organic gardening

In our garden we aim to be organic

The Soil

  • All digging is done by hand
  • All weeds, except convolvulus are composted. This includes kitchen waste and leaves.
  • We use farmyard manure and straw from a local farm
  • We grow several different green manures in the vegetable garden
  • We use nettles and comfrey as a liquid fertiliser
  • We do use some organic fertiliser on some fruit and vegetable crops

The Plants

  • We mainly choose to grow plants which cope well with our soil and our climate.
  • We try to grow varieties with some resistance to certain pests and diseases
  • We save some of our own seed
  • We wash and re-use plastic pots and trays
  • We hoe, hand weed or use a flame gun

Pests and diseases

  • We grow a diversity of plants to provide food and shelter for natural predators, parasites and other wildlife
  • We follow a 4 year crop rotation in the vegetable garden
  • We prune our trees and bushes to keep them healthy
  • On certain crops we use a fine mesh net to protect from caterpillers and beetles
  • During the summer we put coddling and plum moth traps
  • In extreme circumstances we will use an organic pest killer

Water

  • We water the vegetable garden, the dahlias and new plants
  • We collect rain water from the barn roof and water from the springs when they are running. When this has run out we do have to take water from the stream
  • Most of the water hungry plants are drip fed
  • We use grass, straw and shreddings as a mulch

Wood

  • We copice our hazel and ash to use in the vegetable garden, or as plant supports
  • Wood for garden structures has come from our own woods, or a local sawmill. We mainly use oak or chestnut which has a long life

We have never used any weed killer or pesticide in this garden.

Our chemical free garden

Weeds, we try not to allow any weed to go to seed. The main weeds in this garden are dandelions, plantains, docks,and thistle, which I compost.  Convolvulus, brambles and seedling trees we try to dig out. Weeds like this in the vegetable and flower garden are not allowed.

Pests, We do have a slight problem with carrot fly, onion thrips, flea beetle, blackfly and caterpillars on the cabbages. Coddling moths spoil some of the walnuts and apples. We have found some plum moth damage on the plums. Slugs are not normally a problem as we have ducks. They have eaten all the snails.For the last 3 years the leek crop has been devasted by allium leaf miner. We dug them all up and took the entire crop ( 3 sacks) to the local déchetterie. I now do not grow any onions or shallots and buy in leek plants. Box tree caterpillar is now a major pest, not just in the garden but in all the surrounding woods

Diseases, blight was a major problem the first year

The vegetable plot

Weeds; I try to keep weed free. Unlike the rest of the garden I sow in rows so that I can hoe easily.

Carrot Fly; There is a slight problem towards the end of summer. I have several techniques for detering the carrot fly. Firstly I do grow several rows of carrots but I sow the rows in between other root vegetables to disguise the smell. Coriander I use alot so this is sown regularly in any space which becomes available. If I weed or lift carrots I try to do this in the evening and mulch straight away with grass mowings or anything else which has a strong smell. I never leave any disgarded foliage near the rows of growing carrots.

Onion Thrips; This a new problem for me. The red onions were badly affected, it was also a problem with the salad onions. I did get a usable crop of red onions and the salad onions recovered, once we had some more rain. I don’t normally grow ordinary onions, but according to what I have now read it is the red onion which is particularly susceptable. It was very dry that summer and these were good conditions for the onion thrips. I have stopped growing the onions due to the problem with allium leek miner.

Flea beetle likes dry conditions. The young cabbages will grow through it as long as you keep them watered. I love rocket in salad and it is a bit off putting to have leaves full of holes. Generally it does better sown at the end of summer, but last year it was still warm and dry so it was still a problem. I now sow this crop in the greenhouse

Blackfly is mainly a problem on the climbing beans. We generally find the first blackfly on the Artemesias. We tend to leave them and usually we find after a few days the ladybirds arrive. The first blackfly on the beans I tend to squash, unless there are ladybirds around, in which case I will generally lift a few larvae to put on the beans.

Caterpillars do attack my cabbages, so I do a regular check and squash them. This last year it was still a problem, even at the beginning of December. It is odd but we never find cabbages with heavy infestations, so I presume there must be predators at work. So far I have not found any lace wings in the garden. We now use a fine mesh net

Shield bugs, I have several brightly coloured shield bugs which feed on seeds (they love the parsnips as they go to seed) and on my brassica foliage. There are basically 2 types, bright yellow and stripey and dark red and stripey. They are a real pest. Now and again  collect them up in a bucket and throw them in the stream. Last year I also had a problem with a green shield bug which attacked my tomatoes. The damage was slight, but it allowed rot to enter the tomato.

Allium leaf miner Our autumns have been warm so this pest seems to be active right into November. Fleece has not worked as it has promoted too much lush leafy growth. This year we will try leaving the leeks until September and then covering them with fleece. There doesn’t seem to be a trap to indicate when this pest is flying, but damage seems to occur mainly in October so they must be flying and laying eggs in September.

Box tree caterpillar We have very little box in the garden itself, but we treat regularly with a biological control

Blight; The first year we were here the tomatoes suffered badly from blight. I tried several varieties of tomato and they were all disappointing. As we are in a valley, it can be quite cold at night so moisture collects on the leaves, promoting the conditions for blight to develop . Blight was a problem every year in England, but I used to plant an early ripening tomato bred specifically for the English climate. Koralik, a bush tomato fruits early and does have some resistance. I continue to try different varieties.

Prevention

  • Choose a variety which has resistance and or crops early. Belle Lorraine is meant to be resistant
  • Space the tomato plants so the air can circulate
  • Local people suggest putting nettle leaves in the bottom of the planting hole. We have no evidence that it will work but we will try it again;
  • Local people suggest watering with a solution of nettles. We have no evidence that it will work but we will try it again.
  • Local people suggest putting a copper wire throught the tomato stem. This did not work.
  • Spray with Bordeaux mixture(la Bordelaise). This is not truely organic, but I will if the weather is damp and humid (blight weather) and I am not yet picking any fruit. The resistant variety should not need to be sprayed
  • Keep the rain or water off the foliage, so give each plant an umbrella
  • Grow early, or mid season potatoes which produce a crop before the blight becomes a problem
  • on cold nights fleece the tomatoes

If you have blight, all is not lost. The potatoes are the most likely to show signs of blight before the tomatoes. Remove all the potato foliage, so the any blight spores do not wash off the leaves unto the soil to contaminate the tubers. Any healthy foliage can be composted, but anything with signs of blight, I prefer to take to the dump. Don’t dig your potatoes, they are fine left in the ground until you are ready to dig them.

Remove any leaves or tomatoes which have signs of blight. Tomatoes seem much slower to succomb to the disease so you can continue to pick and eat healthy fruit. When it gets really bad just remove all the foliage and all the very small tomatoes. Once the blight gets into the stem, it is better to pick all the healthy fruit, even green and ripen under cover in a warm place

The fruit garden

We have a productive walnut tree, and several large cherries, but last year we had a late frost so no cherries. We have now planted some more apple and cherry trees, 3 pears ,3 plums  a quince, a Kaki, a fig and a hazelnut, but we shall have to wait awhile for any real crops.   The strawberries, raspberries and blackberry,are all doing well, no problems so far. The loganberry seems very slow to get established and has been knocked back every winter so I might try another variety. We have tried blackcurrant, redcurrants and gooseberries, but they suffer from lack of water.

Coddling moth is not a major problem, but we do put phermone traps.

Wasps and hornets can also be a problem, but they are useful as predators earlier on in the year. As the fruit begins to ripen I hang traps with beer.

The Flower garden

We grow a great variety of trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. Some on borderline hardy here, so if they don’t thrive they will get rid of them. We only have a few roses, some do have black spot. We do not need to spray.

Pollen Beetles

They have been a real problem, especially with the Lupins and on pale coloured flowers, including roses. In the end I did a regular evening patrol and collected them in a bucket of water. They quickly climb out of the water and fly away so I had help from Dennis the duck. He would recognise the bucket and follow me around the garden, ready to gobble them up. I would collect about 50 each evening. I can tolerate a few, but this was just too many.

 

The Greenhouse.

The greenhouse is wooden with windows of polycarbonate. It is a design particular to help cope with our very hot summers and very cold winters. It is double glazed, has several systems for ventilation and a very big tank with over 3000 litres of water. It works, but it is not going to be easy to keep pest free. I use it for overwintering cuttings and salad crops, sowing seeds in the spring, early tomatoes and aubergines and peppers which don’t do well outside. I do have problems because there are lots of places for mice and insects to hide.

  • I put mouse traps
  • I hang sticky yellow traps for white fly. To make sure we don’t catch lizards as well ,the traps are in cages. Last year we introduced encarsia formosa, a natural predator for white fly.
  • greenfly can be a major problem, especially on the aubergines and peppers. I tried a bio spray, but it did not give adequate control. Now I stroke the leaves of the plant every morning and evening so the green fly do not get chance to establish. I grow tobacco plants in pots which the green fly love. From time to time I chuck out the plants. Ladybirds are very welcome and we do find them from time to time.
  • Red spider mite has not been a problem. I think the humidity levels from the big tank of water dissuade them
  • I clean the windows and wood with a special disinfectant (Citrox) for greenhouses and use the steam cleaner
  • I check pots on a regular basis and remain vigilant

The Gravel and driveway are difficult areas to keep weed free, especially as we keep treking mud over the area. Yves uses a gas burner to keep on top of any weeds.

Attracting insects into the garden

We have a great variety of insects in our garden. They love the hardy annuals I have sown and some of the perennials. Some of the wildflowers are particularly good at attracting insects, so we intend to leave the wild thyme and origano as ground cover under the shrubs. Most gardens do not have enough flowers during the summer months, when the insects are needing to feed. Geraniums in pots do not provide nectar, nor do many of the roses . I love the species roses and some do have a place in the wildlife garden.

Green manures, I use several in the vegetable garden. They protect the bare soil from heavy rain, reduce the amount of fertiliser I need to use, introduce more organic material into the soil which in turn should increase the micro organisms and help the soil to retain moisture. I can also use some of them as a mulch.

I have phacelia to sow as soon as space becomes available in the autumn. It is not related to any of the vegetable crops so it can be sown anywhere. It is very quick to germinate, even in dry weather. It is frost tender, but it does provide a protective mulch over bare soil during the  winter. Yves loves to see the flowers, so normally I end up pulling it up and using it as a mulch, for the potatoes. It then self seeds, but that is ok as often the ground is spare. The insects love the flowers and as it has overwintered, it flowers quite early.

Rye grass is a very good over wintering green manure, but it is not that easy to dig in.

Fenugreek cannot be sown until after the last frost, but you can eat the leaves and use the seeds in curry.

Mustard very quick to germinate, but it is better sown in the spring

Buckwheat has to be sown after the last frost, and is not quite so easy to sow


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