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Veganics and plant-based living

Plant-based living launches Veganics The vegan movement is gathering momentum for many reasons from animal welfare to climate change, and this is creating a wave of change across all industries from wine, to clothing and even gardening.

Isn’t gardening already vegan friendly? Not usually. Traditionally, animal products have been used as fertilisers in the soil, and then, of course, you have pesticide practices to prevent crop damage.

Fortunately, you can still grow your own food without animal inputs and unethical pest protection. In fact, this is a critical step in ensuring produce is produced in an ethical, safe and environmentally friendly way. There is even a term for it – Veganics.

Start with your soil

Every gardening website and authority will tell you to improve your soil prior to planting. This has always been done with compost, animal manures as well as other animal products such as blood and bone or dynamic lifter.

Instead of animal manures and animal products, use compost made entirely from plant material to improve soils prior to planting. Starting your own compost bin is a critical part of the closed loop system for growing your own food and returning the nutrients to the soil. You can use a variety of plant-based materials in your compost, from grass clippings to kitchen waste, pruning’s, leaves and even straw or sugarcane mulch.

Simply layer the ingredients and let nature do the work. A water every now and then and a gentle turn with a fork will help your compost break down quickly and evenly. When it looks like soil, it’s ready for the garden.

Unfortunately, many commercial composts contain animal inputs and should be avoided.

Alternative fertilisers

Seaweed solutions and granular seaweed products have become very popular plant tonics, and most are sustainably sourced which is great for you and your plants. However; it’s important to read all labels as many fertilisers, both liquid and granular, will contain animal inputs from manures to blood and bone and fish emulsions.

Straight seaweed solution is an excellent plant tonic, while rockdust is a valuable soil additive with a wide variety of trace elements required for healthy plant growth and nutrient-rich produce.

You can also look for natural fertilisers based on comfrey, borage and seaweed or make your own by growing these beneficial plants as part of your vegie garden and turning these nutrient rich plants into fertiliser teas. Weeds, such as nettles, are also high in nutrients essential to healthy plant growth. These can also be added to your compost or brewed into your homemade liquid fertilisers.

What about pests?

Birds and insects will always visit our gardens and many are welcome. Netting is one of the simplest ways to protect crops and fruit trees and, if installed properly, these are harmless to all. Tight nets are best as loose netting allows for entanglement. Fine mesh will exclude most insects and while white netting is unsightly, it’s easier for birds to see and subsequently avoid.

If you’d prefer to avoid all conflict, raise seedlings in pots until they are large enough to be unattractive to snails and slugs. You can also try a ring of dry coffee grounds around garden grown plants when they are first planted.    

Crop rotation

Crop rotation is a natural way of minimising soil borne pests and improving the soil’s nutrient profile. A simple rotation includes a 4-bed system with each bed following the same order: Green manure>Leafy greens>Fruiting plants>Root vegetables>Green manure, etc.

How it works:

  • The green manure adds bulky organic matter to the soil, increasing the nitrogen and carbon levels of the soil as it breaks down.
  • Leafy crops follow on in the rotation, as they require high levels of nitrogen to grow lush, leafy growth. Plants in this group include lettuces, watercress, herbs and silverbeet.
  • Next comes the fruiting crops which include tomatoes, zucchini, beans and peas. These plants need less nitrogen but lots of potassium, essential for flower and fruit formation.
  • Finally, the root crops finish the cycle because they prefer an impoverished soil. And the cycle repeats.
  • Green manure crops are an important part of crop rotation and the garden cycle, helping to prevent weed growth over winter while returning valuable nutrients and organics to your soil.

Companion planting

Companion planting works in a number of different ways: some plants help each other grow to be more vigorous, healthy and pest resistant; others hide plants or mask the smell of target plants to protect them from insects; while some act as sacrificial crops by attracting a particular pest away from the target plant; and lastly, others repel undesirable insects.

Let’s not forget, to have a healthy garden that will be mainly pest-free, you need to encourage beneficial insects into the garden. These are your insect friends – they help to control many pest problems by preying on pesky insects such as aphids, caterpillars, snails, scales and other undesirables.

To maximise the effects of beneficial insects, it’s best to have flowers from spring through to autumn, and to provide a permanent habit as well as a place for them to call home, such as an insect hotel.

Plants that attract these insects include yarrow, dandelion, fennel, marigolds, calendulas, sunflowers, tansy, mints, hyssop, chamomile, chervil, cosmos, carrot and parsnip flowers, sage, basil and borage.

Minimise digging

And lastly, look at ‘No-Dig’ gardening to minimise soil disturbance. Of course, you will need to dig occasionally, but this can also be done using a fork to minimise your impact on soil micro-fauna and earthworms. 

More

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Q&A - Green Manures

Trials manager Ian Magnus answers questions about using green manures to boost soil fertility and water retention

Q&A - Mulch

Bill Bampton, head gardener at Heronswood, explains our success with making and using mulch

Q&A - Seeds

Seed manager Evette Jungwirth answers your questions about growing from seed successfully

Q&A - Soils

Hugh Hunkin answers your questions about soils and why they are at the root of most gardening problems

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Spring Gardening

Bernadette Brady recommends getting your hands dirty with some tasks in the spring garden

Subtropical Growing Zone

Tim Sansom explains the heat generated by “Hot Zone” discussions

The “Hauteculture” of Espalier

Bill Bampton talks about turning an untidy orchard into a bountiful border

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Clive Blazey, author of ‘The Complete Guide to the Flower Garden’, discusses the power of intelligent combination

Tips for keeping your plants healthy throughout the seasons

With air-conditioning becoming the norm in many homes across Australia, we asked indoor plant expert Jason Chongue to share his top tips to growing indoor plants in all seasons.

Tomato Growing Problems

Caromy MacDougall explains some common tomato growing problems and how to minimise them

Warm season crops

There is a wonderful array of summer loving vegetables that thrive with the long days, sunshine and heat of summer.

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