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The Organic Route, Mike Thurlow (Head Gardener 30 years) NSALG

I have been gardening organically for about thirty years. Although I have had to use chemicals professionally for some of this time, I gave up using them in my own garden from a desire to create a safe environment for my two young daughters. It also seemed a reckless act to destroy wildlife. Although aphids may be a major pest for the gardener they are a prime source of food for ladybirds and the newly arriving migrating birds in the spring. By maintaining simple food chains like these you can extend the natural balance within the garden.

One of the major stumbling blocks in the promotion of organic gardening has been the fact that people regard it as an “all muck and magic” approach with little solid scientific evidence to support it. It does not necessarily mean hauling wheelbarrow loads of manure to dig into the garden or breaking your back constantly digging and weeding. The organic standards promoted today are designed to make us aware that the overuse of manures and fertilisers has great pollution potential and to appreciate that by caring for the soil we are creating strong conditions in which plants can flourish.

Gardening to modern organic standards such as those of the Soil Association provides us with a set of guide lines that have been devised to ensure that the plants and soil in our gardens are cared for in a way that is beneficial to both us and the environment. An initial soil analysis will determine your soil type & will tell you what adjustments if any need to be carried out in order to maintain the soil in a healthy state. Manure or homemade compost isn’t the only sources of organic matter to improve the soil. Green waste is becoming more readily available, as well as preparations that have approved by the Soil Association, such as Maxicrop seaweed fertiliser or Rooster pelleted chicken manure, which can be used to raise fertility.

Organic gardening methods are applicable to fruit, vegetable & ornamental gardening. No one need ever know your garden is organic by looking at it, because it can look like everyone’s idea of a conventional garden; the only difference is that there are no nasty chemicals lurking about to endanger animal or human life or to pollute the environment.

What about weeds? In a large area they can be a problem, but there are ways of keeping weeds at bay. Mulches that smother the weed seedlings can be used, or laying a semi porous plastic membrane on the soil between the plants and cover it with anything you like to disguise it. The benefit of mulches is that they conserve moisture so this means that the plants are able to withstand periods of low rainfall better. Although organic gardening can initially be physically hard, once the garden becomes established the work is not that much more intensive than in non-organic gardening.

The use of predators is probably the most important aspect in managing pest control without chemicals, as one of the detrimental effects of pesticides is that they can harm innocent creatures as well as the pests. There are various predators available to buy to control all the different types of pests and in the garden there are natural predators such as ladybirds, hoverflies, wasps and lace wings, all of which supply twenty- four hour protection.

Organic gardening is healthy, safe and often gives better quality and taste in your produce.