Everything you need to know about growing a vegan garden.
This year a record 500,000 people (double the 2019 figure) signed up to Veganuary, the annual campaign challenging participants to follow a plant based diet for a month. Vegan gardening might be a side-shoot of this movement but it's one that's quickly gaining ground. This year animal rights advocate and garden designer Cleve West published The Garden of Vegan, an impassioned call to action for those on the fence, and it's never been easier to get hold of vegan-friendly composts and fertilisers.
What is vegan gardening?
The vegan gardener shuns all animal-derived products and gardens in a way that does the least harm to the living world. For the uninitiated, this involves seeing 'pests' in a whole new (and more forgiving) light, forgoing environmentally destructive materials such as peat and pesticides and avoiding the use of animal manures and blood, fish and bone fertilisers.
Gardeners who forgo animal products and toxic chemicals in favour of organic methods are known as Veganic gardeners.
According to the Vegan Organic Network, “The Veganic approach offers a viable, holistic and accessible way of ensuring that present and future generations can live safely and comfortably, as well as eat abundantly, healthily and harmoniously within the earth's finite limits.”
In fact, we'll bet many of you are unwittingly following vegan principles in the garden already!
Read on for 7 easy vegan swaps you can make in the garden.
1 Ditch the dung and go green
Globally, 70% of antibiotics are used on farm animals. This has led to concerns over the presence of antibiotic and worming residues in the soil as well as harmful bacteria such as E. coli. Instead, gardeners and farmers alike are turning to plant-based soil enhancers. But, can a garden really thrive without animal manure? For proof, look to Tolhurst Organic, a pioneer of the Stockfree organic movement in the UK, which grows an abundance of produce without any reliance on livestock or agriculture byproducts. Further afield, farmers are successfully harvesting crops grown using plant based humus in France, Germany, The Netherlands, Greece and Cyprus.
So, what should you use instead?
The Veganic Network suggests mulching with growing green manures such as clover, lucerne and vetch to fix nitrogen and provide nectar for pollinators. This is a good idea if your veg patch is looking bare between seasons.
There's a reason gardeners and plants alike go wild for leaf mould. In autumn, collect fallen leaves, bag them up and in a year or so you’ll have a rich, crumbly material affectionately known as black gold. Likewise, a compost heap can provide your soil with all the nutrients it needs, though it will take at least six months until it's ready. If you don’t have the space or patience, try mushroom compost instead or check out the vegan compost options from Fertile Fibre, Dalefoot and Sylvagrow.
2 Swap digging for hoeing
Not only does digging destroy the soil's structure and threaten the habitat of earth-dwelling creatures such as beetles and worms, but it can also do your back in. Swap your shovel for a hoe, Charles Dowding-style.
3 Be a weed lover not a weed killer
It’s often said that a weed is a plant in the wrong place. But, we think Ella Wheeler Wilcox got it right when she said: “A weed is but an unloved flower!”. It might sound drastic at first, but why not incorporate weeds into your garden design à la Jack Wallington? The Wild about Weeds author proves that the likes of Pseudofumaria lutea, yellow corydalis, wild asters (Symphyotrichum) and 100s of other “rebel plants” can look attractive while also working hard for wildlife.
Having said all that, if you’re looking to clear an overgrown area, say to make a vegetable patch, the vegan gardener should look to Charles Dowding and the no-dig movement for inspiration. When it comes to suppressing weeds, Dowding has swapped chemicals for cardboard - with impressive results. Besides, spraying weeds rarely keeps weeds at bay long term (that wouldn't be a very good marketing strategy) and by digging up your weeds, you could be unwittingly spreading all those seeds that have been lying in wait underground!
Find out how Charles Dowding deals with weeds in this article:
4 Call on crop rotation and sacrificial plants, not pest control
While it’s disheartening to discover your hard-grown crops have been devoured or destroyed by pests, the vegan gardener would argue that a collapse of the insect population and in turn a disruption to our global food supply is far worse than a few half-nibbled vegetables. Indiscriminate spraying of pesticides is already having a devastating effect on our pollinators. And there’s really no need for a shop-bought chemical concoction when you can use nature to your advantage.
Companion planting can enhance the flavour of your crops while providing sacrificial plants for ‘pests’ to feed on, while crop rotation can help prevent the build-up of soil-borne pests and diseases. Find out more about all three methods in the articles below:
5 So long slug pellets, hello slug relocation
Slugs and snails have traditionally been dealt a rough hand by gardeners. When we're not covering them in salt or drowning them in beer we're laying down slug pellets, which pose a danger to birds and other creatures further down the food chain. Perhaps the next kindest thing (after leaving them be) is to round up your slug and snail population and relocate it. It’s true snails have a homing instinct, but studies have shown this is overcome once they’ve passed the 20-metre threshold.
Elsewhere, the vegan gardener opts for natural pest control methods including homemade natural bug repellants such as Neem oil spray. Of course, in the long run, the aim of the vegan gardener is to create a biodiverse haven which restores nature's natural balance. Once this is achieved, pest numbers are kept in check by predators such as birds and beetles.
The following articles on wildlife-friendly gardening should help you keep unwanted critters in check.
6 Say no to slaughterhouse feed, yes to plant-based feed
Find out how we got on when we tried vegan and organic certified fertiliser Natural Grower in this video.
On the face of it, gardening seems like a gentle activity, but the manufacture of blood, fish and bonemeal fertiliser is anything but. So, for a low-cost and cruelty free way to nourish your plants, make your own feed by steeping comfrey, borage and other weeds in a bucket of rainwater (preferably with a lid as it can pong). After a couple of weeks, remember to dilute the mixture (the Vegan Organic Network recommends a ratio of one to ten) before feeding to your plants.
7 Go for vegan friendly clothing brands
When it comes to your wardrobe, opt for organic cotton and denim as the material is less likely to have been sprayed with insect-killing pesticides. When choosing gloves, go for natural, fair-trade rubber over leather. Durable, good quality vegan wellies are thin on the ground (often the adhesive is animal-derived) but Hunters are a good choice if you've the budget. For affordable, sustainable workwear, we can vouch for Lucy & Yak. While not specifically outerwear, their jeans and dungarees are comfy enough for a gardening sesh and stylish enough for an evening entertaining, whenever that may be!
Have you made the switch to vegan gardening? Let us know your tips and suggestions in the comments.
Check out these handmade, vegan friendly, scented soy candles on the Marketplace from Stina's Pottery.