Gardening Organically

A photograph of a bee on lavender

You’ve bought your seeds and plants and want to ‘grow organic’; but what exactly does that involve? The Soil Association gives strict rules for commercial growers, but Garden Organic’s guidelines are aimed at domestic gardeners. They’re all too aware that sometimes, even with the best of intentions, life can get in the way of the amateur.

The basic thing to remember is that organic gardening should harness nature and contribute to a sustainable lifestyle. It should also be applied to the whole growing space as well as the plants, and to the ornamental as well as the practical.

The following are definite no-nos:

  • unnecessary cultivation
  • over-feeding
  • inefficient and wasteful watering or energy use
  • applying manure in late autumn and winter
  • using peat, coir, polluted or contaminated materials, manures from intensive or GM-fed livestock, compost activator containing artificial fertiliser, artificially produced nutrients, calcified seaweed, slaked lime, quicklime, soluble chemical fertilisers, synthetic hormone rooting powders, seeds, bulbs, sets or tubers treated with fungicide, hydroponics, copper-based or artificially produced fungicides, materials from unsustainable sources, pressure-treated or creosoted timber

But aspire to a halo with the following:

  • use recycled and home-produced tools and materials
  • buy quality hand tools and repair them
  • avoid powered tools and equipment
  • get to know your soil and grow plants that suit those conditions
  • keep soil covered with plants / green manure / organic mulch
  • where necessary, maintain your soil with home-made compost or bulky organic materials; in appropriate quantity and at the appropriate season
  • build soil fertility by growing nitrogen-fixing plants
  • recycle your organic kitchen and garden waste into compost and leaf mould depending only on what your land/household provides
  • use crop rotation and no-dig techniques, and keep soil cultivation to a minimum
  • don’t use animal carcass based fertiliser
  • don’t liquid feed in open ground
  • water the soil rather than the foliage, and only as appropriately required by the plant
  • collect rainwater and check for leaks
  • keep your lawn grass a bit longer and allow compatible weeds to grow to save on watering and to keep it greener in dry weather
  • sow or transplant just before rain is forecast, and protect young plants from sun and drying winds to conserve water
  • use home saved seed, home-grown transplants, and only buy seeds, tubers, sets, bulbs, plants and transplants carrying an approved organic certification body’s symbol
  • make your own potting compost and plant food, or buy product carrying an approved and certified organic symbol
  • grow varieties that resist pests and disease
  • avoid a specific pest or disease by choosing sowing and planting dates and techniques that reduce risk
  • grow a mix of plant types and varieties to reduce pest and disease risk, and leave ‘relaxed’ areas to provide for the needs of predators and wildlife
  • check plants regularly and use physical methods against pests and infections as they occur; e.g. squashing, picking off, traps, barriers
  • get to know the life cycles of pests and diseases and develop strategies to combat them
  • weed by hand, hoeing or digging out
  • use weed prevention techniques, and construct hard surfaces so they discourage weeds taking hold
  • trap the sun and use and conserve solar and natural energy; e.g. lean-to greenhouses and water tanks hold heat, hot beds give heat, insulation saves heat.
  • grow seasonally to avoid the need for extra artificial warmth and light
  • store using clamps or other traditional preserving methods
  • accept that wood rots and choose naturally resistant species of wood as a replacement
  • clean using steam / hot water / scrubbing / a high pressure hose

What lies in-between

is usually acceptable, and a lot of us spend our time aspiring to a halo by doing the best we can. If you’d like any explanations, or have questions, pop over to the forums.