Gardening blog: exploring the forest garden for useful things

Just now, we have what we call “good growing weather” ie lots of sun and lots of rain. The CAT gardens are going wild. The forest garden is really coming into its own now and is looking more bountiful every day. Many of the fruit bushes are starting to bear in serious quantities – it’s looking like we’ll have a great harvest of tayberries. The tayberry is a cross between a blackberry and a raspberry. It looks like you’d expect, with vigourous stems which bear dark red, long fruits. Ours is climbing one of the arches, and has made its way into the Bramley apple tree too.


The garden is filling out nicely, and i’ve noticed there’s been less weeding to do as ther ground covers form thicker weed-excluding mats. I’ve put a few peas and beans in to climb up strings into the apple tree (along with the tayberry). Talking of string, the “String Plant” is establishing nicely and it won’t be long before I’ll be harvesting CAT-forest-garden string for use as garden twine.


Forest gardening tends to divide gardeners into advocates and sceptics. I’m trying my best to have an unbiased approach – but i have to admit that i really, really want it to work.


We have a good look at forest gardening on our course “Sustainable Gardening – the whys and hows” – forest gardening sceptics welcome, as well as enthusiasts.

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


Roger teaches CAT staff about salad picking


Parsley, Coriander tops, Apple Mint, Chives, Courgette flowers, Nasturtium leaves and flowers, Beetroot thinnings, Kale, Land cress, Sorrel, Brassica tops… Yesterday Roger the CAT gardener gave a tour to some of the things on offer in the CAT garden for lunchtime salads. We never need to go near a lettuce again!


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.


CAT Short Courses Christmas Offer

Treat your loved ones to an inspirational Short Course this Christmas!

As well as fantastic discounts in our on-site shop, CAT is offering a 10% discount on all short courses booked between now and the 31st December at midnight. Courses at CAT cover a wide range of topics, from eco-building, ecology and sanitation to woodland and green craft courses- there is something for everybody and at all levels. Contacts us now to take advantage of this special offer 01654 704 952/

Building clay ovens

New day courses for 2012 include

–      Introduction to Compost Toilets

–      Rustic Chair Making

–      Forged Tool Making

–      Greenwood Crafts

–      Introduction to Organic Gardening

–      Introduction to Horse Logging

–      Hedgerow Herbalism


This offer applies to our longer courses too, please take a look at our course calendar online, or email us your address and we’ll send you a brochure. This offer is valid until midnight on the 31st December and can be redeemed on all courses in 2012. To book contact 01654 704 952/



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.

The story of salad (a photo story of the life cycle of a salad at CAT)

What’s the life cycle of a salad? It’s concerning that we often don’t know the origin of our food – where it comes from, how it was produced, harvested and processed, and how the waste from production has been dealt with. As we grow some of our own food at CAT, we’re privileged to be able to see the whole process in action. Below, we trace a salad from the field to the fork – and back.

Monday 9.30am. Roger, CAT’s gardener, and his team of volunteers pick salad for the restaurant and staff kitchens. Roger’s Field, behind the eco cabins, provides greenery for staff lunches and for visitors to the centre. An experienced organic grower, Roger doesn’t use pesticides on his field, instead finding other ingenious ways of preventing his produce from being eaten.












Monday 10.00am. Gardens volunteer Pablo picks salad. Volunteers are a fixture of life at CAT, and many have left inspired during the 25 years Roger has been tending his field.















Forum and Feast Conference. Saturday, 05 November [Booking deadline extended]
Book now. Box office deadline extended.

Digest information by day in the food waste forum, and dine in style by evening at This is Rubbish’s “Feast” finale
At the conference you will have the opportunity to explore the issues behind food waste in the UK, find out about European and global food supply chains, digest the latest facts and figures, and investigate solutions that will help create a zero carbon Britain.

Monday 10.30am. Beans ready to be taken to the kitchens. A variety of plants are grown in the field, carefully selected for their compatibility with the Welsh climate and soil. It’s also important that they will mature at different times, to make sure that the field will produce a constant supply throughout the year. And, without the need to grow varieties that will withstand long-distance transportation, Roger is able to grow plants high in nutritive value.


Monday 11.00am. A volunteer takes the freshly picked salad to the kitchens. It’s a a short distance – a mere five minute walk, which contrasts sharply with the distance food will usually travel to reach a plate. But is the answer always buying local? Listen to this podcast with Peter Harper to find out more.













Monday 1.00pm. Staff and volunteers load up plates at lunchtime. The freshness of the salad, picked only three hours previously, makes it highly nutritious; produce loses its nutrients quickly after being picked and so, where possible, it’s important to eat recently harvested food.

Tuesday 9.00am. Biology volunteer Rowan collects food waste from the kitchens. Competition for seconds means that there are rarely leftovers. However, there’s always some unavoidable waste from preparing food, which provides an important source of nutrients when composted.












Forum and Feast Conference. Saturday, 05 November [Booking deadline extended]
Book now. Box office deadline extended.

Talks, discussions, case studies and exhibition stalls allow you to network, meet the experts, and discover more about the future of food. In the evening, we have organised a three course sumptuous supper served at a candlelit table, accompanied by live music and entertainment.

Tuesday 2.30pm. Gardens volunteer Pablo empties food waste into the Rocket composter. The Rocket makes composting significantly easier, dramatically speeding up the process. It acts like a large mechanical worm. Food waste is put in one end, where the same bacteria found in the gut of a worm breaks down the matter, emerging at the other end two weeks later as humus. The decomposition process heats up the matter, the heat in turn killing any undesirable organisms present.








Tuesday 2.00pm. Gardens volunteer Pablo moves the humus fresh out of the rocket into a rat proof cage to mature. While humus has nutritive qualities, it needs to be let a bit longer to continue decomposing, as in its rawer state it’s not as beneficial for crops as fully decomposed compost it. The humus is then left for several months, until it’s ready to be spread onto the field.










Tuesday 4.00pm. Roger’s field soaks up the afternoon sun. Compost is an important source of nutrients for the field, encouraging fertility and productivity.