15 Ways to garden in the climate crisis

There’s been a lot of coverage of the climate crisis over the past few months, and it’s fantastic that awareness is growing. But how can you do your bit in the garden? Here’s 15 ways you can garden more sustainably to help our planet!

How many of these do you do already?

 

Be Smart With Seeds

you can save resources and money by keeping the seeds from your flowers such as the cowslip pictured, as well as fruits and vegetables to use the following year. Be sure to dry them out before storing and then keep in a breathable container. If you end up with a surplus of seeds, look for your local seed swap event and see what you can exchange them for.

Cowslip seed head

If you collect seeds from primulas, it is a good idea to scarify them before sowing to speed up the germination process.

Ditch the Peat

Whilst peat is great for growing plants, it comes with a high environmental cost. Peat is extracted from peat bogs, destroying the unique biodiversity of this habitat. Peat bogs are also an excellent carbon store – turning decomposing plants into peat thanks to the wet, anoxic condition of the bogs. When peat is harvested, green house gasses are released into the atmosphere, and once spread onto gardens, further carbon dioxide is released. Ditch the peat for the many equally great alternatives such as the Dalefoot compost pictured, or even better, make your own compost!

Compost

Dalefoot compost is a fantastic peat-alternative, especially their wool compost.

 

Re-Wild your Lawn

Let’s face it, lawns are pretty boring. Biologically they aren’t very diverse and often require artificial nutrients and weed killers to keep them looking lush and green. Converting your lawn into a wildflower meadow not only saves you the time used for mowing but benefits the bees (and other invertebrates) too!

Dandelion and orange tip butterfly

Dandelions are an important nectar supply for early spring pollinators such as this male orange tip butterfly.

 

Garden for Pollinators

Our insects are suffering a catastrophic decline and we need them to survive. You can do your bit by planting nectar rich flowers covering as much of the flowering season as possible (primroses are great early supplies of nectar, whilst Ivy is a fantastic late supply!). Non-native plants can be great for nectar if they are simple open flowers, but the advantage of native plants is that they often support insects throughout their life cycle by providing food for different stages as well as a suitable habitat. You can also install log piles to offer shelter for other invertebrates such as beetles, and leave your garden untidy over winter as fallen leaves and dead stems are the perfect place for insects to hide out during the cold months.

Comma

Gardening for pollinators is more than planting nectar – the larvae of commas feast on nettles before emerging as adult butterflies.

 

Install a Pond

All good wildlife gardens should have a pond. Animals needs water and a pond can provide a watering hole for birds, mammals and invertebrates that visit your garden. They are also essential for breeding amphibians who will soon find your pond (don’t transfer spawn from one pond to another to prevent spreading diseases and invasive organisms). What’s more, many flying invertebrates start of life in the pond and emerge as an adult providing  a food source for bats!

Frogspawn

Monitoring when frogs spawn can tell us a lot about our changing climate. If you want to help scientists then report your spawn sightings using iRecord which you can find online or through an app for your phone.

 

 

Go Plastic-Free

If you’ve gardened for some time, chances are you have a stack of plastic pots somewhere. Where you can, re-use these as much as possible. But when buying new, or looking for containers for seed growing, seek out plastic-free alternatives. You can make your own pots from newspaper, re-use egg boxes and toilet roll tubes for growing on seeds and they best bit is you can plant them straight out in the tubes – which is excellent for root veg!

Pots

You can use almost anything as a pot, just be sure to drill some holes for drainage!

 

Garden Organically

Insects have declined more than 75% in the last 3 decades which is just astonishing. A big part to blame for this is the continued use of pesticides. Whilst you can’t control what happens outside your garden (but buying organic veg does help!) you can control what you use at home. Organic gardening doesn’t have to be difficult. There are many natural ways to deter pests if needed, although creating lots of different habitats means you are likely to attract the predators needed to control problematic species and the garden will look after itself. Another thing to consider is only growing plants which aren’t susceptible to problems such as Lilies.

Bee on chives

Pesticides don’t just target pests – other species such as bees can suffer too.

 

Garden for Birds

Feeding birds using a bird feeder though winter can help them survive when food is hard to find, but you can also make your garden bird friendly by adding plants which also provide food such as a native hedging plants; hawthorn, blackthorn, holly, guelder rose, trees such as Rowan and fruit trees and Ivy which provides food late in the season. Hedges, trees and climbers all give birds somewhere to nest and roost in, and by growing plants for insects you’ll be providing food for insectivorous birds too!

Blackthorn

Birds love the sloes from blackthorns – if you’re lucky they’ll leave you some to make a batch of sloe gin in time for xmas.

 

Shop Sustainably

Where do you buy your garden supplies from? Are they making positive changes to combat climate change? Do they use peat, or pesticides? Are their plants grown locally or imported (and risking bio-security issues)? By choosing where you shop you encourage businesses to do better.

BWFP

Local nurseries by their nature of being smaller will have a much lower environmental impact than bigger companies, and they are usually much friendlier too. I love visiting British Wild Flower Plants in Norfolk!

 

Buy Local and Connect with Neighbors

Buy local where you can. Often local nurseries take more care growing the plants, and you can usually find some interesting varieties too. Buying local also reduces transportation impacts. Local selling pages are a fantastic place to offload excess plants or gardening equipment as well as picking up a few bargains yourself!

Walnut Tree Nursery

Walnut Tree Nursery in Norfolk is a great place to find some unusual varieties of more common plants.

 

Grow Your Own Food

If you can, try growing you own food. You don’t need a massive garden to do this as there are lots of patio varieties of different fruits and veg which can be grown on balconies too. If you don’t have much space, you could always consider an allotment. Not only does growing your own organic food reduce your environmental impact, it’s delicious too!

Grow you Own

I’ve started using straw as a substrate in our veg patch as so far so good! This year I’m adding compost from the chickens too.

 

Compost

Food waste has a massive impact on the environment and not all councils collect it so some still heads straight to landfill. You can prevent this by composting your own food waste and there are lots of options to do this. You can have a basic plastic bin which works well over time, an open compost bin like the one pictured (though more suited to garden waste than food) or even a wormery! There are new hot compost bins which are ideal for small gardens as they require less space and make compost much quicker than a traditional bin. Using your own compost reduces the need to buy in compost from elsewhere too.

Compost bin

This bin was made from 4 pallets, the one at the front cut into sections which can be slid into the front as needed. Perfect for garden waste or areas where you don’t have rats.

 

Get Your Own Chickens

Animal agriculture comes with a high environmental impact. If you eat eggs, having a couple of hens is a great way to produce eggs for your family and they are much nicer than mass produced eggs too. One of the issues with current farming methods is that the rainforests are being cut down for soy plantations for animal feeds – so if you do have your own hens, make sure that the feed is soy-free!

Chickens

There’s nothing quite like a fresh egg from a spoilt and happy chicken!

 

Garden for your Local Climate

Hose bans will become more frequent as water supplies dry up. It is predicted that some areas of the UK will suffer regular water shortages within the next 25 years so the idea of watering your garden will be a thing of the past. To avoid excessive water use, plant species which are adapted to our climate, or even more drought tolerant ones, and avoid planting in the dry seasons so there’s no need to regularly water.

Sedums

Sedums require little watering and can be great for ground cover or for green roofs – as well as being a good nectar supply for pollinators.

 

Green Your Roofs

Green roofs can come in many forms from a small sedum roof on your wheelie-bin cupboard to a whole garden on top of a city building. They can help reduce energy costs by absorbing heat and acts as insulation for buildings as well as cleaning the air around us. When roofs are greened in cities, they help mitigate the urban heat island effect which may be more important than ever in the next few years. They also provide a habitat to our wildlife, including birds and pollinators and like this one seen at the Hampton Court Flower Show in 2015, they look stunning too!

Green Roof

There are no limits to green roofs, except the load bearing of the structure! To find out more head to livingroofs.org

 

Thanks for reading! If you loved this content, then head over to Facebook and Instagram and follow for more.

x Larissa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is Nemasys harmful to bumble bees?

Recent study finds consumer biological control lethal to bumble bee Bombus terrestris in laboratory tests

For many years, gardeners and horticulturists have been using biological control products as a means to eradicate garden pests such as weevils, carrot root fly, thrips and slugs. Many gardeners, including myself, have used these products as a more natural pest control over ‘nastier’ chemical alternatives, but a recent study has shown that these seemingly harmless nematodes could pose a threat to the invertebrates gardeners do like to see and actively encourage – such as bees.

Scientists at Liverpool John Moores University, found that entomopathogenic nematodes in two Nemasys products; ‘Grow Your Own’ and ‘Vine Weevil Killer’ were lethal to the bumble bee Bombus terrestris in controlled laboratory experiments. Results showed high mortality in bees exposed to soil containing nematodes from each of the products. These products are both currently widely available and largely unregulated.

Entomopathogenic nematodes are a parasite, causing death in their hosts through an association with bacteria. Juvinile nematodes are infected with bacteria in the soil then seek and enters it’s host, such as a weevil or moth larvae. The bacteria causes septicemia and kills the host, providing a food source for the nematodes before they proliferate, sending more infected parasites out to find their next victim.

This study has highlighted the potential threat that these methods of biological control could have on our wild bee species, especially those such as Bombus terrestris in which the queen often overwinters under the soil. Worryingly, due to the delay between infection and mortality, if the nematodes are able to proliferate in the dead bees, there is a risk the whole colony could become infected.

Further field research is definitely needed into the safety of available biological control products on non-target species, and the effect that such products have on species outside of the laboratory.

The full article can be found here  in the open access journal PeerJ. Thank you to Steve Head from the Wildlife Gardening Forum for sharing this in the latest newsletter.

-Larissa

Header photo taken in the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Garden.

Ten things I have learnt about growing veg this year

Here’s a quick list of some of the things I have learnt so far from my first year of growing vegetables. Some might be useful to you if you’re starting out too.

Parsnips, carrots and a few leeks still left to harvest

Parsnips, carrots and a few leeks still left to harvest

1. Grow more of the vegetables we actually eat

This one seems obvious, and I knew this before we started but it still didn’t stop me dedicating a whole corner of a raised bed to broad beans which no one really eats. They failed and that space has gone unused aside from the nasturtiums which have taken over a little. Which brings me onto my second point…

2. Don’t grown nasturtiums ithe vegetable patch

I had read that nasturtiums are a great companion plant and so I popped a few very small plants in amongst the vegetables. I think this was a mistake, because they have taken over in some places, which I was not expecting! The bees love them, and they are a tasty addition to salads (leaves and flowers) but I think next year it would be better to grow them just outside of the raised beds to allow more space for the vegetables.

Humphrey was chasing off a large white butterfly.

Humphrey was chasing off a large white butterfly – note the nasturtiums in the back

3. Onions don’t grow in shade

I had a bit of space alongside a hedge which I dug over and planted the leftover onion sets in. I sort of knew they wouldn’t work, but didn’t have anywhere else to plant them and thought it might be worth a try. It really wasn’t as although they did sprout, they never got any bigger than the onion set originally was when it was planted. Then, they got eaten by the slugs. Next year, I’ll leave this area alone. Maybe I’ll plant some red campion Silene diocia which likes growing in shady areas.

The onions spouted, but have since been devoured by slugs

The onions spouted, but have since been devoured by slugs

4. Chose the compost carefully – or feed more

Because we were just starting up we needed to buy in a fair amount of compost to fill the raised beds and pots. We did try to find topsoil on freecycle but had no success. Trying to keep the cost down, we used compost from our local garden centre which was an organic general purpose compost, £12 for four 75 litre bags. This was the cheapest option but definitely came at a price. After a while, anything growing in a pot turned yellow, and the vegetable patch began to do the same. I could only assume that the nutrients we being used up, because once I fed everything with a home-made mix of nettle and comfrey fertiliser, the plants all perked up and got their lovely green colour back.

The compost looked dark and rich but soon ran out of nutrients

The compost looked dark and rich but soon ran out of nutrients

5. Try some of the container varieties

We had a lot of space around the garden which I don’t want to dig up, but could have been utilised with more container plants. Next year I think I will try some of the smaller varieties of courgette plants as well as growing my dwarf runners in pots rather than the veg patch. They didn’t do very well because they were soon shaded out by the bigger beans.

One of only two courgettes.

One of only two courgettes

6. Watch out for slugs around harvest time

Earlier in the year around the time we were sowing seeds we used nemaslug to help control our mollusc population and it worked – we have lots of fully-grown vegetables. However I have noticed a growth in the number of slugs and snails recently and We’ve lost beetroot, french beans and potatoes. I think that a secondary dose of nemaslug is required to stop this because hand-picking doesn’t seem to be working enough.

This leopard slug was saved the slug-knife because he's quite handsome - for a slug

This leopard slug was saved from the slug-knife because he’s quite handsome – for a slug

7. Nobody likes kale – except the butterflies

A continuation from the first point really, but serves to reiterate that it is important to only grow what your family will eat. It’s tempting to try out different varieties, new vegetables or to create that perfect mix for rotation. But resist the temptation to grow things unless you are sure everyone likes them otherwise, come harvesting you’ll kick yourself that you could be eating delicious squash, but instead you have half eaten kale.

Mmmm... Kale

Mmmm… Kale

8. Sowing carrots thickly is a good idea

I sowed the carrot seeds quite thickly thinking half probably wont germinate and if they do I’ll just thin them later. Then I read that thinning carrots can attract carrot root fly because they can smell the carroty goodness from miles away and I wondered if it was a good idea after all. We protected the carrots with a fine mesh net all around, about 2′ high so hopefully we were safe – and I am glad I did it this way because we’ve been enjoying carrots for over a month now and there are loads left. Okay, the first ones were just baby carrots, but tasty nonetheless. By picking out the larger carrots, the smaller ones are allowed to continue growing. Much better than thinning and chucking a load on the compost heap.

Some of the first 'baby' carrots

Some of the first ‘baby’ carrots

9. You can never have too many tomato plants

This is quite simple really. We love tomatoes and there can never be enough. Both our children love tomatoes so I am not worried about having a glut, but if we do, we’ll be making tomato sauce and freezing down our own ‘tinned’ tomatoes for use in sauces throughout the year. I’ve grown four varieties this year; money maker, plum, sweet million and black cherry.

Just a few of the many tomato plants

Just a few of the many tomato plants

10. But tomato plants will take over if grown in a veg patch

I had a little space left in the top veg patch and a few plum tomato plants which needed a home. It made sense and I popped them in the ground. They have since taken over and smothered the beet, chard and butternut squash.  If I had an allotment, I’d probably dedicate a whole patch for tomatoes, but when we only have two small raised beds, the tomatoes can stay in pots.

The tomatoes have almost filled half the patch - just in front of the runner beans

The tomatoes have almost filled half the patch – just in front of the runner beans

Building a veg patch

Last year was the first year I had grown more than a few runner beans and couple of tomato plants. To say it didn’t quite go as I had planned is one way of putting it – another would be ‘complete disaster’. Read on and I’ll explain why.

Last year we decided to dedicate a good portion of the garden to growing our own organic food. We allocated an area to the southern side of the garden below the gigantic christmas tree. Although it was sloped, the only flat area of the garden  – which is also sunnier – had already been set aside for the kids to play on.

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We started out by marking the beds with string and then we (I say we, but it was mostly my partner) dug two vegetable patches but it wasn’t easy. The ground was solid, dry and full of stones. Then there were the roots belonging to that giant tree. Lots of little roots. Eventually we got through them enough to get some plants in the ground, just.

I had started off a lot of veg seedlings in a mini greenhouse on the patio. I had carrots, swede, beans, lettuce, courgettes and more. The greenhouse was full because as usual I had sown too much. I really need to have more faith in the seeds to germinate – partly why at one point this year I had 70 tomato plants! I planted everything out and so it began. We were growing our own food and it was really exciting.

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we also built a little fence!

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That was until the slugs came! We weren’t prepared for that many slugs and reluctantly we resorted to (wildlife-friendly) pellets as the attack was so ferocious but we really wanted to eat our food. It worked for a while and our vegetables were beginning to grow.

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Lettuces above and beans and squash below

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Then we ran out of pellets and no matter where I looked I couldn’t find any locally (we didn’t have a car at the time so our options were limited). Resorting to ordering some online, we anxiously waited for them to arrive, picking slugs by hand in the meantime. In the two days it took for the postman to drop them off, all of the vegetables above were eaten. Only one chard plant was left and I was devastated. So for 2014, the only produce we managed to harvest were the tomatoes and chillies growing on the patio.

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2015

Because of the mollusc onslaught the previous year, we decided to take a few more steps to protect our crops. After spending a few months during winter reading about it we planned our counter-attack. Firstly, we decided to grow in raised beds. Wanting to try to keep the cost low we built the beds from old pallets. Pallet wood is good enough for raised beds but won’t last forever. Given we don’t plan on being here forever as we are renting, it was perfect. Other alternatives are old scaffolding boards (I did try freecycle but with no luck!). During this process I collected a lot of pins so feel free to take a look!

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The first of two of our beds

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To fill the beds we used local compost; 4 x 75l bags of organic compost for £12! This worked out to be the cheapest option, although I was hoping to see a post for topsoil on freecycle which would have reduced the cost dramatically. Each bed took around 5-6 bags.IMG_1475 copy

Once the bed was full of compost, we used nemaslug on them as well as around the garden. Nemaslug is a box of millions of nematode worms which parasitise on slugs and snails keeping the population under control. Slugs will bury underground during the day and it is then that the worms will get to work. It’s not as effective on snails which do not bury underground but it can infect water snails so keep it away from the pond.

I also used beer traps – recycled margarine tubs half filled with cheap beer and a hole cut in the side (make sure the hole is big enough for snail shells). The molluscs are attracted to the beer and will climb in and drink themselves into an intoxicated death. I had a lot of success with the slugs collecting up to 10 per trap a night. So, from being able to collect 125 slugs in one night, we now find around 10 so much better, and guess what? Our vegetables are growing like mad this year (but more on this later).

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