Feed The Soil, Not The Plants
To grow healthy plants, whether ornamental or edible, you need a healthy soil. Like humans, plants need food and water to get established, flourish, and reach their full potential. And the best way to do this is to care for and feed the soil, which in turn will care for and feed the plants that grow in it.
Healthy soil should be full of life! Worms, fungi, bacteria, and all sorts of microscopic organisms will all be playing their part in breaking down organic matter, adding nutrients, improving the structure so that air and water can move about freely and generally making a healthy environment for plants.
All the links in this blog take you to more information on the Garden Organic website - and there are plenty more fascinating things you can look at while you are there!
How do you get a healthy soil?
All plants, and particularly edible ones, are constantly taking nutrients out of the soil, and as an organic gardener you need to ensure that the stocks are replenished. Also, as a gardener, you will need to ensure that you are using appropriate cultivation practices, and growing the right things in the right place. Here are some particular techniques you should consider :
Apply homemade compost - if you want to know more about making and using compost, start off by checking this link. Also, look out on the SHC blogs for a whole series of articles on composting as part of Compost Awareness Week, which starts on May 2nd!
Minimise Digging - as well as being hard work, digging disrupts the complex ecosystem of minibeasts, microorganisms and fungi that work so hard to create a good soil structure. In the 'No-Dig' technique, organic mulches are used to keep the weeds from growing, so regular digging is not required. Find out more here.
Grow Green Manures - these are plants that you can grow that will improve the structure of the soil and will often improve fertility as well. They are usually fairly short lived crops which after a few weeks are incorporated into the soil, or harvested to add to the compost heap. There are many different Green Manures, so you need to pick the right plant fore the right place at the right time of year. Find out more here.
Rotate your Vegetable Crops - different vegetable crops have different nutritional needs, and suffer from different pests and diseases. It is therefore important not to keep growing the same crops in the same patch year after year, but rather to rotate them around different patches. If you are growing a lot of vegetables and have plenty of space (e.g. on an allotment), a 4 year crop rotation cycle is recommended. Find out more here.
Use organic fertilisers, feeds and tonics - as well as regular application of homemade compost, you may want to add the occasional bit of extra nutrition if you are growing 'hungry' crops. These can found in granular or liquid form, but should plant, animal or mineral in origin - not from man-made chemicals. You can make your own liquid feed from comfrey or nettles, or you can buy products in your local garden centre - do look out for a recognised organic symbol on the packaging.
Want to know more about gardening organically? Garden Organic run regular courses and Webinars where you can learn much more.