Do you grow your own fruit and veg or are you planning to this year? It's nearly time to start sowing seeds, but did you know that there are regenerative farming practices that can be carried out on a smaller scale to allow you to grow even healthier food?
This simple practice is super easy and really effective, but results in a lovely rich humus that will increase the nutrients in your soil. The key is to have a good balance between carbon (dry, 'brown' materials like cardboard, paper and dry leaves) and nitrogen (moist, 'green' materials like garden clippings, vegetable and fruit scraps) - 2:1 respectively.
Other lovely ingredients to add? Egg shells, coffee grounds and wood ash. Just a couple of things to watch out for - avoid putting meat products in there unless you really love rats, check that your teabags are plastic free (make the change if you haven't already!), and avoid too many citrus fruit peels or onions. Turn it regularly (every couple of weeks), and Bob's your uncle!
Perfect looking lines in gardens and allotments are a hangover from Victorian times, and although they look pretty, they're not great for increasing biodiversity in your patch. Welcome weeds between your beds (as long as they're not taking over the plants in size), as they protect the soil, aid irrigation and encourage pollinators. Nature has a way of creating perfectly balanced ecosystems, so just let it do its thing.
3) Use nature
The more nature in your garden, the better. Encourage birds and bats (they'll eat the slugs and caterpillars!) and pollinators like bees and butterflies by growing plants with a long flowering period. You could even get the kids to make a bee hotel. And don't be too precious about your lawn - dandelions, buttercups and clover are loved by pollinators.
4) Intensive planting
Don't worry about spacing your seeds out as much as the packet might suggest. A little bit of over-crowding makes more use of the space, reduces room for weeds and keep the soil shaded to help it retain moisture and limit erosion due to direct rainfall/watering. You can always thin out some seedlings if they look too overcrowded once they're growing.
Once your growing season is over, plant a load of clover in your beds. This will return nitrogen to the soil, and keep it covered protecting it from the elements until you're ready to grow again. Compost and dry leaves are a fine alternative - think of it like a blanket for Winter.
Try not to grow the same things in the same place each time as every plant will take (and add) different nutrients to the soil. Planting the same plants in the same areas year after year can strip the soil of the nutrients needed by that plant.
7) Partner Planting
Creating opportunities for symbiotic relationships between plants will reduce pests, increase yield and create stronger, healthier plants. There's a real science to this, but you can start simple with some of these tricks: grow marigolds around your veg (they attract bugs away from your produce), plant onions next to your carrots (the strong smell will mask the sweet carroty smell from pests), grow nettles near your cabbages (caterpillars prefer nettles!) and plant basil in and around your tomatoes (this will ward off whitefly) - see there's a reason they go so well together in cooking!
8) Don't dig!
I know it's common practice for gardeners to 'turn' soil, but digging can disrupt the delicate balance of the soil ecosystem - the important micro-organisms, fungi and worms, that help feed plant roots. Instead, just cover your beds with a layer of that compost we mentioned earlier, and the worms will do the rest.
Keeping the soil food web intact in our gardens isn't just a way of growing healthier food, it's part of a much bigger movement that will contribute to bird and insect populations, climate change and regenerating the land. So give it a go, and let us know how you get on!