This year, lockdown resulted in a huge surge in people taking up home growing. Whether it was to have a little bit of control over the food we put on our plates, or simply a pleasant way to pass the time, this presents a fantastic opportunity to encourage more people to grow the organic way, for its benefits to biodiversity, soil and the wider environment.
When considering organic growing, many have not thought beyond ‘growing without chemicals’, so we thought it would be helpful to run through what it entails.
It is important to understand that organic growing emphasises looking after the whole growing environment rather than just the individual plants. The soil is a vital component of this environment. It also recognises the importance of understanding natural processes so that your growing practices can work with them rather than trying to fight them.
Commercial growers that wish to sell produce with the organic label on it, must register with a certifying body such as ‘The Soil Association’ or ‘Organic Farmers and Growers’, and undergo regular inspections. However, there are many amateur gardeners who would like to grow according to organic principles without being subject to this level of scrutiny. With this in mind, Garden Organic has produced the ‘Principles of Organic Growing’ to provide a clear set of voluntary guidelines for those wanting to set off down the organic route.
The five principles of organic growing:
- Build and maintain soil health . Organic growing recognises that a healthy soil is vital for providing a continuous supply of healthy food crops. Applying compost and growing green manures will do much to boost the health of your soil.
- Encourage biodiversity . Different life forms such as plants, insects, birds and mammals all have a role in creating a resilient growing system. Encourage biodiversity by providing a range of habitats and food sources such as a pond and wild flower areas.
- Use resources responsibly . The organic grower uses resources sustainably especially with regard to water consumption and use of materials for structures and containers.
- Avoid using harmful chemicals . Toxic chemicals used to kill weeds, diseases and pests can damage the health of your growing area, and all the life-forms within and beyond it. Consider cultural ways of preventing pest and disease outbreaks, such as choice of varieties or use of barriers, rather than attempting to eradicate them with chemicals.
- Maintain a healthy growing area . Keeping your growing area in good health, rather than just pest and disease free, is at the heart of organic growing. A diverse and vigorous growing system, good hygiene, and close observation all contribute to producing healthy crops.
3 Steps towards Organic growing
If you’re just starting out growing organically, there are three really simple steps you can take to help your growing throughout the year:
- Plan your plot
Organic growing is about good planning. A well-managed site should grow plants that suit the local environment and soil. Rotate your crops so that plants of different families are grown in a different place each year, preventing the build-up of pests and diseases.
- Reuse your green waste
Building a compost heap is the ideal way to turn your kitchen and garden waste into a valuable product to benefit the soil and future food crops. If you are growing in a limited space, consider a small wormery that could be kept indoors.
- Get to know your friends
It is important to be able to differentiate between the creatures that benefit our food crops and those that are trying to eat them. Many have vital roles in pollination and there is a whole host of creatures that help keep populations of pests under control.
For more advice on organic growing visit www.gardenorganic.org.uk
Blog and Picture: Garden Organic