While there are many reasons to start a garden, a lot of people don’t know where to start or what to consider when starting a garden. One thing many people don’t consider is how to have a garden without the use of animal products. Animal products are of common use in gardening in everything from manure (which is usually animal waste) to fertilizer (which can include such things as blood meal, bone meal, and urea). Animal waste manure can contain harmful bacteria found in the animal waste such as E Coli. As well, unhealthy pesticides are often used in conventional gardening or agriculture that harm beneficial insects.

Conscious or “Veganic” gardening is a method that works with nature to promote plant growth and avoids the use of unnatural fertilizers and pesticides. It’s more healthful for the plants and healthful for the environment around the plants and promotes continual healthy growing without the overworking or use of soil. Here is an introductory guide on how to garden more consciously.

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Compost

Healthy soil is an important first step to helping your garden grow. As you are growing your crops, your plants are using the minerals in the soil to grow, so those nutrients need to be continually replenished between growing seasons. One method of doing this is by using compost. Compost is recycled organic waste that is allowed to decompose. Compost can come from lawn scraps, unused plant scraps, and leaves. Check out this guide on how to make your own compost. You can use compost just as you would use any sort of fertilizer or potting soil.

Green Manure

Another way to add nutrients back into the soil is by making green manure. This involves using a crop that grows quickly and is nitrogen-fixing, or it attracts bacteria in the soil that produce nitrogen. Examples of these plants are Red Clover and Lucerne, both legumes. Nitrogen is important for rapid growth, increasing seed and fruit production, and particularly improving the quality of leaf. Planting these crops between seasons is a great way to replenish the nitrogen back into the soil and covers the soil, thereby preventing nitrogen leakage. It also reduces weeds, improves soil structure, and improves drainage.

Fertilizer

If you don’t have time or resources to do a green manure, another option is to consider buying vegan fertilizer. Numerous vegan fertilizers exist for specific purposes or for just general gardening. Look for the N-P-K symbol which shows how much nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potassium (K) is in the fertilizer. For example, if it says 5-10-5, that means it is five percent nitrogen by weight, 10 percent phosphate by weight, and five percent potassium by weight. These nutrients are macro-nutrients, which are required for plant growth. As explained above, nitrogen is particularly important for leaf development, but phosphorous is important for bulb and flower development and potassium is necessary for overall plant health and disease resistance.

Other Forms of Soil Enrichment

Other options to ensure your soil is full of nutrients is to mulch or make a liquid feed. Mulching or covering the surface of your soil with organic matter will help bring more nutrients into the soil but also will suppress weed growth, provide material for the soil to continually break down, and even the soil moisture and temperature. This could be such items as grass-cuttings, old hay, tree leaves, or even washed out seaweed. Liquid feed is a nutrient liquid used mostly on fruiting plants. It can be bought or can be made by mixing a container full of chopped up weeds or perennials with water, letting it sit for a few weeks, then diluting it 3:1. This can then be poured around the soil of the plants or you can dilute it even more and spray it over the leaves. Both of these will promote fruit growth.

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Pests

Keeping away predators without hurting them is a large part of vegan gardening. Since predators are the reason pesticides are used in the first place, you need to be a little more creative in keeping away the pests that may destroy plants. Planting different crops in different seasons, or rotating crops, is a great way to keep pests from propagating since it is harder for the pests to spread with a change in crops. However, if you have a smaller area, just keeping the area tidy will go a long way. This gives slugs, a predator to any garden, less places to hide which in turn makes it easier to move them far away from your plants. Also, protecting tender plants with copper tape, a circle of bran, or gutters with sharp stones will also deter slugs. And physical barriers such as netting and fleece are options for keeping away flying insects.

In addition, you can plant a few “sacrificial” plants to attract the pests. By designating a small area to plants that will distract insects, you can save your other plants. Experiment to see which plants the bugs love the most and designate those plants as your distraction plants. For example, if a certain type of tomato plant attracts more bugs than others, plant those as well as a tomato plant that bugs are less attracted to. Though this means less space for the plants you’re growing, it also means that you won’t be fighting for your entire garden.

Diversify Your Garden

One of the best things I’ve learned is to make your garden diverse. By making it harder for certain bugs to take over your whole garden, you will therefore always ensure that at least some of your plants are doing well. Think about a forest environment – monoculture environments don’t do well because they are more sensitive to disease. However, diverse species that benefit one another will usually ensure the ecosystem is strong. Do research to see which plants do well together and plants those near one another.

Happy gardening!

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