Date(s) - 10/05/2019
Kilmington Village Hall
Stephanie Hafferty is a lady of passion – a passion for growing vegetables. She grows them in her gardens both back and front, and on her allotment. To advise and encourage, she has a partner who is a market gardener, broadcaster and established author of books on growing vegetables. Her passion was evident – she wanted us all to grow amazing crops and she had come to show us how to achieve that aim using her no-dig method. Her first introduction to the technique came in the 1980s when she picked up a book published in the USA which advocated mulching with straw topped with compost. Experience has shown that not only are weeds suppressed and moisture retained, but biodiversity in the soil increases. All that is required for maintenance is a hoe.
The transformation of her allotment was illustrated in a sequence of photographs. The initial prospect was not very enticing – heavy clay soil covered in weeds. Most weeds could be teased out from the topmost inches but those with tap roots were attacked with a long, sharp knife, slicing the root through the heart. Next came a delivery of tons of compost, spread thickly over the whole plot, and finally the addition of an organic fertiliser. That same year, Stephanie was harvesting vegetables for the family. In the winter, the soil was no longer sticky and unworkable. Each spring a load of farm manure is delivered and the process is repeated. The photographs of her crops showed how successful her regime is. Six miles away is her partner’s market garden, and he uses the same technique. Faced with a field of grass and weeds, he mowed it tight, laid out paths with cardboard and then covered the designated beds with six inches of compost, using old wood lined with cardboard for edging. At the end of the first year, the increase in crop yields had covered the cost of buying compost. He too is a passionate grower of vegetables, producing a wide variety of staples such as carrots and beans, new species and exotics, and year-round salad leaves.
Vegetable growers in the audience were treated to snippets of advice throughout the talk. Stephanie showed how she protected her crops from birds with the use of fine bio-mesh instead of netting, and recommended butterfly netting for covering hoops. She exhorted us to make lots of compost, stressing that feeding the soil is the same as feeding the plants. We were shown how to make fertiliser from comfrey and nettles, and how to aerate long-established pot plants by thrusting a long rod deep into the compost. The barrage of questions and buzz of conversation at the end of the talk indicated that it had been an evening of education and real enjoyment.