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Gardening With Gutner: Lawn, Garden Care Without Chemicals

By Mark Saidnawey, WBZ Gardening Expert, Pemberton Farms
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BOSTON (CBS) – Who needs chemicals to have a healthy lawn and garden?

With each passing year there seem to be more and more organic and “chemical free” products for us to use in our gardens.

From lawn care to flower care there are several extremely effective products to use that are safe for your pets, your children and the environment.

Here are some creative ways I treat both my lawn and flower beds.

For lawn care, there are two great organic alternatives to treating for weeds and also those pesky grubs, Corn Gluten and Milky Spore.

ORGANIC LAWN CARE:

Corn Gluten:

One of the most important breakthroughs in organic lawn care has its roots in a fortunate accident by Iowa State University researcher Nick Christians. The natural herbicide that resulted from his research (made from corn gluten meal) is now patented, and is licensed for use in turf and home gardens as an alternative to weed and feed products.

Corn Gluten Meal is a powdery byproduct of the corn milling process. Used for years as a supplement in hog feed, this natural protein is very effective for lawns and gardens as a plant food as well as a weed suppressor. Corn gluten meal products offer a non-toxic, yet effective alternative to traditional, chemical-based weed and feed products for weed control in gardens and lawns, paths and driveways.

As a plant food, corn gluten has a N-P-K ratio of 9-1-0, or 10-percent nitrogen by weight. As a weed suppressant, corn gluten acts as a natural “pre-emergent” – it inhibits seed germination by drying out a seed as soon as it cracks open to sprout. These qualities make corn gluten an ideal ‘weed n feed’ product.

Milky Spore:

Milky spore is a soil-dwelling bacterium and is responsible for a disease (commonly called milky spore) of the white grubs of Japanese beetles.

The adult Japanese beetles pupate in the July time frame and feed on flowers and leaves of shrubs and garden plants. During this adult stage the beetles also mate and the females lay eggs in the soil in late July early August. The eggs hatch soon afterwards and in this larval or grub stage, they feed on the roots of grass and other plants.

In this August time frame when the grubs are close to the surface and actively feeding they are vulnerable to infestation by Milky Spore. This is also the optimal time frame for turf applications with Milky Spore to increase Milky Spore in the soil environment. Resident spores in the soil are swallowed by grubs during their normal pattern of feeding on roots. This ingestion of the spore by the host activates reproduction of the bacteria inside the grub. Within 7-21 days the grub will eventually die and as the grub decomposes, billions of new spores are released into the soil. Milky Spore in the soil is not harmful to beneficial insects, birds, bees, pets or man; and Milky Spore like other bacteria is highly survivable in cold and drought conditions.

HOME MADE ORGANIC GARDENING SOLUTIONS:

Gardening organically is a great way to ensure your family and friends eat healthy from the earth, but it does present some challenges. The biggest challenges are in taking care of pests and fighting disease in order to grow a beautiful and bountiful harvest. Here are some homemade gardening solutions to these organic gardening problems.

Aphids:

Aphids can be successfully treated with either of the following sprays. The key to either is making sure you are diligent in spraying all the leaves, including the undersides.

1. Oil and soap spray – Take 2 teaspoons of Mineral oil and add in 2 or 3 minced garlic cloves. Let it steep for about 24 hours, then strain. Next add 1 teaspoon liquid dish soap and 1 pint of water. Use 1-2 tablespoons of this mix with a full spray bottle of water. Always test it on a leaf first to make sure it does not harm it. If it does, dilute it with more water and try again. This spray is not picky as to which insects it eliminates so if you do have some of the beneficial insects around, you should try this next spray instead.

2. Tomato leaf spray – Add 1 cup chopped tomato leaves to two cups water and let sit for 24 hours. Strain and add this mixture to a large spray bottle, filling it up the rest of the way with water.

Watch Gardening with Gutner:

Animals:

Use red pepper spray and many critters won’t come back for seconds. It makes the plants just too spicy for rabbits, mice, birds and squirrels. Mix 3 tablespoons of Tabasco sauce and 1 teaspoon dish soap. Add this to 1 quart of water.

Slugs:

In the spring, go on a nightly slug hunt. Using a flashlight, locate the slugs and pour table salt on them. A couple nights of this should sufficiently decrease your slimy slug problem. You can also sink a cup of beer in the ground around plants that have been eaten the most. Slugs love beer and will go in for a dip and not be able to get out.

Powdery Mildew:

This is a serious fungal disease that hits many types of plants, but weekly spraying of 30% skim milk or raw milk to 70% water can take care of it.

Weeds:

Good old vinegar can kill most weeds but it can also kill your plants. Do not pour it on weeds in your grass or you’ll end up with dead grass spots. If the weeds are close to other plants, try using a paint brush to brush the vinegar on the weed’s leaves.

Not only are these homemade gardening solutions good options for your garden, they’re also inexpensive and use everyday household items. Try any of these options to take care of your organic garden problems and reap the rewards with a great bounty.

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