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5 Ways to Get into Sustainable Gardening

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We spoke to our very own Emily, W&M maker (and head of studio plants!) on ways to be more eco-friendly in gardening, permaculture and tips for growing when you have limited outdoor space.

Read on to learn about the small changes we can make to minimise our environmental impact and contribute to ecosystems through plants.

What is Permaculture?

Permaculture comes from “permanent agriculture” and is a sustainable way of living that enables us to provide for human needs whilst cooperating with nature and drawing inspiration from natural ecosystems. These practical methods are ecologically harmonious, efficient and productive systems that result in thriving and happy ecosystems, minimising environmental impact!

The principles are being constantly developed and refined by people throughout the world in very different climates and cultural circumstances, this is one of the beautiful things about permaculture… anyone can do it! You by no means have to be an expert to practise permaculture friendly methods and this blog post will talk you through 5 ways of introducing permaculture to your day to day life wherever you may live.


1. Using Peat-free soil

It's important to ensure you are using peat-free soil when planting! Although they only occupy 3% of the global land area, peatlands contain about 25% of global soil carbon - that’s twice as much as the world's forests.

Because of their high co2 levels, the extraction of peat from precious peat lands is incredibly damaging to our planet. Peat is included in compost due to its ability to retain water and nutrients however there are many other sustainable alternatives that are added to compost, including:

  • Coir, or coconut fibre. This by-product has good water holding ability and a porous structure.
  • Woody materials, such as wood fibre or composted bark. Easily tailored to suit different plants, these provide an open structure and have good drainage.
  • Green waste. Collected and composted by local authorities - this is high in nutrients.
  • Sheep wool. A waste product from farming, that’s high in nitrogen with good water retention.
  • Bracken. Sustainably harvested and composted this invasive plant is high in potash and a great soil conditioner.

 



2. Natural pesticides

Chemical pesticides are incredily damaging as they can kill other beneficial insects and predators that all contribute to a well balanced ecosystem.

There are some alternative ways to protect our plant pals from harmful pets. The first thing to do once you spot a pest like spider mites or mealy bugs is to quarantine the infested plants away from any other plants to stop the risk of spreading.

The next step is to actually wait and see if any predators beat you to the job of wiping them out. If after a week or two your plant is still infested I would recommend blasting the plants with some water as the pressure from the hose will remove the bugs and any other eggs they have laid.

If this still hasn’t worked then diluting a few drops of neem oil to some water and a little bit of washing up liquid and spraying that over the infected areas is also a good way of keeping the pests at bay!

It is also good to note that if your plant has been eaten by little pests it may need more fertiliser/ food in order for the plant to be able to fight off the infection (just like us humans benefit from our vitamins when we’re sick!).



3. Household Waste Fertiliser

Our plants need a lot of nutrients to grow healthy and one of the best ways you can do this is by making your own compost from household waste. It's such a great way to re-use food waste - which releases 8-10% of global greenhouse gases.  

You can add things like used coffee grounds, garden waste and vegetable scraps to a compost bin, or if you don't have the space, you can add these two food items directly into the soil:

Banana skins

Rich in phosphorus and potassium, banana peels help your plants to strengthen, boost up fruiting and protect them from diseases. So the next time you eat a banana, reserve the peel for your plants. You can either chop them and sow them deep in the soil or soak them in fresh water for 3-4 days and then spray the water over the plants.


Egg Shells

Just like we humans enjoy eating eggs in our breakfast as they are a good source of calcium and potassium for our body, our plants could use them too. Calcium found in these eggshells helps plants build a strong cell structure. Firstly you need to clean the eggshells and crush them, then evenly spread the crushed shells over the top layer of soil and the shells will be automatically absorbed by the soil along with their beneficial nutrients!



4. Re-use Water

Less water going down the drain means more water available in the lakes, rivers and streams that we use for recreation and wildlife uses to survive.

It takes lots of energy to pump, treat, and heat water, so saving water reduces greenhouse gas emissions, so it's important to save water where we can!

Rain water is probably one of the most readily available types of watering however if you don’t have the means to have a water butt there are a few other ways of doing this!

Recycling water from boiling vegetables is a win win for both your water bills and your plants health, the nutrients from your veg is incredibly beneficial and acts as a natural fertiliser for your plants.

Just make sure to let the water cool before you feed your plants with it so you don’t cook your monstera as well as your broccoli!

An efficient way to water your houseplants if you have a lot of them is to put them in the bath or shower and batch water them. It's also time-saving for you and allows them to drain in the tub!


5. Permaculture when you have little/no outdoor space.

If you have little or no outdoor space, there are some alternative ways to get involved in permaculture. One option is to use windowsills for growing your own little herb garden. Microgreens (like the name suggests) are great for small spaces and are perfect growing on a windowsill or small garden, even if it’s in the shade as leafy crops thrive well even in part shade!

TOP TIP: When a packet of seeds says the plant needs “full sun” this actually only means 6 hours of sunlight a day.

Another way is to volunteer at any local community gardens - they are usually very grateful with anyone willing to volunteer and help out no matter your level of expertise!

Here are some more examples of things you can get involved with:

  • Permablitz London
  • OrganicLea
  • Permaculture association
  • Brighton Permaculture Trust