Gardening without harming the environment is a lot easier than you may think says Garden Organic, one of Britain’s leading organic gardening charities
Feeding your soil with homemade organic compost, ditching the use of toxic chemicals such as slug pellets, and attracting more wildlife into your garden are the first easy steps.
An informative guide produced by national charity, Garden Organic shows you how to grow in a more natural and environmentally friendly way.
The guide has been launched to coincide with ‘Organic September’ – a month long initiative to promote the benefits of organic food and growing practices.
However large or small your growing space is, from an allotment or garden to a balcony or windowsill, you will find the guide of enormous benefit.
Step one – make your soil healthy and productive
Creating healthy soil is the keystone to successful organic growing.
The main way to achieve this is to add organic, peat-free compost, preferably homemade. This will improve the structure of the soil, enabling it to hold air and water and provide vital nutrients for your plants.
You can place a compost heap or bin anywhere in your garden but avoid placing it in full sun otherwise it can dry out.
A 50/50 mix of greens such as vegetable peelings and lawn clippings, and browns such as screwed up cardboard and paper and chopped up woody prunings provide an ideal compost mix.
You’ll know when your compost is ready as it will be a rich brown colour, with a crumbly texture and earthy smell. This usually takes 9 – 12 months. You will then have a perfect homemade compost to spread onto your soil and around your plants.
Full instructions on making your own compost can be found in the guide or online at gardenorganic.org.uk/compost.
Step two – managing pests
Avoid using toxic chemicals such as slug pellets. While many modern slug pellets are based on ferric phosphate, and may be certified for organic use, they should only be used as a last resort, as repeated use can harm earthworms. You may also have older slug pellets in your shed which contain the poison metaldehyde which can damage all wildlife and should not be used.
To avoid pest damage without the use of harmful chemicals the best way is to check your plants regularly and use practical methods such as:
Barriers – netting, cloches and fleece to protect plants
Traps – to catch slugs and aphids
Mixed planting – this can confuse pests and attract beneficial predators. Marigolds in the greenhouse, for example, will deter white fly.
Most pests also have natural predators so if you attract wildlife into the garden they will do your job for you. Ladybirds and blue tits eat aphids, frogs and ground beetles will eat slugs and nematodes, tiny worms which you can buy online, feed on a variety of pests from slugs to red mites!
Step three – conserve water
Organic growing means being careful with natural resources. Reduce your own water footprint by conserving water where possible. This can be achieved by using waterbutts, buckets or other containers to collect rainwater and reusing lightly soiled household water.
A top tip is to always water the soil and not the plant as water will evaporate from the leaves and be wasted.
Watering either early in the morning or later at night in cooler temperatures also avoids waste through evaporation.
Close planting to avoid bare ground will mean that the sun won’t dry out the soil as quickly and will enable plants to retain their moisture for longer.
Don’t feel you have to water your lawn during a heatwave – just allow the grass to grow a little longer and it will prove resilient and provide an attractive haven for wildlife.
Step four – Bring wildlife into your garden
Mix your flowers and vegetables so the blossoms attract pollinating insects enabling your flowers and vegetables to multiply and produce.
Leave some relaxed areas in your garden as habitats for insects and small animals. Shrubs and trees will provide shelter for birds and a pond will attract frogs and dragonflies.
Step five – Save your seeds
Saving your seed is the best way to not only ensure you always have fresh seed to hand, filling your garden with new plants each year, but it also saves you money!
Now is the perfect time of year to be saving seeds. For many plants all you need is a paper bag or envelope to shake the seeds into.
The most important step is then to dry them naturally. Lay them out, preferably not in full sunlight and not anywhere too hot. Once they are dry put them back in the paper bag or envelope and store them in a dry and cool place.
You can then sow them again next year and perhaps swap any spare seeds with your neighbours.
To order your copy of the guide the ‘First Step in Organic Growing’ or other publications such as ‘The Principles of Organic Gardening’, ‘Composting for Gardeners’ or ‘Comfrey for Gardeners’ go to www.organiccatalogue.com
All the guides are available for £2.99 plus packaging and postage.