Cheat Sheet

Organic Gardening For Dummies (UK Edition)

Many people proudly claim to be environmentalists, while knowing very little about how to be a good steward of their own garden. Organic gardening is about more than producing safe food and chemical-free lawns. To garden organically, you need the help of nature and to welcome billions of soil bacteria, pest-munching birds, amphibians and other creatures. Organic gardening is also about making decisions on sustainability and taking responsibility for actions that affect the world outside your door. This cheat sheet gives you the basics on how to get started on your organic gardening adventure.

An Organic Gardening Calendar

Use this organic gardening calendar to keep track of what you need to do in each season, and remember to always work with nature, rather than against it.

Gardening in spring

  • Sow frost-tender vegetables and flowers under cover, on a sunny windowsill or in a heated greenhouse.

  • Start to sow hardy veg and flowers outdoors when weather and soil permit.

  • Use traps or barriers to protect seedlings and susceptible plants (such as lilies) from slugs and snails.

  • Finish cutting back herbaceous perennials.

  • Sow or turf new lawns.

  • Plant evergreens or slightly tender shrubs.

  • Prune roses and late-summer flowering shrubs.

  • Spread a mulch of garden compost or manure on bare soil between plants in borders.

Summer sowing and more

  • Make regular sowings of many vegetables, including salads, right through summer; plant tender veg outside when frosts are past.

  • Watch for signs of pests, especially under cover; control by hand, and introduce biological controls if necessary.

  • Trim hedges when fledglings have left their nests.

  • Mulch flowers and crops to reduce water loss and keep down weeds.

  • Pull weeds regularly: don’t let them seed!

  • Sow a cover crop (green manure) on any soil likely to be left bare over winter.

Autumn organic gardening

  • Gather as many leaves as you can to turn into leafmould, a wonderful soil conditioner.

  • Set up compost bins if you don’t already have them; shred woody prunings and compost, or stack for six months to use as a mulch.

  • Plant bulbs.

  • Put up nest boxes; birds inspect them over winter for next year’s nesting, and are likely to use them as winter roosts: clean existing nest boxes.

Wintertime and your garden

  • Cut back dead growth of perennials only if leaves are ‘mushy’; leaving growth until late winter/early spring gives hibernation sites for many useful insects.

  • Gather and dispose of diseased leaves and fruits from roses, other plants and fruit trees, to avoid spores overwintering.

  • Put out food and fresh water for birds; ensure a steady supply as they come to depend on it during freezing weather.

  • Keep a small area of water ice-free on any pond to let toxic gases out and oxygen in; use a pond heater, float a ball or pour on boiling water.

  • Spread manure on no-dig beds in later winter.

  • Set up water butts to save rainwater.

  • Order seed and plant catalogues to browse new pest and disease-resistant varieties.

Assessing Your Site for Organic Gardening

Before starting your organic garden, take an inventory of your garden’s conditions. Match plants to different sites and choose only those plants that can grow to their full potential where you plan to put them. Here’s what to assess:

  • Hardiness: Average winter low temperatures

  • Obstacles: Locations of buildings, overhead and buried cables, roads and property boundaries

  • Slope: Steep, flat, valley floors

  • Soil: Structure, texture, pH, drainage and moisture

  • Sun and shade: Duration and time of day and year that the sun shines directly on the site

  • Views: Unsightly views to screen; pleasant views to enhance or preserve

  • Wind: Speed and direction at different times of year

Reasons to Become an Organic Gardener

In case you’re wondering why it makes sense to garden organically, here are just a few of the many reasons why people do it (in order of many people’s priority):

  • Human health: Many pesticides harm people, causing illness when they’re consumed or when they make contact with exposed skin. Some pesticides accumulate in the environment and contribute to illness long after contact. Also, some studies show that organically grown fruits and vegetables contain more nutrients than their conventionally grown counterparts.

  • Water pollution: Excess fertiliser washes into groundwater, streams, lakes, rivers and coastal waters, where it contributes to the death and disruption of natural ecosystems.

  • Soil erosion and depletion: The urgent need to protect the world’s remaining agricultural land from erosion, development, pollution and diminishing water resources has reached the state of a global crisis. The collective efforts of many organic gardeners have a postive, allievating effect.

  • Ecological balance and biodiversity: Insect predators and prey keep one another in check, and plants grow best in a balanced environment. Organic gardeners respect all parts of the interconnected web of life and use practices that support it.

  • Future generations: Sustainable gardening, agriculture and landscaping mean thinking about the future, using renewable resources wisely and efficiently, and taking only as much as nature can replace.

  • Cost savings: Prevention costs less than cure. Provide habitat for beneficial insects and they reduce the populations of bad bugs. Feed the soil organisms that make nutrients available, and your plants flourish.

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