Do you want to ditch the plastic and go zero waste in your garden? Do you want to stop buying plastic wrapped compost bags, fertilizers and pesticides and create a closed loop organic garden? YES?! Then read on…
At the time of writing this, we are all in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, self isolating in our homes. But, in the midst of all this change, fear and crisis, we are also reconnecting with our gardens and green spaces like never before.
Noticing nature is the greatest gift you can get from lockdown.
During lockdown, I’ve come to know my nearest green spaces – my favourite a wild but urban cemetery – more deeply and gratefully. Instead of becoming bored, as I imagined I might, I’ve found that my local natural areas feel like new destinations each day, even by the hour, for nature is in constant flux.Lucy Jones (writing in The Guardian, 16th May 2020)⠀
This year is a year like no other we’ve encountered…there is one thing that’s happened this year that’s perhaps offered solace to everyone, a real message of hope – the power, the therapy, the existence of the natural world.Chris Packham, BBC Springwatch 2020
Not being allowed to go to shops or garden centres has forced many of us to look at recycling, repurposing, and reinventing the way we garden.
Let’s face it. Gardening can be massively expensive. There is also real dark side to gardening made up of things like non-recyclable pots, animal by-product fertilizers, harmful pesticides and synthetic fertilizers – all which are damaging to the environment.
I hope the following tips will help you not only cut down on the plastic, but the chemicals to, in order to create a healthy and productive garden, teeming with life!!!
Below you’ll find 20 different tips to help you create a the ultimate zero waste and organic garden.
- Make chocolate cake (make better soil)
- Make and reuse pots
- Make and reuse seed trays
- Plant Markers
- Make your own compost
- Create a womery
- Make your own natural organic fertilizer
- Grow green manure
- Mulch, mulch, mulch
- Create a Hugelkultur
- Creature a fruit tree guild
- Make your own pot feet
- Grow and make your own plant stakes and supports
- Make a home for wildlife
- Repel pests with companion planting
- Dissuade those slippery slugs
- Make new plants for free
- Stop mowing and go wild
- Grow your own cut flowers
1. Make chocolate cake (make better soil)
Yep that’s right. I said chocolate cake.
Except you want your SOIL to resemble chocolate cake.
Well now I’ve mentioned the cake, you can absolutely make a chocolate cake to get you kick-started on doing this list first. Just make sure you come back once it’s in the oven.
Back to soil…
The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture by Wendell Berry
Soil is everything! It is the earth’s dark matter that has the potential not just to create a zero-waste garden – but also to solve a lot of our wider problems. Erosion, drought, fungal disease, pests, disease, food production.
The great concerns of our time – climate change, natural resources, food production, water control, natural resources, food production, water control and conservation, and human health – all boil down to the condition of the soil...We are starting to appreciate its potential for doing many of the things we thought, arrogantly, we could do on our own…the Latin word for soil – ‘humus’ – gives us ‘human’ and ‘humility’. The soil is, quite literally, what grounds us.”Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm – Isabella Tree
Soil can also store MASSES of carbon (known as carbon sequestration) which means it could be the key to reducing some of the CO2 in our atmosphere!!!!!
Soils currently take out 25% of fossil fuel emissions (Source: Columbia University). It’s why we need permafrost in the Arctic, and our peatlands, and our grasslands and our meadows to keep absorbing the carbon.
Amazingly, the world’s soils holds more carbon as organic matter than all the vegetation on the planet, including the rainforest.Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm – Isabella Tree
Soil microbes have even been used to make antibiotics. Did you know that penicillin came from a fungus found in soil? Another microbe found in soil was able to kill the superbug MRSA!
Great soil can act as a filter to reduce pollution.
Rich soil can also increase the nutrient content of crops.
Even pests are repelled, as healthy soil creates healthy plants that have stronger immune systems.
Healthy soil doesn’t need fertilizers, or herbicides or pesticides.
In fact, you could ditch the other 19 tips for creating a zero waste organic garden and just work on creating AMAZING soil.
Have I made the case for soil? I hope so.
Unfortunately, intensive agriculture, deforestation, overgrazing, monocultures, inorganic fertilizers, pesticides are all degrading the soil. We lose the equivalent of 30 football fields of soil every minute to degradation (Source: Soil Association).
So what does healthy soil contain?
Soil needs water and also needs to be able to retain it to protect against flooding and drought
- Organic matter
In the ‘wild’ nature does its own fertilizing, mulching and composting. Branches, leaves, and roots are left where they are to decompose and feed the soil. But in our gardens, we often weed, rake up leaves, take up fallen branches and tidy everything up – removing this vital source of nutrition for our soil
- Living Organisms
This is an entire ecosystem or “soil food web” of organisms that make life on earth possible. Archaea, bacteria and fungi (mycorrhizal – the wonder fungi are included here), then microbes like nematodes and protozoa, then bigger than them are the earthworms and arthropods ). In just 1 gram of soil contains thousands of species. And ALL of them are enriching your soil and helping your plants
Fungi, in particular play an incredible role of digesting organic material to make it available to plants.
We are only now beginning to understand the magic of our living soils and the amazing role of mychorrizal funghi to help extend a plant’s roots so it can reach previously inaccessible water and nutrients like phosphorus.
[Mychorrhizal funghi] It is the invisible foundation of all that we see emerging before our eyes; it is the great recycler, the connector, the key to life itself.Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm – Isabella Tree
These organisms form a symbiotic relationship with the roots of most plants and are essential to a healthy soil. Mycorrizal fungi secrete a glue-like substance called glomalin that helps bing soil particles together and the more soil particles, the more pore spaces. These pore spaces are critical for water infiltration, and it is in and on the thin films of water in soil pore spaces that most microbes live […] If you give that soil a chance to grow, it will respond [….] If you build it, they will come – or in our case, if you stop destroying it, they will come. Fostering life is the key to transforming dirt into soil.Dirt to Soil: One Family’s Journey into Regenerative Agriculture – Gabe Brown
Healthy soil should be teeming with life, teeming with microbes. If it is, then it will retain moisture, keep plants healthy, well-fed and pest and disease-free.
You know you have healthy soil if it resembles CHOCOLATE CAKE! Rich, moist, spongy, and full of life.
Our most important job as vegetable gardeners is to feed and sustain soil life, often called the soil food web, beginning with the microbes. If we do this, our plants will thrive, we’ll grow nutritious, healthy food, and our soil conditions will get better each year. This is what is meant by the adage ”Feed the soil not the plants.Organic Gardener’s Companion: Growing Vegetables in the West – Jane Shellenberger
To be able to be fully zero-waste, to not EVER have to buy expensive, SOIL-DESTROYING plastic wrapped fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and compost, then you need to have great SOIL.
I’m only just learning this now, after years of using weed suppressing fabric. I am also guilty of raking up leaves only to dump them. I also removed vital mulch and replaced it with dead and peat laden compost. I also mistakenly dug up the soil to mix in compost, destroying it’s structured.
I now have areas of my garden than have very dense, light coloured, dry soil or compacted clay soil that turns into a lake during the winter. But I’m working to rectify it, because I want that CHOCOLATE CAKE!!!!! I want happy soil.
How do you create great chocolate cake soil?
- Stop digging
That means, NO DIG (aka no till). By not digging you will stop bringing up old weed seeds to the surface. WIN. You will also protect all those microorganisms and microbes. DOUBLE WIN.
- Stop using inorganic fertilizers and pesticides (See Tip #7)
- Start feeding your soil
That means making your own compost and feeding that organic matter to your garden
- Start growing and encouraging more microbes
- Start mulching (See Tip #9)
Want to know more? Check out Charles Dowding – No Dig Organic Gardening. For more about the soil web, try Mycorrhizal Planet: How Symbiotic Funghi Work with Roots to Support Plant Health & Build Soil Fertility, Michael Phillips or Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web, by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis
2. Zero Waste Plant Pots
It’s hard to escape plastic pots. Especially if you want a new plant (although I’m trying to grow what I need and want from paper seed packets, or collecting seeds or making cuttings).
As for pots, well all garden centres use them. Some smaller growers have made the switch to cardboard, coir pots, or taupe recyclable pots – but those black pots are still EVERYWHERE.
Very few local authorities can recycle black plastic as they say they are too contaminated and cannot be detected by the recycling machines.
Dobbies has also announced that they will be accepting old and washed pots for recycling, but that’s not.
So what do you do? Well, if you have plastic pots then reuse them for the rest of their natural life. Those taupe cololured pots are recyclable and are slowly filtering into garden centres – so there is some hope if you are looking to get new plants.
But it’s all slow progress.
In the meantime, if you need pots – look around the house to see what you can repurpose. I’m always jealous/slightly annoyed by the people that seem to have hundreds of beautiful galvanized containers or Belfast sinks just lying around.
Well if you aren’t Steptoe and Son or don’t have decades of antiques in your attic, then upcycling can be a bit of a challenge. So I would recommend scouring the second-hand shop or using materials that still come into your house…like tins.
You can drill holes in a tin can to turn them into useful pots for small plants and herbs.
Here are a few more ideas:
- Car Tyres (there always seem to be plenty of these at the local dump)
- Oil cans (I’m always on the look out for these, but again they’ve become massively popular to upcycle so you may have to pay!)
- Chest of drawers
- Galvanized tubs
- Wooden Pallets
- Tool boxes
3. Zero Waste Seed Trays
If you are planting seedlings, then egg boxes, toilet roll tubes and folded newspaper pots work just as well as plastic pots. Social media is drenched in tutorials to make your own newspaper or toilet roll pots – so just do a search.
Personally, toilet roll tubes are great for legumes, like peas, sweet peas and beans. I’ve never had much luck with the biodegradeable pots, they seem to go mouldy before the seeds germinate and then my poor seeds get damping-off disease. Plus they come WRAPPED in plastic. That seems like a greenwashing to me.
You could also try milk containers, old ice-cube trays, yoghurt pots, fruit and vegetable plastic trays…the world is your lobster-POT!
Just don’t forget those drainage holes.
4. Zero Waste Plant Markers
You could use absolutely anything as a plant marker. If it’s inorganic, then make sure you can reuse it. Otherwise, opt for a biodegredable and organic item.
My favourite items are stones, old bamboo toothbrushes, those useless twistable crayons, lolly sticks (although lolly sticks tend to rot and attract mould if they get too wet) and reusing old plant markers. I just add a bit of eco paper tape on them which is biodegradable and compostable so I can then write on them.
I really like using big stones. They are easy to see, don’t get trampled on and look great.
Want more ideas? The Micro Gardener has a whole list of ingenious suggestions from forks to blackboard paint.
5. Make your own compost
Mmm. The black stuff. No, not Guinness. Black, nutrient-rich compost. Made from your kitchen scraps.
You ABSOLUTELY have to make your own compost. It will support ALL your zero waste efforts AND it will help you condition and feed your soil. Plus it’s FREE!
You can just make your own compost pile loose on the ground or you could shore it up with some pallets, or you could go all out and invest in a hot composter. These heat up your compost to make the composting process quicker.
If you do need to buy in compost – then make sure you re-use your plastic bags. You can use them as grow bags, line terracotta pots with them, or line a homemade planter with them.
The key to a good cold compost is making sure you have your trifle elements in the right harmony.
To make compost you need GREEN (Nitrogen) & BROWN (Carbon) waste materials, ACTIVATORS and WATER!
Green is plant material, left-over vegetables, grass cuttings, weeds (without seeds) leaves, tea and coffee grounds and pet hair.
Brown is dead leaves, spent stalks, hay, small branches, wood chips, egg boxes, sawdust, shredded paper, newspaper or cardboard. If you want quick compost – then make sure your ingredients are small.
You want to make sure you have about 3 parts brown to 1 part green.
Adding activators like soil, old compost and beneficial activating plants (e.g. borage, nettle, tansy, comfrey) – will boost the numbers of beneficial bacteria and microbes.
Make sure you aerate the mixture by giving it a turn with a fork. This helps all those lovely microbes get oxygen so they can break down your materials. You also want it to feel like a lovely moist sponge, so you may need to add some water.
If it smells – you’ve got an in-balance in your compost – probably it’s got too much green. Try adding some more brown and aerate it.
Top tip: It took me a while to get composting right – mainly because I just shoved all the material in at once, and didn’t really think about my 3 to 1 ratio. I always had loads of green – so I would add that all at once and didn’t try to balance it with the brown. Now I keep a store of shredded newspaper and cardboard in my kitchen so when I go out with my green waste or garden prunings, I take that stash of brown with me too.
You could also SUPERCHARGE your compost heap by adding in some diy compost tea, or some nettles, borage and comfrey.
I’ve recently been adding compost activator powder. You can make this by drying the following accumulator plants (plants that access nutrients from deep within the soil) and nitrogen-rich plants like:
- Comfrey (high in potassium)
Then all you need to do is grind the dried plants into a powder and sprinkle in layers on to your compost.
If you invest in a hot composter, then you can add a lot more kitchen scraps and the finished compost is ready a lot quicker! That’s because the internal temperature can reach a whopping 60 degrees! At that temperature, you can compost pretty much anything and have compost in 30-90 days. I have a HotBin and a ThermoKing but have yet to compare which is the most effective.
Want to find out more? This recipe and other great organic fertilizer recipes can be found in ” Garden Alchemy: 80 Recipes and Concoctions for Organic Fertilizers, Plant Elixirs, Potting Mixes, Pest Deterrents, and More” by Stephanie Rose (@garden_therapy)
Alys Fowler writing in The Guardian – Hot Compost Bin
If you want a hot compost, but just use a pallet bin then check out the incredibly comprehensive – Organic Edible Garden – How to Make Hot Compost. I’ve watched a lot of compost videos and this is by far and away, the most comprehensive and scientific.
6. Make a Womery for Vermicompost
When a worm shreds its food it breaks it down leaving behind what is known as vermicastings 💩. This is super-charged soil. Full of amazing nutrients.
Worms can deposit a staggering 10 to 15 tons of castings per acre on the surface annually…the ability to increae the availability of nutrients without carting in and adding tons of fertilizer is about as close to alchemy as one can get.Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web, by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis
Just one tablespoon provides enough nutrients for a plant to grow through the seasonAlys Fowler
You can make your own wormery bin, or buy one. But you need specific composting worms.
- Eisenia foetida – also known as a Tiger Worm or Brandling Worm
- Dendrabaena venet – also known as the bluenose worm
- Eisenia andrei – the Redworm or red wiggler
We made our bin by adding a layer of shredded paper and cardboard for their bedding. Then we added some compost and leaf mould. Then we popped our squirm of worms on top, followed by a bit more compost and leaf mould, then some food. We made sure that the food was cut up first as that would speed things along.
Worms like most things to eat, except onions, citrus, dairy and meat and according to The Urban Worm 200g of worms can eat about 50-100g of food a day. And just like your normal compost they like some carbon materials too like paper and cardboard.
Ideally, with your first wormery, you need to wait about 3-6 months before you can start harvesting your castings. You can then use these castings to add to your soil, or potting compost or even houseplants – without fear of it scorching your plants.
7. Make your own organic fertilizer
Every year us gardeners, dutifully buy our liquid and granular fertilizer feeds and sprinkle, water and douse our fruit, flowers and veggies with these supposedly miraculous grow feeds.
Inorganic commercial fertilisers usually provide just three main nutrients – Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassim – known as NPK.
However, over-use of these artificial fertilisers is degrading our soil and ironically NOT helping our plants to grow or helping our soils and soil organisms.
Much of the phosphorus in chemical fertilizers quickly binds to minerals in the soil and becomes unavailable to plants, unless there are micro-organisms present in the soil to convert it. Without a healthy soil biology up to half of nitrogen inputs are lost…apart from the environmental damage they cause, synthetic fertilizers are also limited in the range of nutrients they provide for crops. They can replenish macronutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorus, but not micronutrients such as magnesium, calcium, zince, sulphur and selenium that are also taken up by plants.Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm – Isabella Tree
The more we use inorganic fertilisers, the more we become dependent on them, because by reducing soil life we have lost the soils’ natural ability to provide nitrogen to crops.Soil Association – Living Soils, A Call to Action
Soils accustomed to synthetic fertilizer are like drug addicts. They need to be weaned off their addiction slowly.Dirt to Soil: One Family’s Journey into Regenerative Agriculture – Gabe Brown
So why not make your own FREE and ORGANIC FERTILIZER from organic material you have in the home and garden.
Leafy plants and vegetables want Nitrogen, which you can get from Nettle fertilizer, or borage or dandelion.
Whereas, fruit and flower bearing hungry plants like tomatoes, sweet peas and bean want more potassium – from Comfrey fertilizer.
To make your fertilizer, just collect a bucket of your chosen organic matter. Add water, cover and let it steep for 2-3 weeks. You’ll know when it’s ready because it will start to stink. Just drain through a sieve or muslin cloth and keep somewhere cool and dry. When you are ready to use it, just dilute your fertilizer 1 part fertilizer to 10 parts water.
Trust me – if you make it, you will be doing a little dance of joy because you are growing your own plant feed. Then you’ll probably fall over from the stench – but hey ho.
Want to know more? Check out how to make a comfrey feed step by step guide from Gardener’s World here.
8. Make your own green manure
Nature hates bare soil.
So why not keep it covered, protected and nourished with cover crops – also known as green manures.
You don’t need to source weed and herbicide laced animal manures, you can simply grow your own!!
These are plants which help cover your soil and suppress weeds and either bring nutrients like nitrogen into the soil or can be cut down to provide nutrients that way. They act as a LIVING MULCH.
These are nitrogen fixers like alfalfa, lupins, vetch or weed suppressors and like phacelia. Phacelia is also LOVED by bees. 💕🐝You can even get green manures that will help with moisture retention like fodder radish and yellow trefoil. Buckwheat is a great plant to grow amongst your fruit bushes to help keep weeds down. attract polinators (and HOVERFILES which will eat your aphids!!!!) and also bringing phosphate to the surface.
Mustard grows really quickly and will provide organic matter for your soil. It’s great for growing between your vegetable rows.
For overall soil health, however, variety is the key.
Want to get some? Check out Sowseeds.co.uk for their comprehensive list of what green manure to choose, when to plant, how to use and its benefits.
9. Mulch, Mulch, Mulch
If you mulch your garden (that is put down a thick layer of material around your plants) – then you cut down on your waterering, weeding, fertilizing and dramatically improve your soil health. Just make sure your mulch is organic and degradeable. Also, put your mulch on top of your compost.
If you have the worms and other invertebrates in the soil to pull the fallen leaves underground to mulch them, it’s amazing how fast the leaves disappearWilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm – Isabella Tree
By providing different kinds of organic matter as mulch, you can establish or supplement different members of the soil food web, ones that will provide more of the type of nitrogen preferred by the plants grown in the area.Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web, p124, Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis
I used black sheet mulch mats for years in patches in the garden, but once lifted, underneath the ground was hard and degraded.
So what can you make good organic mulch from? Pretty much any organic matter. Mulch will increase your population of either fungi or bacteria depending on what colour you use.
Fungal mulches (Brown)
- Woodchip (if it’s not your own there is the danger you could introduce honey fungus)
- Leaf mould
- Aged pine needles
- Almost ready garden compost
- Nut shells (in the walnut growing Dordogne region, many gardens are mulched with walnut shells)
Bacterial mulches (Green)
- Grass clippings (Jeff Lowenfels & Wayne Lewis suggest soaking your grass clippings, hay or straw in ‘dechlorinated water’ first). Then use a fish tank pump to oxygenate the water. After a few days you should have grown your own protozoa. (You should be able to see them squirming about if you use a magnifying glass). Then just add this soup on top of your mulch to get them feeding on the bacteria and fungi, thereby releasing nutrients for your plants. Robert Krampf “The Happy Scientist” suggests using hay and a little bit of yeast instead.
- Bracken, conifer bark and pinecones are good for ericacious (acid loving plants)
- Seaweed (again, spread thinly and check your regions guidelines around taking seaweed)
Want to know more? Alys Fowler has an article on mulch and protozoa soup here.
10. Create a Hugelkultur
Have you heard of Hugelkultur raised bed? It’s a permaculture technique where you layer organic material up to create a mound or hill type of bed. ⠀
It’s a great way of using up garden waste like old logs and tree and shrub cuttings. Also if your soil isn’t great it’s a way of creating a quick raised bed.
The basics are layer up wood ( logs, branches or sticks) then partially composted material or easily compostable material like grass cutting. Then add a layer of rich compost or soil. The wood at the bottom slowly decomposes and provides a bit of drainage.⠀
You can start a hugelkultur bed anywhere. I made one on top of some very dense clay soil which was impossible to dig or plant into.
Want to find out more? Read Permaculture Magazine’s article on “The Many Benefits of Hugelkultur.”
11. Create a fruit tree guild
Have you heard of permaculture guilds? It’s the idea that you plant complementary plants together to help each other – typically supporting the main crop or a fruit tree.⠀
The idea is to have:⠀
🌸 A FERTILIZER plant, like comfrey that has really deep roots to access minerals very low down. Borage is also good. You can also add an ‘accumulator” like a nitrogen-fixing legume (beans, peas, red clover, alfalfa)⠀
🌸 A POLLINATOR, like chives, bee balm, dill, lavender, fennel⠀
🌸 A REPELLER, like oregano, basil, lavender, marigolds, citronella, coriander, dill, chamomile or chives (again) that deter pests⠀
🌸 A WEED SUPPRESSOR, or ground cover like clover or strawberries, or even spring bulbs like daffodils that keep back some of the grass from around the tree
I started an Apple Tree guild in the garden – planting some chives, comfrey and some strawberries around the “drip line” of the plant…basically a circle around where the canopy extends. I’ve also experimented adding some beneficial plants in a potted cherry tree too – so some chives, chamomile and some nasturtium!
Want to find out more? Read Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-scale Permaculture, by Toby Hemenway
12. Make your own pot feet
Need pot feet? Save up your bottle lids or cut your corks into quarters! Genius!
I was just about to buy some ridiculously expensive rubber ones when I came up with this idea.
I’m also using plant based milks at the moment which come with plastic tops…so instead of attempting to recycle them we are coming up with ways to reuse them…as pot feet.⠀
Now your pots can drain and not get waterlogged whenever there is a downpour – and you are not throwing that plastic away. ☔🌧️🌱⠀
13. Grow your own plant supports
Bamboo canes are hard to come by at the best of times. But have you ever thought about growing your own?
If you grow a tree that regenerates from the stump, then you can use its wood for your garden.
I’m talking about ash, oak, willow cherry, birch and hazel.
You may have to wait a while until you can coppice it, but in the meantime the trees will be a great home for animals and provide food for birds.
Silverbirch twigs are also good for plaiting and winding into supports too.
You can buy UK native trees from The Woodland Trust.
Investing in a couple of water butts or rainwater tanks is a great idea to harvest that rainfall from your roof.
You could also look at using ‘grey water’ – so water from your bath, cooking or washing up. Just make sure it is not full of harmful chemicals.
But you should also look at increasing the water-holding capacity of your soil by increasing organic content and the soil microbiome.
Also, try and reduce the number of container plants you have (if possible). I was using container pots as my garden soil wasn’t very good. This was completely back to front. I was wasting money and plastic on buying in compost to fill large plastic pots, instead of focussing on my soil health. So now I’m focussing on creating great bacteria dominated compost for my annuals and vegetables and fungi dominated compost for my trees and perennials. I’m also using vermicompost to give any remaining post a boost!
15. Make a home for wildlife
If you can attract more wildlife into your garden, then you will bring in some helpful pest predators like birds, frogs, hedgehogs, and beneficial pollinators to your flowers. There are lots of ways you can attract them by reducing pesticides, providing food and homes for them.
Stop using pesticides
Pesticides are such a blunt instrument. While they may decimate your aphids, they will also kill the food needed for hoverflies or lacewings. Kill the pest and you’ll never get the predator. Go for biological controls like nematodes or introducing predators like ladybirds and parasitic wasps. Check out the RHS for the biological control for almost every pest.
Urban dwellers and other growers have been pouring toxic chemicals on their soild for years, without recognizing that those chemicals harm the very things that make soil healthy. Use of toxics to any extent creates a habitat for the “mafia” of the soil, an urban war zone, by killing off the normal flora and fauna that compete with the bad guys and keep them under control….With that first application, thousands of organisms that were beneficial to your plants were killed. A few bad guys were killed as well, but the good guys are gone and they don’t come back as fast as the bad guys.”Teaming with Microbes – Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis
Bring back the good guy microbes
To do this, you need to focus on mulching, using homemade compost, organic fertilizers and not digging up your garden.
Make a pond
Having a pond however small, is a great idea for bringing in wildlife. Your pond could be just a bowl with a water plant in it, or it could be a massive pond full of a variety of pond plants. If you are putting one in the ground, always make sure it has a sloping side to allow animals to come in and out of the pond.
You could look at making bug hotels and frog sanctuary. These don’t have to be any more complicated than leaving an area of old wood and leaves in your garden. Also think about adding some bird box, bat boxes, or even a hedgehog house. Climbing plants can also be a good shelter for animals. Those untidy areas or overgrown bushes are also great for nesting birds and animals.
Grow your own bird food
Look at growing trees and shrubs that will feed the birds as opposed to putting out bird food. Ivy, hazel, birch, crab apple, rowan, elder, blackthorn, and hawthorn are great trees to have in your garden to feed the birds all year round. Good shrubs and plants include honeysuckle, teasel, cotoneaster, sunflowers, roses that produce rose hips
Grow flowers for pollinators
In spring that includes plants like daffodils, crocus, heather, hellebores, and mahonia for an early source of nectar. In summer have a wide range of open flowers and lawn weeds like clove. If you do go to a nursery – look for the “perfect for pollinators” logo on plants now in the UK.
Grow flowers for butterflies
Bluebells, forget-me-knot, and primroses are all great for attracting butterflies in the spring. In the summer they love flowering herbs, scabious, cornflowers and marigolds. Towards the autumn buddleias are a butterfly magnet, along with tall wafting verbena. But don’t forget plants for the caterpillars too – holly and ivy, nasturtiums, Yorkshire fog grass, NETTLES (all round amazing plant to have in your garden), sorrel, thistle, birdsfoot trefoil and brassicas (cabbage family). The RHS recommends growing some of these plants together to try and attract them.
16. Repel pests with companion plants
For pests above the ground, there are lots of great companion planting combos you can do to repel insects from your flowers and vegetables.
Nasturtiums are great around your vegetables as they will repel pests from your cucumbers and squash and are loved by aphids and caterpillars. If you have any crops or flowers that seem to be aphid magnets, stick a nasturtium in there.
Strong smelling plants, like lavender are good around fruit trees and doorways to deter biting minibeasts.
Chives are brilliant for planting next to roses and vegetables. In fact they are great all over your garden.
Basil is a good partner for your tomatoes, but will also repel biting insects as well.
Want to know more? Check out Thompson & Morgan’s companion planting chart here.
17. Dissuade those slippery slugs
There are lots of different things you can try – but they have their pros and cons. The best method is to encourage natural predators like birds, lizards, frogs, newts and hedgehogs into your garden.
Keeping your veggie leaves dry will also make them less attractive. That’s why drip irrigation, or watering the roots is a much better idea for protecting your veggies.
But if you really feel inundated by the slimy beasties, you could try the creating a natural defense system.
I mean who would want to crawl over these. If you’re like me, you have a lot of raw material to work with! Slugs apparently don’t like sharp things on their foot!
These are cheap and easy to source. Make sure you wash them and peel the white membrane off them. Then just crumble and scatter around your plants
Upside down grapefruits or wooden boards
Another easy, zero waste solution is to lay something slugs like to hide under during the day. Then you just have to remember to check your trap every morning to remove the sluggy offenders
Just sink a small jam jar (spice jars are great) into the soil and fill it with beer – only a third of the way up. The slugs will be attracted to the beer and fall in. It’s a cruel way to go, but effective.
I’ve used wool pellets for two years and found them REALLY effective. Slugs hate itchy things like wool. Once the pellets get wet they swell up, forming a protective barrier around the plant. They also degrade into the soil so win win! They are just pricey to buy and often come in plastic bags. You could buy in bulk and then reuse the bags as pot liners
The is the most effective methods by far. During the day, slugs like to hide under damp wood, or rocks or pots. So get a bucket and a spade and go slug hunting. We like feeding them to the neighbours’ chickens. Going out at twilight with a flashlight is also a good time to find them slithering up to your precious vegetables.
18. Make New Plants For FREE
My husband always says free is the right price.
But free also means that you are avoiding delivery miles, shopping, purchasing packaging etc. There are lots of ways you can make your own new plants for free and you don’t need to be an expert to do so.
18.1 Collect & Sow Seeds
The best way to make new plants for free is to collect and sow seeds.
There are lots of seed swaps going on all over the place. I’ve never been to one, but I swap seeds with my family members.
WARNING: Growing seeds is addictive. Especially ones you have collected yourself. Watching your plant babies pop up out of the soil is AMAZING!!!! You created LIFE! Mwah ha ha.
There are some great plants that are easy to collect seed from, like nasturtiums and aquilegias. You can easily save and dry beans and squash seeds too.
18.2 Buy Perennial plants and divide
If you want to get more bang for your buck then buy perennial flowers and plants. Most are easy to divide or take cuttings from. My favourite perennials are hostas, sedums, penstemons, erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’ and salvias
There are also lots of perennial vegetables you can buy too. Ones that will come back again every year.
- Good King Henry
- Skirret – a bit like a cross between a parsnip and a carrot
- Daubenton’s Kale – a perennial kale that grows to the size of a bush
- Malabar Spinach
- Perpetual Leeks
- Tree Spinach
Want to know more? Try Incredible Vegetables who stock loads of perennial vegetable seeds and seedlings.
18.3 Take cuttings
Some cuttings root really quickly in just a jar of water. It means you can see exactly when they grow roots. Try Sedum, Lavender, and Rosemary this way.
Alternatively, take a cutting, making sure you strip the lower leaves, then dip in cinnamon or rooting hormone and then pop into some gritty soil.
The key thing to remember with cuttings is you only want a few leaves on your cutting to reduce the amount of moisture that is lost. Also, you want the soil it is in to be ‘free draining,’ so lots of perlite or grit in the compost mix. This means that when it is watered, the water can drain out quickly. If the compost is too wet, you risk your little baby cutting getting too wet and just rotting. Waah!
Once you have it potted up, just make a greenhouse around it. You can do this with a plastic bag. You don’t want the plastic to touch the leaves as this will create condensation and make the leaves wet and rot. Pop in chopsticks around your pot before putting the bag on to make a sort of tent and them leave somewhere cool for a few weeks to root.
You can test whether you cutting has “striked” -which is a fancy term for “look its grown some roots” – by gently tugging on it. If there is some resistance, then you have ROOT!!!!
Want to know more? Learn how to propagate plants from cuttings from specific plants from Gardener’s World.
19. Stop Mowing & Go Wild
I don’t care how much you love mowing your lawn into those insane straight lines.
Your lawn is a dead zone of short grass. Let it live!!!!!!
Let some of your lawn get a bit ‘jungley’. All wildlife will thank you for it.
Plus, you may even get some wildflowers like oxeye daisies, cowslips, or even the elusive British orchid. Buttercups and clover are beautiful – not to mention great for pollinators.
Once you have let it grow, don’t cut till September, that way all your lovely summer wildflowers will have had a chance to set seed. But, you could give it a cut earlier in July for a spring meadow and see which flowers flourish.
Want to know more? This is a great article by Trevor Dines in The Guardian about #SayNoMow and what wildflowers you could see in your garden.
20. Grow your own cut flowers
Once you start growing flowers for your home, you’ll never buy them from a shop again.
My top flowers for bouquets would definitely be Alchemia Mollis (Lady’s Mantle) for foliage; sweet peas for sheer abundance. Roses – because they’re roses and they’re amazing! I also love wallflowers, geums, cosmos, and dahlias. All are easy to grow and come in a MASSIVE range of colours.
I don’t grow a massive amount of cut flowers, but I still seem to be able to fiil almost every room in the house from spring until autumn with them.
I hope these tips help you towards your own zero waste and organic gardens. Let me know how you get on.