Spring at CAT

Despite the unusually cold weather for this time of year, the garden volunteers here at CAT have been busy hoeing our plots and planting bulbs for our organic produce. We’re planting potatoes, parsnips, beetroot and onions. Hello spring!


CAT runs plenty of short courses offering practical experience of sustainable skills.

Gardening blog: Organic gardening and the arms trade


By Chloe Ward:

I wonder if any CAT members are like me, fans of the podcasts from Radiolab? From New York, it’s part of the movement to make science more accessible to ordinary mortals – something which must be essential if we are to make progress in good decision making.

The subject of one episode has been going around my head for a while now. It was about Fritz Haber – known to many as the inventer of the Haber Bosch process for fixing nitrogen (along with Carl Bosch). This is the chemical process by which artificial fertilisers are made – a subject which makes an organic gardener sit up and listen.

The podcast was all about the concept of “bad” and what makes a bad person. The Haber Bosch process wasn’t all that Fritz Haber invented. He was also responsible for developing the chemical process for gassing huge numbers of soldiers in the first world war trenches. Radiolab tells us that not only did he invent the process, but he personally oversaw its implementation.

So, the radiolab presenters are discussing “badness” and weighing up Fritz Haber’s moral credentials. One the one hand, they say, he killed great numbers of people in a nasty, painful way. On the other hand, he saved many from starvation by increasing agricultural yields with the invention of artificial fertilisers.

But, to those of us who like our nitrogen fixed by bacteria, there’s another issue here – was the invention of the Haber Bosch process a good thing at all, or was it the cause of deeper food security inequalities, and mass destruction by agriculture on an unprecedented scale? Or is it another example of something which could be put to good use at appropriate times if only the human species had a little more wisdom?

Lots to think about, lots of questions – no answers from me. But visit Radiolab here.

Chloe is a tutor on the CAT Gardening for a Sustainable Future course in Late July.



Gardening Blog: weeding seedlings


This week in the gardens, we weeded our seedlings. Weeding them stops the slugs from munching them, as well as preventing the soil from becoming crusty. If the soil’s crusty, it makes watering less effective. At this tender stage of the plant’s life, we need to give them a lot of care and attention.

We also hardened off our brassicas. Kale, summer cabbage, wallflowers, cauliflowers and brussels were all sown in late summer and autumn and have been living in Roger’s polytunnel since then. It’s now time to prepare them for being planted in the outside world, but so as not to shock them, this needs to be done step by step. They spend some days outside, and are brought in at night if we’re expecting a cold one. They’re now fairly hardy, and will be planted out once the field is dug and ready for them.

Gardening Blog: frosty earth and successful compost


This week in the gardens, we’ve been admiring how beautiful the site looks covered in frost. Although the hard frost has hit many of the early flowering plants, hardier ones like greater periwinkle recover well. Surprisingly, some vegetables, like brussel sprouts, parsnips and purple sprouting broccoli are said to taste better after a frost.

We also turned the compost. Turning the compost is something we try to do at least monthly at CAT to speed up the composting process by increasing aeration of the compost which keeps the heat up to kill off the weeds.

Gardening Blog: re-skinning the polytunnel


This week in the gardens, we put a new skin on the polytunnel. It’s necessary to put a new skin on every 3 or 4 years, or longer if possible. It was a team effort with staff from buildings and displays chipping it to help, while a warm brazier sat burning away to keep us warm. Roger’s polytunnel also has hot beds housing the first seedlings of the season. Hot beds are beds of food scraps mixed with compost. As they decompose, they warm up, providing good conditions to begin growing from seed.

Gardening blog: chives and passion flowers


This week in the gardens, we dug up and divided our chives. Dividing chives means that you’ll have plenty more to sow in Spring. It’s best to dig them up when they’re dormant, and while the ground isn’t icy to avoid damaging the roots. We’ll be planting them in the new culinary herbs display we’re putting into the restaurant courtyard.

Passion flower loves to climb, so we made a web in one of the polytunnels for it to clamber and weave its tendrils around. We’re looking forward to seeing its beautiful blossoms in summer!

Next week: we give a polytunnel a new skin…

Gardening Blog: toads and apple trees


This week in the gardens, we found a hibernating toad when weeding. The toad had been sitting underneath a pair of discarded gardening gloves, and was quickly re-homed in the polytunnel. We put him in a secluded spot near the pond, and built him a handy ramp so he could get to the water easily. Earlier in the week resident naturalist Rennie found a toad in a woodpile – read his blog about toads here.

We also pruned the apple trees in the orchard. CAT has over 50 fruit trees, planted some 20 years ago. It’s necessary to prune in summer and in winter – in summer to encourage fruiting, in winter to encourage growth. Pruning in winter can be better for the plant as the sap is low, and there’s subsequently less risk of infection.


What our gardeners have been up to this week…


The week just gone has been a busy one in the CAT gardens. Our team of gardeners have battled inclement weather to finish the culinary herb display which will take pride of place in the restaurant courtyard. Eventually, the wooden posts will have the names of and information about the herbs carved into them, encouraging visitors to CAT to learn about edible herbs. The end result – which will also feature plants trained to grow around frames – will be a ‘gallery’ aimed at getting people to look closer at each individual plant.

Our gardeners have also sown garlic in Roger’s field. Sowing garlic in October gives the new plant a chance to establish roots during Winter, ready to shoot up rapidly in Spring. The garlic cloves were sown to coincide with Monday’s full moon, and will be ready to harvest in Summer. Two varieties were sown: elephant garlic, and CAT’s own special variety which hails originally from the Pyrenees, which Roger has been saving the seed of for 25 years.

And finally, our gardeners have been busy saving seed from a variety of plants. Below is a fennel plant growing in Roger’s field which will be harvested soon for seed.