JOURNAL

ORGANIC GARDENING

Spring is just around the corner and it is time to get organised for the season ahead. If you’re new to organic gardening there are two key things to remember before you start sowing and planting – you need to focus on building healthy soil and healthy ecosystems.



Anna Greenland shares her expert advice on how to prep your garden this Spring.

Anna created the vegetable, fruit and herb gardens from scratch while Head Gardener at Soho Farmhouse. Having supplied the kitchens for Raymond Blanc, Tom Aikens and Jamie Oliver, she has now gone on to set up her own market garden and garden school in Suffolk.


Healthy Soil

  • If you have space, the best thing you can do is build or buy a compost bin. In small spaces, composting with worms in wormeries is a great alternative (see theurbanworm.co.uk for more information). In the absence of home-made compost source well-rotted manure, mushroom compost or green waste compost to add to your beds. Or use ‘green manures’ that are plants grown to be reincorporated into the soil to add nutrients (check out cotswoldsseeds.com organic range).

  • If your soil is challenging, building raised beds are a quick fix. Fill them with topsoil blended with well-rotted manure or other composts listed above. A 10-12” depth bed gives instant results as roots can easily penetrate soil. I use wooden sides – a native, untreated hardwood like oak is ideal, but expensive. New or recycled scaffolding planks work well as long as there are no nasty spills on them. Or tantalised timber from a builder’s merchant can be used, but line the sides (not the bottom) with black polythene sheeting or landscaping fabric to limit any chemicals leaching into soil.

  • If you are growing in pots, fill them with organic, peat-free multipurpose potting compost and remember to feed container plants with an organic liquid feed. I use home-made nettle and comfrey feeds or buy liquid seaweed feed.



Healthy ecosystems

  • A healthy garden ecosystem means natural checks and balances are in place to limit pests and diseases. Growing a range of flowering plants will lure in beneficial insects like ladybirds and hoverflies that keep on top of aphids. I grow masses of edible flowers like nasturtiums, French marigolds, violas and calendula, as well as letting a range of herbs flower to support this approach.

  • The pollinators will love this too. Grow flowers and herbs at the ends of your beds or dot them between your vegetables. If you have space consider a pond, bird bath and wood piles to attract frogs, toads, birds and beetles that will eat slugs and other troublesome pests.

Healthy Soil

  • If you have space, the best thing you can do is build or buy a compost bin. In small spaces, composting with worms in wormeries is a great alternative (see theurbanworm.co.uk for more information). In the absence of home-made compost source well-rotted manure, mushroom compost or green waste compost to add to your beds. Or use ‘green manures’ that are plants grown to be reincorporated into the soil to add nutrients (check out cotswoldsseeds.com organic range).

  • If your soil is challenging, building raised beds are a quick fix. Fill them with topsoil blended with well-rotted manure or other composts listed above. A 10-12” depth bed gives instant results as roots can easily penetrate soil. I use wooden sides – a native, untreated hardwood like oak is ideal, but expensive. New or recycled scaffolding planks work well as long as there are no nasty spills on them. Or tantalised timber from a builder’s merchant can be used, but line the sides (not the bottom) with black polythene sheeting or landscaping fabric to limit any chemicals leaching into soil.

  • If you are growing in pots, fill them with organic, peat-free multipurpose potting compost and remember to feed container plants with an organic liquid feed. I use home-made nettle and comfrey feeds or buy liquid seaweed feed.

Healthy ecosystems

  • A healthy garden ecosystem means natural checks and balances are in place to limit pests and diseases. Growing a range of flowering plants will lure in beneficial insects like ladybirds and hoverflies that keep on top of aphids. I grow masses of edible flowers like nasturtiums, French marigolds, violas and calendula, as well as letting a range of herbs flower to support this approach.

  • The pollinators will love this too. Grow flowers and herbs at the ends of your beds or dot them between your vegetables. If you have space consider a pond, bird bath and wood piles to attract frogs, toads, birds and beetles that will eat slugs and other troublesome pests.


Starting seeds

  • Seeds will require some warmth to germinate. In an ideal world a heated greenhouse (no matter how small) will be hugely useful. Windowsills can also be deployed to get seedlings going, but plants will soon become leggy in warm houses with limited light.

  • If you only have a windowsill the trick is not to sow too early – aim for late March when light levels pick up (tomatoes, chillies and aubergines for greenhouse growing will need to be sown by mid-March, for outdoors late March, early April is fine). Aim to get seedlings (that aren’t killed by frost) off your windowsill and outside as soon as possible. A cold frame or mini, tented greenhouse is useful to acclimatise plants outdoor conditions.

Starting seeds

  • Seeds will require some warmth to germinate. In an ideal world a heated greenhouse (no matter how small) will be hugely useful. Windowsills can also be deployed to get seedlings going, but plants will soon become leggy in warm houses with limited light.

  • If you only have a windowsill the trick is not to sow too early – aim for late March when light levels pick up (tomatoes, chillies and aubergines for greenhouse growing will need to be sown by mid-March, for outdoors late March, early April is fine). Aim to get seedlings (that aren’t killed by frost) off your windowsill and outside as soon as possible. A cold frame or mini, tented greenhouse is useful to acclimatise plants outdoor conditions.

What to Grow?

If you’re debating what to grow this season, here are my top 10 non-negotiables that I couldn’t be without:

1 - First Early Potato International Kidney (this is the infamous Jersey Royal variety)

2 - Beetroot Chioggia, Golden and Detroit Red

3 - Tomato Sungold, Gardener’s Delight, Pink Tiger, Chocolate Cherry, Paul Robeson

4 - Courgette Striato di Napoli, Tromboncino (summer squash to be eaten small)

5 - Lettuce Little Gem

6 - Winter Squash Delicata

7 - Parsley Flat-leaved

8 - Lemon Verbena (for tea)

9 - French Sorrel (only need a few plants for punchy salad leaves)

10 - Chervil (sow late summer for autumn and following spring)