Gardening blog: a plentiful harvest from the CAT gardens


Autumn is always a time of great satisfaction for the gardeners at CAT, after a summer of hard work comes to fruit. We have been happily harvesting a variety of annual vegetables, salads, perennial herbs, feasting on apples, and collecting up lots of leaves for leaf mold.

This week the time came for our eagerly anticipated grape harvest from our vines (Vitis vinifera “Black Hamburg”) in the polytunnel, which gave over 5kg of deep ruby red grapes ready for wine making. The blackbirds had sneakily gobbled up a lot of the grapes before us, so we have been experimenting with putting paper bags over the bunches of grapes to protect them. This worked successfully and even seemed to speed up the ripening of those bunches of grapes. 

A protein rich crop for Wales?

This year we grew our first trial crop of Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa), a grain-like crop originally from South America. Quinoa is a very good source of nutrients, and contains essential amino acids, calcium, phosphorous and iron. So, the potential for Quinoa to provide a protein rich bulk crop in Wales is an enticing prospect, and we wanted to find out how well it would grow here. As quinoa was originally grown in high-altitude environments in South America, we were unsure how well it would fare in wet Wales.

Having received some quinoa seed from another local grower at a seed swap in Newton last Spring, we knew that it could be grown in Wales, but we were still unsure about the yield and quality. By harvesting time in September, we were surprised and satisfied with the crop, and harvested a good crop from just a1m2 bed in the Whole Home garden at CAT. Similar success stories have been found in trials run by Garden Organic. Next year we plan to grow a larger trial crop using our own seed, and hope to encourage other local growers to grow quinoa too.

Seed Saving

We have also been busy squirreling away our own seeds ready for next year. So far we have successfully dried, threshed and winnowed a good range of seeds including calendular, nasturtium, morning glory, feverfew, coriander, kale, and more. We’re also running a few seed saving experiments with tomatoes (varieties “Yellow Perfection”, “Yellow Pear” and “Gardener’s Delight”).

Tomato seeds need to be processed slightly differently as they are coated in a jelly which inhibits the germination process. You can get rid of this jelly by leaving the seeds in a jar of water for two or three days until a layer of mold has developed. Next, rinse the seeds in a sieve and leave to dry, then store the seeds somewhere cool and dark until next year.

Roger’s top tips for seed saving are: leave the seeds on the plant for as long as possible to get all the goodness from the plant, and make sure to store them out of reach from the mice! For more top tips and information on saving the seeds from different types of vegetables visit the Dyfi Valley Seed Savers.

Finally, now is the time to get your winter salads in for a splash of green in the dark winter months. Good hardy salads include Tatsoi, Mizuna, Mibuna, Mustard greens and Rucola.

Happy gardening!

Eco Cabins visited by a group of young volunteers from Europe – here’s what they thought about the site!


Recently the eco cabins played host to a delegation of volunteers from youth organisations across Europe. Organised by IVOLO, the International Voluntary Organisation for Learning Opportunities, the group had gathered to meet volunteers from similar organisations and raise awareness of environmental issues, with a view to sharing this with others in their home countries.

Here’s what they said about staying at the cabins:

“Visiting the Centre for Alternative Technology is putting everything that we’ve been learning over the past few days into practice; actually experiencing sustainable living.”

Chris (United Kingdom) from IVOLO.

“I found out more about an ecological lifestyle… in Latvia it’s not that big. We’re not the worst consumers – so they think that we don’t need to do anything. I’ve learnt about those little things we can do in everyday life to consume less. The most important thing here at the Cabins is that you can see how much we spend, and how much we can spend. We’re saving nature – the surroundings here have inspired us to change, first our opinions, and then our family.”

Lauma (Latvia) from Tellus, a youth organisation providing informal learning opportunities including education about environmental issues.

“We can start with little things, like turning off lights, things we can do in our daily lives. That’s what I’m learning here. I like the idea that you can start with little things to change the world.”

Leevi (Finland) from a large youth organisation that runs youth clubs and works to celebrate multiculturalism.

“We’ve been trying to learn some basic methods of explaining these issues. The most important thing for us is to be able to adapt some of what we’ve learnt here to city life – for example, solar panels. We’ll try and make our local government get interested about it!”

Joanna (Poland)

“I’m studying to be an energy engineer, and it’s been great to see how renewable energy works. Normally we just hear about these things, we don’t see them practically. It’s great to spread these ideas, of sustainable economies, sustainable life, in general. When you see it, you have a stronger motivation to spread the idea of this kind of life.”

Gennaro (Italy), from an organisation that enables youth in Italy to travel around Europe through exchanges and training courses.