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Being in the garden is great at this time of year – the days are longer and warmer and you can really enjoy your outside living space as somewhere to relax and unwind.
As part of that enjoyment sit back and have a think about how you can do your bit for the environment by employing some basic organic gardening principles to make your gardening experience even greener.
Organic gardening is all about gardening in a natural holistic way – growing plants without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers.
By working with nature your garden can protect itself, and plants will thrive with minimal intervention. Here are some simple tips that can help you garden in a more environmentally-friendly way.
Get into compost
Feeding the soil is the key to success, and homemade compost is free. Fill compost bins with a mix of green and brown material – garden waste and shredded paper or cardboard – and turn it regularly. You can use it as mulch after about a year.
Keep on top of weeds
The trick is not to let weeds grow too big as they can quickly take over a garden. If you regularly hoe or pick them out at the seedling stage it’s an easy task, but if you let them get established – with large tap roots such as dandelions – then weeding becomes a major chore.
Grow in raised beds
Try using raised beds instead of planting directly into the soil. They are easier to manage and keep weed-free. Also, the soil in raised beds warms up sooner than the ground at the start of the growing season, so you can sow seeds earlier in the year.
Grow companion plants
The theory behind companion planting, or planting combinations of specific plants for their mutual benefit, is that certain plants may help each other take up nutrients, improve pest resistance or attract pollinators. So by planting onions with carrots you can ward off carrot root fly; cabbages and lettuces planted among beans will benefit from the nitrogen fixed in the soil by the beans’ roots; and planting garlic with roses can help to repel rose pests.
Watch out for slugs and snails
You may struggle to grow seedlings without using some form of slug and snail control. Traditional slug pellets can be extremely harmful to hedgehogs, birds and other wildlife, but organic pellets – made using iron phosphate – are a suitable wildlife-friendly alternative. You can also use copper tape around pots to deter them.
If you are growing your own veg then now is a good time to plant out your pumpkins. All the cucurbit family (pumpkins, squash, cucumbers) need heat to survive and thrive. Now that the nights are warming up overnight temperatures aren’t that low so it’s a good growing environment for them.
All pumpkins and squashes need lots of water, lots of nutrients and lots of sun. For a bumper harvest use a fertile soil enriched with well-rotted manure or compost when planting out.
If you are limited for space, try training your plant into a circle. As it starts to trail, gently pin down the stem with pegs and grow it into a spiral – making sure you mark the middle of the plant with a stick so you know where to water.
There is a huge variety to choose from, but some of the most popular are Baby Bear – a compact pumpkin, perfect for smaller gardens; Crown Prince – one of the best squashes for storing with a blue-grey skin and bright orange flesh; and Marketmore – a reliable and prolific cucumber, mildew-resistant with straight fruit.
Summer has definitely arrived, and so have the weeds. June 21 is the longest day of the year, and the extra light and warmth encourages the garden to put on an exuberant burst of growth.
But this extra light and warmth also means weeds will sprout up from seemingly nowhere. Keep on top of them by hoeing regularly in dry conditions.
Top three jobs this month – put summer hanging baskets and containers outside, be water-wise especially in drought-affected areas, and pinch out sideshoots on tomato plants.