All too often gardening is seen as nothing more than a quick trip to the garden centre filling our carts with plants, plastic bags and compost and assorted ‘sundries’. Arriving at the checkout the bill frequently comes to far more than we’d imagined. By the time you arrive home and unloaded the car it’s a wonder if you actually have the energy to plant what you’ve bought! The following are some ideas for making your little patch more sustainable, they’re not exhaustive by any means, but it will make it a lot more pleasurable to garden !
1. Source second hand tools- finding ‘pre-loved’ tools in second-hand shops or backyard sales usually means that you can equip your tool shed for very little money; often older tools are far better quality that their newer versions and have that lovely aged look.
2. Begin farming- worms that is….our wormery was bought from a company which only sells wormeries which are made from recycled computers and bottles. If you have access to the large polystyrene(Styrofoam) coolers or some old plastics boxes you could build your own for no money at all. Wiggly Wigglers have clear instructions on how to do this. www.wigglywigglers.co.uk/make-your-own-wormery
Our wormery yields a surprising amount of compost as well as producing ‘worm tea’ an organic liquid fertiliser which you dilute in your watering can. Harvesting the ‘black gold’ is easy in our wormery as you simply rotate the bottom tray which by now if full of compost to the top and begin to fill with your kitchen and garden scraps. Compost with peat is very bad news for the environment and comes in plastic bags- why not just make your own ( with the help of your new wriggly pets)
3. Begin collecting your rainwater- because our garden is small we have a slimline water butt plumbed in to our garage downpipe, it collects several gallons during rainy spells (frequent where our little house is situated). You don’t have to buy a special vessel, any large container will do- my father has plumbed a large former chemical drum to his shed which belonged to my grandfather- a pair of old tights stretched over the top will prevent it from becoming contaminated with leaves and insects.
4. Start plants out under cover- a bright windowsill, conservatory or greenhouse ensures that you get the most produce from each season. (Where we live in the north of the UK this is essential for growing plants such as tomatoes and peppers.) It also means that you can do some gardening indoors during the colder weather.
5. Plant herbs- a great start to beginning a productive garden is to begin with herbs since these will happily grow in the tinniest of containers. Herbs are easily harvested by cutting a few leaves or stems from the plant with a sharp pair of scissors. You can also dry herbs in a warm spot in the house to ensure that you enjoy them in the winter months. Ordering from an on-line catalogue gives you a much greater choice and saves on that car journey to buy seeds.
6. Build your own vegetable bed from scrap wood- CC used offcuts from the garage for ours. Our little vegetable bed measures just 2 foot by 5 foot and it yields enough vegetables during the spring and summer to ensure that we are self sufficient in vegetables. Happily we often yield enough to have some to freeze as well. Growing potatoes in planters and herbs in pots also helps to expand our harvest.
7. Collect your own seeds- our grandparents saved the seeds from their gardens but our generation seems to have lost much of this skill, simply let your chosen flower, herb or vegetable produce a seed pod and leave to ripen on the plant. Take a sharp pair of scissors and cut the stem containing the seed pod and leave to dry in a moisture free place. For plants with very little seeds, (such as the leek), place the seed head in a paper bag and hang upside down in a dry place. Harvest your seeds when the pods are completely dry and store in a labelled envelope.
Growing your own plants from seed guarantees that the plant has not been grown in peat-rich compost( unlike many garden centre plants) and is a thrifty and sustainable way of growing your garden the following year.
8. Use a push mower if you have a lawn- We have a lovely lightweight model which lifts effortlessly from the garden store and make cutting our tiny lawn a pleasure -(there’s something extremely therapeutic about the gentle thrrrrr, thrrrr sensation) Lawns are not a great choice for the environment in more arid areas but we have more than enough rainfall to water our lawn, we don’t spray anything on our lawn and have two very sweet rabbits who rely on the grass cuttings to supplement their diet as well as enjoying regular play-time on the grass.
9. Encourage lodgers – beneficial insects which eat the larvae of pests and pollinate flowers are provided with accommodation rent free. Planting lavender, nasturtiums, poached egg plants and many more gives your little workers plenty of food and a home- made insect box ensures cosy beds for the night.
10. Deal with unwelcome guests in a sustainable fashion- most garden pests can be discouraged by using netting, regular patrols and keeping a beady eye on problems before they become a major infestation. Caterpillas an be prevented by using netting ( old net curtains will do a great job) or picking the eggs off your plants before they hatch. Slugs are another matter altogether in a wet climate which generally has mild winters. I have waged war with the steely determination of an army general after slugs ate all of my first vegetables. Copper tape and barriers work very well for containers, but vegetable beds are another matter. This is the only occasion where organically permitted slug pellets ( iron phosphate- which is harmless to pets and wildlife if used as per the instructions) are really an essential.
Just a few minutes per week should ensure that you have a garden you can really enjoy and be proud of. Don’t forget the last step – relax and enjoy !