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Your Guide to Growing Sustainably

By Emily Peagram
27th June 2023

When creating your growing space, it is worth keeping in mind the environmental impact of some of the practises we commonly use. Growing healthy fruit and veg for you and your family is hugely positive, but you can also extend the benefits so that you are treading a little more lightly on the earth, which does mean slightly more than simply throwing out old chemical sprays. That said, the methods are often simple and rely heavily on learning from plants in their natural habitats, so need not make growing your own more complicated.

From the ground up
One of the first jobs in a sustainable garden will be ensuring your growing medium is in good shape and can provide your crops with the nutrients they need. Creating your own compost from spent garden matter is very simple and effective, and reduces waste from the plot. However, if you don’t have the space to create your own compost heap, there are lots of organic products available on the market, as well as lots of peat-free alternatives to traditional mediums.

Another important element to think about when it comes to soil is the pH level of your ground. Checking this will help you to find out which crops will thrive, and those that may not be as successful as others in your growing environment.

When you empty a veg bed, don’t leave the ground bare – planting green manures is a fantastic way of replenishing the goodness in the earth, and these little plants can also prevent weeds from springing up as they so willingly do in empty ground.

Starting to plant
One of the first jobs for many growers is tackling areas that have been overtaken with weeds. This can seem like a daunting task, but it really doesn’t need to be – one of the key things to remember is you don’t need to clear the whole space at once. Cover some ground with an organic mulch, and dig over a the portion you would like to get planted up first. This makes the whole thing a lot more manageable. If there are any weeds in flower or with seed heads, cut these down and remove them, as these will be what encourages re-seeding.

To get started with your vegetables if you want to grow in an organic way, it’s a good idea to get a handle on the idea of crop rotation. This is the practice of changing where you grow each type of veg from year to year to help maintain good soil structure, nutrient levels, and to prevent build ups of pests and diseases specific to certain vegetable families. You can devise your own rotation, just remember to keep a record of what you have grown, where and when. The easiest way is to divide your crops into families (brassicas, alliums, legumes and roots). Move these around each year in your plan – bingo! That’s crop rotation.

Another beneficial planting method is using permaculture techniques – these mirror how crops would grow in the wild without intervention and looks at what types of plant work well together. This includes topic like companion planting, giving pest protection, shading and the like.

Continued care
Keeping your plants well irrigated is a key task throughout the season and there are a couple of ways you can make sure you are making the most of natural resources. One (and something that is seen on a lot of allotment plots and in many gardens) is the use of a water butt. Set up beside a shed or greenhouse, it is a simple way to collect rainwater which can then be used on your plants.

Natural feeds are another brilliant way of giving your crops what they need without compromising the environment with unnatural products. Simple comfrey or nettle teas can be stewed by collecting the leaves and immersing them in a bucket of water for a few weeks. This can be quite smelly, though!

Although pests can be a problem on the allotment, inviting wildlife in is one way of helping to control this. Despite the fact birds may take a liking to delicious, juicy fruit berries and tender young salad leaves, they also eat many bugs and insects that may damage your harvests. So it is a good idea to create a thriving ecosystem that can mean pest control without the use of pellets and other chemical solutions.

Over all, we can all play out part in making our gardens a little more sustainable. You don’t have to make huge changes to make a difference.

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