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Jekka's organic and sustainable approach to growing herb plants

by Alistair McVicar |

At Jekka's we have always followed sustainable, environmentally friendly and organic approaches to growing culinary herb plants at the herb farm near Bristol, UK. It seems an apt time to produce a blog on our sustainable growing philosophy given the current significant amount of press around climate change and single use plastic. 

Gardens, especially productive culinary gardens, can help combat climate change in so many ways. For example, by helping to reduce our emissions and store more carbon, by providing safe havens for our wildlife and by contributing to a more comfortable and safer local environment. With more and more of us living in cities, the importance of access to green spaces and gardens can only grow and become increasingly vital for our health and well–being.

Jekka is the RHS ambassador for health and well-being and Alistair's Ph.D. is from the Grantham Institute of Climate Change, Imperial College London making us strong advocates for the environmental benefits of herbs and gardens.

Our values

One of our three core roots is that we are Environmentally Conscious and for the past 30 years all the herbs grown at Jekka’s have been raised using organic and sustainable principles resulting in a remarkable biodiversity at the herb farm. We are proud of the diversity from hoverflies to a tremendous bee population. We have visitors that come to see the diversity of bees that we have rather than our collection of over 400 culinary herbs. We were proud this year to have a rare solitary bee identified on Jekka's Herbetum which has resulted in our site being added to the endangered bee map.

Building on our core values, our theme for 2019 has been "Sow It. Grow It. Eat It." as we believe that, to gain the most pleasure from growing and eating culinary herbs, you must be environmentally conscious. Not only does this produce the best flavour but it is also better for your health. For example, we have been recently intrigued to know that some freshly cut herbs are high in Selenium (Se), which is an essential micro-nutrient for animals and humans. This mineral disappears within hours once the herb is harvested so growing your own is a huge benefit. 

Organic certification

Jekka's is an organic nursery and, as Jekka's Herb Farm, we held the Soil association Organic Certificate from 1994 to 2011. For various reasons we no longer apply for certification but we still follow the same principles whether it is looking after the soil, promoting diversity, supporting and working with the natural ecosystem and protecting the health and well being of the environment. We have been following these principals since the start of the herb farm in 1982. 

Bees, insects and other pollinators

A major part of our natural ecosystem is the biodiversity of pollinators. Pollinators are any creature that moves pollen from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma of a flower and helps to bring about fertilisation of herbs. Insect pollinators include bees (honey bees, solitary species, bumblebees), pollen wasps, ants, flies, hoover flies, mosquitoes, butterflies and moths.

We promote these as they help make happy, tasty and strong herbs. We have three hives on the herb farm and those that are fortunate enough have brought some of our raw honey from one of our Open Days also know how great it tastes.

Jekka's Herbetum

The raised beds are built using WoodBlocX who source their timber from sustainably-managed forests in Scotland, and their treatment process involves no chemicals that might leach from the wood, unlike heavily treated sleepers. The dowels are all made from recycled plastic.

The compost in Jekka's Herbetum is recycled from three large compost heaps we have in the top field and topped up every year. All of our compost is peat free and is vegan. The different raised beds have been filled using grit, recycled compost and then covered with a layer of top soil. They are lined to protect the wood and prevent weeds.

When we replant the herbs in the Herbetum we always add a bio fungus to keep the soil productive.  We also feed plants  with Maxicrop liquid seaweed, which is Soil Association approved for organic growing, and we "Feed on Fridays" during the growing season.

In Jekka's Herbetum and on the herb farm we follow the principals of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). This includes the adoption of a combination of good plant biosecurity and biological, cultural and chemical controls in order to minimise the spread of pests and diseases.

Plastic on the farm

We continually seek to reduce the use of plastic and where it is used we reuse as often as we can. Some of our plastic trays are as old as the nursery and those that have visited us, know we don't let you leave with the trays!

In developing our illustrated homeware and gifts we have not use any plastic, for example, the inner bags of our herbal infusion tubes are actually biodegradable Natureflex bags and all the packaging is recyclable card board. Our tea towels, mugs, coasters and placemats are not only produced in the UK but also use plastic free packaging.

We have received a number of comments on the use of plastic on the nursery; mainly about the pots. We do use plastic pots. We have also investigate biodegradable pots and trailed many different types. However, as we grow the majority of our plants for 2 or more years to produce established, hardy herb plants many of these pots do not survive and some of these pots are not usable for herbs making them too wet as they retain the water. However, for those who have attended our last Open Days, you might have seen some different pots on the farm. These seem to be surviving and we hope to be in a position to use and sell these next spring.

Two ways we try to reduce our plastic use is that we give people the option to leave their pots behind upon purchase and we then reuse them. Secondly, we reuse and recycle our pots so much so, that our orders for pots year on year has significantly dropped. For the plastic we cannot use we recycle it at Grassroots Recycling LTD, which handles our plastic, cardboard and other horticulture waste.

We use 'Growdown' as a floor covering and as the lining of Jekka's Herbetum as it is a permeable hard wearing membrane. As with plastic pots, we have research a number of different floor coverings and linings but currently this is the most practical and long lived. 

Summary

As the effects of climate change are felt more acutely it is important that we all take account of our actions. At Jekka's we strongly believe in promoting a sustainable and environmentally friendly approach to gardening that not only does you good but supports the natural ecosystem. As we have mentioned, this includes our zero plastic and biodegradeable packing for our gifts, recycling our compost, minimising our water use and maintaining a positive habitat for bees and pollinators. However, we also realise there is more that can be done and we look forward to your support in achieving this.