Monday, December 28, 2015

Gardening Tips -- The Loser List

I must have heard hundreds of gardening tips so far. And I've tried quite a few of them. Oh, some I've never tried because they were too outlandish to be plausible to my sensibilities. I'm sure you've run across some of these. And many others simply didn't apply to my region, so I skipped them. 

Here's a few that I've tried and rejected as not being useful on my homestead.......

... Slug deterrents: I've covered these in an earlier post. Things that I found don't work on slugs include crushed eggshells, coffee grounds, sharp sand, wood ashes. I never tried the suggestion of ground glass because who wants that in their garden? Another tip was to plant veggies in beds rather than rows, stating that slugs would eat the plants along the edges thus leaving the ones in the center alone. I tried that and the slugs apparently didn't read the memo. They attacked everything. 
... Bury a penny under a transplant, especially recommended for eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes. I guess the thought behind this was for the penny to be a source of copper, eh? But heck, pennies aren't made out of copper anymore.
... Bury rusty nails in the garden. Thought?-- a source of iron? But I don't think that iron oxide is a readily available form of iron to plants. Anyway, I've never seen rusty nails make a bit of difference when I tried them. 
... Use household vinegar to kill weeds. Regular vinegar is only 5% acetic acid. I find that it's not strong enough for anything but the most sensitive weeds, and then mostly at the seedling or newgrowth stage. In order to use vinegar for weed control the strength needs to be closer to 20%. And it does the best on a bright sunny day. I'll use 20% vinegar by spraying it for 2-3 days in a row when the sun is super bright combined with no rain. Even then, there are weeds that it doesn't affect much. And most grasses just come back even though their leaves get burned and turn brown. But at least that slows them down considerably.
... Spray diluted milk on plants to control mildew. Although this seems to help delay an outbreak of mildew, I haven't found it to be very effective in treating mildew once I see it on the plants. When I see mildew breaking out on the sunflowers or zinnias, then I can spray the cukes and squashes and somehow delay a mildew outbreak on them. At least, that what it seems. I've never tried a controlled experiment. But once I see mildew, I don't bother wasting the milk anymore. 
... Use water crystals to combat drought. I can't say that I saw any improvement in the plants where water crystals were used compared to beds where it wasn't. And hey, what are those things made of anyway? What sort of chemicals ends up in my soil forever? 
... Don't water the garden on a sunny day. I never understood this bit of advice, because Mother Nature does it all the time. I commonly get a brief shower, then the sun reappears in all it's glory. It never seems to cause any problems in the garden. 
... Don't water at night. Another one that I don't get, because Mother Nature does it all the time at my homestead site.
... Wait until seedlings have two true leaves before transplanting. I've found that most my seedlings do just fine, if not better, transplanting them far younger. In fact, the cabbage family and tomato family all indeed do better for me when transplanted well before first true leaves develop. 
... Don't put fat into the compost pile. Well folks, I've put entire animal carcasses into hot compost piles with no problem. I surely don't de-fat a dead sheep first. And I've disposed of moldy butter via a hot compost pile too. Perhaps the trick is having a hot, active pile. 
... Plant marigolds in the garden to keep bugs out. While I enjoy having marigolds in the garden, I haven't seen them have one lick of success at deterring insects. I've seen my marigolds growing right next to plants having infestations of aphids, stink bugs, mealy bug, scale, whatever. 
... Tilling is bad and destroys the soil. I'm hearing this advice being repeated more frequently lately, along with all sorts of dire warnings of the negative consequences of tilling. It seems to me that the naysayers are equating tilling with destructive conventional plowing techniques resulting in erosion, windblown soil, loss of organic matter, reduction of soil microbes, etc. In my own experience, using the technique of tilling the top few inches of soil between crops along with the practice of using composts, manures, and mulch actually results in vastly improved soil, more earthworms, healthier and more robust crops, higher yields. 
... Don't use grass clippings for mulch. In fact, my number one successful mulching material is grass clippings! Perhaps this warning came about because novices used too thick a layer of clippings or used clippings that came from lawns recently sprayed with chemicals of some sort. I'm not sure. But I'm a big user of clippings and have had great success with them. 
... Don't add wood to soil. Most of the time the advice says not to use any wood chips in a garden. Other times it includes any and all kinds of wood. While I don't have much in the way of wood chips available, I will indeed add wood chips to my compost piles when I have some. I also purposely add broken up small twigs to the compost. Since I seed my compost with fungi (from previous compost and from locally collected mushrooms), I don't see using wood to be a problem. Of course, I'm not over doing the wood either. Plus I use manure and fresh grass clippings, both of which a good sources of nitrogen. Hey, Mother Nature uses wood all the time in her soil making process. Give it a thought. 
... Plant according to the moon cycles. Honestly, I haven't seen one iota of difference. Zero. Nada. Zilch. Any differences I have seen are easily explained via weather patterns, season, plant variety, etc. 
... Speak kindly to your plants. Sing to them. Play soothing music. Again, I haven't seen the slightest bit of difference. 
... Use boiled, de-oxygenated water on seedlings. This is another tip where I haven't seen make the slightest difference. I now use my normal catchment water and the seedlings do just fine. 

Now I'm not saying that all these failed tips are just plain huey. But they surely didn't work for me. 


  1. Very well said.
    I like to see some proper scientific experimental evidence before I put too much faith in advice like this.
    For instance a study showed that watering on a sunny day is not harmful at all.

  2. I dont think it is the milk itself that stops the mildew on the leaves.
    I believe it is the lactic acid bacteria that is antagonistic to the mildew. I have had the best results with diluting the fresh whey from my home made yogurt diluted with water and sprayed on the leaves.

    1. That sounds like something for me to look into. Thanks for the idea.

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  4. Thank you Su. The internet is full of advice like this, offered up at no cost to the giver, but at full cost to the receiver in the form of their time and the results achieved.

    I could squirt full strength home made vinegar on my thistles til the cows come home, but the thistles will just come back. Now if I judiciously use round up on them, then they go away forever. Rhetorically I wonder how much time does one have to engage in token efforts like vinegar (I note you mentioning doing several passes of sprays), and what is the soil accumulation cost of using round up in limited targeted amounts?

    1. Like you, I spray the ag strength vinegar judiciously. Thus my soil does not get overdosed with vinegar. And since I use wood ash and coral sand in my soil amendment mix, I am seeing no pH fluctuations.

      I'm not against using round-up judiciously. I use it along my fence lines to help preserve my fencing and discourage livestock from pushing against the fence. The reason for using ag vinegar is that I also teach home food production, I host the community garden, I demonstrate organic techniques, and I am myself moving away from commercial farming methods.

      I find ag vinegar to be a good technique when used on very young seedlings. Two other methods that are excellent at that stage of growth are a flaming device and a scuffle hoe.

  5. Thanks for the tips!