The Making of an Organic Garden, Starting from Scratch
Speaker: Lucy Frost
Date: 28th March
Lucy Frost introduced her talk by stating her affiliation to Hampshire Federation of Horticultural Associations and to Garden Organic, the Hampshire Organic Gardening Group, formally HDRA. Lucy then explained how she had been studying Zoology as a mature student at Reading University and this had led to an interest in Ecology and life in the soil. So when she moved with her husband in 1998 to a new home in Medstead near Alton with a 2 acre garden, she wanted to grow her own fruit and vegetables for the first time and it had to be by organic methods.
Her talk would describe how one family tackled the starting of an organic garden around their new home. The garden was L shaped with a field, paddock, small greenhouse and large old apple tree with two types of grafted apple. Lucy then reminded us about the Rachel Garson book, the Silent Spring, published in 1962, and how chemicals can badly damage the environment, the “doomsday scenario.” In the two parts of her talk Lucy hoped to answer the following two questions:
Part 1 Why be organic? Scientific principles
Part 2 How to be organic? Examples from her garden
Part 1 – Why be Organic?
(a) Artificial Fertilizers and why not to use them.
Plants become prone to disease and pest attack if they grow too fast and become “leggy” and “sappy” due to the use of artificial fertilizers. Compact healthy plants are the ideal to aim at. Water courses can get polluted by chemical run off with the subsequent formation of algal blooms. The factories and power stations which are involved in the manufacture of artificial fertilizers utilize non reusable sources of energy.
Organic fertilizer can be made from comfrey (the sterile variety), rot it down in water and then use the liquid. Chickens make good fertilizer, guano. Hover flies are good at clearing up pests and worms and centipedes help make home made garden compost friable. Encourage them. Companion planting can be effective, for example summer savoury discourages black fly as they don’t like the smell of it.
(b) Artificial pesticides and why not to use them.
They kill the bugs but also kill the beneficial fauna. Slug pellets kill the slugs but the poisoned slugs can harm the toads and frogs which eat them. Ladybirds and their larvae feast on aphids and black fly. Organophosphates can cause skin disorders in the gardener or lung complaints. The peregrine falcon nearly died out because their egg shells became brittle due to the build up of DDT.
(c) Herbicides, there are no organic weed killers so use mulches or porous black plastic to block out daylight and/or manure mulches.
Some solutions include the use of copper tools which leave copper deposits in the soil which slugs do not like. Use Nemaslug SlugKiller, nematodes in solution which kill the young and smaller slugs. To combat white fly in the green house use Encarsia, a parasitic wasp which lays is eggs in young whitefly “scales” and kills them.
Most effective when used in conjunction with Savona, an insecticidal soap. Bordeaux mixture (copper sulphate) is a good fungicide when dissolved in water and sprayed around. Pyrethrum is also an effective control for aphids/thrips/caterpillars etc.
Encourage toad/frogs/snakes and hedgehogs. Attract beneficial insects with food plants; organo (hover flies), thistles (marbled white and burnet moth), Lavender and Escalonia hedges which flower three times each year. Ground Beetles in particular the violet ground beetle are useful. Keep bees and install ponds, bog gardens, bird boxes, a bird table and rocks for thrushes to hammer snails on.
Part 2 – Creating the Organic Garden
First the field was mowed and baled up for a local farmer. Then what to do next? A lot of thinking to start with! Following the head scratching and a lot of work, Lucy’s garden now has 40 four feet wide organic beds, four of which are raised, she would like more.
Having prepared the ground thoroughly, she practises rotation planting on a four or five year plan: onions; peas and beans; cabbage; root crops; potatoes. She stressed it was important to keep the level of soil nutrients up year on year, with the use of home made compost (worms in a bin with kitchen waste or a wormery), leaf mould and farm yard manures. She also recommended green manure made from beans or grazing rye, but not to mix leaf mould with other compost.
She also mentioned other strategies to beat the enemies, such as control of the environment by use of plant or physical barriers around vulnerable plants, a fruit cage, fine nylon mesh around beds, fleece to protect against marauding pigeons, grit to deter slugs and snails and timing strategies i.e. get the broad beans to flower early by using poly tunnels.
In summary her advice was: prepare the ground; use 4’ raised beds; have a rotation system; compost and manure; organic pest and disease control; attract helpful birds and insects.
Lucy finished with her poem written on a bad day, The Gardener’s Lament or “Why don’t the weeds get Greenfly”?
After such a fact filled well illustrated and interesting talk, we all went away with much to think about, and ideas on how to get more organic in our own gardens. Pumpkins perhaps