Top five tips for starting an organic vegetable garden

Growing your own organic vegetable garden is relatively easy, particularly as many organic techniques are simply good gardening practices. Organic gardeners don’t use synthetic fertilisers or pesticides on their plants and view their garden as part of a whole eco-system that starts with the soil and includes water supply, people, wildlife and insects. Organic gardening strives to work in harmony with nature and here are some top tips on how you can achieve just that…

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Plan

Choose a site for your veg bed, making sure there is good drainage, direct sunlight for at least part of the day and if possible away from trees that will be taking nutrients away from your crops. Ideally the bed should be designed so you can reach the centre without walking on the soil and compacting it. Prepare the soil by removing all grass and weeds, ensuring you have taken all the roots out. Covering with black polythene or old carpet for several months will do this for you. Loosen the soil by digging and feed it with organic matter such compost and leaf mulch. Good healthy soil helps to create strong, productive plants.

Get composting

Compost is free food for your soil and plants, so from the outset it is advisable to start a compost heap close to your growing bed. All cuttings, grass mowings and vegetable waste from the kitchen can go into the heap, where they will be broken down into a nutrient rich, sweet smelling material that will build up the fertility of your garden. There are a variety of compost bins available or you can build your own, or you can try a wormery.

Less is more

It’s a good idea to start with a small but varied selection of plants, and learn what works for you. The Organic Gardening Catalogue website has an Easy to Grow section which recommends a range of veg and herbs suitable for beginners. If you start small you can expand each season and experiment with different types of vegetables. City dwellers can easily create an urban veg garden in pots and planters using a collection of veg seeds and plants.

Choose organic seeds, plants and garden supplies

If you can’t make enough home-made compost to start with you can obtain a wide range of organic feeds, growing media and soil conditioners by mail order and online. To give your crops a good start in life, choose organically grown seeds and plants – the more you support people growing and earning their living producing these for sale, the more there will be available in the future.

Protect plants the organic way

There are many ways you can protect your plants from pests without using chemicals. Prevention is the first rule of organic gardening, so use traps, repellents and barriers to stop the bad bugs getting onto your plants. Use nets and mesh covers to keep butterflies and aphids at bay, and discourage birds from damaging your crops with a bird scarer. At the same time, encourage natural pest predators into your garden such as frogs and ladybirds. For slugs and snails try using barriers such as copper rings or strips or SlugGone wool pellets, or a natural repellent spray. Much safer and better for the environment all round.

By Michael Hedges, MD of The Organic Gardening Catalogue www.OrganicCatalogue.com

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