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Warm days full of sunshine and occasional showers are teasing my garden into life. I’ve completed early spring gardening tasks. Soon I’ll tuck new plants into the warming ground and celebrate each perennial as it pushes through the rich dirt.
I’m a mindful gardener, with an awareness of the importance of taking care of my little portion of the earth. I don’t use commercial weed killers or pesticides. To do so endangers the beneficial insects, toads and spiders that call my backyard home. It’s also important to me to reuse and repurpose items as much as possible, rather than buying new.
It’s a journey and a process that I expand upon every year. Each spring, as the garden awakens, I read back through a little book I purchased several years ago. I’ve learned great ecological garden hacks from Trowel & Error, by Sharon Lovejoy, and I’ve come up with a few of my own.
Ecological Garden Hacks
These hacks are friendly to the environment and beneficial for the garden. Many of the supplies needed are already in your kitchen pantry or they are easily obtained.
DIY Insect Repellents
Rather than using commercial products that damage the environment and destroy beneficial insects as well as troublesome ones, try one of these DIY repellents.
- Add a handful of basil leaves to 1/2 gallon of water, crushing the leaves slightly. Brew in the sun for a couple of days. Strain and pour into spray bottles, adding 1/2 teaspoon liquid soap. I like Seventh Generation chemical free dish soap. This solution repels aphids, cabbage loopers, mites and cucumber beetles.
- Add 2 tablespoons ground red pepper and 6 drops of liquid soap to 1 gallon of water. Let sit overnight. Stir and pour into spray bottles. Use to spray all plants in the cabbage family…cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower…once a week.
- When trimming or cutting back herbs, drop clippings into a gallon bucket. Fill with water and let sit for a week. Strain and add 2 tablespoons of liquid soap. Spray directly on pests.
- One of the easiest ways to control pests, including Japanese beetles, is to keep a bucket of soapy water nearby as you weed or work in the garden. Pluck off pests as you find them and drop into the bucket. I’ve not tried this next step, however I’ve read that you can strain the liquid after a week and use the dead bug concoction as a repellent. I must try this garden hack out this summer.
Create Houses for Garden Allies
While keeping a watchful eye out for pests and invaders, create habitats for insects and animals that feed on harmful insects.
- Turn clay flower pots, with drainage holes in the bottom, upside in sheltered areas of the garden. Spiders will take up residence inside, feeding on insects and larvae.
- Place shallow pans, bowls or discs on the ground near tall grasses or woody plants. Dragonflies are drawn to the water and like to rest on grass stems or twigs nearby. A dragonfly eats up to 300 insects a day.
- Dig a shallow hole in the ground and create a toad house with two small rocks or bricks and a large flat rock laid across the top. Leave the front and back open.
- Fill a half barrel with water to encourage frogs to gather. Watch the water however. Without frogs, mosquitos will lay eggs in the water that will hatch.
Other helpful allies include praying mantis, ladybugs, birds, snakes, large garden spiders and bats. You want these helpers in the garden. Create a supportive environment for them.
Create Willow Water
The leaves and tender branches of the willow tree contain powerful compounds that stimulate growth and development in plants. Collect small twigs and spring leaves and cut them into one inch pieces. Drop a couple of handfuls into a bucket of water and steep the mixture for a week. Strain and pour liquid into canning jars. Store in the refrigerator.
Use willow water to propagate plants. Dip the end of the cutting in the water, letting it soak for a few minutes, then tuck the new plant into the ground. Water with the willow mixture. Use willow water to water around freshly transplanted plants and seedlings.
Garden Hacks from the Kitchen
Use those left over kitchen scraps to benefit the soil and plants in the garden.
- Coffee grounds, egg shells and banana peels can go directly into the ground without composting. Sprinkle coffee grounds on top of the ground. Rinse egg shells and allow them to dry for a few days. Crush and sprinkle around tomato plants. Chop banana peels and work into the soil with a spade or turning fork. As they break down banana peels add calcium, magnesium, sulphur, potassium and sodium to the soil, enriching it.
- Create a compost pile. Add kitchen scraps to it daily. Do not include meat or dairy products. Water every few days and turn the pile once a week or so. In a couple of months you’ll have rich dirt for the garden.
- Use left over tea to water plants and sprinkle dried tea leaves on the ground. Save tea bags after use, cutting them open and emptying contents onto the ground.
- Empty lemon, lime, orange and grapefruit rinds make excellent seed starter pots. Transplant the whole thing into the garden when the seedlings are big enough.
- Water the garden with cooled vegetable water, left over from cooking. And although this isn’t exactly a kitchen item, stinky water from the fish tank is great for watering plants as well.
Uses for Epsom Salt
This product has so many uses in the garden. It contains magnesium, which is important to plants. Epsom salt speeds up plant growth, deters pests, increases the flavor of veggies and fruits and improves overall plant health.
- In the garden, sprinkle 1 cup of Epsom salt per 100 square foot, mixing it well into the soil before planting.
- Add 1 tablespoon of Epsom salt to the bottom of the hole when planting. Cover salt with a thin layer of dirt before adding plant.
- Water around the base of plants with mixture of 2 tablespoons Epsom salt and 1 gallon of water.
- Improve yield and flavor of tomatoes, eggplants and peppers by watering every two weeks with 1 tablespoon of Epsom salt in 1 gallon of water.
- When planting roses, soak root ball in water containing 1/2 cup of Epsom salt. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of salt into the hole before planting rose. Once a month during the growing season, sprinkle 1 tablespoon of Epsom salt, per foot of plant, around the base of the rose and then water.
- Use Epsom salt as a weed killer by mixing 2 cups with 1 gallon of water. Add a tablespoon of liquid soap and pour into spray bottle to use. Spray weeds while avoiding flowers and vegetable plants.
Repurpose Containers and Objects in the Garden
Rather than purchasing new containers every year, add interest to the garden by repurposing a multitude of items. My garden contains an eclectic mix of clay pots, metal pieces and other repurposed items.
I use metal buckets, washtubs, watering cans and tool boxes to hold flowers and herbs. This is one of the magical elements in my garden…it’s filled with unusual yet practical containers. Wire baskets, attached to the privacy fence, serve as shelves for an assortment of flower pots. Colanders cradle plants. A vintage minnow bucket holds tea light candles.
A rusty wheelbarrow became a fairy garden. And an old wooden chair holds an enamel bucket full of annuals. Greg repurposed old wooden pallets into a potting bench.
When the big old maple tree had to come down, after being damaged in a storm, I used portions of the trunk and large branches to create natural flower pots and plant stands. Eventually these planters will deteriorate and return to the earth. I consider them gifts from Maple Tree and I’m honored to have them in the garden.
Before I toss any item that no longer fulfills its original purpose, I consider what new life it might find in the house or garden. I love discovering new ways to use things.
Moving Toward Zero Waste
I am learning about and desiring to practice zero waste. In my home, in my kitchen and in my garden, living with less waste saves me money and allows me to do my part to ease the burden on the earth. Watch for upcoming posts about ways to live greener, limit one time use plastics, reuse and repurpose items and practice zero waste.
I hope these ecological garden hacks help you to enjoy your garden and feel good about what you are doing as you care for it. I’d love to hear about your garden hacks and tricks, in the comments. Happy gardening!
Backyard Garden Series
Check out the other posts in this gardening series:
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