Making use of the organic materials in your garden can help you become more successful in your polytunnel gardening efforts. What is more, by making use of the organic materials that you garden can provide, you can save money and garden in a more eco-friendly and sustainable way.
All too often, gardeners make the mistake of trying to buy solutions to their problems. But solutions can often lie closer to home than we imagine and, a lot of the time, the garden itself can provide the sustainable materials we need to solve certain issues, or to take our growing to the next level.
We will discuss the following about organic growing and materials for your polytunnel:
Table of Contents
What are Organic Materials?
When we talk about organic materials, we are talking about materials that come from nature – they come either from living things (organic matter) or they come from the materials that make up our planet (rocks, stone etc..). They are not man-made but occur naturally in the world around us.
These materials are sometimes also referred to as ‘natural resources’ and, more pleasingly, as ‘nature’s gifts’.
It can be helpful to think about organic materials in terms of ‘gifts’ because this helps us to understand that we are part of the ecosystems we help to maintain, and that a certain reciprocity is required in the relationship we have to the natural world around us.
In other words, we should not be thinking about nature as sometimes to exploit, and it is not all about take, take, take. Rather, we should think about it as a give and take relationship when we think about how we can use organic materials around us to our advantage.
Nature ‘gifts’ us certain materials, and we can think carefully about how we can continue to give back to our gardens and the life within them as we tend our gardens.
Why Use Organic Materials in the Garden?
Using organic materials in your garden is a win-win-win situation. It is great for you as the gardener. It is great for the garden ecosystem, as you are helping to make it a closed-loop, resilient and sustainable system. And it is the right thing to do more broadly for people and planet.
For the gardener, learning how to use organic materials in a polytunnel, or in other parts of the garden, can save money. It can allow for the avoidance of many purchases that would otherwise be made. And the organic materials can, a lot of the time, be superior, in any case, to anything that you could buy, and solve a number of problems or design challenges in a garden.
For the garden ecosystem, making use of organic materials is one of the important ways to ensure systems are in place that can truly last, and stand the test of time. Often, organic materials are used to keep nature’s cycles turning – shortcutting natural processes to ensure a closed-loop system. With a closed loop system, few if any external inputs are needed to keep the garden healthy, beautiful and productive over time.
What is more, wildlife in the garden can benefit when, wherever possible, we avoid the use of harmful synthetic inputs and materials, and instead choose organic materials. By using organic materials we ensure that these materials will do no harm to the life around us.
Of course, organic materials are the eco-friendly choice, not only because they will do no harm locally, but also because they do no harm in a broader sense – especially when we can source them so close to home. And using materials from the garden allows us to avoid products that do come at a greater cost to people and planet.
How to Use Organic Materials in a Polytunnel or Other Garden Areas
There are many materials in the natural environment of your garden that you might be able to gather and use in your polytunnel or elsewhere. These might include, for example:
- natural rocks and stones.
- pruned twigs and branches.
- weeds and other fresh, green plant material.
- dried plant material.
- natural fibres, including those from domestic livestock, pets or plants.
So let’t take a brief look at how each of these example organic materials might be used:
Using Natural Rocks and Stones
As you look at the soil in your garden, you may bemoan the fact that it is filled with rocks and smaller stones. But finding an abundance of natural rocks and stones in your garden can be a wonderful thing.
Gathering these natural rocks and stones when digging for some reason in your garden (for example, to make a wildlife pond), can allow you to use them elsewhere in a wide range of different ways.
For example, rocks might be used for construction projects – for small dry stone walls, or to make building foundations, for example. You might use low walls to divide one garden room from another, or use them as bed edging.
In a polytunnel, rocks really come in handy in particular because of their thermal mass. This natural material is wonderful at catching and storing heat energy from the sun during the day and will release it slowly when temperatures fall at night.
That means it can help cool a polytunnel in summer, and keep it warm during the winter months – regulating temperatures and keeping them more even throughout the year.
Smaller stones might also come in handy – to line pathways, perhaps, or to paint as plant markers or other fun features for your polytunnel or other garden space.
Using Pruned Twigs and Branches
Twigs and branches that fall naturally, and those that are pruned from the shrubs and trees in your garden can also be extremely useful in a wide range of ways.
They might be used, for example, to create a range of trellises or support structures for the different crops and other plants that you grow.
Larger branches might be used as stakes, while thinner, more flexible ones might come in very handy for use in arching supports or circular forms when creating support structures or other items like cloches/ row covers for your plants.
Branches can also potentially be used to make a useful and versatile wattle fence. Wattle fencing can work well at garden boundaries, between garden rooms, or as a lower fence around a bed or edging a border.
Twigs and branches can also be shredded to create wood chip that you can use to make pathways in your garden, use as a mulch around perennial plantings, trees and shrubs, or in your composting system.
Using Weeds and other Plant Matter
Weeds become less of a problem if you simply change your mindset and view them as a natural resource or gift rather than as unwanted invaders.
Weeds are simply wildflowers or other wild plants well-suited to the environmental conditions in your garden. As such, they can provide us with organic materials without any effort to cultivate them on our part.
Weeds can often provide us with material that helps us maintain the fertility in our gardens. Chopped and dropped where they grow as a mulch, or added to the composting system, weeds can often be valuable additions to our gardens – containing nutrients that can be returned to the soil where they can be taken up by other plants.
Weeds can also be used, along with other plants, to make organic, liquid plant feeds. A nettle tea, for example, made with common stinging nettles, makes a great feed for leafy vegetables and foliage plants. And this is just one example.
Other plant material from your garden can also be used to return nutrients to the system and keep nature’s cycles turning. For example, grass clippings might sometimes be used as a mulch, or added a little at a time to a composting system.
Plant materials might also be used in systems that involve composting in place – such as lasagna beds or hugelkultur mounds, for example. These layered raised beds involve layering organic materials to compost in place, and often you can make them using only materials sourced in your own garden.
Using Straw or Bracken or other Dried Plant Material
Dried grasses, straw, bracken etc. might also be available in your garden. If so, these materials too are organic materials that can be very useful in your garden in a range of different ways.
Like weeds and other green leafy material, this dried material can also be used in composting systems, and when composting in place and creating raised beds as mentioned above. While the green materials are rich in nitrogen, the dried materials are high in carbon, and help to balance the system.
Using Wool & other Natural Fibres
One final category of organic materials to consider are natural fibres. If you are lucky enough to have a large rural garden, you might keep sheep, goats or other livestock and be able to use their wool or hair in a wide range of ways.
You might also use plant fibres – for example, stinging nettles can provide fibres that can be used to make your own natural garden twine…
These are just a few suggestions to open your eyes to the many gifts a garden can give, and which organic materials from your garden you might use.
Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). (n.d.). Organic matter: how to use in the garden. Retrieved from https://www.rhs.org.uk/soil-composts-mulches/organic-matter-how-to-use-in-garden
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.