On the face of it, gardening appears to be a gentle, benign pastime close to nature. But take a walk around any garden centre and you will see a large number of products made with slaughterhouse by-products, products for killing various creatures, or products that are damaging to the environment or otherwise unsustainable. This does not sit comfortably with those of us who follow a vegan philosophy, and others who are trying to find ways to be kinder to the Earth. This is leading to a growing interest in vegan gardening – gardening consistent with vegan principles and working with nature rather than trying to control it completely.
A lot of vegans are interested in gardening to grow their own food, but providing much needed habitat for wildlife is also important.
This guide will show you how to garden without using animal-derived ingredients and make your garden earth and animal friendly.
Overview | What to Avoid | What to Do | Find Help | Products
Vegan Gardening Overview
The key to growing all plants is the soil. A healthy soil will support healthy plants. Healthy plants will be better able to survive attacks from insects and other creatures, and thus will not require the use of harmful pesticides. Soil itself is like a living mini-universe, a healthy soil will contain a diverse range of micro-organisms – bacteria, actinomycetes, fungi, micro-algae, protozoa. Its been estimated that 1g of soil contains more micro-organisms than there are people on Earth.
As plants grow they draw up nutrients from the soil, such as minerals. A large aspect of succesful gardening is to replace these essential plant nutrients. Sadly a lot of the “traditional” methods of replenishing
What to Avoid in a Vegan Garden
Manures are what most people think of first when wanting to improve soil. However animal manures are by-products of animal farming, the industrial exploitation of sentient beings, and can also harbour harmful bacteria such as E. coli and may contain residues from the routine use of antibiotics (up to 70% of antibiotics is used on farm animals).
Blood, Fish and Bone Products
Sold as plant fertiliser, these products are also slaughterhouse products and unacceptable for vegan gardens.
These types of products are harsh on the environment, can run off your garden polluting ground water, and poison birds and other animals.
Slug pellets contain a poison (metaldehyde) which kills slugs, but can also kill or harm other wildlife in your garden, such as birds and hedgehogs. There are other less harmful ways of controlling slugs, such as physical barriers, or encouraging natural predators.
What to do in a Vegan Garden
So now we know about things we should avoid in a vegan garden, what about positive things we can do to improve soil health, grow healthy plants, protect our plants and support wildlife in our gardens.
Compost is basically plant material that has been allowed to break down in aerobic decomposition (i.e. with air). It provides a nutrient rich and micro-organism supporting medium to replace that which plants have used in growing. It also provides structure to your soil and helps with water retention helping plant to survive dry spells and avoiding the need to water often.
If you have a reasonably-sized garden, its worth creating your own compost bin where you can turn waste material into a useful resource to use in your garden. You can compost items such as plant cuttings, unwanted plants, leaves, kitchen scraps . Remember to add some dry “brown” material, such as dried leaves, shredded cardboard. This will stop your compost from getting to wet, becoming mouldy (and smelly) and possibly start decomposing anaerobically.
If you don’t have the space inclination to make your own compost, or you need some extra, there are some animal-free composts available to buy listed below.
A mulch is a layer of organic matter that you spread over your soil between your plants. It has two main benefits: it feeds the soil to improve it, and it suppresses weeds. Common mulch materials include: wood chip, bark chippings, compost, grass cuttings, hay, leaves, or even seaweed.
Growing green manure is another technique for adding fertility to soil. Green manures are fast-growing plants that fix nitrogen in the soil (or encourage nitrogen producing bacteria). Nitrogen encourages faster plant growth and healthy leaves. If you grow veg, you can grow green manures between seasons, rather than leaving soil bare which is then susceptible to weeds and loss of nitrogen. Green manure crops include fava beans, red clover, alfalfa and lupines. When the green manure is ready it is simply chopped down and dug into the top 10cm of the soil.
If green manures are not an option, an alternative is to use a liquid fertiliser. You can buy vegan concentrated liquid fertiliser that you mix with water and then water onto your plants. Some options are listed at the end of this article. You can also produce your own liquid fertiliser by growing plants such as comfrey and copping them down and placing them into a bucket or other container to steep. After about a week you will get a nutrient-rich (and smelly!) “tea” which again you can water down and put on your plants.
Provide Habitat for Natural Predators
If you leave an area in your garden undisturbed, you will be providing a space for beneficial creatures to live, shelter and breed, and they in turn will help to keep in check animals that might attack your plants. This could be a log pile, allowing dandelions, nettle, horsetail and bramble to take over an area, and not cutting back in Autumn/Winter to allow insects to shelter in hollow stems.
One of the best habitats to add to any garden is a pond. Even a small one will attract a wide variety of wildlife to your garden, some of which will help with controlling creatures that might otherwise eat your plants.
Native Wild Plants
Whilst most flowers in a garden will provide food for insects such as nectar and pollen, native wild plants are best. This is because insects have co-evolved with the native plants, and the plants not only provide food but also habitat where eggs and larvae can live. Wild bees, of which there are hundreds of species, have different adaptations, such as length of tongue, so a wild variety of native plants will support a wider variety of wild bee species and help fight the decline in bee species (see also our article How to help the bees).
If you are growing vegetables or soft fruit crops, and you have enough space, it can help keep your crops healthy and free of harmful insects if you change the crop grown in an area each season. This makes it harder for the harmful insect to establish.
The next section provides some resources where you can find more about some of the ideas discussed.
Where to find Vegan Gardening Advice
Whether you’re a new gardener and are just starting out to create your garden, or a experienced gardener looking to learn about vegan growing techniques, there are plenty of places you can go for help.
The Vegan Organic Network (VON)
The Vegan Organic Network is mainly aimed at commercial food growers, an area where we need much more take-up to make truly vegan food available, but they also provide more general growing advice on their website and a twice-yearly magazine “Growing Green International“.
Vegan Allotmenteers and Gardeners (Facebook Group)
A friendly Facebook group for “vegans who enjoy allotment gardening or home gardening. For the sharing of hints and tips to cultivating great crops.”
The Super-Organic Gardener (Book)
This book my Matthew Appleby explains why going beyond organics to veganics makes sense for those concerned about the environment and the treatment of animals and covers how to make and buy natural fertilisers and compost, how to cook what your grow, sharing your plot with wildlife.
The Vegan Society
The Vegan Society also have a blog post outlining vegan gardening here: How to be a better vegan in the garden.
Vegan Garden Services
And if its all too much to take on just now, how about finding a vegan gardener who could come in for a one off consultation or to visit regularly.
Our listing of vegan garden services.
Vegan Gardening Products
The best option for maintaining fertility in your soil is to produce your own compost and fertiliser, but its not always possible and takes time to establish, so here are some vegan alternatives.
Natural Grower produce a range of plant-based products for organic and chemical-free gardening, certified by the Vegan Society. Available to buy directly from their website and a number of other stockists.
Fertile Fibre produce a range of Vegan Society approved composts under the brand Vegro.
West Riding Organics produce a vegan-friendly multi-purpose compost under their Moorland Gold brand, which contains peat from filtering natural water run-off (rather than digging up peat bogs).
Available in bulk from their website, and in smaller quantities from other suppliers.
Although not certified vegan, Plant Grow “produce a range of completely organic plant food made in the UK, with no chemicals, no animal waste and plenty of natural goodness. Plant food made completely from plants.”
Melcourt is a supplier of mulches, growing media, play surfaces, soil improvers and more, and they maintain a list of vegan products on their website which includes composts as well as mulches, topsoil, soil improvers and sand.
As well as their compost mentioned above, Natural Grower also produce a liquid plant feed, certified by the Vegan Society. Available to buy directly from their website and a number of other stockists.
Many gardening gloves use animal skin leather