RSPB's Flatford Wildlife Garden, Suffolk, England

How to start a vegetable garden

If you enjoy growing fruit and veg, wildlife can help you manage and nurture a healthy crop!

Growing your own

If you’re growing vegetables and other edible produce, there’s no better pest control than the natural pest control provided by wildlife.

Encouraging birds and a range of predatory insects to your garden, will help keep down the numbers of more unwelcome pests and could help to give you a better, bigger crop.

Growing vegetables and fruit can be really rewarding and there’s something which any garden can achieve, whether you have a full dedicated plot, or are simply growing in containers.

If you feel your garden is too small, or that the soil isn’t right for growing vegetables, you could try and get an allotment. The waiting lists are often quite long, but it’s well worth the wait!

Allotments are a great way to grow fresh produce and meet people and get exercise and fresh air.

Tips for allotments and vegetable plots

  • Water butts reduce the need for tap water.
  • Compost bins provide natural fertiliser.
  • Plant produce suited to the soil, location and season to reduce the need for fertilisers and ensure a healthy crop.
  • Plant crops on rotation to improve soil structure, fertility and disease resistance. Using the tried and tested 4 group rotation of potato, root, brassica, legume should ensure a healthy plot.
  • Plant companion plants that may help protect or enhance the surrounding crop. Planting the borders of a patch with species known to be popular with nuisance insects, such as aphids, may relieve pressure on crops in the middle of the plot.
  • If you have a large plot, create a beetle bank - a ridge of tussocky grass - across your plot. This will provide a wintering site and refuge for predatory insects and spiders that are great natural pest controllers.
  • Erect bug-boxes to provide a home for ladybirds and lacewings - effective predators of less welcome insects, such as aphids.
  • Use non-toxic slug and other pest control such as a ‘bran barrier’ around the plot to intercept slugs or spray aphids with a soapy water solution.
  • A good crop of vegetables often exceeds demand. When there is a surplus, allow some of the produce to set seed so you have a sustainable crop ready to sow the next season. You do not have to collect all the seed to re-sow in the following year. Try leaving some for birds to feed on over the winter.
  • It is cheaper and economical to grow your own produce from seed. These can be germinated in trays of peat-free compost in a greenhouse of cold frame. If you decide to use pre-grown plants, look for plants grown in peat free compost and avoid contributing to the destruction of threatened peat bog habitats.
  • Weeding should be carried out sparingly to reduce soil disturbance and minimise moisture loss. Constant cultivation perpetuates the opportunity for seeds to grow. However, it is worth considering the benefits of the seeds to birds and compromise with a balanced and pragmatic approach.
  • Grow clover in grass adjacent to your vegetable plot. Clovers are of great value to bees, which will pollinate your plants, as a source of nectar.
  • Consider growing wild arable flowers among your vegetables, such as corncockle, fumitory, poppy, larkspur and campion. They are easy to maintain, provide additional colour, sources of nectar for pollinating insects and help divert pest species away from your crop and provide seed food for birds.

How herb gardens can be important habitats

Although herb gardens are not natural habitats, they can be extremely valuable for wildlife. They provide food and cover for many animals.

It is best to grow native species in your herb garden, as these attract the most wildlife.

Make the most of your garden

  • Plant your herb garden near the house. It’s convenient for picking and you’ll easily be able to see the myriad of insects that the herbs attract.
  • Include plants that flower late or early in the season (e.g. chives) to encourage bees and butterflies throughout spring, summer and autumn.