Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you can’t fail to have noticed that veganism is on the rise, with high street chains such as Greggs, McDonalds, Subway, Pizza Hut and KFC all helping to bring the plant-based lifestyle into the mainstream.
In the UK alone, 7% of the national population identify as vegan, which accounts to more than 3.5 million vegans.
But can all of those embracing a meat and dairy-free lifestyle confidently say their garden is vegan too?
Turns out there are plenty of aspects of gardening that go against the principles of veganism, from the fertiliser you use, to the every day garden ‘pests’ you might unwittingly destroy doing it.
While it might sound somewhat extreme, gardening the vegan way is actually an important part of the vegan movement and it’s actually becoming more popular with the first vegan garden festival being held last September and more expected to follow this year.
But what exactly is vegan gardening?
“Essentially, vegan gardening is a super-organic method of getting plants growing without any animal input such as fertilisers or manures,” explains Richard Baggaley, Director, The Greenhouse People.
“It also ties in to the wider “grow your own” movement, encouraging more of us to grow and eat more fruit and vegetables.”
Another aspect of the truly vegan gardening philosophy is the view, that all animals have the right not to be killed or exploited, and should therefore be left alone, even if they’re happily chomping their way through your prized blooms.
“Going vegan can seem like a difficult feat, particularly if you’re completely changing your diet,” adds Baggaley. “However, switching to animal-free when it comes to gardening is actually very easy and requires minimal effort.
“All you need is a little imagination!”
How to become a vegan gardener:
Ditch the shovel
“For starters, you should avoid digging,” says Richard Baggaley. “This only encourages weeds to disperse and take over your patch, requiring harmful chemicals to kill. Instead, hoe off any weeds as and when they pop up.”
Switch fences for hedges
“Hedges are better than walls or fences for your garden’s perimeter, allowing larger animals like hedgehogs who have a taste for smaller pests like slugs to come and go as they please,” advises Baggaley. “Hedges also have sound absorbing qualities to block out nosy neighbours and make ideal nesting sites for birds.”
READ MORE: Tesco launches vegan sausage roll
Find vegan pesticide alternatives
“Vegan gardening often includes interesting alternatives to weed killers and pesticides such as preventative measures including using natural substances such as beer to keep slugs off your plants.,” explains Andy Baxter, MD of Internet Gardener.
But the gardening expert has a word of warning about using such methods. “Although the preventative nature of this may seem positive, we’ve seen cases where critters in the garden actually become immune to these more natural substances, breeding a new evolution of ‘super-pest’.
Baxter says a popular alternative is to plant a border of marigolds around your treasured plants to ward off insects, which also has the added benefit of a root system that improves the surrounding soil.
Embrace the bees
If you live in the countryside, the suburbs or the city, chances are your outside space is used by wildlife as a safe haven. Recently 53 percent of bee populations have been lost in Europe, with habitat loss playing a big role. Baggaley says that something as simple as a bee brick can give bees the shelter they desperately need.
Try companion planting
By planting the right varieties and species next to each other in your beds or greenhouse, Baggaley says you can get the best results using the power of nature. “Certain plants forge mutually beneficial relationships helping to repel pests, improve pollination and provide nutrients,” he explains. “For example, garlic and rose plants are a great pairing as the powerful garlic smell works to repel pests from eating the rose flowers without the need for any harsh chemicals.”
Avoid shop-bought composts and fertilisers
According to Baggaley these often contain animal products such as blood, fish and bone, which is taken straight from the slaughterhouse floor. “Instead, produce your own nutrient-rich organic soil with a compost bin placed in the warmest corner of your garden, using kitchen scraps and nitrogen-filled green waste,” he suggests.
Baxter says typical vegan options include composted food waste, such as vegetable peels, wood ash and even seaweed. “While these can make gardening more laborious by requiring more time to obtain in large enough quantities, they do avoid any animal input – an essential part of every vegan lifestyle,” he adds.
Prepare for the pests
“Pests in any garden are inevitable and to be truthful, it’s as much their space as it is yours,” says Baxter. “Embrace it by planting extra (or “sacrificial”) crops such as lettuces which pests can eat instead of your most prized plants.”