Monday, 22 June 2009

Weird and wonderful things to nourish your garden

We were having a bit of a "Twitter fest" the other day about the weird and wonderful things that people put on their gardens to feed their plants and it got me thinking about all those old wives' tales that we seem to be losing.

By calling them "old wives' tales" we seem to imbue them with an old world charm and slightly naïve theories. But the truth is, there is a lot of sense spoken by those 'old wives' and perhaps we should be thinking about going back to gardening basics and taking a few lessons from them.

Here are some great homemade fertilisers and fungicides that are ancestors used to swear by:

Coffee grounds It seems that a lot of people use coffee grounds for their plants, but why? The liquid Coffee that we drink is very acid, but the grounds are not. Grounds are great for nitrogen, or "green" source for compost.

Tea – Be it "builder's", green or lapsang souchong – tea is good for our plants. Apparently clematis love nothing better than a drink of cold tea. Putting tea leaves on your roses helps them produce healthier flowers.

Top Tip - keep a small spray bottle handy, filled with brewed tea (no sugar or milk). Use this to water your seedlings. It works like a charm. The baby plants love the tannic acid in the tea. It makes them strong and healthy too!
Eggshells are full of calcium. Placing a few crushed eggshells in the soil near your tomato plants will help prevent blossom-end rot. They can also be added to your compost bin as they contain lime which helps to reduce acidity and they can also be sprinkled around the bottom of plants of keep slugs and snails at bay.

Water from boiling eggs. When boiling eggs the calcium leeches out into the water. This makes a great feed for your plants

Banana skins
For beautiful roses unzip a banana. Bananas are full of potassium which roses love. For the best effect, put an old bananas including peel and all in a blender with water and pour this on the base of the rose bush. You will not believe how well this works.
If you don’t feel like emulsifying your bananas, or you only have the skins left over, you can still use them. Banana skin contains potash and phosphorus and is a great soil feed. Adding banana skins to the soil helps tomato and green pepper plants to thrive. Chop the skins and place several pieces into the hole before planting the seedlings and you’ll have strong trunks and stems on your plants. (Added bonus – they will also they also deter aphids)

Aspirin It appears that Aspirin is not just a wonder drug for humans, but also for plants. In scientific studies it was shown that when aspirin water was sprayed onto the seeds sown directly in the ground, there was 100 percent seed germination, compared to spotty germination in the other trial beds.

Martha McBurney, the master gardener in charge of the demonstration vegetable garden at the University of Rhode Island says that when plants are under stress they “naturally produce salicylic acid, but not fast enough and in sufficient quantities to really help them out in time. So the bugs get them, and diseases get them, and they show even more stress. But if you give them aspirin, it helps boost their immune system, a bit like feeding people Echinacea so they don't get a cold.”

To give your plants a dose of medicine add 1.5 (uncoated) aspirins to 2 gallons of water and spray the plants every 3 weeks. Martha also suggests that you could add 2 tablespoons of yucca extract to help the aspirin stick to the plants.

The down side of this drug approach is that it isn’t strictly speaking organic. Whilst Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) is 'derived' from the white willow tree, Salix alba, the production of the drug affects its green status. However there are studies being conducted on plants using pure willow extracts to compared the effects to aspirin.

Also aspirin can be added to a vase of cut flower to keep the blooms fresh longer. Apparently the cutting of flowers is perceived by the plant as a wound, and so it stimulates the production of a substance that not only helps the plant fight off bugs, but also hastens aging or wilting, such as in the case of a cut flower.

Fish Heads. This has to be one of the weirder plant feeds, but one which makes a lot of sense. Fish are fully of allsorts of nutrients that plants love. However you do need to be careful how and when you use them because of potential smell etc.

Most commonly fish heads are buried in the garden near to the target plants sometime in the winter. Firstly dig a hole, put in fish head and then put crushed up aspirin in and mix.

White vinegar. Vinegar can be a bit of an organic wonder feed. It can be used to alter the ph of your soil. For plants that prefer a more acidic soil simply make up a mix of two tablespoonfuls of white vinegar to two pints of water and apply. The mineral-rich vinegar can also be used on species growing under glass by mixing one tablespoon with a gallon of water.

Vinegar is full of minerals that will feed your plants, but you really must be careful how apply it as you could kill your plant by mistake. The acid in the vinegar lowers the ph so much that the plant can no longer take up anything in the roots and they die. However this method is brilliant if you are looking for an organic weedkiller that is safe to use around children and animals.

Cinnamon. Other tips include spreading cinnamon around the base of peony plants to help prevent fungus growth. Or try putting some liquid soap and cinnamon in a spray bottle and use on plants as an organic bug repellent.

Ashes. Wood ash has a high alkaline content and trace amounts of calcium and potassium, which encourage blooms. For acidic soil, sprinkle the ashes in spring around alkaline-loving plants such as clematis, hydrangea, lilac, and roses (but avoid acid-lovers like rhododendrons, blueberries, and azaleas).

Nettles. Not only can nettles be eaten and drunk as a tea, but, by following these steps you can make a tea for you plants as well.
1. Chop down nettles.
2. Place in some netting/old tights to make them easier to handle. You can use the tights to pull the nettles out when the tea is brewed and chuck on your compost.
3. Place in container with a lid, I use an old dustbin. The lid is important as it prevents the mix being diluted and the awful smell escaping.
4. Weigh down the nettles and pour in water to cover them.
5. Leave to brew for about four weeks.
6. Dilute 1:10 and use on your plants.

Epsom Salts. Add Epsom salt as a foolproof feed for tomato plants. Add a tablespoon per foot of tomato plant and your plants will thank you by doubling in size.

Our thanks for some of these ideas go to some of our fellow Twitterers:

• Sarah Clive aka @elementalgrace
• Lindsay McCann aka @fluffywelshee
• Yvonne Becker – @Selena1505
• Chrisana Birdsall – @Craftychris
• @Home4allseasons
• @Zerofee
• Taphophile – @taphophile_au
• Emma JB*JB – @jb_jb

Thanks guys, keep those tips coming - and good gardening to all! (Hilary)

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