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How to feed your plants

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If you garden organically, the aim is to get the soil’s goodness up to a level that provides all the nutrients and moisture your plants need. There are organic fertilisers you can use (see below), but the best way to increase the soil’s fertility is to add well-rotted organic matter (like compost). This will encourage a build-up of soil micro-organisms and creatures that will make all the nutrients available to your plants.

You can either make your own organic matter by recycling organic waste through a compost heap or import the organic matter from outside in the form of well-rotted farmyard manure.

Organic matter

Average garden soil contains between one and three percent organic matter, which feeds the soil-borne creatures that are essential to maintain the long-term structure and fertility of the soil. The more organic matter that is present in your soil, the more earthworm, insect and micro-organism activity there will be. So it really is worthwhile applying as much well-rotted organic matter as possible – aim to add at least a bucketful per square metre every year. Manure can be bought in bags or in bulk. To find local suppliers try phoning around nearby stables, mushroom farms or allotment societies to see if they can help.

Animal waste

Animal manure mixed with bedding straw from stables needs to be stacked and composted for six months before it can be safely added to the soil. It should be brown and sweet-smelling before use.

Timber waste

Composted bark is the most widely available waste product from the timber industry and is ideal for enriching the soil each spring or autumn. Make sure that it has been thoroughly composted because all uncomposted wood by-products like wood chippings and sawdust take months to decompose and can deplete the soil of nitrogen as they break down.

Brewers’ waste

Spent hops, a by-product of the brewing industry is a great soil improver and is pleasant to handle (provided you wear a peg on your nose). Often it’s giv