With spring skulking around the corner it’s time to start considering what new herbs, plants or vegetables we’re going to grow in our garden during spring and summer. In order to do so we need to get the lawn and soil into shape but before reaching for the chemical-laden fertilisers, insecticides, pesticides and weed killers consider alternatives.
Most of these products contain known carcinogens, endocrine disruptors (affecting hormones and causing behaviour, development, growth and reproduction problems), and/or neurotoxins that can be extremely hard to eliminate from our body once ingested. While these products might do a good job, the best way to grow a garden is using natural and non-toxic DIY alternatives. No chemicals. No fumes. No harm. The below suggestions are cost-effective and easy to make at home, using common household ingredients which are safe for companion animals, the environment and our health.
The best way to keep the garden healthy is using mulch (bark, compost, or leaves) on the soil, whilst frequently mowing the lawn:
1. Lawn Fertiliser: the simplest way to fertilize the lawn is to leave grass clippings where they fall, as decomposing grass adds nitrogen to the soil and stimulates earthworm activity.
2. Mulch: instead of sending compostable items off with the garbage and recycling, hold onto them to begin a personal compost. It is completely free and the most eco-friendly, as well as simple, way to add microorganisms and vital nutrients to the lawn and garden, fuelling growth.
3. Plant Fertilizer: save coffee grounds from the morning brew and use them to boost the nitrogen, phosphorous and trace mineral content of soil. It’s important to dig them into the ground near the roots and use no more than three-quarters (¾) cup once a month so as not to have too acidic soil. Not a coffee drinker? Use untreated hardwood ashes from the fireplace which will boost phosphorous and potassium. Spread a thick layer of ashes a few inches from the stem and again, dig it into the soil.
4. Growth Hormones: having freshly planted a new cutting and needing a completely natural way to spur on growth and plant-rooting, brew some willow twigs that have been split with a hammer in water for 24 hours, making a tea to water fresh cuttings with. Alternatively, place tea bags around the base of the plant, covering with soil. Whenever the plant is watered, the ascorbic acid, manganese and potassium in the tea leaves will trickle down to the roots.
Having obtained a healthy, mineral- and nutrient-rich soil for the flowers, grass, and other plants to grow it’s important to ensure the hard work is not undone by pests. Chemical pesticides are contaminants, so opt for the following alternatives instead, whilst remembering that not all bugs are bad for plants!
5. Fungicide for Black Spot and Mildew: for a natural solution to deal with these common plant killers, mix two (2) tablespoons of liquid Castile soap with two (2) litres of warm water. Remove the infected leaves before spraying the top and bottom of each remaining leaf to control the spread of the disease. Store in a spray bottle and use weekly.
This can kill insects in the process, however, so for something to repel them instead use:
6. Insecticide: to repel insects without harming them use potent roots and spices, such as cayenne (and other hot) peppers, garlic, ginger, horseradish, onions and rhubarb leaves. Put the roots and spices in the bottom of a jar, cover with boiling water and screw on the top, leaving overnight. Strain, and add to the above fungicide soap spray. Freeze to store to prevent roots and spices from rotting.
7. Slug Repellent: slugs are present in all gardens and do more damage than most other pests. Salt might kill them (which isn’t the most pleasant method) but it also damages plants and the soil, so use seaweed which is good for the soil and a natural slug repellent. Place it around the base of plants without allowing it to come into contact with them.
8. Weed Killer: a combination of salt and vinegar is the best way to kill weeds. Mix two (2) cups of water with one and half (1½) cups of vinegar and half (½) cup liquid Castile soap. Store in spray bottle and apply directly to weeds. The acid in the vinegar will kill the leaves, but not the root. To kill the roots, cut the stem and pour salt on the wounded weed. Be careful not to spray grass or plants, or spill any salt on the soil.
Having achieved gardening success, with flowers and a full lawn, during the summer months it’s important to enjoy a (vegan) BBQ or eat meals outdoors! The following all-natural repellent will prevent flies, mosquitoes and wasps from bothering anyone:
9. Insect Repellent: to detract pests from biting, drink one (1) tablespoon of apple cider vinegar each day or rub garlic on the skin. If there are particular areas of the garden where mosquitoes tend to flock to, place cloves of garlic, and if there is a bonfire put coriander seeds or lemon balm leaves in the fire.
10. Rust Remover: if garden tools begin to rust, soak them in vinegar overnight. For large(r) items, cut a potato in half and dip the middle into baking soda. Scrub! Once worn down, cut the top layer off, re-dip in baking soda and continue, if needed.
– save containers and spray bottles from old gardening products to re-use for the new DIY alternatives. Ensure all containers have been cleaned to remove any residue and use a permanent marker to write clearly what it contains.
– some of the recipes above call for garlic but this can be extremely toxic for animals such as cats and dogs. Ensure that if garlic is used in the garden it can’t be ingested by companion animals.
Image Source: Will Merydith/Flickr