Denise Schreiber is the infamous Mrs. Know It All of The Organic Gardeners on KDKA radio and author of Eat Your Roses.

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Bad Homemade Remedies
by Denise Schreiber       #Advice   #Health and Safety   #Sustainability and Self-Sufficiency

Countertop mix — Blending your own home remedies not only stinks up the kitchen, it can ruin your blender. Plus, these concoctions are not as effective as commercially available solutions.


As gardeners we care for our plants as best we can. We are also sensitive to environmental concerns when using fertilizers and pesticides (and many times we seek the cheapest way to do all this). It has happened to all of us: We buy a product that is “almost as good” as the original product only to discover that it “almost worked.” There are many “cheap and almost as good as” homemade garden remedies, many of them found on the Internet; I am going to explain why you should never try any of them.

I have a science background, pesticide applicator licenses and more than 30 years of experience growing professionally — so I can decide if something is great or not. The first thing to remember is “the label is the law.” Always read and follow the label.

The latest horror story I heard was gardeners using Pam cooking spray to treat plants infested with scale. I wrote to the manufacturer asking them about using their cooking spray on plants, and they informed me that the product is made from vegetable oil and is intended only for use in cooking and for no other applications. Someone apparently thought they could substitute cooking spray for lightweight horticultural oil (which is more expensive, but is registered by the EPA to be used on listed plants that have scale insects). I have used horticultural oil spray over the years, and it does work on scale.

Another horror recipe on Facebook had the headline, “Never use RoundUp again and save money!” The recipe varies, but it combines dish soap, salad vinegar, sometimes vegetable oil, salt (sometimes Epsom salts) and water. This concoction might kill some young weeds, and might remove foliage from some perennial weeds. But what is harmful is the amount of salt used in the recipe — it can harm earthworms and other beneficial soil inhabitants. There is nothing safe or organic about this recipe.

There is another myth that gardeners can use household vinegar as an herbicide. Not true. The vinegar we use for salads and pickling is 5 percent acetic acid vinegar. The horticultural vinegar is 20 percent acetic acid, and it requires eye protection when applying. The horticultural vinegar is registered as an organic weed control product, and it can be purchased by homeowners.

Rabbit — He might look cute, but he can take down your vegetable garden fast.

There is a celebrity “Master Gardener” (and I use that term loosely for him) who touts all sorts of home remedies. These include using ammonia, beer, molasses, multivitamins, bleach, nicotine, and my personal favorite, birth control pills. While there is a drop of truth to be found in some suggestions, I haven’t figured out why you would need birth control pills for the garden. (They are expensive, too!)Another home remedy recommends hanging bags of hair and bars of soap on trees and shrubs to repel deer. Imagine inviting friends over to your garden with your trees and shrubs decorated with those odd ornaments. These “repellents” will lose their scent quickly, and likely will make you the neighborhood weirdo.

One really smelly spray that supposedly repels deer includes rotted eggs, garlic, hot peppers, soap and oil. You combine these ingredients in a blender (with the admonition not to use that blender for anything else) and spray it on plants to keep the deer from eating them. It is likely the deer won’t eat the plants for a couple of days until the smell subsides or it rains. But then your house is likely to smell for more than a few days after making that mixture.

Compost tea is often praised as the end to beat all. It supposedly prevents and cures fungal diseases, is a great fertilizer, adds beneficial microbes to the soil and can repel some insects. I heard it cures baldness, too (joking — don’t try this!). Studies have shown compost tea can add microbes to the soil, which is a good thing, but it doesn’t prevent or cure fungal diseases and really doesn’t have effective fertilizing properties. Compost is made up of rotted plant material and some type of manure. After the plant material and manure have completely composted, water is added to make a tea that must be strained several times to use in a sprayer. The problem is that you cannot accurately reproduce the exact same ingredients each time and have them break down exactly the same way — so replicating a compost tea formula is impossible for the homeowner. Compost tea will add some nitrogen to your soil, but don’t expect miracles. It is also illegal to use compost tea as a fungal spray since it isn’t registered with the EPA. Scientific studies have shown that it is possible to contract E. coli and salmonella in some compost teas; I suggest using it on flowers not vegetables.

Other home remedies include burying banana peels to add potassium to the soil when you plant. This practice is more likely to attract rats and raccoons to dig up your plants to get to the peel. Adding molasses to “feed” microbes or as a sticker for a spray is probably going to attract ants and wasps.

Another remedy that concerns me is one for killing ants made of equal parts of sugar and borax. It is supposed to attract ants, and then they carry the mixture back to their nest where the rest of the ants feed on it. The borax is fatal to them. However, birds, butterflies, cats, dogs and other creatures might also taste or feed on the sweet granules, and it can kill them, too.

The best way to control problems in your garden is to have your soil tested for optimum production, plant healthy, disease-resistant plants and water correctly on a regular basis. With proper cultural practices, you should have fewer problems. And if you do have diseases or pests, and don’t want to use a synthetic chemical or fertilizer, there are plenty of organic products on the market. Plus, they are safe when used according to labeled directions.

 

A version of this article appeared in a May/June 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Michelle Byrne Walsh.

 

Posted: 05/11/18   RSS | Print

 

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COMMENTS

Djbodrn - 07/07/2018

Just wondering what the opinion is for ground eggshells around tomato plants to prevent end rot?

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