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Following the release of the rather sobering IPCC report earlier this week, I have found myself wanting to do more to try to help the future of our planet. A large reason why I started growing my own food initially was to live more sustainably. It is a huge privilege to have access to either your own garden or allotment. However, how you garden can have a huge impact on wildlife, biodiversity and your carbon footprint.
Collectively, if everyone with access to gardens/land/allotments gardened with the planet as priority, it could make a huge difference. The more people grow their own food in their own gardens, the less the need for intensive agriculture. Wouldn’t it be great if we could return some farmland for nature to thrive?
Go peat free
I feel like ‘peat free’ has become a bit of a buzz phrase this year. The excavation of peat is contributing heavily to increased CO2 in the atmosphere. Buying peat compost is at least as bad as buying Amazonian beef. By switching to peat-free, you are probably already making the single largest positive impact you can as a gardener.
Unfortunately, not all peat free compost is created equal. Many companies have made compost from peat for decades because it is the easy option. I have had several bad experiences with peat free composts, from seedlings not growing to plants looking rather yellow and sorry for themselves, resulting in poor crops.
There is one UK based company that stands out for peat free compost, and that is Dalefoot compost. Yes, it is significantly more expensive than other brands, but it is really good stuff. I find that I can get away with using far less compost using this brand too. Furthermore, Dalefoot also do work to restore peatlands, so they really are a fantastic company to support.
Growing from seed
Leading on from going peat free, the vast majority of plug plants you buy are grown in peat-based compost. By growing from seed you save money (therefore can afford the more expensive compost!) and also avoid indirectly supporting the peat industry. What’s more, plug plants are usually sold in single use plastic pots or cell trays which are waste we could do without.
If you do need to buy plug plants for whatever reason (your own have failed/been eaten by something) then do try to look for peat free plugs if you can.
There are so many wasteful products in the gardening industry. From single use pots and seed trays, to fleece and netting that disintegrate after one season. Try to reuse what you have as much as possible before buying anything new. If you do need to buy new then do try to invest in good quality, durable equipment that will last you for years.
I bought these seed trays from containerwise at the start of the year and they are excellent. They are solid and should last me at least 10-15 years. I use a mixture of the shallow 40 ones and the Charles Dowding ones. Yes, they are expensive, but they work out cheaper in the long run when you don’t have to keep buying replacements.
Fleece and netting are the other elephants in the room. Most fleece is very thin and completely disintegrates in very little time. I invested in this heavier duty fleece, which unfortunately will not last forever but I expect it to hopefully last at least 3 seasons. Also good quality netting such as this one here. Many people at my allotment have asked me where I sourced my netting because they bought a cheaper version from Amazon which only lasted one season. I’m hoping mine will last me a good 10 growing seasons. Once again, cheaper in the long run. Obviously fleece and netting are not essentials, but they are very useful at protecting your crops without using pesticides, and for growing more throughout the season, so I feel like they give back enough to justify using.
Avoid using fertilisers, pesticides and weedkillers
This may seem like a pretty obvious one but I can’t tell you how many people I’ve spoken to who say that they don’t use pesticides, they just use slug pellets. Pesticides, weedkillers and fertilisers all interfere with the living organisms and micro-organisms in your soil which can adversely affect your soil health.
It is well known that several species such as hedgehogs and thrushes are at risk because they eat the slugs that eat the pellets. It’s a vicious circle, the more you use, the more you need to use because you also kill the predators that would usually keep the slugs at bay. It is the same story for nearly all pesticides. If you are really struggling with pests, use nematodes as a last resort. There are many different types of nematodes for different pests (that website has them all!). These target pests much more specifically and are harmless to their predators.
Artificial fertilisers are well known to be a huge source of CO2. Really there should be no place for them. If soil is well looked after and mulched with compost/manure then it shouldn’t need feeding. Even organic fertilisers can interfere with soil health, affecting the micro-organisms in the soil. This is the reason I only ever recommend feeding plants if they are in pots, due to their restricted roots.
Unfortunately we live in a society where a perfect lawn has become a status symbol. Perfectly kept lawns lack life and are really bad for biodiversity. What’s more, it usually takes all sorts of weedkillers and fertilisers to make a lawn look perfect. Reducing the size of your lawn gives more productive land space. Whether you choose to grow food or flowers with this extra growing space is up to you. I’d recommend a bit of both – a bit for you and a bit for nature!
If you’re not keen on the idea of reducing the size of your lawn, you could just let your lawn grow more wild. Mow less frequently, scatter some wild flower seeds or plant some spring bulbs in it. Anything that can help boost biodiversity. Plus, when you have a deliberately ‘imperfect’ lawn, you will no longer need the weedkillers and fertilisers!
Compost, compost, compost!
If you have a garden and do not have a compost bin then you need to get one (or two) ASAP! The CO2 emissions produced from food sent to landfill is enormous. Composting really is one of the best things you can do for the planet, plus you get the most fantastic reward from it too. Compost is like gold dust for gardeners. Create good compost and you won’t need fertilisers anymore! If you’re worried about space then a hotbin could be a great option. For smaller households they have a slimline model available too.
**EDIT** Since writing this post Subpod have kindly offered my readers 10% off with the voucher code ‘KGBK10’. Subpod offer a worm compost bin that goes in the ground and I have seen nothing but fantastic reviews of their product. It’s a great option for those who have a small garden because it is much more discreet than other options on the market, and it can turn your waste into compost in a very short timeframe. By using this code I will earn a commission from the sale (which will help in the running and improving of KGBK, yay!)
To be continued…
There are just so many things that gardeners can do to help make a positive impact. So many that this post was starting to turn into a short book rather than a blog post! For this reason I have decided to split this post into two posts, so keep an eye out for the next one.