Hello. I’m Piers, and this is my Harvst journey.
I have been invited to pilot the ‘Standard’ Harvster, and to write a series of blogs detailing my experience with it as a grower. So, the first thing to do is introduce myself, and to share with you what it is that I’m hoping to get out of my Harvster, before getting more into the nitty-gritty throughout this series; hopefully, this will provide you – as a fellow grower and Harvst pioneer – with something to bounce your own experience against.
My name is Piers, I’m a head gardener, husband, and father to three small kids, living and working in West Wales. I began my horticultural career working for a garden maintenance firm in Bristol, now many moons ago, before taking a position at the National Botanic Garden of Wales where for 5 years I was responsible for developing ornamental and conservation collections. I currently work as Head Gardener for the Tywi Gateway Trust, a charity working to restore an historic park and garden (including a walled kitchen garden) in the small community of Abergwili on the western edge of Carmarthen.
Like most people in today’s world I’m generally far too busy to spend much time in my own garden. It’s pretty well axiomatic that gardeners will have the worst-kept gardens in the neighbourhood, simply because they spend all their time working on other people’s. I’m pleased to say that mine isn’t completely wild, but the fact remains that employment, raising kids and keeping house take up the majority of my time. However, it’s still vitally important to me that my family has access to great quality, nutritious food that, crucially, doesn’t cost the earth in food miles, so nothing could be better than growing produce mere feet away from the kitchen door. We’ve had some great success (and some failures) growing a decent amount of food from our modest and fairly challenging plot this season, but we’re constantly looking for ways to increase our yield year-on-year.
Enter the Harvster. I admit that when I was invited along to see the prototype I didn’t expect very much at all. If I’m brutally honest I was actually expecting to see a traditional timber-framed structure, made from up-cycled window panes and retrofitted with various mechanical bits and bobs cannibalised from dilapidated home appliances, all stuck together with PVA, duct tape and green wire (the horticulturists ‘fix-all’ of choice). What actually greeted me was something far more professional and purpose built: a sleek aluminium frame that looked ludicrously simple to assemble, clad in polycarbonate, with some very happy plants hooked up to a fully integrated, battery operated irrigation system powered by a single solar panel. (I’ll go into more technical detail throughout the series.) Designer Chris went on to explain exactly how the contraption worked, with sensors gathering data, self-opening vents and automated irrigation – using self-captured rainwater (very neat!) – on a timer. Pretty well all of this is controllable from a smart phone, so in theory you could be anywhere in the world and still check on your Harvster and adjust watering times (I foresee hundreds of lost office hours spent obsessing over this!).
Suitably impressed it didn’t take much convincing for me to agree to pilot a Harvster on my own plot, primarily because it promised a low-maintenance, sustainable way to extend the season and increase growing capacity in a small space. Immediately visions of finally having somewhere protective to start off seedlings in late winter and early spring, and to coddle winter greens that would normally die at the first whiff of frost, swam through my mind. This could revolutionise my growing, I thought optimistically. Now I only have to take delivery of my Harvster, set it up, and see if it does.