It’s well known that many industrial farming practices can be damaging for wildlife, and for this very reason, many of us see growing some of our own food in the back garden or allotment as a great way to reduce our environmental impact.
Growing your own food is great exercise, fun, and nets tasty produce to boot! Regular exercise can contribute to maintaining a healthy weight, which bodes well for your cholesterol levels, alongside the mental benefits of being outside. Plus, if you’ve ever wondered how to lower cholesterol, having the freshest fruit and veg at your fingertips can do wonders for the balance of your diet, which is important for heart health.
There’s just one problem with growing your own – it can feel impossible to get a good yield without creating a toxic or restricted environment for your resident wildlife.
Fear not: when it comes to growing organic, there are many ways to keep encouraging diversity without sacrificing your dreams of homemade strawberry jam. Read on for our two top tips.
The Earth is everything
Or, more specifically, the soil is. Different crops have very different requirements, but they all benefit from well-cared for ground. Because large farms work so intensively, they often have to put a lot of fertiliser into the soil to replenish the nutrients used by heavy crops. At home, we have far less need to resort to products such as chemical fertilisers. The real answer is compost.
Starting a compost heap may seem daunting, but it really doesn’t need to be complicated. We like to use cable ties to join four recycled wood pallets together like a box, then start layering up inside. Composting can get complicated if you’re so inclined, but the key rules to remember are as follows:
- Layer up: alternate layers of greenery and food waste with leftover potting compost, topsoil, and spent soil from repotted plants.
- Dig it over regularly. The layers should be given a week or so to get going, then really forked over thoroughly. This is fantastic exercise on a frosty morning, by the way.
- Keep it damp and warm. Compost breakdown relies on microscopic creatures as well as more visible ones, such as worms and beetles. All of these thrive in a damp environment. In the baking summer heat, remember to give your compost five minutes of love with the hose, and in winter, cover everything over with an old carpet to trap heat inside.
- Experiment! All kinds of biological waste can make good compost. Eggshells, hair, droppings from vegetarian pets, even beard trimmings – don’t be afraid to try giving old waste new life.
Keeping a thriving compost heap is fantastic for wildlife – birds will appreciate the flies, and hedgehogs the crawlies. You might even find one overwintering at the bottom, so careful with that fork!
With a good supply of compost in the wings, it’s time to get growing!
Work with insects, not against them
Industrial pesticides really aren’t needed in your home plot. They can seriously damage insect populations, which has a knock-on effect on other wildlife. Here are some great alternatives to try:
- Soapy water trumps all manner of aphids and mites. A little washing up liquid in a spray bottle of water can drive down destructive infestations to a level where they’re easy prey for natural predators, such as ladybirds and lacewings. Concentrate underneath the leaves.
- Slugs hate standing on uncomfortable surfaces. Try surrounding your salad crops with crushed eggshells, sharp grit, coffee grounds, or even copper, which feels just like biting tinfoil to slugs. Try lining your greenhouse door with pennies.
- Pollinators increase yields. Rather than policing your crawly visitors, make them so welcome they’ll work for you. Planting plenty of flowering annuals amongst your crops will encourage pollinators to stop by and give your veg a helping hand. It’s possible to out-compete destructive visitors by making the area so appealing to more helpful guests that the plants just outgrow the problems.
Remember to provide helpful wildlife with plenty of homes in your garden. Lacewings, bees, ladybirds, and more will all appreciate safe spaces to overwinter, and a hedgehog with access to fresh, safe water is likely to go to town on those snails.
With the ground ready and your clean-up crew waiting in the wings, don’t be afraid to really experiment when it comes to planting. Crops grow well mixed together, distracting and defending each other from pests. If you’re an older person interested in how to lower cholesterol, consider growing your own fruit and vegetables to balance the healthy diet you’re aiming for.
Kids love planting seeds and plant tots, so get the whole family involved – getting people of all ages outside and moving a good move.
For the ultimate environmentally friendly veg, use recycled water as much as you can, and try not to waste anything. Remember, anything you don’t eat can go back on the compost heap, starting the whole cycle anew!