About Us

I care with a passion about providing my family with fresh and nutrient-dense food as well as finding more time for them.

I believe it is the right of everyone and every animal to experience this and be healthier and happier for it. That’s why I have created RhizoPhyllia, to share my experiences, knowledge and ongoing journey with you. I want to open the same window of wonder for you that was opened to me, to help you literally see your soil as nature means for it to be, and grow plants as nature intended.

Where it all began

My very early career began when I was just a boy, helping out with my brothers on mum and dad’s allotment. This black and white photo was taken in Worcester, summer 1968, the now-demolished Victorian workhouse in the background. (I’m the kid touching his knee!). In those early years the shadow of the workhouse seemed to loom large over our path-clearing and (dare I say) digging activities.

“I need a strong boy!”

Even at age 5 we were expected to pull our weight on our large family allotment. My dad’s words “I need a strong boy!” echoing up the stairs early on a frozen Sunday morning, mid-February, had us diving beneath the itchy blankets and cursing “I did it last week, it’s your turn!”. But I thank my mum and dad from the bottom of my heart for this wonderful start in life, and creating the beginning of my journey and love for rocks, soil, mycology, wildlife, and gardening.

Our allotment was the centre of our family life; I can barely remember a meal all year round that wasn’t in some part or wholly composed of our combined growing efforts. Picking impossibly sweet strawberries one day and then cartloads of fall raspberries the next. Even Christmas Day found us lifting potatoes for the most delicious roasties. Washing parsnips under the outside tap in mid-winter was however not my favourite past-time! But boy they tasted incredible!

A natural passion for geology and soil

I would often dig holes to chase worms and roots, wondering where they went. But perhaps heralding my later journey, I was always collecting pebbles from that Worcester allotment off Stanley Road, fascinated by their shapes and colours. No surprise then when at college in 1982 my love of the earth led me to study geology and from there to my degree at Exeter University. A chance also for my dad to clear the attic room of my ‘honestly, really important specimens’ through fear of the ceiling collapsing.

After graduating in 1989 I began work as Assistant Geologist with Tarmac plc based in Halesowen in the West Midlands. What joy to be paid to be outside scrabbling over fields and woodlands investigating rocks and soils of all kinds and secretly indulging in my other passions – mycology and wildlife.

What joy to be paid to be outside scrabbling over fields and woodlands investigating rocks and soils of all kinds!

33 years, and well over 100 farmland mineral explorations later, I have seen how, inadvertently, our intensively farmed soils have become seriously ill. In the summer of 1990 I was investigating sand deposits on arable farmland near Shrewsbury. Charting my way through the jungle of 8-foot-tall oilseed rape, each evening I would emerge covered in insects. Before heading home, I would liberate as many of the countless worms from the bags of soft but structured soil samples as I could. Today the fields I traverse, with the occasional rare example, are mostly devoid of that multitude of life; it’s rare now to hear any songbirds. The soils I collect look weathered and worn, hard and crusty, or loose and dusty. No place for worms.

The soils I collected were hard and crusty.
It was clear that something needed to change.

On moving with work to North Wiltshire with my wife Bin, and first-born Harry in 1995 I immediately set about creating our own family allotment, organic of course …and with my trusty rotavator chugging deep into our Jurassic limey clay soil every April.

It was about 8 years ago that I began to look more closely at my own soil. Despite my best organic efforts my germination rates were falling, my yields were getting smaller, and disease was more prevalent. My soil was also crusting and losing its colour, however thoroughly I tilled it each year!

The turning point was when I discovered soil microbiologist Dr Elaine Ingham on YouTube in 2015. Overnight I stopped digging.

I watched her lecture over and over and it struck a chord. Not long after that I discovered that guru of no-dig the Somerset market-gardener Charles Dowding, beaming with characteristic enthusiasm from his website. I soon realised I had been living a double life. One part of me evangelising the glory of nature and all its interconnectedness, the other a wretched one blindly killing with apparent kindness everything I held to be true about nature and the beautiful bugs in my own back yard soil!

As well as hanging up my beloved rotavator and downing my spade I stopped pulling roots where I could just snip them off. I also began teasing carrots and parsnips from the ground (in fact if your soil is in good health, they should be easy to pull without the leverage of a spade) and began to use compost and mulch more wisely. I studied microbiology and took the foundation courses and microscopy training at Dr Elaine’s Soil Food Web School.

After just one pre-winter of mulching, I noticed an incredible difference in the structure of my soil. Moving mulch to one side ahead of planting plugs in April I saw a ‘storm’ of microarthropods on the soil surface. And worms! So many worms! Germination and yields have rapidly improved since, together with BRIX values and pest resistance. I have also found my soil needs watering less in the height of summer!

There is so much I want to share with you to help you grow the fresh and nutrient-dense food you and your family deserves. I look forward to welcoming you into my back-garden allotment for one of my eye-opening one-day workshops.

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