Organic gardening

There are many roads to Rome on our path to creating lush, fertile, humus-rich, bountiful vege gardens we have to experiment a little to find the things that get us there. In my quest to garden organically, I’ve tried many techniques. What gets me there this year could change next.

For example, some years I’ve tried the age-old method of loading garden beds pre-winter with manure. Come the spring, they’re ready to go. Other years I’ve turned sorry-looking beds into no-dig gardens, a fantastic way to add fertility and masses of organic matter to the soil. Another alternative is applying compost regularly through the growing season.

Using these methods in isolation, or even better together, leads us to those lush healthy veges. Add the odd green manure and some lovely rotten lucerne mulch, a dollop of leaf mold, some seaweed, a sprinkle of sheep pellets and the veges look fantastic.

The point is we can do lots of little things with, and when, the resources are available. Some are lucky to have access to a plentiful supply of manure but most people are scratching around for the next bale of straw. Stockpiling materials when you can and turning materials into compost will give your garden an extra boost. Composted manure applied to the garden is better than plain manure. Compost is a biological wonderland feeding your soil and plants.

In the garden we can miss other forms of free fertility. Weeds are often overlooked, thrown away, or chucked on the compost. Many are deep mineral accumulators bringing goodies up from the deep, think dandelions and dock. These leaves can be chopped and dropped where you find them or around a growing vege to add extra nutrients to that plant.

Flowers popping up randomly or en masse are fantastic, again pull or chop and drop. Let them add fertility for you, too easy. Be wary of grasses and clover, they will root again if pulled and dropped.

Be clever and use nitrogen fixers to do some free work. Green manures such as lupins are fantastic but think beans as well: try planting them in amongst your heavy feeders. This next season try inter-planting bush beans with your cabbages.

When thinking of rotating crops, I’m not a massive stickler to protocol. If you’re short on space and you mix all your plantings together, formal crop rotation goes out the window.

I do follow a few golden rules in order to avoid diseases and lack lustre crops. I never follow any crop with the same crop again. I follow this rule for all brassicas, so cabbages don’t follow broccoli and so on. Root crops don’t follow root crops.

Where possible follow heavy feeders such as broccoli with light growers like lettuces or carrots. Beans are fantastic anywhere and everywhere as mentioned above and can follow any crop.

You can almost never apply too much compost. But the old adage ‘a little, often’ rings true. Every time you plant something, bring out the compost. A handful mixed in the hole, a handful sprinkled around the base of the plant. If you have no choice but to follow the same plants with a similar crop, be even more generous on the compost.

One key thing we have to remember when gardening or farming, we are, in essence, ‘mining the soil’. Every time we harvest/remove a plant or a weed we are taking from the soil. We need to be constantly giving back to the soil, giving back more if we can.

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Nitrogen fixing plants can be doing free work for you.

One super tip

Lucerne Tea – Get some spray free lucerne, put it in a bucket of warmish water (15-25°Celsius) add a dollop of molasses or fish fertiliser, stir very well and leave over night. Then dilute 2:1 and apply to your vege. This super tea is full of protozoa bacteria that will boost your soil food web. Super-sized, nutrient-dense, award-winning veges here we come!