Potato trials

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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.
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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.

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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.

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Stopping for an choc ice break

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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.

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A hand potato ridger tool and the finished beds

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Beautiful blossom on the flowering currents

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

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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.