Gardening for the climate and biodiversity crises

There’s still thinking time before the urgency of doing kicks in at the end of the month and into March. Time to think about how to have a gentle, light touch on your plot while still making it productive and beautiful. Time to think about your soil. Time to consider how much stuff you bought in last year, how much of it was plastic, or came plastic wrapped, and how you might be able to reduce that. Time to let your imagination envision a lovely rich diversity of creatures and plants on your plot, living in balance with each other, and what you need to do – or not do – in order to help those processes along. Time too to spend some of the warmer brighter days simply observing, noticing and reflecting on your plot and the life there. And still time for cosy winter evenings reading up on no-dig or permaculture, and watching inspirational videos about growing techniques and gardens. Maybe, too, planning your time as best you can, so you have an idea of where all those necessary plot hours will fit in your week, come the spring.

It always starts with the soil. There is nothing more important for your crops, or for the earth. So getting soil in a good state for the coming year should be a real priority. Try not to walk on it, which will cause compaction, and make sure you mulch as much as possible. That might be with cardboard or rotted down leaves or grass cuttings, or, best of all, your own compost. So your other priority should be to ensure you make as much compost as possible. You don’t need to house it in another plastic item which will never decompose and persist for lifetimes: just make some compost bins out of scrap wood, pallets wired together or re-used planks nailed to some uprights. Your more tender green manures, like mustards, clovers, phaecelia, may not have survived the winter frosts but it’s fine to leave them to rot down on the soil surface. Tougher green manures, like rye grass, will need to be cut down, then either left to rot on the surface or composted, and you’ll need to hoe off the top growth.

See how little you can buy in this next season! Everyone has plenty of spare trays and pots so just ask around other gardeners. Could you make your own seed sowing compost? Make a blend of one part each of sieved soil, rotted leaves (known as ‘leaf mould’) and some ‘sharp’ horticultural sand or fine grit. Maybe your plot site committee have been enlightened enough to buy sowing and potting compost in bulk so you can refill your old sacks. Nor do you need to buy canes and supports for crops: most sites have plenty of scrub edges where you can cut some sticks instead – or you could use your fruit tree prunings. Plan to save seeds from your current crops and those you’re planning; salads and kales readily make flowers and then seeds over the next months – watch out for them and harvest to store them dry and cool.

Old tools can often be acquired at car boot sales, or from people who have had to give up gardening. Their old wooden handles will be smooth by age and use, and you can sharpen hoe and spade blades easily with a sharpening stone. Nets can be re-used for years so dismantle them patiently and store them carefully.

Let’s make our allotment gardening be part of the solution, not adding to the problems.