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Organic and plastic-free gardening

Updated: Mar 7, 2022

We love organic gardening here at The Green Greyhound.

Over the years, we have tended anything from a couple of herb planters on the windowsill to small scale raised bed planters. We’ll be honest, all our efforts have had varying degrees of success and while we can’t pretend to be experts, we still love it!

You may be a seasoned ‘expert’ in organic gardening already and just looking for some extra inspiration, or maybe you are simply curious about what it’s all about. So why should anyone consider organic gardening for their veggies or plants?

For us at least, there are four key reasons to go organic:

· Less pesticides in our food

· Support native wildlife and of course, help support and protect our all-important pollinators

· Help protect the environment and soils

· Get outdoors, get fresh air and keep active. It also feels like a great achievement to see our plant in bloom or harvesting our veg for dinner.

With around 15 million gardens in the UK, our garden spaces are our little piece of the Earth that we are responsible for. If all gardeners used organic methods, just imagine how much better our environment, soil and wildlife would be. But organic gardening isn’t just limited to those with gardens, It also works well using pots on our windowsills or balconies and allotments too.

But why do it?

Going organic, in essence, is using nature to feed and grow your garden. It’s about learning to work in sync with mother nature rather than work against her. Soil that is routinely exposed to harmful fertilisers and pesticides has been found to have its natural structure destroyed and vital nutrients depleted. If you look after your soil, encourage garden residents like worms into your garden and enrich it with natural goodness – we love sustainable liquid seaweed here – then along with sufficient watering, the soil has all it needs to grow healthy plants and nutritious vegetables.

Organic vegetables are arguably more nutritious than their pesticide grown counterparts. Recent research by Newcastle University found significant nutritional differences particularly in crop-based foods such as bread. They found that organic crop-based foods were up to 60% higher in key antioxidants than conventionally grown alternatives which is the equivalent of eating 1 or 2 extra portions of fruit and veg a day.

Pesticides and chemical fertilisers are bad for pollinators. But an organic garden or container on a balcony that is free from such toxins can be a haven for our little pollinator friends and other wildlife. We have written a blog all about bees but something of note here is, that bees have the ability to see the colours purple, violet and blue the best so If you are short of growing space, having some flowers like lavender, alliums and even dwarf buddleia are all good for supporting bees. That said though, bees are attracted to many other plants too so if you already have some, just leave them be(e)!

If you are lucky enough to have the space to create your own compost heap, you are also reducing your impact at landfill. By composting your own food and garden waste and recycling it in your garden, you are keeping your gardening footprint as small as possible.

Not restricted just to organic gardening, but getting out and tending to your own outdoor space is well documented as being good for our physical and mental health. But did you know, new studies are now looking at how microbes, specifically something called mycobacterium vaccae found in soil may also have anti-depressant qualities too. Now, we are no microbiologists, but we found it quite an interesting idea that the soil itself and not just the action of being active outdoors can help improve our mood! It also creates another reason why protecting our soil with organic gardening is important.

Now, don’t get us wrong, organic gardening isn’t without its challenges.

When pests appear like greenflies, for instance, you need to spend time researching alternative ways to treat the issue without chemicals. As an example, In this instance, ladybirds are a great natural solution! Infact, this is such a common method of controlling certain pests, that you can now even buy ladybirds in garden centres and some online stores.

You always need to check and double-check things like fertilisers (even the ones labelled natural) and seeds packets for instance to make sure there are no hidden chemicals or toxins that might undo your hard work of building up good soil structures or bug communities that help you keep your pests under control.

You may find you have to weed more often too, depending on how you plant your space. With organic veggie gardens, companion planting is always a good idea which not only helps to cover the ground and minimise weeding but can help deter pests from your crops. For instance, when growing brassicas, butterfly larvae can be a destructive problem, but planting things like Nasturtiums alongside them and using traditional butterfly mesh, can help to reduce or eliminate the problem altogether. As an added bonus, Nasturtiums are also edible!

With organic gardening, you don’t use synthetic chemicals to encourage growth and you may find your plants and veggies grow slower and are less productive. But we don’t think this should necessarily put you off. We find it feels so rewarding to enjoy plants and crops that you have grown without synthetic help.

But it isn’t just going organic that matters. Have you ever stopped and thought about how much plastic, specifically single-use plastic is used in gardening.

If you are going to the effort of organic gardening, it always felt counterintuitive to use so much plastic – but it isn’t always avoidable.

There seems to be a never-ending onslaught of plastic in gardening (whether organic or not) but there are alternatives.

You can now easily get seedling pots made from anything from cow manure to coconut coir and recycled cardboard. You can also purchase wooden tools that enable you to make your own seedling pots from old newspapers or other paper that is ready to be recycled.

You can also get plant labels made from FSC wood or other sustainable materials such as ceramics that can be reused repeatedly.

Many gardeners use plastic containers around their garden or balconies. Other materials like terracotta are available (and arguably better for growing) but they can be cost-prohibitive to many. That said, there are so many plastic pots in circulation that you can often pick up second-hand ones on your local selling sites or recycle centres.

If you have the space, consider setting up your own composter. This s an excellent way of creating your own compost which saves buying it in those plastic bags from garden centres. It also keeps your waste miles to a minimum and reduces the amount of waste being recycled in large commercial centres.

Organic gardening is a huge subject, and we learn new things all the time, but we find that part of the charm. If you’re looking for inspiration, there are countless resources and books available to help you get going or develop your skills. We also have a Pinterest page that we add ideas to for those looking for some organic gardening inspiration.

One final note though, beware of commercial compost that contains Peat! Peat is the result of decaying plants created over 12,000 years or so and is therefore irreplaceable. Mining these bogs for the peat are causing them to die out. They are great natural carbon sinks, soak up excess water minimising the risk of flooding and provide unique environments for certain wildlife and plant species that don’t exist in other environments. If your commercially supplied compost does not specify that it is peat-free, it could contain up to 70% peat compost. Peat compost is not considered sustainable and should be avoided. This is another reason why making your own compost is a great idea if you have space – you know exactly what is going in your garden!

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