Welcome to our IDEAS & ADVICE pages
There are many benefits to gardening organically, for wildlife and the environment as well as the gardener, and especially when growing your own vegetables and fruit. Many of us already use very few chemicals in our gardens and by making a few careful choices it is easy to cut out non organic items completely.
To achieve organic status on a farm, the ground must have been farmed without chemicals for at least two years during which time the land is said to be ‘in conversion’. Only then will the Soil Association grant full organic status, allowing crops to be sold as organic.
‘The answer lies in the soil’ If your soil is in good heart, your garden will grow well. If plants are growing well, they are less likely to suffer with disease and pests and are more able to shake off attacks. All plants take nutrients from the soil and others are leached out by rainfall at various rates, so they need to be replaced.
Make a compost heap and use an organic activator to help speed up the rotting process. The addition of compost will help to keep your soil in good heart.
Use ‘green manures’ in the vegetable garden by including them in your cropping plan. As well as helping soil fertility by replacing some nutrients, whilst they are growing and when they are dug into the ground, green manures make good ground cover and will help to smother weeds. Use organic fertilizers. Organic ingredients are those that occur naturally and are not man-made. Fish, blood and bone and pelleted chicken manure are examples of these. Both are quick acting – ideal to add when planting or sowing seed in the open ground, as well as a ‘pick me up feed’ for the whole garden. Although peat is a naturally occurring substance, many organic gardeners prefer to use peat free potting compost.
When to carry out a task in the garden is often down to experience and ‘gut feeling’. By giving your plants the best possible start in terms of soil conditions and available nutrients, they will grow well and be less susceptible to attack from disease and pests.
Seeds do not like to sit in wet, cold soil so wait until there are signs that the soil is warming up before sowing. Early sowings that have had to struggle to germinate are often prone to disease, grow weakly and are overtaken by subsequent sowings made into warmer ground. Onion sets can ‘bolt’ (run up to flower, instead of producing a crop) if planted into cold soil so that they do not grow away quickly and evenly.
Feeding plants with quick acting fertilizer should not be undertaken too early or late in the year when there is risk of frost damaging the soft growth encouraged by feeding. All gardeners should monitor the weather forecast, but organic gardeners will often need to act more quickly in certain conditions. For example, Greenfly (Aphids) will breed more quickly in humid, warm weather so you will need to be vigilant and remove these before their numbers build up. Campanion planting carried out to coincide with pest cycles is also a useful organic practice. For example, planting Marigolds to deter Whitefly. Hoeing to prevent the spread of weeds should be carried out as often as possible when the weather allows. The soil surface should be dry and ideally the weather sunny so that weeds dry out once they have been hoed off.
Make sure that weeds do not set seed by cutting them down before they get to this stage if they cannot be removed completely.
By making your garden as wildlife friendly as possible, you will encourage pollinators and predators to help control pest numbers naturally and ensure good crop yields.
By following the advice above, you will be on the way to becoming an organic gardener. Your local garden centre is full of organic products from seeds and compost to organic forms of pest control and ways to help encourage wildlife into your garden.