce seedlings for sale at £2 a tray from Pen Dinas. Please do drop by any weekday if you would like to purchase something. there will be more choice and more mature plants available each week from now on. We also have comfrey plants, currents, elder and some ornamentals available as well.

the start of the Get-Growing plant nursery

The start of the Get-Growing plant nursery – these are mainly edible and ornamental perennials

Lettuce seedlings are up in one of the raised beds at Pen Dinas

Lettuce seedlings are up in one of the raised beds at Pen Dinas – this one has been covered in fleece for some extra warmth

First seedlngs for sale from Get-Growing

First seedlings for sale from Get-Growing – these are just coming up now. rather late after this cold snowy spring

Broad beans

Broad beans

Micro allotment plots - part of the Newtown community market garden at Pen DInas

Micro allotment plots – part of the Newtown community market garden at Pen Dinas – this beautiful woven gate was made by long term volunteer Alex

Get-Growing gets busy

February is a key month for gardening.. preparing the soil, sharpening tools, getting ready for the coming growing season.  We have been propagating our perennial plants, grafting fruit trees, making paths, training our crew, planning courses and events and meeting with partners and funders. A hugely busy and exciting time of year.. here are a few pictures giving insight into some of what has been going on at the project.


View of the Get-Growing organic garden Feb 2012

permaculture revolution

Permaculture is the fastest growing grass roots movement in the world, its simple philosophy of working with nature challenges the very foundations of current behaviour. Many of our ideas are informed by Permaculture design.


Globalised production systems means there is no longer any accountability or traceability in the most important and fundamental of things.. food


Two of our project team, here on work experience and apprenticeship and learning how to grow


Work on the main path to the community micro allotment area


Project member Richard tends the fire at the centre of the garden


Fruit tree grafting workshop.. it is actually possible to graft the wood from several different trees onto a rootstock


As part of our grafting workshop, one of our regular Get-Growing courses we practised with cutting of dogwood to learn the various techniques required


Fruit trees are made by grafting Scion wood onto a chosen root.. you can see the scar and healed up area where the new wood has established and grown


I am fascinated by mycelium, that part of the fungus organism we don’t see… it creates a massive amount of surface area by branching and it exudes enzymes to digest its food


Another view of mycelium.. in the tree of life, our closest relative is fungus.. like us it breathes in oxygen and out CO2 and was possibly the first organism to live on land


This pic is for Matti, I am hugely pleased and proud to be see our Newtown made raised beds at the community growing project in Liverpool, made by our apprentices they are helping people grow in other locations

First draft of an advert for our raised beds

First draft of an advert for our raised beds, being made by the project apprentices as part of our community entrerprise project


Climate change is here, it is a real and present danger and we need to learn how to rapidly respond to this challenge


Permaculture founder Bill Mollison has an uncanny knack of putting his finger right on the pulse… the solutions to our problems are simple. we just have to do it!

Permaculture is the study of natural systems and the application of that insight as a design system

Permaculture is the study of natural systems and the application of that insight as a design system


The no dig potato bed

Here is an inspiring short video that should get everyone excited about what they can do in the garden.. the no dig potato bed.. a good way to turn your none productive lawn into a great growing space, without any hard work at all.

Why gardeners love comfrey so much and other unususal crops

A series of gardeners talking about why they like comfrey so much. This amazing plant helps build soil mass and soil nutrients as well as encouraging worms and soil bacteria. We have planted a bed of it at the Newtown garden and will be using it as a support plant to help us grow veg and other useful plants.

Here is a gentleman explaining why he grows a crop of nettles and the multiple yields he get from it.


Seed Swap Saturday – 23rd Feb at Pen Dinas


Its the first gardening event of the year… a chance to get together to swap seeds, get some new ideas and make some plans for the coming year. Its informal, drop in, no need to book -first come first served!

Don’t worry if you don’t have any seeds to swap, you can always make a donation.. and there will be plenty of opportunity to get hold of seeds, sets, cuttings and more.

We will also be offering talks/ workshops on the subject of seed saving and outlining strategies for successful growing over the coming year.

Drop in at Pen Dinas, next to Coleg Powys anytime from 9.00 – 2.00 to swap seeds..

Workshop one at 11.00… strategies for successful seed saving

Workshop two at 12 Midday, Soil, compost and fertility – tips for organic gardeners

Raised bed project

raised beds

1.2 * 2.4m raised bed design at Pen Dinas

We are developing a raised bed, complete growing system, with the aim of making growing as easy as possible for novice and less experienced growers. They are made from untreated Welsh larch, and are strong, durable and attractive. All you need is enough space to locate it in a spot that gets a fair amount of sunshine each day. Even if you have no soil or ground to put it on, it can still sit on top of concrete, slabs or tarmac.

They are easy to assemble and can stock more than one high and come in widths of 1.2 m (4 feet) and lengths of 1.3 m, 2.4 m or 3.6m The one pictured is 2.4m (12 feet). We are planning to sell them along with a support package.. gardeners can follow a live blog which we will update weekly, telling what to do, what to look out for and answering questions of problems that people may be having. we will also be growing vegetable plug plants to plant in your bed at the right time of year.. helping you get the best possible results.

Orchard pruning and maintenance workshop, 14 Dec, Newtown

Meet at Pen-Dinas 12- 12.30 Friday 14 Dec for a bring and share lunch.

Workshop led by Emma Maxwell 12.30 – 4.30 on pruning and maintaining your fruit trees.

£10.00 payable on the day

The this will be a practically focussed, lively and informative workshop giving you a good understanding of pruning strategies and orchard maintenance.

Emma Maxwell is a RHS trained and highly experienced horticulture teacher and is senior horticulture trainer at Cwm Harry’s Get-Growing project in Newtown, as well as running her own Ash and Elm horticulture business.

Last days on the Vastre and big progress at Pen Dinas

The remnants of the community garden at the compost factory

Food waste collection bins at Cwm Harry

We hope to be able to move even the topsoil to the new garden site

Goodbye to the Vastre
It is definitely time for us to stop mourning the wonderful garden we left behind at the old Cwm Harry compost factory on the Vastre estate and to embrace Pen Dinas as our chance to build something significantly better and with a far greater potential. Taking the old garden down, digging up all the plants, trees and shrubs has been a pretty thankless and soul destroying task, but that phase is finally completed. My final act was to bucket out all the water from the frog pond so we could extract the membrane so we can make a new one to replace it.

Getting established at Pen Dinas
Working in conjunction with Coleg Harlech adult education we have taken on our first three apprentices. These are 6 month 3 day a week part time positions and in return we are required to guarantee a minimum of three months part time employment after that initial period. we certainly need a labour force to establish the new garden, but this also challenges to think in a more business like manner, as we will have to generate the revenue with which to pay them later. Ideas so far fall into three categories:
1: to train them up as a garden ‘groundforce’ team available for external developments
2: To go into production with the raised bed system we developed last year
3: To propagate lots of perennial plants and veg plug plants for sale in the summer
All three have potential and we are certainly interested to hear from anyone who can help us achieve these ambitions.

the Get-Growing apprentice team on their first visit to Pen Dinas

Garden developments
As we develop the garden we are keen to incorporate as many different experimental ideas as we can.. I think as a funded horticulture project we should be using the opportunity to be as creative as possible. That said I have undertaken the challenge of constructing my first Huglkultur beds.. an idea gleaned from the amazing Austrian hill farmers Sepp and Veronika Holzer who are turning many traditional ideas about growing on their heads. The idea is to create an accessible, no dig gardening system which is highly resilient to water shortage and excess and which can generate a lot of its own fertility via organic processes. We are burying rotten wood, from the site, covered in old rotten wool.. the idea being this will form a sponge which can hold onto moisture as well as slowly releasing nutrients to the plants as they them selves decay. So step one in the pics below.. the beds are arrange on contour to help trap moisture and will be built up with layers of turf, topsoil and then compost.

Stage one, arranging rotten logs under where the eventual bed will be

I had all this rotten wool/ fleece available so I have covered the timber with a thick layer of that. Turf, topsoil and compost will form the subsequent layers.