It’s amazing just how powerful parenting is to one’s self. We bought our house six years ago and have been renovating on and off all this time. We never did anything with our garden. I think we just looked at it and put it into the ‘too hard basket’!

After having our first baby, things slowly changed. We started to think more about the world we live in, and how fragile it is. We have always recycled our waste, and bought environmentally friendly alternatives where available, but that was it for us.

Now three children later, I find we are so much more thoughtful of our waste. We use handmade nappies during the day and environmentally friendly ones at night. We make all our own cleaning products and use them sparingly. We are setting up a tank to store our gray water so that we can use it to water our plants. We are establishing fruit trees, compost heaps, veggies and even re-starting our worm farm (all ex-house mates from the worm farm emigrated when we had our most recent son!) We save all kitchen scraps from home and our commercial kitchen during the week (about 150 dozen eggshells per week) and dig them into our compost heap at the weekend.

There are just so many positives, the children are helping in the garden and learning so much about all different topics on gardening, insects, birds etc as we are chatting as we work! We are feeling healthier already…and we’ve only just begun!

To me, there are two different types of natural or organic gardening. One is companion planting and nothing more (apart from hand picking insects off your plants). The other option is intervention. Natural alternatives to garden chemicals still interfere with nature and some ‘natural’ alternatives can be quite toxic. With some work, it can be possible to have a decent harvest of fruits, flowers and vegetables without resorting to harsh chemical sprays.

Companion Planting:

Companion planting is essentially planting a mixture of different plants close to each other to make use of each plant’s natural ability to attract beneficial insects, repel harmful insects, aid or discourage growth, and take advantage of certain chemical interactions among plants. It encourages predator pests by providing shelter. It discourages some pests by the aromas of the different plants. For example, Nasturtium have peppery leaves that ward off insects. Nasturtium is well known to attract caterpillars also, so planting them near veggies such as lettuce or cabbage will protect them, as the egg-laying insects will tend to eat the nasturtium. Nasturtiums are believed to ward off cucumber beetles, squash bugs, aphids and more. They can be planted with Pumpkins, Squash, and a wide variety of vegetables. Nasturtium themselves are edible too, and are used in lettuce mixes adding a strong flavour. Marigolds are another excellent companion plant . They help to keep insects at bay. In particular, crops that suffer from greenfly and aphids, benefit from the proximity of marigolds as they attract hoverflies, a predator of aphids, and are also said to deter other pests. Incidentally, Marigolds are also edible, bu I am unsure how good they taste!

Another way of companion planting is growing together two different types of vegetables which feed at different soil levels i.e. growing carrots and onions together. Onions roots are very close to the top of the soil, but carrots feed very deeply in the soil. By growing the two together, productivity of the crop is boosted. Carrots and onions are also good companions for another reason. Carrots attract a few pests; onions give off a strong smell to insects. Pests dislike onion leaves. By inter-planting rows of carrots with rows of onions, confusion is created and the pests keep away from your carrots. For best results of companion planting, confuse your crop! Dont plant straight rows of anything. The idea is to mix up the plants and not create blocks of any one variety. Plant flowers among the veggies and veggies among the flowers to promote growth, life of the plant and a pest free garden. This is companion planting in a nutshell!

Homemade Plant Food:
You can make your own liquid feed by dunking a sack of manure into a water tank for a few weeks. Strain it and dilute to about 1:5 with water. It can be used on veggie patches or anything in the garden needing a boost. You can also use seaweed to boost the plants immunity to pest and disease attack. Living by the Irish Sea, my granddad always used seaweed on his roses and Sweet Pea with terrific results. The plants were hardier and produced an abundance of flowers, even in the really harsh weather.

Worms are your friends:
Earthworms are beneficial in the garden as they make hundreds of tiny drainage channels in the soil. Many gardeners do not realise that when ’treating’ their lawn to some top dressing (full of phosphates) or spraying their roses, that they are killing worms and other pest predators. Nitrogen rich fertilisers also cause algal blooms and increase weed growth in our waterways, disturbing the ecological balance for animals and plants that live there.
Organic matter should be added to soils as fertilisers, composts and mulches in order to encourage microbes that attack plant pathogens and supply nutrients to plants. Organic matter also encourages earthworms, therefore encouraging drainage.

Chemical Free Sprays:

Be aware that residue of some chemical sprays and powders can build up in the soil and poison it for years. This is potentially hazardous when eating homegrown veggies that are grown in such an environment.
For those who really feel the need to treat insects attacking your plants/veggies, why not use the guilt free, non-chemical type.

These pest control solutions are less toxic than many commercial preparations, to the soil (and therefore your veggies) and the gardener.

Aphids or mites
50g chopped garlic
1 teaspoon *vegetable oil
1 teaspoons castile liquid soap
5 drops tea-tree
250mls water

Soak garlic in oil and tea tree overnight.
Mix castile soap with water and add to the garlic mixture. Mix well, strain and store in an airtight jar in the fridge. Label it so it’s not used in food preparations
To make up the spray, dilute approx. 5ml of the mixture in 1 litre of water. Spot spray directly on to the pest rather than blanket spray. Best time to spray is in the morning, so allows the treatment to dry.
*Vegetable oil based soaps rapidly kill soft-bodied pests such as aphids.

Sap-Sucking Insects:

Apply Castile liquid soap mixed with water directly on to the pest. Repeat as required.

Natural Snail Bait:
Traditional snail bates are stomach poisons which work after been consumed. Their toxicity terrifies me after seeing what pain our beagle suffered from escaping into our neighbours garden and eating bait. Try a safer more natural option by making the following method:

Place a saucer of beer near plants that they tend to attack. They drink the beer, become drunk and fall into the saucer and drown.
Place eggshells around garden beds as snails dislike traveling over gritty substances.

Cabbage Moth

To prevent caterpillars that hatch from cabbage moth eggs eating veggie seedlings, place eggshells on the seedlings. Scatter crushed eggshells amongst broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbages and any other veggies that they like to eat.


Boiling water will kill weeds if you pour it directly onto them. Only put water directly on the plants you want to get rid of though!

Black spot on Roses

500ml skimmed milk
500ml soapy water (100ml castile liquid soap/ 400ml water)
Spray on foliage monthly or as required.


Roses, Begonias and Grapes

Sodium bicarbonate is especially effective on roses, begonias and grapes.
It makes the sprayed surface alkaline and inhibits the germination and growth of fungal spores.

And they all lived happily ever after

Create an eco garden where the garden works for you. By encouraging ladybirds and other predatory mites into the garden, they devour aphids, whitefly and other pests thus eliminating the need to use harsh chemicals to spray these bugs. Encourage insect-eating birds by providing suitable habitats.
Prevent damage to citrus trees by circling the trunk with grease to reduce the damage of some sapsuckers. Cover fruit with fabric fruit bags to deter larger chewing insects.
Select plants less susceptible to insect invasion (my mums’ method, as she won’t kill anything!).
Create your own compost instead of using fertilizers.
Place a hammock in your garden, watch and enjoy!


Companion Planting Suggestions:

Basil planted with capsicum; tomatoes and marigolds assist in reducing flies and mossies.
Beans planted with nasturtium deters aphids. Don’t plant with onions, chives garlic or capsicum. Beans and other legumes (like peas) grow well with other nitrogen hungry vegetables, like cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower. Climbing beans, sweet corn and pumpkins (or squash) grow incredibly together.
Caraway helps breakdown heavy soils.
Catnip helps repels fleas, rodents and ants.
Caraway helps breakdown heavy soils.
Carrots planted with onion deters against carrot fly. Don’t plant with parsnips.
Chamomile deters flies and mossies and also gives strength to any plant growing nearby.
Chives grown under apple trees helps prevent apple scab and when planted beneath roses will keep away aphids and black spot.
Elderberry is a general insecticide. The elderberry leaves encourage compost fermentation.
Fennel (not the Foeniculum Vulgare or Zingiber Officionale varieties) repels flies, fleas and ants.
French Marigold root secretions kill nematodes in the soil. Repels white fly amongst tomatoes.
Garlic helps keep aphids and other insects away from roses, tomatoes and a wide variety of flowers and veggies.
Mint repels cabbage white moth.
Nasturtium secretes a mustard oil, peppery scent that many insects find attractive and will seek out, particularly the cabbage white moth. Alternatively, the flowers repel aphids and the cucumber beetle. Climbing nasturtium grown up apple trees will repel codling moth…while looking so attractive.
Pansies planted with onions work well together. The onions grow slowly and are easily overcome by weeks, but fast growing pansies (spreading variety) keep weeds at bay and insulate the soil around the onion bulbs.
Peas planted with nasturtium deter aphids. Don’t plant with onions, chives garlic or capsicum. Peas and other legumes (like peas) grow well with other nitrogen hungry vegetables, like cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower.
Pyrethrum will repel bugs if grown around the vegetable garden.
Rosemary planted with broccoli and cabbage deters cabbage moths and carrot fly.
Rue (not Peganum variety) keeps cats and dogs off garden beds if planted around the borders.
Sage, Pennyroyal, Mints, Oregano and Parsley planted with brassicas (i.e. cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli) and carrots deters cabbage white moth and carrot fly. Don’t plant with tomatoes.
Tansy (not Senecio variety) repels moths, flies and ants. Plant beneath peach trees in order to repel harmful flying
Thyme and cabbage planted together deter the cabbage cabbagewormes planted with basil deters against fruit fly. Plant them with parsley, marigolds and capscum. Don’t plant with cabbage.
Wormwood (not Ambrosia variety) although it can inhibit the growth of plants near it, wormwood repels moths, flies and fleas.

Dealing with Pests:

Aphids: Manual squashing, avoid killing natural predators, hose aphids off leaves
Black Spot: Decrease humidity around the plant
Caterpillars: Manual squashing, attract predators like birds
Downy Mildew: Decrease humidity around the plant
Leaf Curl: Hand pick off diseased leaves
Powdery: Decrease humidity around the plant