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How to become an organic gardener

How to become an organic gardener

Have you always dreamed of growing fresh organic produce to feed yourself and your family? You’re not alone. All over the country, gardeners are turning their backs on sterile supermarket fruit and veg and rushing to their greenhouses to grow food that’s natural, nutritious, delicious and cheap. Here’s how to make your garden a productive, organic, eco paradise.

Work with nature

Organic garden allotment
See what grows well in your local area.
Image source: johnbraid

Begin your journey into organic gardening by getting yourself into the right headspace. Going organic is about swapping the traditional ‘man versus nature’ philosophy, for an ethos that’s all about ‘man with nature’. No matter how small your garden, remember, it’s part of the natural world – even a window box is a tiny ecosystem.

Take a walk around your surrounding area, taking note of what grows well in nearby gardens and allotments. What’s the light like? What sort of soil do you have? That’s nature giving you clues to help you decide what to plant and where, so you’ll get great results without resorting to the chemical nasties you’re trying to escape.

Do take notice of what wildlife already inhabits your space. Think about what you can do to make your organic garden work in a way that benefits everyone – human and otherwise. Remember – some birds, insects and mammals eat the pests that feed on your crops.

Nurture your soil

Hotbin mini-composter from Thompson & Morgan
New hotbin systems begin to produce compost in 30-90 days.
Image source: Hotbin mini-composter from Thompson & Morgan

At the current rate of degradation, within 30 – 40 years, some British farmland will be completely infertile. Growing organically begins with learning to truly nurture the earth. Begin by picking up a fistful of dirt – feel its consistency and texture; is it sandy; do you have a clay soil, or are you lucky enough to have a rich, crumbly loam?

Invest in a soil testing kit and measure your soil’s pH level and key nutrients – nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Armed with this information, you’ll be able to learn how best to feed your soil, and improve its texture.

Instead of adding chemical fertiliser to your soil, use natural products like well-rotted manure, and compost made from your own kitchen scraps and garden trimmings. Organic material improves even the most barren of soils so that year by year, your harvests grow more bountiful.

Another way to avoid overworking your soil is to rotate your crops. Split your garden into four or more growing beds, and rotate your sowing by plant family; brassicas one year, legumes the next, then alliums, followed by nightshades, and so on.

Protect helpful wildlife

A small natural pond will attract helpful wildlife to your garden.
Image source: Shutterstock

Got an aphid problem? Forget non-organic pesticides – plant marigolds and herbs like fennel, dill, and feverfew, which attract brightly coloured ladybirds to your garden to feast on them.

Other garden visitors can be helpful too. Hedgehogs eat slugs and snails, as do toads – in fact a single toad can much its way through up to 10,000 bugs and slugs over the course of a single summer.

And don’t forget the birds – they love to eat insects, grubs and other garden pests – though you should net your fruit plants because they love those too. The key here is to create environments that wildlife can live in – dig out a pond and plant a wilderness garden; leave piles of flat stones for amphibians to live under; put up bat or bird boxes, and create bug hotels.

You can also protect your crops from insects and disease by practising companion planting. By planting the right combinations of crops together, you set up a symbiotic relationship that benefits both – planting nasturtiums next to your squashes, for example, deters vine beetles, and alliums protect your brassicas.

Plants for pollinators

Bee on plant
Plant flowers to attract pollinators.
Image source: Daniel Prudek

Bees and other pollinators are in marked decline across the world. Agricultural pesticides, habitat loss, viral infection, and parasites are largely to blame for the loss of numbers which, should it continue, may threaten future food production.

By not using pesticides, you’re already doing something to help but, if you’d like to do more to respond to the needs of bees, there’s a lot an organic gardener can do to help. Check out the RHS lists of plants for pollinators, and get planting. By providing loads of healthy organic nectar, not only are you feeding the bees, you’re also ensuring your fruit and other crops get pollinated.

Also consider helping solitary bees by providing homes for them. You can buy purpose made bug hotels from garden centres, or make your own by bundling hollow stems or straws together. Some species of solitary bee love to nest in holes in the ground, where the earth is bare or the grass is short. They like the base of hedges too, and will often leave little piles of earth outside their burrow – just leave them alone to flourish.

Enjoy your outdoor space

Arch Top Arbour Seat from Waltons
Make time to sit back and enjoy your outdoor space
Image source: Arch Top Arbour Seat from Waltons

When you work with the environment rather than against it, you’ll soon find your garden changing to more closely resemble the natural world to which it belongs. Swapping a lurid green, mono-species lawn for a wildflower meadow, or exchanging regimented rows of veggies for the synergy of companion planting, are visible signs of your new gardening philosophy.

Simply put, nature is order – anything else is disorder; by letting go of the urge to tame your environment, you’ll give yourself the space to learn to enjoy nature as it is, and to work alongside it to create your own, stunning organic garden. Add a wooden arbour seat, a cup of Earl Grey, and give yourself a moment to relax in a natural paradise of your own creation.

Lead image: Shutterstock

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