Contributor: Nicky Roeber
“Eating organic foods is a great way of supporting the environment as well as providing the whole family with tasty and chemical-free fresh produce. But as anybody who wants to make the switch to organic vegetables knows, they are significantly more expensive.
So, if you’re wanting to ensure your family benefit from the goodness of organic foods without the price tag, the best way is to grow your own.”
Read on to find my top five tips for growing your own organic food.
Prepare Your Soil
A well-prepared, fertile, humus-rich soil is essential for growing healthy crops, so prioritising this from the start will help to ensure you get bumper crops every time.
Using a home soil testing kit is a quick and easy way to find out what your soil needs to enhance its fertility, and to check your soil pH so you know which vegetables you can grow. Choose a test kit that checks levels of the key nutrients needed for plant growth (nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus) as well as soil pH.
Whatever your soil type, pH or fertility level, it will benefit from the application of generous quantities of compost. Well-rotted compost improves soil structure, drainage and water retention, as well as providing nutrients that boost fertility. A win-win scenario!
To maintain the organic ethos, you must source your compost from a certified organic source. This can be expensive and hard to find, so the answer is to make your own. It’s simple and easy to do, so both you and your purse can relax.
Prioritise a Good Compost
To make a great compost, you should be:
- Mixing 2 parts green matter (grass clippings, vegetable peelings, etc) with 1 part brown matter (e.g dried leaves, chopped straw) in a compost bin – these are available in all shapes and sizes, or you can make your own out of old wooden pallets.
- Adding small pieces of waste as these will break down faster.
- Turning the compost every week or so as this will add oxygen and speed up the compost production.
Getting the temperature and moisture levels right is key. Too soggy or too dry and the composting process will stop. If you have an open compost bin, cover it with a polythene sheet to keep out the rain and stop it drying out in the sun. Be aware that your compost shouldn’t smell as this suggests it’s too wet or you’ve used incorrect foods, like meat or dairy. These can both cause harmful bacteria and stop the good kind from working properly.
Your compost will be ready to spread when it’s dark brown and crumbly with a pleasant damp smell. Leave any material that hasn’t properly decomposed in the container for the next batch.
Choose Your Foods Wisely
Knowing your garden will help you to choose the most suitable crops for your space. Assess which zones of your garden get the most sunlight and rainfall and use these to your advantage. Selecting a spot which has plenty of flowering plants around it will encourage pollinating wildlife like bees to visit your plants more often.
In general, most fruit and vegetables will require at least 8 hours of sunlight to grow properly but should be sheltered from harsh winds. If your garden is windy, think about installing a wind break or planting a low lavender hedge that offers shelter, attracts pollinators, repels pest and looks wonderful!
Make Use of Companion Planting
Companion planting is a great way to encourage nearby plants to work in unison to stimulate their own growth, deter intrusive pests and attract beneficial insects. It can even improve the flavour of certain crops, so getting clued up on what plants should go where is well worth knowing!
Slugs love marigolds, so plant them to draw these slimy pests away from your crops. In the same way, you can plant nasturtiums to attract aphids that would otherwise attack your beans and tomatoes. Lavender and thyme attract pollinators and deter flies, and chives planted alongside asparagus and carrots are said to improve their flavour.
Water and De-weed Your Patch Regularly
Water your plants in either the morning or evening when the weather tends to be cooler and less windy. As well as allowing for maximum water absorption, watering them at this time during warmer weather can prevent leaf scorch. In general, you should be watering established plants every 10–14 days during dry weather, or whenever the soil has completely dried out.
If you spot a weed on your watering rounds, be sure to pull it out by hand. If they’re causing a big problem to your plants, using organic straw mulch can protect the soil.
When it finally comes to harvesting the fruits of your labour, you’ll want to regularly check your garden — particularly during their peak seasons. For herbs, you can pick them as and when you need them, whereas leafy greens will need to be picked little by little from each plant. Don’t ever be tempted to rip the plants out as this can damage their tissue and stunt future growth — a sharp knife or sturdy pair of gardening scissors will do the trick!
“When it comes to organically growing your own food, there are many things to think about. But, by following my top five tips, creating fresh produce will become a new way of life for you!”
Bio: Nicky Roeber is the Online Horticultural Expert at Wyevale Garden Centres. Here, he gives his top five tips for growing your own organic food, from the comfort of your garden. Wyevale Garden Centres is a UK gardening supply and furniture specialist. With over 140 garden centres throughout the nation, the company strives to make gardening as accessible and pleasurable as possible for people of all ages and abilities. To keep up with the latest gardening news, advice and products, be sure to follow them on Facebook and Twitter.