Companion Planting – easier than you think!

Companion planting is the growing of different plant species close together, for expected benefits in productivity – and it’s easier than you think.

It is hardly surprising that companion planting can seem to be a rather mysterious art. Many books and articles throw around statements such as “carrots love onions!” with little explanation or evidence, and in fact the expected benefits of companion planting come in many different ways.


Our guest blog this month on Companion Planting is from Naomi Distill, a very knowledgeable gardener and the inspiration behind Incredible Edible St Albans, a project of FoodSmiles St Albans and a past winner of Environmental Champion in the St Albans Mayor’s Pride Awards.


Every garden is an eco-system – with more organisms than we know – affecting it…

Benefits of Companion Planting

  • Pest control 
    • using plants which repel pests by smell
    • using plants which attract predatory insects to eat pests
    • by trap-cropping (using alternative plants as decoys to attract pests away from the main crop)
    • by disrupting the odds of a pest successfully landing on its desired host plant 
  • Increased pollination (using plants that attract extra pollinators)
  • Maximising use of space or time (e.g. catch-cropping by planting fast-growing extra crop between a slower-growing main crop, or growing plants with different root depths together to make the most of root space)
  • Maximising efficiency by grouping plants with similar needs
  • Exploitation of another plant’s physical properties (e.g. one that shades, supports or protects another, or one that provides groundcover to reduce weeds and evaporation)
  • Effects from chemical secretions released into the soil by roots
  • Adding nutrition to the garden (i.e. nitrogen-fixing plants or those with very deep roots can accumulate nutrition and make it available to other plants).

Companion planting is an inexact science

Though beginners often get started with companion planting using a long list of ‘rules’ that simply pair plants together – or forbid pairing them – these rules fail to take into account the complex relationships found in a garden, and can make veg-plot planning feel like doing an impossible jigsaw! But companion planting is an extremely inexact science.

Every garden is an ecosystem, with more organisms than we know affecting it: feeding from it, fighting for survival in it, and putting inputs into it. Soil life below the surface is even more complex, and the unique mineral make-up of your soil has its effects too, and then there’s the microclimate of your garden to consider. No two plots are the same – and no two years are the same.

Learning the Hard Way: Mistakes and Myths

The first year this trial of companion planting worked a dream; not an aphid in sight and the lettuces seemed better than ever. The second year however, there were soon aphids all over the lettuce – and the coriander too! Its repellent power could obviously not be relied upon.

As I looked round the allotment at all the other plants nearby, I quickly realised there were, of course, other factors in play when you tried companion planting. Perhaps something else nearby attracted the aphids? Or a shortage of other food plants elsewhere brought them? Maybe those lettuces were particularly attractive? Could there have been higher numbers of the pest this year? The possibilities were endless.

“Little did I know that horseradish plants are thugs, with deep roots, and very hard to remove!’

Horseradish and Potatoes – yes or no?

Another memorable lesson of trying out companion planting was realising how foolish it had been to plant horseradish throughout my potato patch. I had read that horseradish repels potato-munching eelworms and wireworms. Little did I know then that horseradish plants are thugs, with deep roots, and very hard to remove! How anyone can make that pairing work is a mystery to me!

Onions with carrots? Sage with brassica?

Two pairings often quoted in companion planting books are onions with carrots (to repel carrot fly), and sage with brassicas (to repel white butterflies). However, in truth it seems that you need far more of the repellent plant than the intended crop in order for the rules to work well. Companion planting here means several rows of onions per row of carrots, and many sage plants per brassica plant. It might just work out if you don’t eat very many carrots, but who can use that much sage?

Green Beans and nitrogen

Another common companion planting suggestion is that beans should be grown close to crops that would benefit from the extra nitrogen fixed by their roots, however this is not supported by science (see this article, or this). Though the bean roots may gather nitrogen early on in life, most of it is used by the plant for the formation of flowers, pods and seeds, and only a negligible amount remains or goes into the soil.

Cabbages with calendula

An Easier Method: Companion Planting- the four rules

So I’d like to propose a different approach to companion planting, focusing on biodiversity and natural design. This method means including as many useful plants in the garden as possible, in any layout. Our Incredible Edible gardens use this approach and I have used it in my allotment and garden for years, and there are only four rules:

1. Right plant, right place

Plant the sun-loving crops in the sunny spot, the shade-tolerant ones in the shade, the damp-loving ones in the wet corner. Keep the tall ones out of the worst of the wind, if possible. Under the trees in the Incredible Edible gardens we have adopted a forest gardening approach. We choose low-maintenance edibles that happily grow under trees in the wild.

2. Mix things up

Minimise traditional rows, and interplant with abandon! Add flowers and herbs to your veg patch and veggies to your flowerbeds. When a pest settles on a new plant, don’t let it find a whole tasty row all laid out and waiting! Make it harder for them. This intermingling approach makes crop rotation much less important, which is a help in any small plot where rotation can be tricky.

3. Common sense first!

Let common sense and your own observations rule. Use trial and error to find what works best in your own garden and your own microclimate. Think logically about the relationships between your plants, and the physical shade and shelter they provide. If you’re not sure how big a plant will get or how long it will live, look it up! But don’t overthink it. With gardening you always get another chance next year.

4. Maximise plant diversity

Employ plenty of great all-round companion plants to increase diversity: those listed below will enrich your garden, whatever plant you grow them next to. The more biodiverse your garden is, the more easily it will find a healthy natural balance. It will give you better crops, with fewer problems. Animal diversity helps too, so keep your garden free of pesticides, and welcome wildlife by providing plenty of habitat.

Eight best companion plants to use in your garden

Eight Best Companion Plants To Use In Your Garden

Edible Alliums

Garlic, chives and onions repel a variety of pests – including the four legged kind. They also attract pollinators with their flowers. Their roots accumulate antifungal sulphur in the topsoil which can benefit nearby plants. They are a great companion for virtually anything!

Calendula (pot marigold)

This is a brilliant plant for a veg plot, as it attracts a wide variety of insects including aphid-munching hoverflies. It is edible and medicinal, flowers from early till late and often overwinters (cut back the dead bits and it’ll often reshoot from near the ground). It is always happy among veggies and easily self-seeds to save you a job next year.

French marigold

Another powerhouse in the garden; repelling pests, attracting beneficial insects, and releasing secretions in the soil which keep nasty nematodes away.

Nasturtiums

As well as attracting pollinators, these are an excellent ‘trap’ crop, attracting blackfly and cabbage butterflies to lay their eggs away from your main crops. Once they’re infested though, don’t let the pests breed in your garden! It’s better to dispose of the infested parts right away.

Flowering herbs: mint, oregano, marjoram, thyme, dill, fennel, lovage, lavender, hyssop, camomile

Herbs are a worthy addition to your garden for their culinary benefits alone. But they also attract a huge variety of insects, many repel pestilence, and some (especially camomile and parsley) are said to improve the health and flavour of nearby plants in more subtle ways through the soil too. Note that lovage and fennel are larger plants than most here. Give each a good space to itself and note that they can get very tall. In fact, their height will attract insects from even further afield!

Comfrey or stinging nettles

Though you’ll want to give these a corner of the garden to themselves (there is no digging comfrey out once it’s in!) they can provide a really useful service in the garden by bringing extra nutrition up from the depths of the soil with their deep roots. Harvest this nutrition by cutting the leaves a few times a year and adding them to your compost heap, or scattering them on veg beds and leaving them to decompose. You can also leave them rotting in water to make a (smelly!) concentrated liquid plant feed. Comfrey attracts bees too, and stinging nettles are an important food plant for certain butterflies.

Clover

Experiments showed that growing clover under brassicas consistently reduced the success of cabbage moths looking for a host plant, thus bringing a protective effect. What’s more, the clover offers bee-attracting flowers, and anytime it gets too much you can dig areas of it into the soil (preferably in spring before flowering) for a nitrogen-boosting effect.

Nectar-rich annual flowers (e.g. sunflowers, borage, cosmos, cornflowers, zinnias, scabious, echium)

A few favourite annual flowers such as these will fill gaps in the garden and spread insect-attracting colour anywhere; your local pollinators and predators will thank you! Many will self-seed too (stop deadheading by late October to allow this) and give you a new round of flowers for free next year.

So put the rulebooks away, focus on increasing the diversity in your garden, and always let common sense rule!


Local Food Gardening Events: find out more

Come and grow with us! Volunteer at the Incredible Edible gardens on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Email Incredible Edible here to join the mailing list or find out more about Incredible Edible St Albans

See more about FoodSmiles here

Find out about Sustainable St Albans Open Food Garden summer programme

If you live in Sopwell ward, you can try some food gardening at the Grow Community Sopwell Community Garden

SustFest22 Gardening Events

During SustFest22 (15-31 May) there are loads of gardening events to look out for.  

The programme comes out on 14th April, on social media and the Sustainable St Albans website. Here are just a few events, to whet your appetite! 

  • Grow Community Sopwell Community Garden Open Day including Seed & Seedling Swap, 15th May, 10:30am-12:30pm
  • ‘Adopt a plant for your pollinators’ at Greenwood URC, May 17th and 19th,    2:30-3:30pm
  • Visit the CDAH Community Garden on Hixberry Lane, 19th May, drop in 10:30-2pm
  • ‘How to grow Asians herbs and spices’ with HAWA, also 19th May, 12-2pm, at the CDA community garden on Hixberry Lane
  • ‘Gods Green House’ plant sale and eco garden tour, at St Paul’s Church Blandford Road, 21 May, 10:30-12:30pm
  • ‘Come and Grow’ at Incredible Edibles, Russell Avenue, 22nd May 1-4pm
  • ‘How we built an eco garden for next to nothing’, at Marshalswick Baptist Free Church, 24th May, 2-3pm
  • FoodSmiles open day, Hammonds End Farm, 25th May, 1:30-4pm
  • Grand Opening of the George Street Canteen Wildlife Garden, 29 May, 11-3pm

Look after local trees, and they will look after you!

St Albans has numerous special places – in the parks or little walkways, overhung with native trees, or sentinels in our own roads. They provide familiarity and comfort.  Read on to find ways to look after local trees.


This blog, from founder members of Trees of St Albans and local tree wardens Anthony Helm and Amanda Yorwerth, celebrates the beauty, and vulnerability, of the trees which surround us, and how you can help. 


Celebrate trees!

Looking after trees is as much about care for ourselves - this blog celebrates trees and explores simple ways that you can help your local landscape.

We have grown up with them.

They act as touchstones: we want to explore more.

Woods; in fiction and in real life, are highy evocative places.


The loss of tree canopy matters

Sadly, many trees are under threat, and some might not be enjoyed by those who will succeed us.  The reasons are varied.  

Some, like cherry trees, were planted long ago and have come to the end of their natural life; others are succumbing to disease, like ash dieback, or pests.

  • Vehicles are in many places destroying the soil through which trees breath, move and feed
  • More are being lost because of building developments or the possibility of legal actions
  • Others are felled under the accusation of being ‘overgrown’ or ‘casting shade’

Trees offer ‘silent benefits’

All this matters not just because trees are beautiful.  More importantly they provide a myriad of unseen services: shelter from winds; cooling from increasingly harsh heat waves; filtration of harmful airborne particles; baffling sound from noisy roads; rejuvenation of soil; amelioration from devastating flooding; habitats for many species.  

If all this were not sufficient, trees absorb carbon dioxide (the principal greenhouse gas) – and provide oxygen – without which humans would suffocate.

Old trees need protection
To look after local trees, as a matter of the greatest priority, we must maintain and rebuild our local tree canopy. 

“The loss of a significant mature lime or 150-year-old plane tree in a city road will have an immediate aesthetic impact but also a serious, unfelt ecological impact.”

One mature tree is worth thousands of new plantings.

A major focus for everyone in St Albans District wanting to look after trees must be to work a lot harder to retain these silent friends; we should stand up and speak for our trees, with neighbours and our political representatives, at all levels.

New trees should be planted 

We have to renew as well, and pre-pandemic proposals gave the prospect that thousands of trees would be planted in the District.  Now organisations, families and many individuals look after local trees by actively planting, or are planning to plant, trees over the next year or so.  

The Queen’s Green Canopy initiative, and other projects aim at tackling climate change and improving the environment.  

St Albans District Council, Herts County Council, the Parishes, and many others, e.g. schools, are involved, with local people, especially children, keen to assist, in the significant plantings of very young trees.  Councillors, from their own budgets, are also planting single trees on highway verges and in green spaces.  And we are seeing that sustainability is inspiring the planting of community orchards in small pockets of land for local food.

If you are part of a group which manages pockets of land – a school, a church, a parish council – then why not plant a tree (or more!) as part of the Queen’s Green Canopy?

Despite all the above, there is a net loss of tree canopy in urban areas and each of us can do our own bit.  

We can all do our bit to look after trees! – planting in the garden


Those with gardens can:

  • Find a space for a fruit tree
  • Replace a fence with a hedge of native plants (especially at front of properties)
  • Gardening is about possibilities and change; nowadays the options for species selection are vast. See the RHS guides to trees, hedges, and flowering hedges.

We can also spend more time looking around our immediate locality; seeing which trees are damaged or diseased or need releasing from a choking tree-tie.  In the dryer months new trees will need watering.  Pop out and water the young trees near your house, or on your regular dog walk. 

We can all do our bit! – caring for street trees

We, as individuals, can do the detailed monitoring and undertake the small actions that councils can’t. 

Report major issues here – www.stalbans.gov.uk/trees-contact-us-or-report-problem.

Care for trees, and you care for yourself

It can create a spring in your step. But you already knew this….

Looking after our own patch (our borrowed landscape) is a pleasure.  It is not difficult or time consuming and can be built into normal activities.  It allows us to form our own connection with nature; release tensions; make us physically stronger and build creativity.  

Get more involved

To follow up and support local trees, why not become an SADC Tree Warden, join a Wilderhood Watch Group (wilderhoodwatch.org) and sign up to Trees of St Albans on Facebook?


SustFest22 – If you are in a local group and planning an action to support trees – why not do it as part of the 2022 St Albans Sustainability Festival? See more here.

Pick one step. Learn about it. Do it (with our help).

Momentum towards the COP26 climate talks is building. It’s in the papers, on the news, on social media. Yet that focus shouldn’t only be on Glasgow; it needs action at all levels. We can also turn the spotlight on ourselves and ask “What action will I take during COP26? How will I raise my voice?”. Well, here’s an easy place to start. Simply pick one of the 16 climate actions below that interests you. Get inspired by our blog, get informed by our resources page, and then commit to take that step with Count Us In. Do one thing more, during COP26, and be part of a movement of change.


Over 16 weeks, we have run our #CountdowntoCOP campaign, encouraging people to sign up for one or more of the 16 Count Us In steps.  We have had a guest blog each week since July during the countdown to the UK-hosted COP, focusing on one of these 16 steps. The blogs are backed-up by detailed resources pages, to help you get started.

In this wrap-up, we lay out all the 16 blogs and resources pages in one place.

Our call to action is for you to pick one climate action below, let us help you get informed, and then take that step with Count Us In.


As a small, local environmental charity, Sustainable St Albans has always had some key principles at its heart. We are ordinary people like you. We care about the amazing district of St Albans. By finding positive ways to act, we want to empower local people to take a step to live more sustainably.

16 blogs by extraordinary ordinary local people

Over the last 16 weeks, some truly extraordinary ordinary St Albans District people have told us their own inspirational stories, shared with us their passions and taken time to tell other residents like you their secrets to success. Each has taken one of the 16 Count Us In steps and shared their knowledge so that the rest of us can positively act to live more sustainably in one area of our lives.

“St Albans District people have told us their own inspirational stories.”

Meet our Count Us in bloggers

The great thing about the 16 Count Us In steps is that there is something for everyone. You just start with one step.

Food and Fashion

If you love your food, take inspiration from Becky about Eating More Plants, from Juliet about Eating More Seasonally or from Caroline about Reducing Food Waste. How about fashion? There’s Emily’s look at Wearing Clothes to Last. Plus, Philip’s Repair and Re-Use blog is also great on thinking about what we already have before we buy new.

Fly less, Drive Electric, Walk & Cycle More

Susheel gives practical ideas for those wondering about how to cut down on short journey car use with her Walk and Cycle More blog. For medium and long journeys, try Shaun’s Drive Electric blog. Planning a holiday? – read James’ idea for a plane-free holiday in Fly Less.

Repaire Fair in St Albans

Home Energy

On the home front, energy use is top of the agenda. Don’t miss Judith’s blog about how she Insulated her Home – a Victorian end-of-terrace, no less. Ian has great advice about how to use less heating in Dial It Down. In a second blog, he gives easy steps to help you Switch Your Energy provider. Plus, Will tells his real life experience of having solar panels installed in Get Some Solar.

Money and Speaking Up

An area of our lives many of us have yet to tackle is Greening Our Money. Simon’s blog is eye-opening on that subject.

Finally, we must not forget the impact that we can all have by talking about climate action with other people. Each person we influence expands the ever-growing population of people who are making changes. Catherine’s blog about Talking to Friends introduces Climate Conversations as a framework. Dan encourages us to Speak up at Work. 18 year old Jess’s blog on Tell Your Politicians turns a daunting prospect into an achievable and necessary step.

“Each person we influence expands the ever-growing population of people who are making changes.”

And meet some people who have taken their first step

It’s great to be hearing from those have already been inspired by our #CountdowntoCOP campaign. Meet three people who have signed up to take a step on the special St Albans District Count Us In page.

Isobel is Eating More Plants

Fleetville resident, Isobel, says: “I pledged through ‘Count Us In‘ to reduce the number of meals I eat containing meat. I enjoyed being creative in the kitchen, using tofu and soya mince. I was pleased that I managed to convince the kids to try some new dishes, some of which they were impressed with. Meat-free meals will continue to be on the menu some nights, and when we do buy meat we will go for locally produced and high welfare standards.

Read Becky’s blog “Quick and Easy ways to Eat More Plants” so you can take the Eat More Plants step like Isobel.

 Banh Mi from Taste of Vietnam. Photo: Taste of Vietnam

Lizzie is Wearing Clothes to Last

Lizzie, also from St Albans says: “I pledged to buy only second hand clothes for two months. I often go to the charity shop but it’s a bit hit or miss. This time I decided to look on Facebook market place as I wanted a new warm jumper. I found one just round the corner from me and it’s become a new staple. I’ll definitely look there again in the future.

Read Emily’s blog “Easy Ways to Wear Clothes to Last” and pledge like Lizzie.

Linda is Driving Electric

Harpenden resident, Linda, says: “I pledged through Count Us In to try the step ‘Drive electric’.  We completed this step after a 2-month transition from running a diesel car each (blushes…), through sharing 1 car, to swapping that for an electric car.

The hardest part was overcoming range anxiety – after deciding which colour EV to buy, of course.  We tackled that by installing a charging point at home, powered by our own solar-generated electricity. We also found out where the neighbourhood ‘fast’ charging points are.

Looking back, the question to ourselves is – ‘Why didn’t we do this sooner?’

Read Shaun’s blog “The Road to My First EV: “Ill never own an electric car”” to help you take the Drive Electric pledge like Linda.

“Looking back, the question to ourselves is – “Why didn’t we do this sooner?”.

16 steps – just pick one

The 16 Count Us In steps are below. Pick one that interests you, read the blog, check out the resources and then click through to take that step on our own special St Albans District Count Us In page.

Remember when you register to tick to say you are part of the team “St Albans Climate Action Network”.

Which step will you pledge to take?

Talk to Friends

Read Catherine’s blog: 5 Good Reasons Not to Talk about Climate Change (and Why You Should Anyway)

Switch Your Energy

Cut Food Waste

Walk and Cycle More

Eat More Plants

Get Some Solar

Eat Seasonal

Drive Electric

Repair and Reuse

Dial It Down

Fly Less

Insulate Your Home

Wear Clothes to Last

Tell Your Politicians

Speak Up At Work

Green Your Money

We would like to express our heartfelt thanks to each of our bloggers for their fantastic and inspirational writing.

We’re in! – are you? Local residents Emily, Lizzie, Alastair, Kate, Caroline and Catherine are all taking action.

Join in with #CountdownToCOP today

It’s easy to join in with #CountdownToCOP. Environmental groups of St Albans District have come together to set up the St Albans Climate Action Network who are hosting their own special St Albans District Count Us In page. Simply visit the page, explore the 16 steps and pledge to take one step by choosing “Take a Step”. When you register, tick that you are part of the “St Albans Climate Network” to have your step counted on the St Albans page.

You can track the carbon impact of your own actions. As more people join, we will all see our cumulative efforts across St Albans, Harpenden and the villages. 

How to Eat Seasonally for the Climate and for your Health

While much is said of eating a more plant-based diet to help to combat climate change, we also need to have a care over where the plants have come from and when in the year we eat them. Eating seasonally can not only have an impact on your carbon footprint but on your health as well.


This is Week 7 of our #CountdowntoCOP campaign, encouraging people to sign up for one or more of the 16 Count Us In steps.  We will have a guest blog each week until November’s UK-hosted COP, focusing on one of these 16 steps.

This week’s blog, on the step ‘Eat Seasonal’, is from local resident and entrepreneur, Juliet Foxwell, founder of St Albans-based veg box business Box Local.


Eat seasonally for the environment

The key factor about eating seasonally is the benefit for the environment. The shorter the distance your food has travelled, the lower its carbon footprint, so look for food grown in your local area or, if not, within the UK. Food grown at the appropriate time and in the appropriate climate has a lower carbon footprint still, in terms of water and energy needed to grow it in the first place, so buying local seasonal produce is the way forward.

“Eating seasonally can not only have an impact on your carbon footprint but on your health as well.”

Eat seasonally for your health

Produce that has travelled long distances has been picked earlier and processed longer. By its nature, it is more depleted in nutrients than something picked locally at peak ripeness which is eaten quickly. You will also find that varieties that don’t need a long shelf-life to survive travel can instead be selected for flavour – so seasonal local produce often tastes better too. 

Our bodies have not evolved a huge amount since our hunter-gatherer days and eating what’s around you has its benefits even in modern times. Think of those cold days when you crave comfort food and may turn to sweet treats. This is your body telling you it needs calories to keep warm, and this energy can easily be supplied by the root vegetables available to us locally through the winter. Berries in the autumn provide a much needed boost of Vitamin C before the winter sniffles set in. If we pay a little attention to this we can really get the best out of local eating.

Tips for eating more seasonally

How do we do it though? Here are my 7 tips about how to eat seasonally for the climate and for your health.

1. Find out what is in season

Firstly we need to put in a bit of legwork finding out what’s growing in our area at any given time. There are plenty of online resources to get you started. 

“…seasonal local produce often tastes better too.”

Veg box. Photo: Sustainable St Albans

2. Check supermarket labels to see country of origin

Supermarkets offer pretty much the same selection year round but their labelling helps us make an informed choice as it will usually say at least the country of origin. If you see a far-off country named on the label of fruit or veg that won’t keep long at home, you can be fairly sure it’s been brought to the UK by plane.

Do check labels each time, though, as produce sources will change from week to week. Sadly, because of this, the option of checking the country of origin is usually only available to those who shop in-store.

3. Try a veg box that focusses on seasonal produce

Online supermarket shopping is not great for sussing our where the produce is from, but if you need a delivery you could let a local veg box service do the legwork for you and cut this side of your shop from the supermarket delivery. 

A veg box will usually offer seasonal items as a matter of course but not all veg boxes are created equal. Some schemes focus on organic produce which may come from far flung places so again you need to know what you are signing up for. Spend a little time looking for what’s important to you before deciding which one to try. 

  • Box Local – St Albans based delivering seasonal local produce weekly throughout St Albans, Shenley, Park Street, London Colney, Redbourn, Markyate, Wheathampstead and Harpenden 
  • Riverfod – seasonal organic produce delivered nationally
  • Abel & Cole – organic produce and more delivered nationally
  • Oddbox – fighting food waste by supplying fruit and veg that is in surplus; not totally national but available in the St Albans district
Box Local. Photo: Box Local

4. Visit a Farm Shop or Farmers’ Market

Your local farm shop or Farmers’ Market may also be a good source for seasonal produce. Some farm shops grow some of their own produce so do make a bee-line for this produce when you can. Others have reciprocal arrangements with other growers, which is a great way to increase the diversity of produce. Farm shops are generally very happy to talk about their produce so don’t be afraid to have a chat if you aren’t able to see the information you need. 

Carpenter’s Farm Shop, Sandridge. Photo: Sustainable St Albans

5. Get some #GrowYourOwn inspiration

The other option and by far the best for the planet, is to grow your own fruit and vegetables. Every summer, there is a programme of Open Food Gardens across St Albans district where local residents open up their gardens to show others how they are growing their own food. They give you a lovely afternoon out and are a great place to start where you can see what’s possible in all sorts of spaces. 

6. Start with a few salad leaves

As many of the Open Food Gardens show, you don’t need lots of space to get started with growing your own fruit and veg. A window box is great for growing salad leaves – one of the worst offenders for excessive plastic packaging and often brought in from overseas. Even a miniature fruit tree will be more than happy in a large pot as long as it is watered regularly. 

A small garden can still have room for vegetables and they don’t need to be ugly, or even parcelled off in a specific plot. Varieties of beans and peas are as beautiful in flower as any decorative plant and striking purple kale can hold its own in any border as well as being delicious and nutritious!  

“You don’t need lots of space to get started with growing your own.”

7. Try some community growing

There are schemes around St Albans district where you can pitch in and have a share in the spoils such as Food Smiles (where you can decide how much you pay and / or work for your seasonal produce) as well as community growing schemes like Grow Community Sopwell, St Michaels or Bernards Heath and Incredible Edible.

8. Go for an allotment

If you think you might progress to your own allotment then get your name on a waiting list for one near to your home. You will need to commit a fair bit of time to get the best out of a plot but your neighbours will be a mine of useful information, potentially seedlings and even physical help if you are lucky! 

Find out about allotments in your local area. Local sites include:

Veg box. Photo: Sustainable St Albans

Enjoy the seasons

There is a need to change the way we think about food, by getting more connected with the seasons and how things are grown. It will soon feel odd to be eating cucumber in December or asparagus in September. It will take some getting used to, but is not without its joys: as items come back into season after a long break you can celebrate and relish them as we used to. 

Remember every change you make is progress towards a more sustainable future, and don’t forget to spread the word.

We’re in! – are you? Local residents Emily, Lizzie, Alastair, Kate, Caroline and Catherine are all taking action.

Join in with #CountdownToCOP today

It’s easy to join in with #CountdownToCOP. Environmental groups of St Albans District have come together to set up the St Albans Climate Action Network who are hosting their own special St Albans District Count Us In page. Simply visit the page, explore the 16 steps and pledge to take one step by choosing “Take a Step”. When you register, tick that you are part of the “St Albans Climate Network” to have your step counted on the St Albans page.

Join in today and use Juliet’s inspiring advice to choose the “Eat Seeasonal” Step as your pledge.

You can track the carbon impact of your own actions. As more people join, we will all see our cumulative efforts across St Albans, Harpenden and the villages. 

We will have a blog every Sunday until the international climate talks in November, COP26. Each blog will focus on one of the 16 steps. Look out for next week’s blog on driving electric by Lucy Freeborn.

Quick and Easy Ways to Eat More Plants

Let’s take a look at some easy, quick ways to cut back on the amount of meat we eat and switch to enjoying a more plant-based diet, as painlessly as possible.


This is Week 5 of our #CountdowntoCOP campaign, encouraging people to sign up for one or more of the 16 Count Us In steps.  We will have a guest blog each week until November’s UK-hosted COP, focusing on one of these 16 steps.

This week, Becky Alexander, local food writer and Herts Ad columnist, gives us simple steps to eat a more plant-based diet (and love it!).


We are a nation of animal lovers – dogs are family members, we put out seeds for the birds, and sign petitions to save pandas. But when it comes to the animals sold to be eaten, we seem, in the UK, to turn a blind eye. We like to think the chickens we eat roam happily under apple trees and our cows explore beautiful Scottish Highlands, but this is not the case for the vast majority of animals eaten in the UK. Industrial meat farming is very problematic.

Meat also contributes to climate change. Did you know that producing one joint of beef accounts for 85kg of carbon pollution – the same as flying from London to Paris?

“We like to think the chickens eat roam happily under apple trees…but this is not the case..”

I get the challenges: Life is busy. We all need to eat three meals a day. We need decent quality protein and a good range of vitamins and minerals to stay healthy. What if the kids/partner don’t like vegetarian food? Or you love ham sandwiches? Yet we all need to find a way to eat more plants and less meat.

So, what’s the answer? I think a few, simple steps will help.

1. Eat plants at lunchtime

How about switching to veggie lunches? You can make that swap without impacting on evening meals (if that is a barrier to you). There are so many options – salads, soups, wraps, dips, things on toast, nut butters, falafel, hummus, black bean burritos… there are so many ways to get protein into your lunch without meat and fish. 

2. Start with 5 plant-based meal ideas

Some easy lunch options are: beans on toast; tomato and butterbean soup; scrambled tofu with pesto (for recipe see below); black beans mashed into wraps with tomato and pepper; roast vegetables with lentils. You only need 5 new lunch ideas and that’s midweek sorted! I really like the grilled tofu banh mi sold by Taste of Vietnam on Thursday lunchtimes.

 Banh Mi from Taste of Vietnam. Photo: Taste of Vietnam

3. Drop the meat and fish Mon-Thurs

How about saving your meat and fish cooking for the weekend, and eat vegetarian or vegan food Monday-Thursday? Keep the meals that matter to your family, like roast on a Sunday, fish on a Friday? Old-fashioned, perhaps, but affordable. No-one needs red meat every day, and imported beef is particularly bad environmentally.

4. Discover quick and convenient plant-based store cupboard staples

Tins/jars of cooked beluga lentils, juicy butterbeans, red chickpeas, creamy Borlotti beans… there is so much choice now. These are ready to eat so perfect for easy summer cooking. If you are aiming for a veggie meal rather than vegan, add grilled halloumi or scatter over your favourite crumbly cheese, add leaves, slices of pepper and radish and you have a meal fit for Instagram that is packed with flavour and protein. 

5. Be inspired by recipe books

Invest in a new cookery book if you need a couple of new ideas for evening meals. The Green Roasting Tin, Bosh!, and One Pot, Pan, Planet are great books for creative vegan and vegetarian meals. 

6. Choose plants when you’re out

When eating out, choose a plant-based option. Everywhere has great choice now and this is an easy way to try something new. Megan’s do a very nice Earth Bowl and Lussmanns do a great Chargrilled cauliflower with chimichurri. Turkish and Indian food lends itself to plant cooking with flavour. Wagamamma is brilliant for vegan options for choosy teens – but they do use a lot of imported products. Why not try Tabure’s signature Stuffed Courgette Flowers and their Fava Truffle Hummus? A chef really shows their talent when cooking with plants (cooking steaks is basic to them).

If you’ve been thinking about trying to eat more plants, it’s time to take that step. Buy just one thing different this week in your supermarket shop that will make one of your lunches plant-based –  perhaps a simple swap from tuna to baked beans on your baked potato, or a tin of black beans or cooked lentils on your salad instead of chicken. Better yet, why not make it some tofu and give my easy recipe a go. Enjoy!

Becky’s Quick and Easy Scrambled Tofu

100 g firm tofu

1 tsp pesto (green or red)

splash rapeseed oil

  1. Heat the oil in a non-stick pan. 
  2. Add the tofu and break up using a wooden spoon. Add the pesto and stir to break up the tofu further and to mix the ingredients. Cook for 2-3 minutes until any liquid is reduced and serve on hot toast.

For more plant-based meal ideas and free recipes visit Becky’s website.

We’re in! – are you? Local residents Emily, Lizzie, Alastair, Kate, Caroline and Catherine are all taking action.

Join in with #CountdownToCOP today

It’s easy to join in with #CountdownToCOP. Environmental groups of St Albans District have come together to set up the St Albans Climate Action Network who are hosting their own special St Albans District Count Us In page. Simply visit the page, explore the 16 steps and pledge to take one step by choosing “Take a Step”. When you register, tick that you are part of the “St Albans Climate Network” to have your step counted on the St Albans page.

Join in today and use Becky’s inspiring advice to choose the “Eat More Plants” Step as your pledge.

You can track the carbon impact of your own actions. As more people join, we will all see our cumulative efforts across St Albans, Harpenden and the villages. 

We will have a blog every Sunday until the international climate talks in November, COP26. Each blog will focus on one of the 16 steps. Look out for next week’s blog on solar panels by Will Tucker.