A to Z of Organic Gardening

Here’s the low down on the green stuff



Aerobic: aprocess that requires the presence of oxygen.

Anaerobic: a process that does not require free oxygen, or a condition in which free oxygen is excluded.

Annual: a plant that completes its life cycle in a year.

Anther: pollen bearing structure supported by a filament, which together form the stamen of a flower

Asexual reproduction: non-sexual reproduction, such as grafting, cuttings and tubers


Biennial: a plant that completes its life cycle in two years.

Biodiversity: Variabilty within living organisms and their environments

Blanching: covering a plant to prevent sunlight from turning leaves and stalks green

Bolting: development of seed stalks

Brassicas: group of plants which includes Cabbage, Kale, Broccoli, Kohlrabi, Turnip, Rapeseed, Mustard and Brussels Sprouts


Clones: plants produced from a genetically identical parent by asexual propagation

Compost: a process speed up the natural decomposition of dead organic matter. Kitchen and garden waste is piled high and left, except for the occassional aeration or watering where it turns into nutrient rich soils ideal for promoting healthy plant growth.

Companion planting: the grouping of plants for their mutual benefit (more on this)


Deadheading: Removing the flower heads from plants such as roses once they wilt to encourage further flower growth


Earthworms: We love the little darlings. They turn compost into beautiful soil.


Fertilizers: Additions to the soild to help a plant grow. Be careful because many fertilisers are not organic in nature


Germination: When a seed starts to grow it is said to germinate. The requirements for successful germination are: viable seeds, clean soil, moisture, warmth and (depending on seed variety) either complete darkness or lots of light.


Harvesting: Picking your organic crop once it has grown is the best thing in the whole world.


Insects: Most are a gardeners friend and need to be encouraged. Some are pests and are best discouraged. This is where we need to resist the urge to use chemical – based  solutions. Not because chemicals are in themselves bad things, but because spraying is the equivalent of carpet bombing. Much better to perform the equivalent of surgical strikes.


Leaf Mould:  Decomposed leaves are a great soil conditioner and help the ground to absorb water more easily.


Mulch: The secret to great soil is a good annual mulching


Netting: Nets over your crops helps stop birds from getting to them. Do make sure that the holes in the nets are big enough to prevent birds from getting trapped.


Organic: Doesn’t have any legal definition, but most agree it refers trying to do stuff with recourse to materials synthesized in the lab.


Pond: The quickest route to enhancing your garden’s biodiversity is to install a wildlife pond.


Raised Beds: Poorly draining soil or  a garden that is prone to flooding both benefit from raised beds. It is less stress on the gardeners back too.


Scarification:  Remove the thatch of moss and old grass from your lawn to help water and sunlight get down to the soil.


Trowel:  An essential tool for planting, potting up and general pottering.


Underplanting: Growing smaller plants under larger shrubs or trees  helps utilize space and provides shelter for  more sensitive plants from high winds, rain and snow.


Vegetables:  Get out there and grow your own. There are hundreds of varieties of vegetables to choose from.


Water Butts: Collecting rainwater for the garden is better for the environment in general and better for your garden plants in particular. A water butt attached to a downspout from the roof is all you need.


Zucchini: I remember when they used to be called courgettes.

Grease Bands

A true organic method of looking after apple trees is to apply a grease band around the trunk. It stops codling moths from climbing the tree in spring wich leads to maggoty apples in autumn.

Another benefit is that it stops ants patrolling the tree, farming aphids and keeping them safe from predators. This can seriously weaken a young tree, so getting rid of the ants is a very good move.

Grease bands can be purchased as adhesive paper strips (Bayer Boltac Greasebands are the only brand in my local garden centres) and these are good for younger trees with smooth bark. I personally find that because they have to be applied sticky side out, they are a pain to get right, but it is so worth the effort that I just take a deep breath and get on with it. You have to put a wire loop at the top and bottom of the band to ensure that it is tight against the tree’s trunk. Remember to remove it at the end of the autumn and replace in late winter, otherwise the wire may start to dig in to the growing bark, harming the tree.

Once the bark gets knobbly and fissured, the moths and ants can find their way up beneath the paper strip, so with older trees, brush the grease directly onto the tree in a three inch wide band, right around the tree. This is easy to do, but the grease is horribly sticky and cleaning the brush after use is a practical impossibility.

Whichever you use, the tree will love you for it and remember that this is also good for pears as well as apple trees.

However, do not leave a band on for longer than directed on the pack. We forgot about one and when we eventually did remove it a year later the tree had suffered quite a bit beneath the band. Thankfully once exposed to the air it soon sorted itself out but I think we had a lucky escape.

Jobs for the garden in October

October really heralds the start of Autumn.  Leaves are starting to take on their beautiful Autumnal hues, beds and borders are slowly starting to lose the showy blooms of Summer, and everywhere you can see the garden starting to slow down and get ready for Winter.

In preparation for the Winter months here are just a few tasks to be getting on with this month.

1.  Rake up and compost falling leaves.  Not only will this leave your garden looking tidy, but you will also be giving your compost a good boost.

2.  Cut down annuals and add them to the compost.

3.  Pot up tender perennials and bring them into the green house or cold frame for over-wintering.

4.  Plant out spring bedding in your borders or pots.

5.  Prune rambling and climbing roses and tie in new stems.

6.  Start planting Spring bulbs in beds and borders.  Or, layer bulbs in pots for a stunning Spring display.  Deep plant daffodils or tulips, cover with a layer of compost and then add a shallower layer of crocus.

7.  Protect tender plants staying out in the borders with a layer of mulch around the crown.

8.  When you have finished in the border give it a light forking and then rake over to remove excess debris.

9.  Place your order for fruit trees and bushes ready for planting out from late Autumn.

10.  Keep harvesting the last of any fruit, rake up and compost any windfalls.

11.  Prune back autumn fruiting raspberries and blackberries.  Take the raspberry canes right back to ground level.  For blackberries, take out the stems that have produced fruit this year and tie in the new growth.

12.  Prune out any suckers that have appeared around the base of ornamental trees.

13.  Collect and store watering equipment in the greenhouse or shed.

14.  Insulate outside taps and pipes with bubble wrap.

15.  Protect glazed pots from cold weather with insulation or bring into the shed or greenhouse.

More birds equals fewer slugs

It is a simple equation. Slugs eat the crops in our organic garden, so we encourage their predators. Blackbirds and Robins in particular are welcome, but we put out plenty of scraps for all birds, since we like having the little songsters around us while we enjoy our garden.

It is a simple thing to do, but the rewards are great in terms of both enjoying having birds around and enjoying having fewer slugs munching on our lettuces.

Slugs are a problem for the organic gardener. They will eat your entire crop on a wet wednesday and never bat an eyelid…slugs don’t have eyelids.

Flicking the little buggers into next-door’s garden with the flick of a trowel is actually the most common form of slug removal in the UK. This method of control is actually so rife that it is estimated the average slug will be flung five times during its lifetime and could move up to 45 metres from origin by this human assisted method of propulsion.

All right, I made that up, but here are my top tips for getting rid of unwanted slugs.

  1. Encourage birds into your garden- bird food that attracts blackbirds and starlings is particularly good and once they are there, they will stay for the slugs.
  2. Practice Companion Planting.
  3. Put big juicy slugs on the bird table. – Ah, its the circle of life my friends. The blackbirds quickly learn this rule and will hang around waiting for you to bring them another juicy snack.
  4. Modify the environment. Get rig of places where slugs like to congregate.
  5. Take the nuclear option and add nematodes to the soil

Trapping slugs, hand picking them, and modifying their environment to reduce hiding places are all part of an organic approach to slug control. Slug pellets are not an answer.

Nematodes are harmless to other wildlife (humans included) but are a parasite to slugs. There are plenty in the soil but when you add more, the slugs fall in number.

Gardening Safety

Gardens and allottments are pretty benign environments, but some safety precautions are necessary to keep healthy in the garden.

Firstly, always wash your hands after gardening. There are microbes and chemicals in the soil and through the chances of catching anything are very tiny indeed, why take the risk?

Wear the right clothing. Boots that will stand up to a dropped pair of shears are a good idea. Gardening gloves keep thorns and splinters at bay.  A sun hat is a necessity for much of the year. In winter keep warm and you will enjoy the garden all the more.

If the shed is old there may be some really nasty old chemicals in bottles and cans. Do be careful with these and dispose of them safely (not down the drain) because they may harm other people if just thrown away without thought.

I was sitting beneath an apple tree thinking about my next blog post for theorganicgarden website when I thought of this safety idea. I promptly stood up and scratched my cheek on a branch. Oh well, on with the digging.

Winter in the Organic Garden

There are still crops being pulled up this month. Leeks are doing well and brussells sprouts are looking good. The last of the pumpkins has been lifted and we now have to think about next year.

Soil preparation is the key. We want a healthy weed free soil to give us a kick start, so we are mulching deeply with rotted horse manure and a covering of black membrane on top of that. It should keep the weeds down and by spring the worms will have pulled all the goodness into the topsoil.

Next month the apple trees will need a good pruning. I have one apple tree that is way to big, so over the last 3 years I have taken on major branch away, to slowly regain control. If I chopped all the major branches in one go the shock might kill the tree, so a gradual approach is definitely called for.