Posts Tagged ‘eco gardening’

Gardening Without Plastic

October 31st, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

Seedlings growing in a cardboard egg carton container

As gardeners, we try to work with nature where we can, and that’s one of the joys of growing your own – fresh food without the nasty chemicals and pesticides.  But what about that artificial material we’ve been hearing a lot about recently – plastic. It gets just about everywhere, doesn’t it, including the garden. Well if you’re looking to purge your plastic use, then this one is for you. Read on or watch the video for some great ideas for growing and storing food without the plastic.

Sowing and seedlings

Let’s begin where most of our plants begin – with sowing. Swap seedlings flats or seed tray for wooden alternatives. They’re heavier and need watering more often, but will last for many years and are simple enough to make and repair. Wood also improves conditions around the roots because it allows the potting mix to breathe.

Replace plastic plug trays with ones made from pulped cardboard or pots pressed from fibre or coconut coir. Better still, make your own seedling pots from strips of newspaper. You can make pots of different sizes too. Cardboard egg trays are handy for most seedlings, or save toilet paper tubes to start off crops that prefer a longer root run, including corn, peas and beans. If you’d like to learn how to make your own biodegradable pots then check out this video. All biodegradable pots need to be watered a little more frequently,  but on the flip side they encourage healthier roots and can be planted whole, pot and all, avoiding disturbing the root system.

Pots and labels

A bunch of small biodegradable pots filled with potting soil with wooden lollipop stick labels sticking outIt’s easy enough to replace plastic pots with all manner of terracotta, metal, wooden, even slate alternatives, most of which look significantly more eye-catching anyhow. Remember that terracotta and metal pots take a lot of energy to manufacture, so a sturdy plastic pot may have less of an environmental impact over its lifetime, especially if it can be recycled locally.

Labels are easy to make from lollipop sticks, which you can buy in bulk from craft stores. Wood naturally absorbs moisture, which may cause ink to become blurred over time. Use a soft pencil instead, or try labels made of bamboo. For larger labels, opt for lengths of wood batten cut to size and painted with non-toxic paint to give a more durable, decorative finish.

Buying plants

Plants are typically sold in plastic pots but look out for fibre alternatives, often made with quick-growing sustainable grasses. Most trees, shrubs and perennials can be purchased bare-root over the winter months while they are dormant.

Some mail-order nurseries now dispatch young plants and seedlings with minimal packaging, just carefully laid between layers of newspaper or straw. And of course remember that the cheapest and most effective way to raise lots of plants is to propagate them yourself by sowing seeds, taking cuttings and dividing established plants.

Potting mixes

Potting soil or compost typically comes in plastic bags. These can be reused in a multitude of ways around the garden, but if you want to avoid plastic altogether, the simplest way to start is by making your own garden compost and leaf mould. Bear in mind that plastic composters tend to have a longer lifespan, so this is one area where you might want to relax the rules.

Compost and other soil amendments can often be bought in bulk bags which require less packaging per unit of product and can often be returned to the supplier, or make your own potting mixes by thoroughly combining garden compost, leaf mould, topsoil and organic fertiliser.

Looking after your plants

A close up of some brown natural fibre garden string or twinePlastic twine is out, replaced by string or twine made from natural fibres such as hemp, which is also less likely to cut into stems as they grow. Plastic netting is easily swapped with sturdy, long-lasting metal or wooden alternatives. Keep on using your plastic watering can, but when it finally needs replacing go galvanised with a traditional-looking steel can.

Water barrels have many metal or wooden alternatives which are pricier but look very attractive. Cold protection necessitates a return to glass, which is more durable and less likely to scuff, shred or blow away compared to lighter weight plastic cloches or row covers.

Storing produce

There’s really no need for plastic in or around your harvested fruits and vegetables. Use crates of damp sand to store root vegetables like carrots, boxes of straw to insulate fruits such as apples, or breathable hessian sacks for maincrop potatoes.

Keep just-picked leaves fresher for longer by washing then wrapping them in a damp towel destined for the refrigerator. Bunches of herbs should be popped into jars of water like cut flowers, a method that also works for asparagus spears. Twist of the leaves from roots like radish, beets and turnips, then store in a container in the fridge with a damp towel or cloth laid on top. Carrots should be placed into containers of regularly changed fresh water, while tomatoes and aubergine are best left at room temperature out of the sun in the dry.

Finally, store bananas well away from all other produce. It emits ripening gas ethylene which can lead other fruits and vegetables to quickly spoil.

Of course, plastic isn’t always bad and can sometimes form the most sensible and even sustainable choice. Nevertheless, we could all do with reducing our addiction to plastic, especially single-use plastic. Share your tips for a plastic-free gardening life – we’d love to hear your experiences! Have you managed to kick the plastic habit? Comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

How to Plan a Low-Cost Vegetable Garden

December 18th, 2018 | News | 0 Comments

recycle-materials-such-as-newspaper-for-a-low-cost-garden-solution

Seeds, plants, tools, soil amendments, row covers, supports – it all adds up. But if your pockets aren’t bottomless, or you simply don’t fancy forking out fistfuls of cash, there are lots of ways to grow more for less. Read on or watch the video for tricks and tips for planning a low-cost vegetable garden suitable for any budget.

Cheap Seeds and Plants

To grow a garden you need seeds and plants, but the cost of them quickly adds up.

Local seed and plant swaps are a great way to bulk out a new garden on the cheap – or even for free! Choice will be limited so you’ll need to be flexible, and as it’s a swap, you’ll of course have to have something to offer in return.

If you have to buy seeds, which you probably will, look out for special offers on seed supplier websites (like us!) both before the start and towards the end of the growing season. Remember, while most seeds keep for more than one season some will need replacing every year or two, including parsnip, corn and spinach.

Open-pollinated or non-hybrid varieties of vegetables open up the possibility of saving your own seeds. Tomatoes, beans and many leafy salads are very easy to save seeds from, which means you’ll only have to buy once.

Feeding Soil

Nutrient-rich organic materials are the best way to build soil fertility and structure.

Make-your-own-compost-heap-using-old-pallets-for-a-low-cost-garden-solution

You can make your own compost for free, and you don’t need a special container or compost bin to make it in. Set up a compost heap in a quiet, out-of-the-way corner, sheltered from strong winds, and preferably with some sun to help warm the heap and speed up decomposition. Keep the heap tidy by hemming in the sides with recycled materials such as old pallets, which can usually be acquired for free.

There’s never a shortage of leaves! Gather them up to make your own leaf mould, a great soil amendment. If you can’t get enough leaves, ask friends and neighbours if you can have theirs – most people will be only too pleased to get rid of them!

Farms and stables will often give away manure if you’re happy to collect, but check that the animals haven’t been feeding on plants treated with herbicides or you may unwittingly damage the plants you plan to grow in it. Also make sure it’s well rotted down or composted before using.

Grow Plant Supports

Climbing crops like beans and cucumbers need proper supports.

Bamboo canes aren’t that expensive to buy, but they’re free if you grow your own. In fact, any strong, straight, woody stems make excellent poles for climbers including stems cut from the likes of hazel and buddleia.

Cheap Crop Protection

Many crops need protecting at some point, whether from the cold, sun or pests.

For cold protection, make use of old clear bottles, polythene stretched over homemade hoops or recycled glass doors and windows. Improvise shade cloth with old tulle or net curtains. Newly-sown beds of cool-season crops like lettuce can be shaded with cardboard until the seedlings poke through, or protect recent transplants with upturned pots for a couple of days, until they settle in. You can also make collars against cold wind for earlier on in the season, since the drying effect of the wind is often more damaging than low temperatures.

Natural Pest Control

include-nectar-rich-flowers-like-cosmos-in-your-low-cost-garden-to-attract-pest-predators-in-their-droves

Don’t fork out on costly artificial pesticides, which tend to kill good bugs as well as bad. Leverage the power of nature to help you defeat pests on the cheap.

Include nectar-rich flowers in your plan to attract pest predators in their droves. Flowers such as coreopsis, cosmos, poached egg plant and alyssum will draw in hoverflies, lacewings, ladybugs and parasitic wasps that will make short work of pests like aphids. Equally effective are flowering herbs such as dill, fennel, parsley and coriander, or leave some carrots and onions in the ground to run to flower the next season.

Tubs, Pots and Baskets

Remember, just about anything that holds potting soil can be used as a container for plants.

Whatever you do use, make sure you punch holes into the bottom for proper drainage. For seedlings you can’t beat old yoghurt pots, soft fruit trays and mushroom trays, or make your own from toilet tissue tubes or newspaper. Toilet tissue tubes are especially suited to deeper-rooting seedlings such as corn or beans, encouraging a more extensive root system which will help plants to establish quicker once they’re planted.

Paths and Boundaries

Paths can be as permanent or ephemeral as you choose.

Make low-tech, cheap paths by simply covering the ground in bark chippings, you can add a double layer of cardboard beforehand to help smother any weeds beneath. You’ll need to top up the woodchips from time to time, or opt for something more substantial made from salvaged slabs, bricks or cobbles. You can make purchased hard landscaping go further by in-filling with cheaper materials like gravel.

A living boundary can also be a cheap one if you buy the plants bare-rooted in winter. You’ll need to be patient while it grows, but a hedge is always going to look better than a fence! And don’t forget, you can also make it productive by planting trained fruit trees or fruiting hedgerow species like blackthorn.

Don’t let anyone tell you you need lots of money to start a new garden – it’s perfectly possible to create a beautiful garden for next to nothing. If you have any tips or tricks for planning a low-cost garden, comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

Using Wood Ash in Your Vegetable Garden

December 5th, 2018 | News | 0 Comments

If you’ve had a bonfire recently, or you like to warm yourself in front of the fireplace or wood burner, then you’ll probably have lots of ash. Getting rid of it can be a bit of a nuisance, but it’s also a valuable source of nutrients which makes it a great resource for the garden.

Read on or watch the video to find out when and where to use ash in your garden.

What’s in Wood Ash?

Wood ash is naturally high in potassium, which encourages flowering and fruiting. It also contains phosphorus as well as a catalogue of micronutrients including manganese, iron, zinc and calcium.

Younger wood, such as twiggy prunings, produces ash with a higher concentration of nutrients than older wood. Similarly, ashes from hardwood like oak, maple and beech contain more nutrients than ashes of softwoods.

Ash from lumpwood charcoal is also good, but avoid using the ash from coal or treated timber, which could harm your soil and plants.

Wood Ash in Compost

Wood ash is alkaline, so applying it to compost heaps helps to balance the tendency of compost to be more acidic. It also creates better conditions for composting worms, which will speed up decomposition.

Compost that’s less acidic is perfect for mulching around vegetables. Add wood ash little and often in thin layers – a few handfuls or one shovelful every 6in (15cm) of material is fine.

Wood Ash on Soil

Wood ash can play a useful role in correcting overly acidic soil. Most vegetables need a pH of 6.5 to 7.0, so if your soil’s below 6.5 sprinkle wood ash over the surface then rake or fork it in. Test your soil if you don’t know its pH.

Wood ash is especially useful if you use lots of cattle manure in your garden, as this type of manure is very acidic.

Wood ash is approximately half as effective as lime in neutralising acid. As a general rule, apply about 2 ounces of ash to every square yard (50-70g per square metre). Do this on a still day in winter, and wear gloves to protect your hands.

Wood Ash around Plantsmix-wood-ash-into-any-soil-used-to-grow-fruiting-vegetables

Use the alkalinity of wood ash to improve soil for brassicas such as cabbage and Brussels sprouts. This is a great way to prevent club root – a common disease when the soil’s too acidic.

Apply it the winter before planting, or as a side dressing around actively growing plants. Its high potash content means wood ash is ideal to use around most fruit bushes including currants and gooseberries, where it also helps wood to ripen, thereby improving hardiness, disease resistance and productivity. In fact, mix it into any soil used to grow fruiting vegetables, especially tomatoes.

Where Not to Use Ash

Due to its alkalinity, wood ash shouldn’t be used around acid-loving plants such as blueberries and, to a lesser extent, raspberries. Avoid it coming into contact with seedlings too, and don’t apply it to areas used to grow potatoes as alkaline soil encourages potato scab.

You’d need to add lots of wood ash to make your soil too alkaline for most crops, but for peace of mind retest your soil’s pH every couple of years to check it doesn’t go above 7.5.

How to Store Wood Ash

Because the nutrients wood ash contains are soluble, you’ll need to keep it out of the rain so they don’t wash out. Containers with close fitting lids are perfect for keeping ash dry until you’re ready to use it.

Wood ash can be a truly useful addition to the garden. If you have experience with using wood ash and have any handy tips or tricks, comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.