Kitchen Gardening With Dale Toten and AutoPot

At Ston Easton Hotel, on the doorstep of the idyllic Mendips, resident hotel gardener Dale Toten is cultivating some spectacular fruit and vegetables using AutoPot Watering Systems. Dale’s exacting remit at the hotel is to grow a plentiful and varied supply for the kitchens whilst doing so in a way that is in keeping with the beautifully sculptured grounds. 

Above: AQUAbox Spyders use a radial arrangement of capiliary matting to irrigate large areas in raised beds

One hundred or more varieties of vegetables (excluding a plethora of chillies) are underway here at any one time. This is modestly described by Dale as “general stuff you’d expect to see in any large veg garden” but executed to perfection and tailored to the chef’s needs. Sweet stuff is also available for the kitchens in the shape of peaches, cherries, figs, lemons and mulberries to name but a few.

Above: Here comes the bride.

Above: Thar she blows!

The aforementioned chillies number around sixty in terms of varieties grown, ranging from the mildest to the hottest on the planet. As with the vegetables the chillies form the backdrop to immersive experiences – tours, tips and tastings if you will – which are available to hotel guests and outside visitors alike. A chilli day at the hotel typically involves people coming to learn how to grow the plants and trying the raw chillies before a three-course menu with each dish containing chilli to some degree.

Above: A large amount of coco peat is added to the giant squash bed to enhance water distribution

Not content with providing great stuff for the guests on the inside Dale also grows Loofa gourds every season, grown to maturity to be used as bathroom sponges. A ‘loofa’ day is held yearly where guests can pay to have a tour, a demonstration on growing methods and are shown how to harvest their own to take home. All the hotel’s loofa plants are being grown in AutoPot Watering Systems.

Alongside the regular sized veg, destined for the restaurant, Dale also grows giant strains. In a typical brassica bed for instance, he has regular rows of normal cabbages or sprouts, then one giant specimen in each corner. These draw in guests and outside visitors (not physically) and invariably start conversations about what can be achieved with veg and how to go about it. At the end of September, the best of the giant crops are harvested and taken to the Malvern Autumn Show, where the U.K. National Giant Veg Championships are held.

Above: Phenomenal growth

In this, his second year growing with AutoPots, Dale is having a tilt at giant squash grown in beds with AQUAbox Spyder Kits. These immense plants can cover 1000sq ft each with every single leaf node producing roots. Though Dale estimates that his plant will cover around half this area, 500sq ft remains a vast expanse of plant and root zone to irrigate. It creates a problem in that different areas of the plant will be using differing amounts of water at any given time. Traditional irrigation can only water uniformly over any given area, but the AutoPot Spyders should allow each square foot of the plants 500sq ft rootzone to be independently irrigated exactly when needed.

Like all of the plants for the kitchen garden and the giant veg plots the giant squashes have been started in Mills Light Mix, then moved on into either the Ultimate Coco with cork for hydro plants, or the Ultimate Soil with cork for everything else. The giant squash bed had a large amount of coco peat added to make it ideal texture for the AQUAbox Spyders to evenly distribute water.

Growing giant veg has begun to inform Dale’s techniques when cultivating elsewhere in the garden. Products such as TNC Mycormax and Ecothrive were once reserved for the giants but are now finding their place with regular veg as well. Dale has also carried foliar feeding over to the kitchen veg having been impressed with the quick results rendered using the likes of cold pressed kelp extract.

To stay up to date with Dale’s progress at Ston Easton follow @dale_toten insta 

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