This year I’ve embarked on a simple and uncomplicated vegetable growing regime, one that I’ve always practiced in my garden at home. I’ve done away with peat and chemicals, raised my beds, fed the soil with organic matter, reduced watering and now I’m totally at one with mother nature. Okay, so I’m being a little sarcastic here but even the mention of doing something like this brings groans and an expectation that you must be some eco-sort. But as Prince Phillip put it, and eloquently I must add, "I think that there's a difference between being concerned for the conservation of nature and being a bunny hugger...." and I echo that (i). I don't really conform to a type of gardener and I don't follow exact methods of growing but I am open minded to anything that works, within reason of course, and if that involves practices that cause less harm to the environment then I’m all for it. Why do we even contemplate using things that are potentially harmful when the alternatives are available? Why are we resistant to change?
When moving on to the plot last year I appeared to prompt a cautious response from the committee when asking if I could keep chickens; outrageous I know. I assumed that this is what allotmenteers did and at the time it didn't seem like a big ask. Was such a request actually not all that commonplace? I stated my case, pushed the point a little, I even went for the overkill method of involving the other half and a vet friend to offer “expert advice” and my plan was eventually given the go ahead. I was thrilled at this point thinking that very shortly I’ll have on-site weed disposal, a small manure factory and as a reward a bounty of freshly laid eggs. On several occasions I was told ‘there are some big dog foxes up here boy’, ‘those badgers will get them’ and ‘you’ll bring rats to the site’ but despite the initial comments dooming me to failure I’m yet to experience any problems and the girls appear to be very happy and healthy. Back then I began to wonder if change was really such a scary thing.
Late last year I installed raised beds, a seemingly sensible thing to do on clay soil at the bottom of a slope where water often pools in autumn and winter, and after many a day of trudging around the plot in wellies and getting covered in mud I decided that this was certainly the right thing to do. I want my plot to be as productive as it can be but last winter was so wet and cold that anything that was planted directly in to our heavy clay soil would have simply frozen solid or rotted off in the sodden conditions. My end goal is to create a no dig system and give plants better drainage and warmer soil early on in the season. More strange looks followed and on one occasion I was actually told ‘that’s a waste of time’. Now, I’m all up for constructive feedback and my god some of the guys on the plot have been growing here for 25 years but this feedback was not from them and at that point in time it made me question my own practice. On looking at the plot now I feel completely vindicated and I scored a goal when one of the plot-holders asked me how my beans were so much bigger than his despite me planting them much later and them being the same cultivar. I can only put it down to good soil preparation.
Some things are to be expected and are brushed off without a second thought but one thing that I didn’t expect to excite curiosity or give me the ‘hippy’ tag is homemade liquid fertiliser. Comfrey grows all over our plot and I assumed that most people used it but to find out that my neighbour didn’t know what it was led me to think again. I offered liquid feed to three or four people but I might as well have been talking a different language. I explained what it was and even added a dash of reassurance – ‘go on take it, it will all be okay’, but I think that the hard sell only added to their concern. After making comfrey fertiliser last year (ii) and viewing the results it was only sensible to do the same thing again this year. About a month ago I collected lots of comfrey, nettle and marestail (Equisetum arvense)(iii) and plunged them in to a bucket, weighed them down with a brick and covered them with rainwater. A few weeks later and the rotting solution was ready for use. I may be slightly biased here but it did appear to perk plants up even after the first use. The plan is to water plants with the watered down solution (one part fertiliser, 15 parts water) every two weeks and I’m hoping that this, coupled with the addition of manure and compost earlier in the year will be enough to satisfy the crops. I’m also planning on boiling up some garlic in water to use on any aphids or blackfly that appear but so far they have not become a problem. After the sterling job the ladybirds and hoverflies did last year I may just leave it to them to sort out.
It appears that simple and uncomplicated is my gardening style and if I can promote some of this, minus the hippy tag (iv), then maybe, just maybe, we can see a new positive approach to growing plants. I might even suggest bees or a compost toilet next!
(i) Although I do have an evil bunny at home. I defy anyone to try and hug him.
(ii) This was almost a complete disaster. When lifting the stone slab I placed on top of the bucket I was met by hundreds of gnats, some of which I may have inhaled, which caused me to tip the bucket all over my jeans and shoes. Anyone who has made comfrey tea will know that the smell is akin to rotting sewage and as you can imagine I was rather fragrant on my return home.
(iii) I added the marestail as a source of silica, nicotinic acid and other alkaloids that should in theory work as a fungicide and may even help to fight pests.
(iv) I couldn’t be further away from wearing hemp.