Sack Trucks and Wheelbarrows

On 30th November Orleton and District Gardening Club were delighted to welcome back Paul Hand to give a talk on Sack Trucks and Wheelbarrows. Paul arrived with an eclectic assortment of tools, various items of vegetation and a dead mole and proceeded to give a talk which completely belied its prosaic title.

From childhood Paul had always wanted to be a gardener and at the age of six had his own  plot complete with a bumble bee box. As a small boy he had to be restrained from weeding the gardens of friends whom he visited!   

He worked on an urban farm as a young man and was intrigued by the   success of one of his colleagues who grew wonderful potato crops in “lazy beds”, which involved mulching not digging.  This caused Paul to question the traditional double digging method of vegetable cultivation and on a subsequent visit to India was interested to note the successful results using nothing more sophisticated than a ramper, a hand hoe.  He returned from India with a quantity of these and seeds of the black carrot.

Further influences included James Gunston who wrote “Successful Gardening without Digging” and ran a market garden on predominantly organic lines using tools he designed himself, Dalziel O’Brien’s “Guide to Organic Gardening” which employs non compacting surface techniques involving a wide bladed hand hoe called a scrapper and the work carried out at the Henry Doubleday Research Institute.

Paul punctuated his talk by holding up various tools and saying “You of course know what this is” and being met with blank faces, though the club was saved from complete ignominy by one member who admitted ownership of a thistle bodger.  As well as a scrapper and a ramper the club was shown a curfe, a crome, a wheeled hoe, a docking iron, thistle bodger, a copper trowel which he had designed himself and a homi – a Korean hand hoe with a sickle shaped blade of Bronze Age origin.  Paul now only uses a spade for catching moles, by a rapid scooping method learned in Italy!   He showed the club a metal soil blocker used for seed sowing.  This creates individual blocks with indentations for seed sowing and in his view gives better results than plastic cellular trays.  He has been experimenting with a combination of coir, rock dust and donkey poo as a growing medium. 

Although too large to bring a sack truck is used for a method of making charcoal or biochar which Paul has been perfecting.  Brash from hedge trimming or prunings is added to an incinerator carried on the sack truck so it can be borne along while still burning.  By a method of partially adding water which sounded deceptively simple the burning is arrested and the charcoal can be used to aid soil fertility. 

Despite the lighthearted delivery there is no doubting Paul’s commitment to organic gardening and the “no dig” method.  He pointed out that it will take about three years to create a weed free bed.  Organic matter should be laid on the surface to be gradually assimilated, avoiding the nitrogen “lock up” which often results in addition to the destruction of the soil structure when organic matter is dug in with a spade.  Excellent results can then be achieved by cultivating the top inch or so of the bed.

The club looks forward to a return visit to learn more about Paul’s extensive tool collection and to hear the promised rude story concerning medlars!

                                                                                                            Ghislaine Arundale