The last thing I want to be accused of is being a party pooper so although I garden organically in my own vegetable garden, I hope I never sound over-the-top when it comes to 'do's and don'ts' for others. That said, I do have just one tiny organic plug to make this time round. It comes from a very early start I made on my gardening last week – and a surprising discovery.
I'm not the world's most social of butterflies in the garden. In fact, scratching around in the raised beds is one of the few times when I positively wish to be left alone (except, of course, for an occasional pair of helping hands to help lift a wheelbarrow of weeds onto the compost pile). No wonder, then, with a house full of holiday guests shortly after New Year, I decided to rise before 6 am to get my outdoor jobs done before anyone else was awake. There had been a refreshing shower of rain during the night and, once outside, my eyes were drawn to a bunch of pretty carrot flowers bejewelled with glistening drops of moisture. Right in the middle of one of the blooms, sat a small parasitic wasp, sunning itself in the growing heat.
Remembering a recent afternoon spent at a bug discovery park, I began looking about for other insects, and sure enough they were there in profusion: ladybirds on the coriander, a crab spider almost hidden on a nasturtium, and dragonflies darting around the flowering chervil. As the morning progressed, a bevy of hoverflies appeared and paid great attention to the ripening raspberries and flowering broadbeans, and the garden became host to the occupants of my beehive which stands a short distance off in a corner of the donkey paddock.
Going about my garden tasks to a backdrop of gentle humming and buzzing, I was joined by a pair of wax eyes fluttering back and forth between gooseberry bushes still sporting the last of their fruit. Clearly uninterested in the berries, they were feeding instead on insects, which, when I checked, turned out to be aphids.
Quite suddenly, it occurred to me that if I was the sort of gardener who was inclined to spray my vegetables and herbs with chemicals, or even the weeds on my garden paths rather than scuff them up with the hoe, or to keeps the grass edges in check with Round-up rather than a pair of clippers, I might not have this veritable zoo of beneficial birds and insects in my backyard. And that if I didn't, I might spend rather more time spraying than I did gardening.
I won't go into the numerous benefits of having 'helper' animals in the garden – I think we all know that ladybirds are voracious when it comes to devouring aphids and that hoverflies dispatch legions of scale insects in a single morning – but I will say that, without them, the garden would not only be a less healthy environment but also a far less interesting one. We may never actually be aware of quite how much good beneficial insects and birds do in our backyard, but when you garden organically, you certainly become aware of their presence. And their very existence is a sure sign that whatever you are doing, you're doing it right!