Gardening isn’t just about growing food or flowers. It’s about life and well-being. It connects our body and mind to nature, pushes our boundaries and over centuries it has proven to be healing and nourishing in many ways. It is a beautiful and rewarding journey, filled with moments of joy, be it seedlings popping up or the delight of loved ones enjoying your home-grown food… but it’s also filled with some challenges and sometimes tears. I’d like to share some tips and experiences with you, so the tears will only appear when you chop your juicy onions.
There are many factors which are key to success in the art of gardening, and we will cover them one by one. The most important one is time, but this one is up to you. It will be the difference between nourished or stressed plants, well planned or chaotic execution and even well-used or wasted produce. Everything else that may help you make the right choices, I will try to cover in these blogs, so you are well equipped on this exciting journey.
Where do we start?
It only seems fair to start with the most exciting topic – the soil. This pretty unassuming ingredient already present in every garden will either make your growing a success or a failure. Over the years I’ve planted in various gardens and often, despite the seedlings being grown from the same packet, in the same compost and under the same conditions, the soil quality in their final destination made the real difference. The complexity of soil is responsible for healthy development of the roots, and the delivery of minerals and trace elements that help the plants grow healthy and strong. This in return allows them to be resistant to pest attacks, rapidly changing weather conditions and many other factors that otherwise would be detrimental to their survival.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there are over seventy thousand soil types in the world. This top layer of the Earth mostly consists of various proportions of sand, silt, clay, rock and organic matter. Thousands of years of interaction between water, wind, sun and the seven kingdoms of life, has created the layer that now allows us to live, feed ourselves and enjoy the art of gardening. But what if where we live, the soil isn’t up to the task and the results are disappointing? Luckily we don’t have to wait another thousand years whilst time does the job for us again. We live in an era of information and there are many ways of rejuvenating soil, the easiest one being good old composting.
What is compost then?
‘Compost’ is a term loosely used to describe either ‘potting compost’ (which you may buy in the garden centre for your house plants or seedlings); the contents of your compost bin; or just to describe what’s in your raised beds. To be precise, compost is a soil amendment which eventually becomes part of the top soil. It is a well rotted organic material, which looks like soil, but is a lot richer in nutrients and microorganisms, which are crucial to healthy soil. This is usually any green garden waste, unprocessed household food waste or manure from herbivorous animals. All of this mixed in a compost bin begins a process of decomposition, where bacteria, fungi and small animals like worms and beetles break it down and the end result is rich and fluffy compost. Added to the raised beds or plant pots, it not only creates a medium for the plants to grow in, but also enriches it with microorganisms keeping the plants healthy.
How come home-made compost is so good?
A high content of organic matter in the top soil will not only work wonders to the plants growing in it, it will also have an increased water holding capacity and a greater variety of microorganisms which make this soil truly alive. Such rich soil will need less watering, the plants will thrive and you won’t have many pests. You might have come across the stories of monoculture farming, where one crop takes up vast tracts of land, needing artificial fertiliser, heavy pesticide use and resulting in little or no life in the soil. Years of this type of farming leaves such land unable to produce crops without using even more unnatural chemicals and the soil becomes ‘dirt’ – a mixture of mineral particles but with no life in it. At the opposite end of the spectrum of these practices are permaculture farms, which have a plethora of crops and beneficial plants, attracting insects, birds and other animals. This broad ecosystem is reflected in soil, where use of animal manure and composted matter adds vigour and life, in return giving us healthy crops.
I would confidently suggest to those setting out on the growing journey to start with building a compost bin and adding food scraps, old newspapers and garden waste to it right away. In a few months you will discover beautiful black compost and your garden will flourish in no time.
I would confidently suggest to those setting out on the growing journey, to start with building a compost bin and adding food scraps, old newspapers and garden waste to it right away. In a few months you will discover beautiful black compost and your garden will flourish in no time.