In this article we are going to try and explain organic gardening, especially for beginners. Organic gardening is a term that you will here quite a lot, but what does it really mean for the typical home owner in the UK?
According to the Royal Horticultural Society of the UK, "Organic gardening is commonly used to describe cultivation systems which make minimal use of manufactured chemical substances. These are practical elements of a broader philosophy which takes a holistic view of gardening, emphasizing the interdependence of life forms."
That certainly sounds impressive! However for home gardeners like me and you, this higher broader version has not got that much purpose behind it. A simpler way to explain organic gardening is to "stop using any form of chemicals when it comes to growing plants, fruits or vegetables."
We will be aware that when we go to the supermarket that we can buy organic vegetables. These are vegetables from farms where the farm owners have not used sprays to kill off pests.
Their focus is on using natural resources and avoiding pollution from their gardening activities. Now while our gardens are nowhere near the scale of farms in the UK, we can still do our little bit.
There is more work involved to grow organically, but it is possible and is not as difficult as you may think.
One important element of organic gardening is to use manure and fertilizers that are derived only from animal or plant remains. In other words avoid chemicals of any kind. What you should try and achieve with organic gardening is to garden well without using pesticides.
The Main Challenges of Organic Gardening
To do this properly is not simple but with some thought can be achieved. You also need to develop a mindset of determination, and have the right knowledge to make the right decisions.
Hopefully we can provide some of that knowledge in this article. If you can succeed, then most gardeners will find this gardening practise to be very rewarding. You are also helping a lot with the environment, and avoiding practices that are harmful.
The Key Challenges
- Rather than using chemical treatments, the more natural treatments often involve more expensive alternatives. Some of these alternative treatments are less effective, and you may even suffer from a loss in yield
- Some of the organic techniques are not always visually appealing to the eye such as compost heaps
- You do need to take the time to really understand what is going on in your garden and that includes the wildlife, the soil type and the areas where light is good and not so good
- The biggest challenge of all is however the time involved and the effort involved. You need to plan a little bit more, prepare the ground a little bit more, and most of all be aware of any pest problems and deal with them, before they become a major problem.
A simple example of this is not to use a spray on your rose bushes, but to check them every few days for any sign of pests. Then you can treat them using a natural treatment. So instead of a quick spray from a chemical bottle and forget about the pests, you have to keep checking, and then deal with any problems that arise.
We are not saying this to put you off organic gardening, but simply to make you aware of the challenges involved with it.
Benefits of Organic Gardening
We have explained above that organic gardening around the home can be more work and slightly more expensive. However it has in our opinion many more benefits than drawbacks and we want to explain those.
Organic farming does not use chemicals, and there is enough evidence around to know that these chemicals can have an adverse affect on your health, and the health of your family.
This is really important when it comes to growing your own vegetables.
It is always worth remembering that pesticides contain toxins that have only one purpose - to kill living things.
Poisons, which exist in chemical treatments are often washed into our waterways, causing death to the native fish and polluting their habitat. When we stop using them, then we avoid being any part of that.
Every good gardener will know the importance of topsoil. Organic gardening helps prevent the loss of topsoil through erosion. In the small garden this is not a huge issue, but it still helps.
The Sustainable Food Trust says that an "the loss of soil carbon across the UK costs us £3.21 billion annually."
Potential Cost Savings
Chemical fertilizers and pesticides are not cheap, though they are viewed as being convenient. However there are a few organic recipes for the control of pest and disease that can come straight from the kitchen cupboard.
Sometimes other plants can be grown as companions to the main crop. An example of this is the marigold, which helps to repel aphids from vegetables.
Organic Gardening Tips for Home Gardening
Tip 1 - Making Compost the Easy Way
You can easily make compost from garden and kitchen waste. It is more time-consuming than buying prepared chemical pesticides and fertilizers. However it makes the best use or kitchen and garden waste.
You can use most waste from either the kitchen or garden. Cutting from your hedges, flower heads, grass cuttings,, peelings, tea bags, and shredded newspaper can be turned into nutrient-rich compost.
The easiest way to make compost is by either using a compost bin or a tumbling composter. You can make a compost heap, but those are harder to manage and rather unsightly.
It is easier to fill a compost bin with a good mixture of green and brown materials. You do need to get this balance right and that comes with a little practise.
Tip 2 - An Easy Homemade Garden Pest Spray
To make an affordable and effective pest spray that is organic simply mix 1 tablespoon of liquid dish washing soap and 1 cup of cooking oil.
Then you can put 3 tablespoons of this mixture in 1 quart (2 pints) of water and spray on plants.
Tip 3 - A Simple but Effective Mulch
A simple mulch of pine needles will help to suppress the growth of weeds as well as keeping the moisture in. Some UK gardeners will use tree bark or composted straw across soil.
Before doing this remove any weeds and then spread the bark or straw. You can compost small weeds but do not compost large weeds with long roots as they could take over the compost bin and start to grow.
Tip 4 - Improve Your Garden Soil Quickly
Any gardener will know that the better the quality of your soil is, then the better growth you will have and the healthier plants you will be able to grow. One way to do this is to buy something like leaf mould, composted bark and/or garden compost.
Dig that into the soil every now and then. You also have the choice of spreading compost on the top of your soil, and then let the worms and the rain work the compost in.
The reason this works is that it helps a lot with improving the drainage of heavy or clay type soils.
Tip 5 - The Birds and Bees
We have mentioned already that natural wildlife in your garden is a great way to control insects and pests that will eat or destroy plants. It is wise therefore to encourage as much wildlife as you can.
Feeding birds is one way of doing that as long as you protect any fruit plants and bushes from the same birds with netting.