Recently we met some of the team from Garden Organic at an event called ‘The Future of Compostable Packing’, as behind the scenes we're working on ways to make our packaging even more sustainable. At the moment, the clear inner bags which hold our tea temples are home compostable, and we hope that one day in the future the temples themselves will be too - as currently they must go in your food waste bin.
We thought it would be great to find out a bit more about Garden Organic (seeing as they are the masters of home composting!) so grab a cuppa and get ready to learn a bit more about the charity...
tell us a bit about how Garden Organic began?
hannah (communications and membership director): Garden Organic was founded over 60 years ago by a journalist and keen organic grower, Lawrence Hills. Lawrence’s interest was on researching and promoting the potential of comfrey as a natural fertiliser, and on organic growing in general. When the charity started, organic was quite a niche; many needed convincing of the benefits of organic growing and that it was even possible. Now, 60 years on, there’s much more acceptance of organic and sustainable of living.
were you always interested in the outdoors and gardening?
hannah: Growing up in rural mid-Wales I spent much of my childhood helping out in the garden, but it wasn’t until moving into my first home that my passion for growing really started. I was given membership to Garden Organic as a gift in my early 20s and have been connected with the charity ever since!
david (sustainable communities manager): I’ve always been keen to spend as much of my time as possible outdoors and so helping my parents and grandparents in their gardens came naturally, composting was always an engrained part of this. I developed an interest and passion for environmental education whilst studying for my degree in geography and working for Coventry City Council.
rachel (information officer in the heritage seed library): My grandad always grew his own veg and was a very keen gardener and my mum inherited his interest, so we always had veggies on the go at home. After leaving school at 16 and spending several (boring) years in accounts offices and various admin roles I threw it all in to study Environmental Science at Coventry Uni. A BSc, MSc and jobs in consultancy and local authority later, I came to Garden Organic bringing with me amateur horticultural skills, more formal qualifications in plant biology and a much broader knowledge of human impact on the planet.
what’s a typical day like?
hannah: Each day varies hugely; in the summer I might be on a stand at a garden show, chatting to people about the charity and sharing slug horror stories! Or I might be back in the office helping the team with our organic growing communications – we’re a very small team so we all get stuck in with a range of different projects. At the beginning of the year we launched a podcast, the Organic Gardening Podcast, and I love the days when we get to record the next month’s edition! I’m the one who poses questions to our experts and I often find myself so interested in the answers that I get carried away and ask more and more follow up questions to help in my own garden - I think I’m edited quite heavily!
david: Each day is different - from contract management with funders, meeting with potential partners and delivering opportunities for future projects, supporting the team to recruit volunteers, and provide and advice and support to those already involved, and often training audiences in home composting and responding to composting queries.
rachel: The first thing I always do is check my emails; there could be requests for information on seeds we hold, or how people can get their hands on certain seeds. If we have been sent any new varieties for potential inclusion in the collection we research them fully before growing and trialling them, so I may be undertaking an internet search or looking though our collection books and of historical seed catalogues to for information. I might follow this with a walk around our growing area and take photographs of the varieties we are growing – we always need pretty ones for the catalogue! We have just produced our short-list for the 2020 Catalogue, so I will be updating all of the variety descriptions to include any new observations, making sure we have some nice photographs to include for each variety and adding the details to our online catalogue too. The next step will be to identify the batches of seeds we will distribute this year and stamp the appropriate number of packets required for each. These will then be packaged ready for distribution…all 25,000+ of them!
what are some common gardening misconceptions you hear?
hannah: One of the most common statements I hear is that someone tends to their veg patch organically, but not their flower beds. They don’t want to use pesticides on the food that ends up on their plates, but have less of a concern on the impact of chemicals used on the flowers and plants that feed the pollinators. This lack of joined-up, holistic thinking is something we really need to address. I wonder how many back gardens in the UK proudly host a hedgehog habitat in a ‘wildlife friendly’ corner, and a veg patch scattered with slug pellets just a few metres away, for example.
david: People saying ‘I don’t compost because it smells’. This is completely untrue and if you’re composting well there will only ever be a nice earthy smell. To compost well you need to make sure have a good mix of wet, green materials, and dry, brown materials. You’re looking for a 50/50 mix of these which might include; grass clippings, vegetable peelings, plant material, shredded paper, cardboard and woody prunings. If the compost bin does begin to smell it’s usually because there are too many green materials and it has turned anaerobic.
rachel: ‘It’s expensive!’ Growing your own only costs you a packet of seeds (and doesn’t cost that if you have saved your own from the last year) and the time that you invest in it.
top advice for improving your garden?
hannah: It has to be comfrey - promoting the benefits of comfrey was the reason our charity was founded in the first place! If you have one or two plants in your garden you can use it to make a brilliant organic fertiliser (have a look at our website for info on making comfrey concentrate - this version doesn’t smell!), add leaves to your compost to speed up the composting process or add the leaves to your veg beds or pots to feed the plants. Plus the bees absolutely love the purple flowers. We recommend the strain ‘Bocking 14’ as it has just the right balance of nutrients for your plants and it doesn’t spread like wild comfrey does. It really is a wonder-plant!
david: Composting at home is easy to do and can save time, money and the planet! It’s a positive action we can all do to take ownership of some of the waste we’re producing. It doesn’t necessarily need to cost anything, yes there are lots of compost bins available but you can always make your own using pallets or even easier just create a heap. The ultimate benefit is that after 12-18 months you can dig out your own wonderful compost to spread in your garden and support new plant and vegetable growth.
rachel: Make your own compost, it’s the perfect way to recycle the nutrients that you have taken from the soil and enables you to return them. Save your own seed as this not only saves money but is really rewarding – buying plants from organic nurseries is fine but there’s nothing like growing from your own saved-seeds. Spend the time, not the money I think is the best way to look at it. An hour a day in the garden helps you to relax and really get to know your garden and the other inhabitants that you share it with – it’s also a fabulous stress-buster. That hour will often become 2 or 3 hours without you even noticing it. Don’t be too tidy either, give those other inhabitants somewhere to hide out if they want too (unless they’re a slug, of course!)