Much of the conventional advice on how to deal with gardening problems recommends the use of chemicals that are harmful to both us and the environment. For example, it was found that metaldehyde, used most often in slug pellets, poses a significant risk to wildlife and that dangerous levels of the chemical had already been found in our drinking water.
Another widely used chemical in gardening is glyphosate, which is usually found in weedkillers. Not only can these chemicals be devastating for pollinators, but recent research shows that they can easily destroy the millions of microbes that are crucial to the creation of healthy soil from just a small application. When soil is healthy it stores vast amounts of carbon, but when it degrades this carbon is then released into the atmosphere which creates a negative impact on our climate.
The good news is that you can make your garden a chemical-free, environmentally-friendly haven in just a few steps. By doing so you will help to improve the levels of biodiversity in your local area, save money by relying on fewer expensive gardening products and still enjoy all the benefits that gardening offers to your health and wellbeing.
These tips are relevant to gardens of all sizes – from balconies to vast backyards.
Make your own fertilisers
Nettles make a wonderful natural fertiliser which means you don’t have to rely on any chemical-laden liquids. Here’s how:
You will need:
Thick protective gloves, pruning shears or scissors, an empty waterbutt, a piece of mesh that fits inside the waterbutt, three pieces of wood or brick to rest the mesh on.
Wearing your gloves, cut a bucket full of nettles ready to create your fertiliser.
Place the bricks or wooden blocks at the bottom of the empty waterbutt. Rest the mesh on top of the blocks, ensuring that the mesh is higher up than the waterbutt tap. This is to stop gooey nettles blocking up your tap and to make it easier to remove the nettles when you’re done.
Place the nettles on top of the mesh, and fill up your waterbutt using rainwater. In the time it takes to fill your waterbutt, your nettles should have begun to ferment and release nutrients into the water. As you have only used a single bucket of nettles, the ratio of water to nettles should be so that it is fine to use directly on your plants without dilution. However, if you have a small waterbutt or wish to make a stronger concentration with a greater amount of nettles, then mix your fertiliser with water before use.
Deter pests with more plants
Some plants have the ability to lure away pests from the more valuable or prized plants in your garden. For example, nasturtiums are great at attracting black aphids and cabbage white butterflies; the smell of tansy can keep ants away; basil is wonderful for attracting whitefly; and French marigolds can repel whitefly and aphids.
It can take some planning to find the perfect combinations that work in your garden, but incorporating certain plants as ‘sacrificial’ is a great way to help insects in your garden whilst reducing your use of chemical pest control. And the best thing is that a greater variety of plants makes your garden look stunning!
Let your garden go a little wild
Many gardeners get the urge to tidy-up at the first sign of decay, but leaving a small patch to go wild can really help reduce your reliance on chemicals and help improve biodiversity. In the autumn, many endangered insects make their homes in plants which are dying back. In spring-time, weeds can provide an essential early source of food for bugs. For example, nettles are home to small tortoiseshell and peacock butterfly larvae, and overwintering aphids. Ladybirds are natural predators of aphids, so by leaving some nettles to grow early in the year you are providing the ladybirds with an early supply of food and encouraging them to eat the aphids that would otherwise be attacking your roses and fruit trees.
Create a pond
Frogs and toads are a gardener’s best friend when it comes to controlling backyard slug populations, so it’s a really good idea to introduce a pond into your garden. Ponds don’t have to be anything large, fancy or permanent – an old plastic washing up bowl dug into the ground and filled with large pebbles so wildlife can enter and exit the water safely is an easy and simple solution. Make sure the bowl is topped up with rainwater during the summer months. You could even add in a miniature water lily!
The Wildlife Trusts have written this great guide on setting up your own pond: How to build a pond | The Wildlife Trusts
The tips and photographs above are from our friends at North Wingfield Community Garden.
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