Hack your garden with these five ideas on how to make gardening more effective and more fun.
101 Organic Gardening Hacks, by Shawna Coronado (Cool Springs Press, 2017), has all of the top tips, tricks, and solutions. One characteristic that every hack shares is that they are completely organic and unfailingly environmentally friendly. The hacks in this article will help your garden grow, add some decoration by reusing glass, and protect you from wasps.
You can purchase this book from the Mother Earth Living store: 101 Organic Gardening Hacks
Epsom salt, or magnesium sulfate, is named for the town where it was discovered: Epsom, England. This product has been used to treat ailments and fertilize plants for more than a hundred years. Applying this mineral to your garden is an inexpensive fertilizer hack that has a big impact on your plants.
Before you consider applying Epsom salt to your garden, it is important to have your soil tested to determine whether it is actually magnesium deficient. Adding too much Epsom salt to your garden is adding excessive magnesium to your beds. Therefore, test the soil first and if you do have a deficiency, Epsom salt can help correct the problem, but it won’t be adequate for very large soil deficiencies. Magnesium deficiency in plants is usually seen as leaf yellowing, leaf curling, and stunted growth. An added magnesium component allows plants to better absorb nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen. Some plants, such as tomatoes and peppers, perform better with a consistent magnesium amendment. Here are specific ways to use Epsom salt.
Soil: At the beginning of garden season, broadcast 1 cup of Epsom salt per 100 square feet of garden bed.
General foliar spray: Epsom salt works well when diluted with water and applied as a foliar spray that is taken up quickly by the plant. Mix 2 tablespoons per gallon of rainwater and apply one time per month. Drench the base of the plants with any leftover solution at the soil level.
Vegetable plants: For vegetable garden plants, apply 1 tablespoon of Epsom salt granules at the base of each plant. Follow that with a foliar spray of 1 tablespoon per gallon of water once per month.
Roses: In a bucket, soak rose roots in a solution of 1⁄2 cup of Epsom salt mixed with 1 gallon of water. Top-dress roses with 1 tablespoon of Epsom salt around the root area of the plant.
Intensive planting techniques are practiced with several goals in mind: They minimize soil compaction, allow you to plant in challenging or difficult locations, solve drainage issues, eliminate the need for tilling, increase vegetable and herb production, and conserve water. With many parts of the world suffering from drought, it is critical to find a way to use less water and still grow more produce in less space. Intensive planting techniques can accomplish all these things and more.
Preparing your soil for a no-till garden situation is vitally important to an intensive-planted garden because the basis for a garden like this is a deeply fertile and well-drained soil. Using organic mulches, rotted manure, and rich compost as soil amendments is the foundation to a fabulous intensively planted garden.
There are several long-standing techniques for intensive planting that have proven to be very successful, including square-foot gardening and bio-intensive gardening. The no-till, richly fertile technique of bio-intensive gardening, combined with simply planting more plants, creates a special environment for your vegetable or herb plants that helps hold water at the roots for a longer period of time. This, in turn, creates a setting in which the plants help support one another. In the photo on this page you see three raised beds packed full of plants — collard greens, mustard greens, and celery — all growing quite successfully with minimal water.
Careful advance planning is the key to success with this water-saving technique. Plant herbs and vegetables in strips 1 to 3 feet wide using elevated or raised beds that are about 12 inches above ground level. Leave the side of the beds open or use a raised bed system. Packing the plants closer together without overplanting is important. Mulching and thinning the plants as necessary to prevent disease and pests is also critical because tightly planted gardens also have reduced air circulation. Succession planting will help extend your gardening season.
All gardeners have a few plants, either planted in the garden or in a garden container, that require a little extra water attention. What is a gardener to do when faced with business travel and an active lifestyle and no time to water? Hack garden watering by using a wine bottle watering system: it is also a fantastic way to conserve water while helping that difficult plant along.
Wine bottle watering works with a trickle-down principle to provide a consistent and steady supply of water to the plant’s root system. There are several watering spike systems that allow you to connect a water, soda, or wine bottle to a pointy spike that is then inserted into the soil. Included in this genre are terracotta stakes, plastic screw-on tops, or bottle lid adapters. Any of these are easy to use unless the garden container is too small; the weight of a bottle filled with water can tip the container. Therefore, this hack is best used in larger containers or directly in the ground.
To use a bottle without a spike adapter, simply dig a small hole about the size of the neck of the wine bottle next to the plant that needs a little extra love and tender care. Do not disturb the plant’s roots, but place the hole as close to the root system as you can get. Water the area well before you place the bottle in the soil. Fill the bottle with water, then quickly turn it upside down, and insert the neck into the hole and backfill around the bottle with soil so it is well supported.
Watering frequency with this technique depends on the rate of water trickle, how large the bottle is, and what the weather conditions are at the moment. Test it out the first week or two by putting your fingers on the ground between the plant and bottle. If it is cool and slightly moist, the bottle is doing its job. If it is dry, the bottle needs to be refilled with water and replaced in the hole
Throwing out your cooking water without recycling it is wasting an opportunity in three ways: You lose a nutritional supplement for plants, valuable moisture, and a weed killer. Finding creative ways to reuse water means you are doing your part for the betterment of the environment. Try the easy hacks below and make a difference.
Plant nutrition and fertilizer: Depending on what you are cooking, nutritious aspects leach into the cooking water. If, for instance, you make hard-boiled eggs, there will be an excess of calcium in the water. Let the egg water cool, then water your calcium-loving plants such as tomatoes, peppers, and tomatillos, with the water. Boiling greens such as spinach or chard will produce iron-enhanced water. Potatoes and pasta starch is also good for your garden, but heavy salts are not, so do not use salted water.
Water savings: In an area of the world where drought is a concern, using your cooled cooking water as an additional source of water is genius. Simply remove whatever you were cooking, let the water cool to room temperature, and then carry it to the garden and distribute it. This same idea can work with your dishwater if you use an all-natural, non-oil-based soap.
Kill weeds: Boiling water is a great weed killer. Have a driveway or sidewalk filled with weeds? No problem. Remove whatever you were cooking in the pan, then heat the water up again to boiling. Using hot pads, carry the boiling water to your weedy sidewalk and slowly pour the water over the crowns of the weeds.
Outdoor life on patios and in gardens means you sometimes run into a wasp situation. Wasps are very good for the environment because they function as pollinators. As a policy, try not to harm wasps. However, for the safety of your pets and family, if you have to control wasps, there are way to do it without chemicals. Eliminating the things that wasps are attracted to is a great way to prevent stings. This includes rotting garbage, fruit from fruit trees, sweet foods and drinks, compost piles, heavy perfumes, and pet food.
When you see a wasp, do not run or swat. If there are only one or two wasps, stay calm and very still. Wait for the wasps to fly off. If there is a swarm of wasps and they have stung already, calmly cover your face with your hands and slowly back away from the swarming wasps. Do not run, even if you feel panicked. Seek treatment immediately.
When a wasp lands on you, do not run or swat. Gently wipe the wasp off of you with paper or cardboard — not your hand. Slowly walk away without panicking. While it’s best not to kill wasps, it is sometimes necessary. In those instances, it is much safer to use a trap rather than insecticide. While the insecticide is deadly to the wasps, it is also harmful to humans when inhaled and not good at all for the environment.
How to Build an All-Natural Wasp Trap
1. Get an empty 2-liter plastic bottle.
2. Cut the top third off of the bottle and turn it upside down.
3. Insert the upside-down portion into the bottle.
4. Securely tape the bottle pieces together.
5. Fill with fruit juice to attract wasps.
6. Set the bottle near the nest and away from high-traffic areas in your garden. (Hanging it after dark means the wasps will be less active and not as likely to sting.)
7. Wasps enter the upside-down cone, but cannot find a way out.
How to Organically Spray Down a Wasp Nest
1. Wait until evening when all the wasps return to the nest.
2. Put 1⁄4 cup pure castile soap in a hose-end sprayer.
3. Run the water until you see suds.
4. Spray the nest with a powerful spray. Stop to see if they are still flying. If so, spray again.
5. Repeat the process the next evening if you are still concerned that the insects might still be alive.
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