In the middle of February something wonderful happens. Daylight starts to exceed ten hours a day and we will continue to enjoy a little more daylight every day until the summer solstice in June. Ten hours a day means that your edible plants start to grow, urged on by the increasing light and, we hope, warmer temperatures as the season moves from winter to spring.

There’s a sense of spring in the air already, so now is a perfect time to follow these tips to create your own organic paradise. Growing organically helps the environment, is fun and, once you have finished the basics, saves a lot of time too.

Compost everything you can

Composting everything you can reduces waste and saves you money. The compost heap is the heart of the garden, transforming coffee grounds, old peelings and twigs into rich, nutritious compost. The key to a successful heap is to have 50:50 greens and browns.

Greens: nitrogen rich materials - kitchen scraps, grass clippings, weeds, coffee grounds, animal manures, trimmings from plants, tea leaves, egg shells

Browns: carbon rich materials - paper, cardboard, chipped twigs and bark, sawdust, dried leaves, dried grass

Turning is optional. It speeds up the process, but leaving a heap alone works just fine too, and reduces the risk of accidentally harming slow worms and other creatures that choose to reside in compost heaps.

Choose a composting system that works well for you. There are so many options. Here at my homestead I have some heaps made simply from tying pallets together. Others are the “dalek” style, light weight plastic composters. These are easy to move from place to place and help to keep everything contained. Often these are available at discounted prices from your local council.

Composting food waste can attract vermin, but this does not mean that the home gardener can’t compost these. There are hot composters with thick insulated sides that can transform all food waste and even weed seeds into crumbly brown compost in just three months or so. They are expensive though.

A cheaper option well worth exploring is bokashi, a method of fermenting food waste which also produces a nutritious plant feed. The small containers are ideal for home use. Once the bokashi is ready, make a hole in a regular compost heap and pour the contents in to finish off.

Grow peat free

There will be times when you’ll need bought in compost to add to your homemade: for sowing, potting on, container growing or mulching. Always make sure that you check that the compost sack states “peat free”. Peat bogs are vital for the health of our environment and they are harmed when peat is dug out for gardeners - and there is absolutely no need to use it at all.

If you’re wanting truly organic compost then also check for the Soil Association logo, which confirms this. Dalefoot composts are both peat free and Soil Association certified.

In the UK it is perfectly legal for compost manufacturers to put ‘organic’ on their sacks if it is made without the addition of synthetic materials, but without the logo this does not mean that the ingredients are organic in the sense that organic carrots in the supermarket are. The ingredients could have been sprayed or treated, and not left long enough for any residues to break down. Unlike food and cosmetics, there are no regulations covering the labelling of composts.

Mulch, mulch, mulch

Mulches are marvellous. They can protect your soil in winter from the extremes of wind, rain and cold. During hot dry weather, mulches will help reduce evaporation, keeping the soil moist. They can ‘earth’ up potatoes and help keep rhubarb producing fat stems each year. Mulches feed the soil biology, and provide a habitat for a wide range of wildlife to forage, live and breed in.

Mulches are layers of natural materials spread on the surface of the soil. Over time, the soil organisms will gradually incorporate this into the earth, feeding the life within as well as your plants. There are many different options to choose from: compost, wood chip, sheep fleece, grass clipping, chopped plant matter (often referred to as ‘chop and drop”), fallen leaves, well rotted animal manures, straw and hay.

Compost is an excellent mulch for annual veg because it doesn’t provide a habitat for slugs and other beasties that like to munch on our plants.

Wood chip is superb for soil fungi and ideal for perennials including fruit bushes and trees. Fresh leafy mulches such as ‘chop and drop’ can create a habitat for slugs etc during wet weather, but when it is dry they are fabulous for helping to conserve moisture in the soil.

Use green manures

Green manures used to be mostly just used in farming, but now a wide range of options are available from almost all seed companies. Green manures are a living cover crop, increasing biodiversity both above and below the soil, with their roots, leaves and flowers.

Green manures can lock in moisture, feed the soil and help to reduce weed germination. (Sadly they do not work against vigorous perennials such as bindweed and couch!) They can create a habitat for slugs etc so best not to use them alongside young plants. However as they also offer protective habitat for slug predators such as toads, for larger more established plants green manures can be a good option.

It is best to use green manures which can easily be hoed off and raked up for the compost heap, or those that will naturally die back in the wintertime. Sometimes it is recommended to dig the green manures in, but I think this really defeats the object. Why spend time and resources building up soil health and structure, only to break it all up by digging, not to mention the carbon that is released into the environment through the digging process?

Good green manures for spring sowing include phacelia, crimson clover, Persian clover and buckwheat. All of these produce beautiful flowers which are loved by bees and other foraging insects. As well as increasing biodiversity, keeping the ground covered with green manures can help to reduce water evaporation during dry spells. Later in the year they’ll die back and gradually be incorporated into the soil.

Regarding the clovers, there is often confusion between annual crimson clover and perennial red clover, the wild plant that grows all over the UK. Red clover isn’t easy to remove, so isn’t ideal for annual veg beds - but is excellent for underneath perennials such as fruit bushes.

Harvest water

February can be a very soggy month and it can feel a little pointless thinking about saving every drop of rain that you can, but you’ll thank yourself when there are dry spells later in the year. Try to collect as much water as you can.

A simple way to collect water is to construct a roof over compost heaps, log piles, etc using a sloped wooden frame with a watertight cover over the top. Fasten guttering to the back, directed into water butts.

Water butts are easy to connect to down pipes using diverter kits. There are connectors which enable you to fasten several water butts in a row to one down pipe. It is well worth checking your local council website as there are often offers on water butts there. If you have the space, pre-used cleaned IBCs can store a huge amount of water.

Old bins and other large containers are good too, but do remember to make sure that they are securely covered with metal mesh or similar, to ensure nothing can fall in and drown.

Wildlife can really suffer in dry weather, so collect water for the wild things with small ponds dug into the ground or shallow containers. Wildlife use ponds and pools for drinking, bathing or living in as part of their life cycle. Add stones and bricks to ensure that insects and small creatures can climb out.

Self care

I know I said five tips but I want to end with a sixth - try to have a space where you can relax and be happy. There’s so much to worry about these days that it is easy to forget all the good things that we can do to make our small patches of earth a better place. Even if your garden is a saucer of water for bees and a few tubs of wildflowers on a windowsill, you will have made the world a better place for those small creatures.



Stephanie Hafferty is an award winning garden and food writer, homesteader with decades of experience, edible garden designer and teaches how to grow your own - plus what to do with those harvests!

Stephanie is currently creating a sustainable homestead on a tight budget, on half an acre in West Wales, from where she runs gardening courses.

Her garden was featured on BBC Gardeners’ World in 2022.

Follow her journey on her blog, Instagram and You Tube

Website and blog :


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