By Katie McBride, Teacher of Biology
Growing season is well underway in the ODW vegetable patch. Maintaining or improving biodiversity is always at the forefront of our minds whenever we change or impact the land. With the veg patch, we try to incorporate companion planting to maximise our yield and help reduce pests naturally. Planting carrots next to our onions helps to work symbiotically to reduce carrot flies and onion flies on the respective crops, for example. Equally, we try to grow all our crops chemical free, so all our manure is provided by our own livestock and vulnerable shoots are protected with snug woollen wraps to deter slugs and snails.
When selecting potential plants, we try not only to think of what will be good to use in the Bakehouse, but also to incorporate plants which serve a purpose in nature. Leaving beds of nettles and dandelions not only provide us with edible plants, but are also vital early food sources for bees and habitats for butterfly and moth larvae. Similarly, our circle of sunflowers will provide a beautiful vista of glorious colour and then fade back to an important natural bird feeder throughout the Autumn, and green manure can be turned back into the beds that have been rested.
We are ever mindful of the multitude of organisms we share our land with, and aim to provide suitable habitats for everything from fungi to tawny owls. Hence in the veg beds you might find the occasional decaying log alongside a line of beetroots, providing a great mix of fungi and habitats for the beautiful stag beetles, and our greenhouse has a resident slow worm who helps to keep the snail population in check!
Staying pesticide free allows us to ensure that nature thrives where it can, and we do not pass issues on up the food chains within our ecosystem. It is not without its battles and frustrations of losing crops at times. Knowing that residing in our garden are the leopard slugs that help break down decaying matter, hedgehogs on snail patrol and robins waiting for us to uncover any centipedes makes it all feel much more of a team effort, and allows us to see the funny side when the shameless blackbirds pluck out our freshly planted shallots and proceed to play their own game of volleyball with them!
We still need to hold our breath when watering the tomatoes with a large scoop of comfrey tea, but the rewards will be reaped with a hopefully bumper crop later in the year. We hope that on Parents’ Day you might take a moment to wander through the veg garden, or pop into the ODW Farm Shop to sample and buy some of our produce. Whether you have a hugely productive market garden or simply a basil plant on the kitchen windowsill, we hope you get as much enjoyment from your moments of gardening as we do.
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