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Soil Health and Plant Growth

Leave no stone unturned in the quest for delicious, nutrient-dense food with our one day course on understanding soil.

Good produce relies on good soil. According to the United Nations, intensive farming has degraded the fertility of most of the world’s agricultural soils. Research indicates that conventionally grown food quality is also declining. Now more than ever, it is important for us to grow our own with an understanding, care and respect for the soil we rely on.

Here at River Cottage the provenance and quality of our ingredients are central to our local, seasonal, sustainable ethos. Straddling no fewer than seven geological formations including Triassic clays and Cretaceous sands, and with many varied landforms, our HQ is the ideal outdoor classroom for understanding the soil that underpins great produce and ultimately, a healthy you!

Join our immersive one day course with expert geologist Eddie Bailey who will teach you how to ‘read the rocks’ in this hidden corner of the beautiful Axe Valley. The tour will begin in the Meadow Field, sampling soils as you travel up through time to the top of the hill. With your new-found knowledge you will be able to look afresh at your own garden or allotment. Learn how to recognise the tell-tale signs of a sickly soil and what this means for the food we eat. Enter a world of microscopic marvel and discover how to rehabilitate degraded plots and build lasting soil fertility to optimise your growing needs. There will be a well-earned break for a delicious 2-course lunch too, prepared by the River Cottage chefs and an opportunity to test any homegrown produce or soil you have brought with you on the day.

Your day

09.30 - 17.00

  • Arrive at River Cottage

    Your day will begin at 9:30 with a tractor ride down to the farm (approx. a 5-minute journey), where you will catch your first glimpse of TV’s most famous farmhouse.

  • Make yourself at home

    You will meet Eddie and your River Cottage host for the day over tea, coffee and the traditional Geologist’s Get-Go.

  • Session one

    The Seven Soils of River Cottage HQ - a tour of Park Farm observing the various soil types and touching on the last 250 million years of Earth’s history, a tale of tectonic upheaval and climate change, from deserts and tropical seas to ice ages and floods. Our walk will take us from the bottom to the top of the farm where you will stop for farmhouse-baked rock cakes.

  • Session two

    From Woodland to Wildlife, from Grazing to Gardening - we complete our winding journey back to the famous kitchen garden observing how the bedrock and soils influence the land-use at River Cottage HQ. Once back in the Barn we will prepare our samples ready for study during which Eddie will provide a brief history of soil and agricultural science and the miscalculated steps that have led to the problems we face today.

  • Lunch

    Food is always the focus at River Cottage, and a two-course local, seasonal lunch will be one of the highlights of your day. Whilst you are munching away Eddie will prepare photomicrographs of your soil samples for you to take away.

  • Session three

    A Breakdown of Soil - next, we will take turns examining the microbiota of each of your soil samples learning how to recognise a biologically healthy soil. Eddie will provide you with accurate pH tests of your samples and demonstrate simple soil chemistry with macro-nutrient soil tests and show you how to interpret a ‘broad-spectrum’ soil test. During this session Eddie will explain how plants work with microbes for truly healthy nutrition and growth and what happens when things go wrong!

  • Session four

    Putting it into Practice - a tour of the famous River Cottage HQ kitchen gardens, learning how to recognise plants in need of help and why, and how best to help them. Returning to the Barn, you will get the chance to test the nutrient density of any home-grown produce you may wish to bring and ask any last questions.

  • Departure

    The end of our time together but maybe just the start of a new journey for you. At 5pm you’ll be whisked back up the hill by our tractor and trailer ready to build a new relationship with your rocks and soil.

Please note: This is a guide to the activities that will make up your course at River Cottage. This is by no means set in stone and will depend on seasonal availability.

On occasion cookery schools will use equipment that includes induction hobs. It is recommended that people with pace makers should not work on these units. If you are concerned or would like to check whether or not induction hobs will be used on the course you are interested in, please call us on 01297 630302.

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Further information...

This course is run from River Cottage HQ on the Dorset/Devon borders. Full address details of HQ will be provided once you have booked.

We are a licensed venue. We have a wide selection of the finest organic wines available to purchase.

Stay in our famous Farmhouse, click here. For other local accommodation click here.

We would advise that this course is only really suitable for 12 years of age and upwards. Under 16s must be accompanied by a paying adult. We put these guidelines in place for the safety, comfort and enjoyment of all our guests.

With many of our courses there are often treats and leftovers to take away with you. In our quest to be more sustainable we are encouraging guests to bring their own containers and bags to transport their produce home. Details of what is required for each course will be included in booking emails.

  • Sustainable Restaurant Association
  • Food and Travel Magazine 2017
  • Great British Food Awards 2017
  • Great British Food Awards 2018