And if, instead of asking the question “Why go for organic gardening”, we were to ask ourselves: “Why use chemical products in the garden?”. Chemical fertilisers?
Why use them, when the plants would be better nourished with compost? Pesticides? What’s the point when, by keeping the plants in good health and treating them with a few non-toxic products, we could resolve all the problems relating to pests and diseases?
Organic gardening is gardening without the use of chemical products. We no longer have the chore of putting on gloves and carrying troublesome toxic products into the garden shed. Forget about having to take precautions to stop the children getting under your feet while you are applying the products or making sure that you don’t poison the cat or the dog. You will no longer have to scrupulously to wash the garden vegetables scrupulously, concerned that you may leave traces of pesticide on them.
In short, gardening organically means that there is no risk to your health or the environment. It also involves growing heathy and vigorous plants and then harvesting plenty of tasty and nutritive fruits and vegetables. It is all about recreating a little piece of nature in your garden, making it a haven for a wide variety of plants and all sorts of insects and other wildlife.
Important choices have to be made when designing and creating a garden
In the first place, you have to determine the type of soil (clayey, loamy, humus-bearing, sandy, limestone), which will enable you to select the most suitable plants.
Choose the most appropriate plants; local varieties are generally more resistant.
Exposure to sunlight must also be taken into account.
Lawn or flower meadows settings, the second option allows you to reduce the weeds and the coloured flowers attract butterflies and other pollinating insects.
As far as the trees are concerned, they are essential and both useful and enjoyable: a refuge for fauna and a source of fruit production.
Finally, having a vegetable garden will allow you to consume your own fruit and vegetables, providing, of course, that no chemical products are used.
Plant in the right place, at the right moment.
Well-established plants will grow better, not suffer as much during dry periods and require less irrigation.
Even though the sale of vegetables in containers, using plug or root sod horticulture, permits planting all the year round, certain periods are more favourable for allowing the plant to become established. The autumn is a case in point for bare-rooted trees and bushes.
The ideal situation would be to choose a planting period that allows for rapid root growth under favourable conditions, before the plant is forced to face the stress caused by the frost or drought. Always seek advice for this important aspect!
Fertilising the soil and the plants
To a large extent, the growth of the plants depends on their access to the nutrients present in the soil. So, the plant has to seek these nutrients in the soil but, in particular, they have to be readily available.
What do the plants consume?
To grow, develop and bear fruit, the plant requires water, light and nutrients: nitrogen, phosphates, potassium and other additional but no less essential trace elements. All of the elements are found naturally in the soil, but sometimes the quantities are insufficient or they are in a form that is not available to the plant. It is for this reason that fertilisation is important but it must be considered under the following precept: maintaining and nourishing the soil will mean that you are nourishing the plants.
Preparing the soil
A correctly prepared soil improves its circulation of water and air.
This is one of the conditions for the success of the garden because tilling the soil:
• allows the roots to breathe and develop properly, thus avoiding asphyxia of the plants,
• promotes the development of the fauna and wild flora in the soil,
• breaks the crust that sometimes forms on the soil surface and prevents the water from filtrating.
The amendments help to improve the composition of the soil, i.e. its physical, chemical and biological state. Sometimes wrongly known as ‘fertilisers’, the soil amendment or improvement is generally added at the time of planting and when the soil is cultivated each year. It contributes towards:
• correcting the pH,
• improving the soil structure (lightening or ‘giving substance’ to the soil)
• and for organic inputs, reconstituting the reserves of organic matter and humus.
Nevertheless, as far as possible, planting should be adapted to the soil rather than the other way around! There is little point in trying to change radically all of the characteristics of an area of ground!
The fertilisers allow for the necessary nutrients to be applied to the plants and replenish the reserves.
Protect the plants against pests and diseases
Beware of pesticides! Within the context of the Ecophyto 2018 plan, pesticides are understood to mean phyto-pharmaceutical products, also known as phytosanitary plant protection products, as per article L253 of the French Rural Code.
Caution. Look out for hazards!
Many pesticides do not reach their target and are discharged into the environment, i.e. into the atmosphere, soil and, ultimately of course, into living organisms and humans.
By killing off certain species, pesticides can diminish the flora and fauna. They indiscriminately kill friends of the garden: toads, hedgehogs and ladybirds… fauna that are very fond of eating harmful pests and other predators.
It only needs 1 gr of pesticide to pollute 10,000 m3 of water, i.e. the overall consumption of one family of 4 during 50 years. So, using chemicals is not the only, or the best, solution for the different problems that crop up in the garden: economic, technical, health-related and environmental. The correct actions must be taken on a regular basis in order to limit the occurrence and gravity of attacks by pests and diseases.
It is recommended that the compost or manure should be spread around the foot of the seedlings in the autumn or winter so that they can act as food for the plants, provide the organic matter necessary for the development of micro-organisms and increase the water-holding capacity.
Moderate the irrigation
Why save water? Not wasting water makes good economic sense and it also has an ecological benefit!
In France, we can pride ourselves on the fact that almost all of our inhabitants are able to have a drink of water when they are thirsty. But the consequences of climate change should not be ignored. Almost every summer, prefectoral decisions are taken to restrict the use of potable water with a view to avoid having a water shortage! The smooth coexistence of the different water consuming sectors, such as agriculture, industry and private households, is being threatened in the long term. Great effort is needed and the gardener also has a part to play.
Useful steps to be taken that can save water
• Mulch around the base of the bushes and flower beds in order to reduce evaporation significantly.
• Irrigate during the hours when the water evaporates less quickly (before 11 :00 h and after 17 :00 h).
• Change the frequency and duration of the irrigation in accordance with the weather and the varieties planted.
• Install a drip irrigation sprinkler system around the base of the plant, connected to a controller to ensure that watering is only carried out in the evening and at night.
• Cover the soil wherever it is bare to avoid losses through evaporation. Warning: only cover the soil that is warm and still damp. If the soil is dry, it must be hoed.
• Rainwater recovery
Your municipality is already taking action
Water-saving has also been accomplished in the municipal green spaces.
A number of recent landscapers have devised ways of growing plants that require little or no irrigation, as well as mineral mulching. This is the case in particular with rock gardens or public walkways.
Using synthetic turf, particularly on playing surfaces or places in the shade where natural grass struggles to survive, eliminates the need to mow, irrigate, fertilise or apply treatment.
10 sites are equipped with a central control device for the irrigation system, representing 85,000 m2 of green spaces. These are equipped with moisture sensors installed in the ground and irrigation is only triggered when there is a need for water.
Re-using the green waste
Green waste is an important topic. There is no way that experienced gardeners would dispense with such a precious resource: the value of having compost or mulch is obvious. Unfortunately, green waste is still a problem for most people.
Bear in mind the rules and regulations relating to the burning of green waste
Generally speaking, incineration is prohibited throughout the year in the whole département, except under certain special circumstances.
• 1 > waste resulting from compulsory deforestation: in zones situated at least 200 metres from a wooded area.
• 2 > large volumes of waste produced by the pruning of olive trees, mimosas and fruit trees;
• 3 > through an express request from the prefect to the delegation of the regional health agency of the Alpes-Maritime province). In this case, burning is only allowed between 10:00 am and 15:30 h, during the green period, which lasts from 1st October to 30th June.
It is strictly forbidden to make a fire during the red period, from 1st July to 30th September each year.
In the city of Nice, it is also forbidden to burn green matter on Sundays and public holidays, and within 200 metres of any dwelling and within the immediate proximity of public and private roads.
Auxiliary periods of prohibition may be established by the prefect depending on the weather conditions and pollution levels.
Therefore, these very strict rules, which could lead to financial penalties for the perpetrators, only leave the gardener in charge with two viable solutions:
• take the green waste to one of the recycling units of the Greater Metropolitan Area of Nice Côte d’Azur (it is free),
• reuse the garden waste in situ (the best option all round: from an economic, ecological and technical point of view).
Making compost is easy and useful.
Composting is the natural breakdown of organic material which, over time, is produced as a result of a biological process that involves the intervention of the micro-organisms present in the soil. This is the same process as the one that takes place in the undergrowth. Composting is one of the best ways of making use of green waste from a technical and ecological point of view, while complying with the regulations:
• It improves the fertility of the garden, soil and plants,
• It allows for a 30% reduction in waste,
• It is a step that helps the environment because it cuts down on the need for transportation,
• It allows for a saving on water and fertilisers.
This form of gardening is neither a return to the practices of our forefathers nor a utopian ecological dream. In reality, it is inheriting the sound methods of the past and combining them with the latest advances in modern agriculture.