The Answer Lies in the Soil

This paper will examine the Forest Garden at Garden Cottage, Coldstream, Scotland and how it is possible to grow one metric tonne of food on .1 of a hectare (one fifth of an acre) as well as harvesting all our firewood needs, gathering half our other energy needs  and running a plant nursery. It will use the twenty five year development of the site to illustrate this astonishing level of productivity from less than two days a week work.

I will touch on:
What is soil?
Why does it matter?
Some historical examples of what happens when you manage soils well and badly.
History of soil science Liebig and the Big Lie NPK i.e. macronutrients don’t say it all.
Mineral content - pore space (air /water) – humus (compost).
Soil life - Darwin / earthworms, Stammets /Fungi, Invertebrates, Bacteria.
To till or not to till.
Soil as energy management – how much can we create closed loop systems for nutrients water waste.  Eliminating external inputs as much as possible.
The rhizosphere-  Trees as energy exchangers, nematodes, etc.
Permaculture approaches – mulching, polyculture, succession, importance of weeds, and wildlife.
Research – how do we know what we are doing is working and its value as establishing the garden as a teaching tool.
Results from collaboration with research partners e.g. Edinburgh University Plant Sciences.


I have been teaching Permaculture since 1989 and was awarded the Permaculture Community Service Award in 1990 after taking over Permaculture Magazine for two years.  At that time I was a member of the Permaculture Council and helped build the early foundations of what we now have as an Association. I have done much to help Andy Goldring in his endeavours to build the Association since.

I have written two books on Permaculture: The Permaculture Way and the Permaculture Garden (and numerous articles)which were intended as interpreting Permaculture principles in an easily digestible way for people in a European culture and (obviously) in the northern hemisphere.  

I have taught permaculture on four continents over twenty five years. England, France, Iceland, Israel, Ireland, Scotland, Slovenia, West Africa (Gambia, Senegal, Guinea) have all seen full courses whilst we have also taught shorter sessions in Denmark, Germany, Palestine, Spain and also done stuff in Holland, Malta, USA.  

I was the lead instructor for the countryside premium scheme for LANTRA (formerly the Agriculture Training Board) in the 1990’s and became a trainer of trainers for them. I have City & Guilds qualifications as a trainer and assessor. I have returned to teaching Permaculture Design Courses in the last couple of years as I feel my copious experience should be shared and I wish to help a new generation of teachers achieve credible levels of skill and experience. 

With my wife Nancy our twenty three year old Forest Garden is an inspiration to many.  Our courses are legendary at Garden Cottage with food from the garden, inspiring conversations and uplifting experiences. We feel we can support theory with practice as few can.

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