Organic gardening is taking the world by storm. Allotmenteers are doing it, home growers are doing it, even farmers are doing it. What are the key principles of growing organic vegetables – and is it a feasible method for the small‐scale, home grower?
Organic Soil Improvers
Before planting anything, soil should be improved – and if you’re growing organically, this means using natural means to do so. Chemical fertilisers and pellets are forbidden in organic growing. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to give your soil an organic boost.
Make your own Compost The quickest and easiest way to improve your soil is by digging in loads of home‐made compost. To be strictly organic, your compost should be made from organic vegetable peelings, chemical‐free grass clippings, and organic egg shells. Wood ash and shredded tree prunings make good additions. In practice, many gardeners use a blend of non‐organic and organic vegetable peelings and grass cuttings; this ‘in‐conversion’ technique will start you off until the time when you’re fully organic. When the cycle is complete, you’ll be recycling your own organic vegetables into compost.
Speedy Compost from a Wormery Wormeries are hugely popular among organic gardeners. The worms act as little manual labourers, transforming your kitchen waste into friable compost much more quickly than if you were using an ordinary compost bin. You can buy attractive wormeries that look like painted beehives – or you can make your own, layering up newspaper‐lined crates so that the worms can work through the waste to create compost and liquid feed (make sure you have a hole to drip off this liquid). For a guide to making your own wormery, check out Joy Larkcom’s ‘Grow Your Own Vegetables’.
Using Green Manures Green manures can be sown wherever there is a patch of ground that will empty for a few months. They’re grown to be dug into the soil, locking in nitrogen; until that point, they are useful for smothering weeds and protecting the soil from winter weather. Green manures come in three types: leafy manures, such as mustard, rape and fodder radish; legumes, such as clover, alfalfa, field peas, and common vetch; and fibrous‐rooted crops, including grazing rye. You can sow green manures from spring to autumn. Your choice of manure depends on your soil type, so it can be a good idea to try several and find out which suit your type and climate best.
Natural Pest Control
There are a number of methods of deterring pests you’re your organic vegetable plot. Traps, copper tape, ground coffee, and manually picking‐off are all quite effective against slugs and snails. Biological pest control is effective against many kinds of pests, including red spider mite, slugs, snails and caterpillars. See our article on permitted Pesticides for more details.
Companion planting is also a good way to encourage the right sorts of insect to your organic vegetable patch. Certain plants are appealing to pollinating insects – and obstructive to others. Planting marigolds beneath your tomatoes is a well‐known technique (thought to repel black and greenfly). Lesser‐known companions are nasturtiums for brassicas (giving the caterpillars a more appealing alternative), garlic for roses (to deter aphids) and leeks for carrots (creating a strong smell to confuse the carrot fly).