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Since our soil is so good, we want to keep it that way. At the end of the season after plants have been lifted, the soil has lost some of its nutrients. One of the quickest and most often used ways to feed soil is to use chemical fertilisers, but there are many drawbacks to using these artificial chemical cocktails that we don’t like.
They can burn plants
Artificial or synthetic fertilisers contain highly concentrated acidic chemicals, which can burn or damage plants, and negatively impact the quality of the soil long term.
They can be toxic and polluting
Agricultural fertilisers contain a cocktail of chemicals that are harmful to living creatures, and typically excessive levels of nitrogen. When plants are watered or when it rains, this can cause runoff of nitrogen and other toxins into nearby water sources, causing harm to local animals, humans, and marine life.
Chemical fertilisers typically contain mostly nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. These are great for plants while they’re growing, but they don’t stay long in the soil. Over time, the soil becomes unusable without using even more chemical fertilisers. If the land ever stopped being used for growing in future, the soil won’t be good enough to allow wild plants to take over.
They can interfere with the natural soil ecology
Soil is naturally full of beneficial organisms such as worms and fungi which help maintain a healthy long-term soil structure. In big enough doses, chemical fertilisers harm and kill these organisms. This can cause the soil to retain less moisture and reduce the soil’s resilience to drought. Plants that are grown in unhealthy soil are weaker against diseases and pests, needing even more chemicals to help plants grow properly and leading to a vicious cycle of even more fertilisers being used.
They work too quickly
Chemical fertilisers do make plants grow very quickly, however the downside to this is that the plant’s root system becomes starved of nutrients and they can no longer sustain the larger plant that’s growing above the ground. This results in weaker plants that are more vulnerable to diseases and pests.
These plants then need even more chemical fertilisers to stay alive and pesticides to fend off pests.
They generate a huge amount of CO2
A lot of nurseries and farmers use chemical fertilisers every day, but where does it all come from? Most chemical fertilisers are produced in large factories in Europe, and then brought over to the UK. Not only does just making the stuff create a huge amount of CO2, it also then gets transported thousands of miles.
Instead of chemical fertilisers, we use a green compost made from a mixture of natural household and plant waste. After our plants are lifted, we quickly get cracking on laying this across the fields.
It’s harder to spread than chemical fertilisers, but we don’t mind the extra effort. Green compost is a much slower method of feeding and nourishing the soil, but we don’t mind waiting. It’s still absolutely packed full of the nutrients that our plants love, but since they’re released over a longer period of time we get a more even spread throughout the fields, rather than chemical-rich spots. There’s also no nasty runoff into water supplies or damage to the local wildlife.
Not only does our green compost keep the soil fed and full of nutrients ready for growing, it also helps keep our seeded grass headlands strong so that they can do their job of reducing runaway and erosion. Our iron-rich Herefordshire soil is fantastic for growing, but as it’s such a fine soil it moves around easily – especially if we’re having a particularly wet season (hard to avoid when you’re in the UK!). Since we don’t like the idea of our beautiful landscape being affected by erosion, we make sure that we pay attention to our headlands just as much as our beds.
Since our compost is made from household waste, there’s no excess CO2 production by using it. It also doesn’t get transported thousands of miles – our green compost comes from just down the road.
To make sure our soil isn’t degrading or being saturated, we take multiple samples from all of our fields for regular monitoring and testing. Nutrient levels are monitored and compared, to keep all our fields consistent and see anywhere that needs special treatment. We keep track of levels over time to make sure our green compost is applied in the right way, in the best areas, and in ways that minimise the risk to the environment.
We work with top industry professionals and pedologists to help fund and progress research into horticultural studies and better practices for improved environmental standards. Not only do we want our plants to grow as best as possible, we want to ensure that future growers benefit too.