Be the change you wish to see in the world.Ghandi
When I was a vegetarian, I kept chickens. As a chicken keeper, and consumer of their eggs, I felt responsible for not only the welfare of my birds, but also for their waste. Being a gardener, what would have otherwise been pollution, was instead put to work in the garden as a valuable resource.
Today, I no longer have my chickens. And I choose to eat plants.
The idea of adding in animal products like pig manure or blood and bone, into my garden now seems incongruous.
Frankly, a year ago, it wouldn’t have bothered me. Now, I’m uncomfortable inviting factory-farmed waste into my garden, in the same
But is it possible to create a thriving, abundant, verdant garden, quite lierally, without all the crap?
As vaguely ridiculous as a plant-based garden sounds (because aren’t all gardens, plant-based? I mean what do you call a garden without plants?) I set about planning a garden without animal inputs.
Thankfully, if you are looking to cultivate a plant-based, or cruelty-free garden, there are so many options! Even if you are somewhat partial to poop, or choose to maintain livestock these strategies will help your garden too.
Maybe I’m just too simple for my own good, but there is nothing really more satisfying than making and using your own compost. Your waste is incedibly valuable and if you don’t already think so, it’s time to change your mind.
Compost is really just a fancy word for controlled, rotted organic material.
Anything you eat or use that was once alive (including your junk mail, hair, paper towels, seaweed, nutshells, even old cotton or wool clothing) can be composted and the nutritional value returned to the soil and plants.
The details of composting will be covered in a future post! There is so much to know!
I have three compost tumblers. I feed each in turn, with bin one feeding until I reach about a cubic metre in volume, while the other two are turned and matured. I much prefer composting in a closed container. The compost stays relatively free of ants, snails, slugs and slaters (pill bugs) not to mention rats and snakes! The contents don’t dry out and the heat is retained.
I had a big fancy porcelain compost bucket to sit on my benchtop and collect all our kitchen waste, but when it cracked I didn’t miss it much! It was heavy even when empty and would take a few days to fill. With the lid on, I would often smell it before I could see it was time to empty it. I switched to a smaller, open bucket. I can fill it in a day and it is an eyesore, so I empty it regularly!
Some plants give plenty back to the garden where they have grown.
I’ll be writing about these useful plants in the coming months, but the most commonly known and cultivated fertilizing plant would have to be Comfrey.
Comfrey is an excellent soil conditioner as its roots penetrate deep into the subsoil to access nutrients more shallow rooted plants simply can’t reach. A fast-growing comfrey patch will provide you with plenty of mulch, rich in silica, nitrogen, magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron. Comfrey leaves contain as much protein as legumes, 15 to 30%. Its leaves can be added to slow-moving compost piles as an accelerant, and its leaves submerged in water make a pungent, but effective compost tea.
Cover crops are also described as “green manure”. Typically, crops like alfalfa, hairy v-tech, buckwheat, clover, fenugreek or ryegrass (or a combination of those plants) are grown. Cover crops smother weeds, prevent soil erosion, keep the soil “alive” and add organic material
Once sown, the crop is not allowed to flower or seed. Instead the plant is mowed or tilled back into the soil.
Typically, cover crops are planted at the beginning of winter. But here in Western Australia, I plant mine early summer. That way, if an unexpected heatwave zaps them, I’m not crying over plants that never had a chance to harvest.
I let the cover crop grow for about 6 weeks before I till it back into the ground, sprinkle with worm castings then smother with mulch. This keeps my soil alive and enriched until it is cool enough to plant again in the autumn.
Different plants have different nutritional needs. Growing the same plant, such as tomatoes, in the same plot, season after season depletes the soil, resulting in poor plant health. Poor plant health means a lessened resistance to pests and diseases.
Crop rotation ensures that whatever one plant has taken from the soil, the next plant will replace. Crop rotation can get complicated (and again, a subject for a future post!) but the basics are simple.
- Fruit – Tomatoes, aubergines, tomatillos, the list goes on!
- Root – Carrots, beetroots, turnips etc.
- Legumes – Peas, beans and pulses.
- Compost – Optional, but recommended! You can skip straight to Leaf after Legumes.
- Leaf – Lettuces, kales and all leafy greens. Follow planting with fruits and continue the cycle.
This is another area that can get detailed quickly, and again, a subject for a future post!
Companion planting recognises the beneficial relationships that some plants share with each other. By leveraging these relationships, the need for
The most famous of these relationships is the traditional Iroquois system known as the Three Sisters, comprising corn, beans and marrows. Corn is planted first, and when about 15cm high, climbing beans are planted at the base of the corn and pumpkin interplants with the corn patch.
As the Three Sisters grow, the bean nourishes the corn, the corn provides the bean with a growing trellis while the pumpkin covers the and cools the surrounding soil, suppressing weeds. The system reduces or eliminates the need to add fertilisers to the soil.
I have decided to include worms as part of my plant-based garden. Worms are great composters, chomping through an impressive amount of our kitchen waste, shredded bills and leaf litter.
When planting, I always have a bucket of castings my side to add to the soil to give the seedlings a great start to their life in the garden bed. The concentrated worm wee can be added to your watering can as a regular tonic for the soil and the garden.
Next week, I’ll take you through my worm farm set up.
Brewed Probiotic Tea
Where you have compost or castings, or comfrey or weeds, you can brew your own probiotic tonic. Probiotic tea is basically Kombucha for plants. You can read all about brewing your own Probiotic tea here.
These days, I include my spent kombucha mothers into my probiotic tea, where they eventually break down and add to the brew.
So there we have it! Seven plant-based, creulty-free strategies to create a thriving edible garden without animal inputs. So you use any of these in your garden? I would love to hear from you, please leave a comment below.