Sunday, March 18, 2007

Can Beer Make Plants Grow?

It's said that beer can be fertilizer for plant. Wow! It's so amazing but is it true??? According to Jeff Gillman, an associate professor in the Dept. of Horticultural Science at the University of Minnesota, he has done the scientific research himself. Beer does, however, get a four-flower recommendation as a slug killer, so long as the traps are set up not only to attract the slugs but to catch them as well. In the fertilizer department, eggshells are a five-flower solution, although they shouldn't be your only source of fertilizer. The author suggests four to five crumbled shells per plant, mixed into the soil around the plant, in the garden or in a pot.

Most of us are familiar with the practice of some gardeners who sprinkle today's used coffee grounds around their plants as additional fertilizer or as a soil acidifier. Dr. Gillman indicates that, to have any impact on the plants, the coffee grounds must be incorporated into the soil. Further, he says, not every plant benefits from the addition of coffee grounds; lettuce benefits quite a lot, while tomatoes do not. There are better soil acidifiers.

One theory around since the early 1900s suggests that it is beneficial for good pot drainage to have a layer of gravel covering the bottom of the container. To my surprise, Dr. Gillman illustrates how this practice actually increases the amount of water in the growing medium above the gravel, as well as hindering the movement of water from the top of the container through the gravel and out of the pot. His advice is to use a good-draining medium in the entire pot, adding perlite if you think it necessary to have even better drainage.

The practice of using dish soap to control insects has been around since the 1700s. He even cites a recipe for a mixture of urine and soap from the early 1800s for getting rid of aphids on melons. Dish soap is thought by many gardeners to be effective in washing off the waxy covering of insect bodies at a fraction of the cost of commercial insecticidal soaps. Unfortunately, the commercial insecticidal soaps have been specially formulated to protect the waxy cuticle of the plant; dish soap has not, and can cause wax removal, leading to loss of water, leaf scorch, and death of the plant. The author's conclusion is that, without first testing your dish soap on plants you are willing to sacrifice, you are playing Russian roulette; moreover, today, more and more soaps are antibacterial and even more harmful for plants than the old-fashioned variety. This is certainly an instance when the extra money spent on a commercial product is money well spent.
By Madeline Wajda

Container and Small Space Gardening

You can make your small gardening space or container come alive with an almost endless array of blooming plants. Sun or shade, or part of both, an in-ground garden, small or large containers, you can have it all!

For in-ground small space gardens: starting from scratch? Take things slowly in the beginning. Try to plan on paper and walk your garden space, perhaps laying down a hose(or two) to identify the size and shape you want, then use rocks, tools or empty pots to mark spaces where plants, shrubs or possibly a specimen tree will be placed. Remember to consider the size of the plant when it matures.

First consider the size of the garden you have to work with and try to resist the temptation to go out on May 1st and buy 22 plants then find out you can only use 15! Secondly, consider the orientation – does you garden space receive full sun, part sun, afternoon sun, part shade, all shade? Next week's article will contain a list of plants for all orientations. Third, consider your soil. If you're using a soil test kit at the Ag Center (670 Old Harrisburg Road, Suite 204, Gettysburg, Phone: 334-6271) and the results will tell you what it may need before you plant in it. Generally speaking, if you have a clay soil, you will need to add amendments like compost and other organic matter like peat. Is your soil sandy? Does water run right through it? You need amendments such as peat moss, manures, compost or organic matter. Using the stryrofoam makes the planter less heavy and easily moveable.

Container: your plant choices are much greater with container gardening. Too much sun? Just move the container. The great advantage of container gardening is Mobility. And just think – you can use one or more containers to hide some unsightly feature in your space such as a utility meter in the ground.