Urban Growing

Team Wilder’s chemical-free pledge

By Sophie Bancroft

Sophie Bancroft from Avon Wildlife Trust’s 'Team Wilder'

Part of Bristol Good Food 2030 is about engaging more growers to sign up to climate-friendly growing pledges. We hear from Sophie Bancroft from Avon Wildlife Trust’s ‘Team Wilder’. Sophie chatted to Grow Wilder’s Rosa Beesley to find out what going chemical-free means, exploring the challenges, and offering ideas and practical examples to help. Find out how to share your own actions to go chemical-free.

What does it mean and look like to go chemical-free when gardening at home, in the allotment and in community spaces? I asked Rosa from Grow Wilder.

The ecological processes happening right now under our feet and in our gardens have taken thousands of years to evolve and continue in an ever-changing process of growth, life, reproduction, death, decay and regrowth.

There are multiple ways to work with this cycle to get food, fuel, fibre and medicine out of your patch of soil. Working with nature, rather than against it, is key.

What is healthy soil?

Healthy soil is a complex ecological web of living organisms, organic matter, minerals, water, gases, and bacteria. The root-like structure fungal mycelium connects plant roots with the greater fungal body, exchanging soil minerals and sugars between fungi and plant.

Compost at Grow Wilder (photo by Sophie Bancroft)

Food growing chemicals include: fertilisers (adds soil fertility), pesticides (target insects), fungicides (target fungal life), herbicides (target problematic plant life/weeds). The continued application of these additives leaves soil life baron of the fundamental organic components that bind it together, enabling the ecosystem to take in carbon, absorb and retain water. Without water and organic matter, the soil struggles to nourish plant growth. Healthy soil grows healthy plants.

Challenges, ideas and practical examples

Challenges include fear of plants/seedlings being eaten and that pesticide-use is a large-scale farming issue, not in our ‘everyday lives’.

Small actions make a big difference and benefits of going chemical-free include healthy soil with tastier, organic food, stronger plants and thriving wildlife. Think of your garden or allotment as an everchanging ecosystem – don’t be afraid to experiment and find out what works for you.

Habitat creation
· Ponds, wild patches, log piles and hedges encourage natural predators, such as frogs, ladybirds and hedgehogs who eat slugs and aphids.
· Slow worms shelter under corrugated metal and love a good slug-feast!

Planting out
· Grow a variety of plants to increase resilience.
· Over-sow seedlings, and plant out more than you need at each stage, banking on the fact some are going to get eaten.

Companion planting
· Consider sacrificial plants – for example, Nasturtiums attract aphids away from vegetable crops and repel ants and whitefly.
· Try deterrent plants – for example, the allium family (onion) all have a strong smell and can deter unwanted insects.
· Look at beneficial plants that encourage pollinators, for example, Sarah in BS9 grows ‘poached egg plants’ (Limnanthes douglasii) with French beans. Chamomile acts as a tonic for sick plants and encourages growth.

Pest control barriers
· Put wool or copper around new plant growth to deter slugs (as Tom in BS3 does).
· Use horticultural fleece or mesh.
· Try cloche (repurposed plastic bottle) around young seedlings.

Soil improvement
· Make your own compost.
· Try ‘compost tea’ made out of comfrey or nettles.
· Use a wormery to break down food waste and create an intense, rich fertiliser (as does Melissa in BS2).

Share your actions and inspire others

Talking about being chemical-free, sharing tips and experiences (good and bad!) will encourage others. What works on one plot of land might not work on another – but it’s worth trying and learning. Benefit from letting nature do its job and growing healthy, organic food, flowers and plants.

· Make a chemical free pledge on the Team Wilder map and find out more

· Enter the Avon Wildlife Trust wildlife gardening competition – there’s a Food Growing category

Get in touch with the Bristol Good Food 2030 team to share what you are doing to go chemical-free.

Lead photo by Nick Turner.

Join the conversation

So, what change do you want to see happen that will transform food in Bristol by 2030? Do you already have an idea for how Bristol can make this happen? Join the conversation now.

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