The expert’s guide to getting a buzz out of resetting your own ecosystem – Independent.ie

the-expert’s-guide-to-getting-a-buzz-out-of-resetting-your-own-ecosystem-–-independent.ie

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As our awareness of climate change grows, many of us are trying to make our gardens as eco-friendly as possible.

ardening organically is a lot easier compared to gardening with chemicals. If you stop using chemicals (fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides) you will notice that nature will achieve a natural balance between pests and predators.

Here are some things to bear in mind though:

Healthy Soil

When plants get diseased, it’s nearly always a problem with the soil. Both overfed and underfed plants are more at risk — very similar to humans. To make your soil fertile again is actually very easy. All you need to do is add compost every year. Compost improves the soil but most importantly it adds food for the beneficial microorganisms that live in your soil.

Making Compost

Compost making is one of the most satisfactory gardening jobs. If you think about it philosophically, it’s the end of many life cycles (dying plants, weeds, food waste) and the beginning of new life forms — an everlasting cycle where nothing is ever lost.

To make good compost you need to add layers of brown materials (shredded newspaper, autumn leaves, small woodchips, straw, hay) and green materials (lawn mowings, kitchen waste). Alternate layers about 10cm deep of brown and green materials. It’s also important to chop the materials with secateurs to at least 10cm length. Once the compost pile is full you can turn the pile and this speeds up the process. Your compost will be ready to use in four months.

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Apis mellifera on an aster flower

Apis mellifera on an aster flower

Bee and Butterfly Mix

Growing a bee and butterfly flower seed mix is one of the most effective ways for attracting beneficial insects and birds. It’s also exciting to see which flowers will emerge. These mixes contain over a dozen of different flowers such as phacelia, calendula, dill, cornflower and many others. They are best sown in spring into modular cells (about five seeds per cell) and planted out about 25cm apart a month later.

Deadwood Hedge (Benjes Hedge)

A deadwood hedge is a great method of tidying up all your woody gardening materials while creating a habitat for numerous creatures such as ground nesting robins, wrens, ground beetles, hibernating frogs and many other insects. You can create it by putting parallel stakes in the ground about 1m apart and backfill it with woody materials. Doing this takes carbon out of the atmosphere and returns it into the soil.

Growing Teasel

Teasel plants are one of the best wildlife plants. They are tall, thistle-like plants and you will need a reasonably-sized garden. Goldfinches adore its seeds and you will be guaranteed a visit from a flock of these beautiful birds. The plants will multiply naturally too.

Growing Fruit

Apple trees are the most reliable fruit trees in the garden. The key is to choose a variety that has good resistance to common apple diseases. My favourite varieties include Katy, Topaz, Discovery, Charles Ross and James Grieve. Avoid Golden Delicious, Cox Orange Pippin and Pink Lady.  

Growing green manures

Green manures are plants grown to benefit the soil and also the environment. Always try and keep the soil covered with growing plants. As soon as summer crops are harvested you can sow either phacelia (Bee’s Friend) or buckwheat. These prevent the loss of nutrients from the soil and also attract myriad insects, including bees into your garden.

Tackling pests and weeds

Organic pest control – There is little one can do if your plants are already diseased or if there is a pest attack. The key is to prevent pests and diseases by creating a healthy soil and encouraging biodiversity in the garden. However, you can buy excellent netting (Bionet or Enviromesh) which can be placed over growing crops and flying pests (eg Cabbage White Butterfly) cannot reach the plants. You could also sow crops when the relevant pests aren’t around.

Organic weed control – Weed control in a vegetable garden is easy if you follow a few important tips. 1. Hoe when the soil is dry and leave the weeds on the ground as they die quickly. Hand weed when the soil is damp. 2. Only hand weed where the hoe can’t reach and only close to plants. 3. Hoe regularly — ideally weekly. The oscillating hoe is gentle and easy to use.

Reconnecting

Apart from producing delicious nutrient dense food, a vegetable garden also helps us to reconnect with the earth around us. It is a great therapy and stress-relieve to nurture a little piece of land. It gives a sense of purpose and responsibility.

Klaus Laitenberger is the author of a number of books including ‘Vegetables for the Irish Garden’. For more information log on to greenvegetableseeds.com

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