As summer draws to it’s inevitable close the work in the garden ramps up again. There is no better time than the present to begin an edible garden. A wonderful space providing harvests next year and for years to come right outside of your back door.
I am truly honoured to have a guest blogger this week. The professional gardener Esiah Levy.
Esiah is an edible gardening specialist and enthusiast and has created a veritable Eden in his own back garden which measures just 15ft by 9ft but amazingly includes 23 trees. He has shared in this article his story, the growth of edible gardening and a comprehensive 10 steps to creating a fantastic edible space in the typical urban back yard.
Edible gardening is a quickly becoming a hobby which is eagerly being taken up by people all over the world and especially in urban areas which are seeing some of the most creative/inspiring gardening designs take shape and environmentally friendly techniques embraced. I myself you could say have edible gardening in the blood, my father is an avid fruit/veg grower and upon coming to the UK in the sixties turned our garden into an oasis of which we regularly eat the produce which he harvested these where sweetcorn, tomatoes, scallions, potato’s, scotch bonnet peppers, callaoo, okra and many more he still has his allotment in Norbury South East London and maintains his love for growing all things edible.
However it took me until I was 25 to fully embrace edible gardening. I used to regularly by organic fruit/veg from major supermarkets and never really paid attention to the price I was paying until on one shopping trip I had noticed that prices had jumped by a considerable amount. Immediately I remembered how I would eat as a child so much fruit/veg grown in the back garden and that is what made me question why couldn’t I grow some if not all this organic food myself.
Fast forward to 2015 and I have my own garden which is in no way huge given it in the centre of Croydon (Old Town) South East London. However, through being creative with my space I have managed to grow many types of fruit and veg and also do it using only 100% recyclable materials. Best of all I never dig/cultivate my soil and have not since I bought my house in 2012 and all I have done is add organic matter onto the top of my soil surface to aid the existing soil ecosystem which is already there.
10 Step Guide No-Dig Organic Edible Garden:
1. Get to know your garden
This includes the shady/sunny spots and the quality of the soil which you have inherited. This can be done by using a Soil PH tester which is cheap to buy online.
It will give vital information on whether your soil is receiving enough sunlight and how moist the soil is.
It will also indicate if you have a acidic soil or alkaline soil or better still neutral this is displayed by displaying on pH scale 7.0 is neutral, Acidity is indicated by a pH below 7.0, and pH values over 7.0 indicate Alkaline.
2. Research which edible plants you want to grow
Vegetables and fruit bushes will thrive in most soils with a few exceptions. Here are a few pointers to help you choose especially if you have acidic soil.
- Rhubarb (able to thrive in acidic soils)
- Blackberries (able to thrive in acidic soils)
- Blueberries (able to thrive in acidic soils)
- Shallots (able to thrive in acidic soils
- Potato’s (able to thrive in acidic soils)
- Fennel (able to thrive in acidic soils)
- Asparagus (able to thrive in alkaline soils)
- Broccoli (able to thrive in alkaline soils)
- Cabbage (able to thrive in alkaline soils)
- Celery (able to thrive in alkaline soils)
- Leeks (able to thrive in alkaline soils)
- Okra (able to thrive in alkaline soils)
- Swiss chard (able to thrive in alkaline soils)
- Parsnips (able to thrive in alkaline soils)
- Spinach (able to thrive in alkaline soils)
3. Select a suitable location
You’ll need a good location to construct your no-dig bed. ideally it should be on a fairly level surface. You can build the no-dig garden over any surface, over existing soil, lawn, concrete or paved surfaces..
The first step of the construction will vary depending on the surface and you can either use edging or not or construct a raised bed shown below:
4. Gather materials
I recommend the following which can be sourced for free and are 100% recyclable:
- Cardboard – Supermarkets are a good source for this they will advise you call ahead but you can take as much as you want.
- Horse manure – horse riding stables are a good source also is city farms.
- Straw – this is a cheap material to obtain costing as little as £3 for a large bag I find suppliers in London on Gumtree.
- Coffee grounds – Coffee shops provide this material for free simply visit your local and ask.
- Coco shells with so many craft chocolate shops springing up all over the UK this material is also available for free and is the best mulch I have used for supressing weeds next to Straw use it as the final layer in the no-dig process.
- Composts – bought by so many gardeners but check with your local council as it’s often available for free.
If building the No-dig bed on a concrete surface, you’ll also need:
- Dry small sticks and branches, old dry leaves which you can collect from your local
park for free.
- Dry seaweed next time you are at the seaside harvest some seaweed hang it in a dry
area at home and chop and spread.
- Worms which you can simply search for in your garden or your local park a good tip
is to search after a rainfall and under rocks, twigs & sticks, leaves.
- Bucket (alternative) of water for soaking cardboard
5. Preparing the surface
- Soil: If building on surface of bare no preparation is required.
- Concrete: if building on concrete than drainage is needed so use rocks/sticks and
then add dried leaves.
- Grass: Firstly cut your area of grass to the lowest setting and then add horse
manure and place your cardboard on top with coffee grounds this will speed up
breaking down the grass.
6. Layering of cardboard (for grassed areas)
- Lay down sheets of cardboard on top of the horse manure, coffee grounds already placed on the grass and overlap any edges so the weeds/grass being covered do grow through any gaps the idea is to block of sunlight.
- Then cover the cardboard with more horse manure and coffee grounds and using your watering can or a hose spray water on this layer.
Tip: rather spraying water on the cardboard laid you can simply soak it also remember to remove all staples/sellotape from the cardboard as these will not break down in the soil.
7. Lay down coco shells
I lay down coco shells at this point but you can also use straw. Doing this has many uses but mainly helps with aerating the soil thus helping with decomposing and establishing more micro organisms.
Again use a watering can to wet this layer.
Other materials which can be used included sugar cane, wood chips.
8. Lay down horse manure & compost
- Sprinkle a thin layer of manure. You can also add compost to create a layer 5cm (2”) thick.
- Using a watering can or hose, water in well.
- You can also add rotten fruit/veg scraps in this layer the earth worms will turn into Humus and will act as absorber keeping this layer moist during the hotter months when rainfall is limited.
9. Lay down straw
- Lay down another layer of Straw approximately 10cm (4”) thick over the layer of manure or manure and compost, Use a watering can or hose, water in well.
- Sprinkle a thin layer of manure. You can also add coffee grounds to create a layer 5cm (2”) thick. Use a watering can or hose, water in well.
- Final layer. Lay down straw and beginning planting your food
- Lay down another layer of straw approximately 10cm (4”) thick over the layer of manure or manure/compost.
- Using a watering can or hose, water in well.
- Make holes in the top layer of straw approximately 10-15cm (4-6”) wide, and equally deep.
- Fill with compost.
10. Fun bit! Start planting seeds, seedlings and plants.
- Using a watering can or hose and water your plants in well.
Urban Edible Gardens is a contemporary design/consultancy company. Founded by Esiah Levy in 2015, specialising in designing edible gardens which will grow both fruit and vegetables without using chemical fertilizers or plant food products. We instead use 100% recyclable materials sourced in the area which you live. We also provide a consultancy service advising in Soil management.