Composting, Gardening, Shary Saunders

Gardening is a therapeutic hobby that yields incredible rewards in the form of fresh vegetables right in your backyard without having to buy from the store. The demand for organic foods has risen sharply as more people become health conscious for reasons such as weight loss and prolonged life.

Starting your own organic garden

The media constantly bombards consumers with information on healthy alternatives to food that promise to ward off lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, gout, and even cancer. If you are looking to embark on a healthy lifestyle for you and your family, consider starting an organic garden filled with your favorite vegetables and fruits.

Where do I find the time? You may wonder how you can squeeze in gardening after a long day at work capped with a long commute back home. The minute you get home, you find other pressing duties such as cooking dinner, supervising your kids’ homework and baking cookies for a show-and-tell the next day. How about making gardening a family activity? You can use this time to catch up with the highlights of the day from everyone.

What is Organic Farming?

Organic farming goes beyond avoiding the use of pesticides and genetically modified organisms. If you are new to organic farming or crop husbandry in general, you need to stock up your tool shed with farming equipment such as a hoe, spade, pole saw, hand-weeding tool and a fork. You can fetch these tools from the gardening section of your local supermarket. In this article, we have outlined seven steps to starting your own organic garden. Let’s get started!

1. Identify the Patch

Identify the patch

While selecting the perfect location for a garden, be mindful not to thwart activities that happen in your backyard such as barbecues, swimming, kids playing, and hanging lines for laundry. If you have ample space in your yard, try one of the corners so you can use the wall as a wind breaker. If you are concerned about interference, erect a fence around the plot to keep off kids and family pets.

2. Tilling the Land

Tilling the land

Once you have selected the perfect location, you need to condition the soil by tilling and applying organic nutrients. Remember to use organic fertilizers as they are safer than chemical fertilizers. Good agricultural practice requires the ground to be left to air for a couple of days before planting seeds. You can go a step further and take a sample of soil to a lab for testing so you can know the level of nutrients present then decide what other treatments can be done to prep the ground.

3. Composting

Organic composting

Organic farming relies heavily on compost as it provides nutrients, shade and keeps off weeds. If you live on a farm, you can easily get compost from the cowshed or remains of other crops after harvesting. There are more sophisticated methods of making compost that takes several weeks to prepare, but if meticulous composting is not your cup of tea, you can buy pre-made compost from the agricultural store. Apply organic fertilizer to boost the nutrient content.

4. Source for Seedlings

Source for seedlings

Many people will opt to purchase seedlings from a nursery then transplant them onto their land. This method is faster than growing the seeds from scratch. The latter can be frustrating when seedlings refuse to rise due to poor handling or lack of enough nutrients. Most nurseries will have seedlings arranged according to their type of crop with botanical and regular names indicated at each plot. Select healthy plants with strong roots find out the best transplanting practice for each type of plant. Remember to ask for organic seedlings planted without interventions of chemical fertilizers that may poison your patch.

5. Planting Seeds

Planting seeds

This stage is probably the most exciting stage for gardening enthusiasts. It is time to get your hands dirty! Well, if you are new to farming you may want to preserve your well-manicured hands and choose to wear gloves instead. Consider spacing between crops; you can opt to plant your vegetable seedlings together a process called grouping. Less space between plants helps to conserve the moisture of the soil and ensure proper utilization of nutrients. However, be careful to leave room to allow proper air circulation. Find out about the blooming habits of the seedlings you plant. Some vegetables bloom into big leaves that require space otherwise the leaves droop and start rotting.

6. Watering

Watering the organic garden

Crops need water to grow. As obvious as this statement may sound, you need to establish a steady watering routine especially for the first several weeks as the plants begin to grow. Water the patch in the morning before heading to work when the sun is not up, and therefore, water can sip through the soil without evaporation. Neglecting to water the plants can be detrimental in the summer when scathing temperatures can kill crops. Involving the kids to help with the watering during school breaks can be a good learning experience or just fun childhood memories. Teach the kids to focus on the base of the plants as opposed to the leaves as this may cause damage and rotting.

7. Weeding

Organic weeding

This part of organic gardening is inevitable as most weeds thrive in the same conditions as plants. Good weed thrives alongside the plant without depriving it of nutrients, these little helpers even go as far as providing shade! Bad weeds, on the other hand, are parasitic in nature. They suck up all nutrients and water from the soil leaving the plant weak. Bad weeds also harbor pests that attack the plant, and this may lead to stunted growth or even death of the plant. Weeding can be done on a regular basis by simply yanking the weeds out (another family affair!). For tall plants, you need to use a pole saw to help you prune the extra leaves or branches. Apply mulch on a regular basis to discourage the growth of weeds. Your crop will be ready for harvesting in a few weeks.

Conclusion

If you are looking for a great pastime, organic gardening is worth a try. You get to preserve your land by applying organic waste and biological materials and reap fresh vegetables as rewards. Investing in the right equipment will enhance your gardening experience and save you time. We will keep you posted with more organic gardening ideas that have been tried and tested by gardening experts.

Hope you enjoyed this article. If you have any other suggestions you think I should have mentioned? Please let me know in the comments.

SharyShary Saunders is a blogger at sharycherry.com. Gardening and landscaping have been her passion for years. You can find Shary on Twitter at @SharySaunders.

Animals, Composting, Geoff, How To, Insects, Ponds, Spiders, Wildlife

wildlife friendly garden

Wildlife is often synonymous with countryside and rural areas but wherever you are situated, why not encourage some vibrant wildlife into your own garden? With spring now fully in motion, become one with Mother Nature and bring your garden to life with the following tips:

Long Grass
Although it is tempting to neaten up your lawn for the summer, by leaving sections of long grass in your garden you pave the way for butterflies and ladybirds to easily lay eggs and inhabit. Also, remember to allow dandelions to flower as these attract bees – just remember to cut them before they turn to seed heads or they will infest your entire garden!

Bird Boxes and Feeders
Bird boxes and feeders are a great way to attract different types of birds, some of which you may have never seen. Situate these in sheltered sites out of reach of predators, and be sure to put out protein-rich feed during the spring, while they are feeding their young and seed in the winter. Another good tip is to place your bird box or feeder near dense bushes allowing smaller birds such as blue tits to feed while providing cover from cats.

Insect Hotel
Most insects aren’t fancy; a pile of rocks or rotting wood will do just the job. A quiet space with plenty of leaves, twigs and anything they can hide under will be just the habitat for insects to thrive.  If you want to give them a luxurious safe haven, turn it into a project like our user Kingston has done with their fantastic bug garden! Alternatively, cutting bundles of drinking straws, hollow canes or plant stems and placing them in suitable areas works well when creating a living space for these critters.

Pond
All creatures in your garden need a source of water, so why not make a pond! If you need some tips on how to make one from scratch we suggest you take a read of our handy guide. For those of you without the space or time, you can simply bury a shallow bucket or stone basin, just be sure to leave some shrubs and twigs to allow frogs and similar creatures to get in and out. To be fully self-sufficient, you could even use rainwater collected in a water butt to fill up your pond.

Compost
It’s always good to keep a compost area or bin in your garden, not only for wildlife but also for the good of your plants. They are a great habitat for worms, woodlice, frogs and spiders which are all useful for the ecosystem in your garden – typically attracting larger animals such as birds and hedgehogs. Be sure to turn your compost every week to aerate your soil, a pitchfork or compost aerator will do the job. This gives your compost an influx of oxygen and speeds up the decomposition time.

Fruit Trees and Bushes
Fruit trees not only attract great wildlife but also provide you with fruit to grow and eat yourselves. During the spring time, fruit trees such as apple and pear trees flower, providing a sweet source of nutrients for many pollinating insects such as honeybees. Furthermore, once the fruit begins to fall in the autumn, this becomes great grub for birds and insects alike.

Weeds
Before you go and clear your entire garden, be mindful of long term benefits to some weeds. Plants such as buttercups, daisies and foxgloves flower over a long period of time and are a great source of pollen. These can grow in the harshest of growing conditions and attract many beneficial predators to your garden so consider leaving a section in your garden to keep pests such as aphids in check!

Like weeds, there may be some forms of wildlife that you’d prefer to keep out of your garden. Learn how to get rid of rats and other pests.

 

GeoffGeoff works within the Primrose marketing team, primarily on anything related to graphics and design.

He loves to keep up with the latest in music, film and technology whilst also creating his own original art and his ideal afternoon would be lounging in a sunny garden surrounded by good food, drink and company provided there is a football nearby.

While not an expert, his previous job involved landscaping so he’s got some limited experience when gardening.

See all of Geoff’s posts.

Allotment, Bulbs, Charlie, Composting, Flowers, Gardening, Grow Your Own, How To, Planting

Compost – a gardener’s friend, a great way to give a boost to all your plants, from seedlings to mature shrubs and trees – but which compost is the best for the job? We take a look at the things to keep an eye out for when buying your compost.


fresh-soil-1468423

Q) What do you call an irishman lying at the bottom of a bog for 1000 years?
A) Peat!

Since the 1970s, most composts use peat as a central ingredient. Peat is great for compost as, being made up of decayed vegetation, it contains in abundance many of the nitrates needed to help plants grow. However there are environmental drawbacks – namely the destruction of huge areas of natural wilderness owing to the harvesting of peat. While most of the peat used in the UK is imported, the amount of peat used from UK sources still far outstrips the rate at which it is naturally produced.

Thankfully, there are now on the market many peat-reduced or peat-free alternatives to the regular types of compost, many of which are just as effective as helping your plants grow. Generally made out of coir, wood fibre and composted bark, which mean they are good at holding water, but are also well drained. At Primrose, we only stock peat-free compost.

As well as the peat content, another thing to keep an eye on is the acidity. Composts that are too alkaline or too acidic can be damaging to many plants, while some plants do thrive in acidic soil conditions this is not the case for most. An ideal pH is around 7, but due to the salts containing the nutrients plants need to thrive,most composts will be a bit off from this. Too low and it can spell disaster for plants.

Drainage/ Water Retention. How well a compost drains and contains water is also important. If a compost has poor drainage it can lead to waterlogged root, on the other hand, if a compost has poor water retention, it can lead to there being not enough moisture for the plants to really thrive.

Fertiliser Levels. How much fertiliser is in the compost will naturally affect how well a plant grows. What might be less apparent however is that too much fertiliser can also be a bad thing, as well as too little. Too much fertiliser is not needed by many plants, and putting too much in can cause the soil’s pH to fall to dangerous levels.

We at Primrose hope this helps you make a more informed choice, and buy the best compost for your plants and the wider environment, as long as you buy from us!

 

compost

 

CharlieCharlie works in the Primrose marketing team, mainly on online marketing.
When not writing for the Primrose Blog, Charlie likes nothing more than a good book and a cool cider.

To see the rest of Charlie’s posts, click here.

Allotment, Charlie, Composting, Current Issues, Gardening Year, Grow Your Own, How To, Recipe

Nothing says autumn like the sight of earthy, delicious apples falling from the trees. But have you ever thought about turning those same apples into something a little more refreshing? Yes, I’m talking about cider making, and how it can be easily done even in your own back garden. Follow these steps and you’ll soon be enjoying a rewarding glass of cider of your own creation.

Step 1 – Collect the Apples

apples on the grass

While the ideal is to have an apple tree or two in one’s own garden, don’t despair if you don’t – market bought apples will do, or even wild apples from the roadside or country lanes. If you do have your own apple tree, a good tactic is to place a sheet under the tree and then shake the tree onto the sheet, this will ensure only the ripe apples fall from the tree. You’ll need approximately 2kg of apples for every 1 litre of cider you want to produce. It is worth spending some time here thinking about what kind of cider you’d like to produce, as the kind of apples you pick for the cider will, naturally, have the biggest impact on this. Sweet or sharp depends on the apples!

Step 2 – Preparation for Pressing

It never hurts to give the apples a good wash before you do anything else. The apples may have pesticides or bacteria on them which could harm the brewing process. Then, it’s crushing time. You can use a fruit crusher available here from Primrose, although if you are aiming for a lower quantity of cider a normal kitchen fruit juicer may also do the job – you could even try simply smashing them up in a bucket with a piece of timber if you’re so inclined – watch out for splinters though! At the end of this stage, you should end up with a mushy substance known as pulp.

Step 3 – Pressing the Pulp

Apple Press

Once your pulp is prepared, the next step towards making your cider is to press it. This can be done using Primrose’s range of fruit presses. Simply put the apple pulp into the provided mesh and place in the fruit press – then squeeze! Not forgetting to place a container below the press to collect the apple juice and always remember to perform this step outside – things can get a little messy! One good tip is to let the pulp “breathe” for a while after pressing, let the juice pour out then come back and press some more – this way you’ll ensure you get all the juice out of your apples that you can, and you let the press do the work.

Step 4 – Sterilisation

This is where things can get a little complicated. Firstly, you might want to sterilize your juice, particularly if many over the apples are over-ripe or have many brown and rotten bits in them. This will help kill off any harmful bacteria that might spoil your juice. You can do this by adding sodium metabisulphite (also known as E223) in the form of a Campden Tablet. You CAN skip this step, especially if you want to produce an all natural product, however this is not really advisable. All natural cider is very difficult to get right. If you want to try it though, good luck! If your goal was simply to make delicious homemade apple juice – then congratulations! You’ve made it. If you’d like turn it into cider, however, then read on.

Step 5 – Fermentation

Cider Fermentation

Once you’ve got your sterilised juice, the next stage is the fermentation itself. If you’re going for an all natural brew, you can simply leave the juice in a plastic or glass sterilised container and wait, hopefully, with enough time the natural yeasts already present will start to ferment the apple juice. However, the safer bet is to add some yeast yourself, remembering, however to wait 24 hours after sterilising to do this, otherwise the sterilising agent may kill off your yeast before it has a chance to turn those sugars into alcohol. Any wine or beer grade yeast should do the job. Bread yeast does not yield such good quality cider.

Fermentation should take between 5 and 21 days and be in a sterilised container at a temperature of about 20 – 27 degrees celsius. If you’re going the techie road you could use a hydrometer to measure when the fermentation is finished, otherwise you’ll have to go by taste. It might also be a good idea to conduct most of the fermentation in a demijohn or similar container with an airlock or fermentation trap. This will prevent oxidisation of your cider, which leads to vinegar being produced. You’ll only want to use an airlocked container, however, after a few day of leaving your brew exposed to the air, as at the start the yeast will need some air to do its job.

Step 6 – Bottling

Once the cider is fermented, you’ll want to get the cider ready for drinking. Ensure that the sediment left at the bottom after fermentation doesn’t get into the bottle. You can achieve this by either pouring carefully from whatever container you used for fermentation, or by using a sieve. If you’re a purist like me you’ll be wanting flat, not sparkling cider, in that case remember to give the cider a good stir to release any extra gas before storing it.

And that’s it, enjoy your cider!

cider glass

CharlieCharlie works in the Primrose marketing team, mainly on online marketing.

When not writing for the Primrose Blog, Charlie likes nothing more than a good book and a cool cider.

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