Farming is tough business. Whether you are growing in fields or raised garden beds, anything dependent on the weather itself is going to be tough. There are just too many variables. The soil must be the right temperature, there has to be just the right amount of sunlight and limited exposure to strong damaging winds. The odds are against us and we need to use all the tools we can to help us succeed. One simple idea, if used properly, can be one of those tools.
A Micro-Climate is what you would consider to be the small differences throughout an environment. On a miserably hot sunny day you can find it degrees cooler under the shade of a big tree. UV light sensitive bugs and organisms find it beneficial to live under a rock where the soil is cool and moist. Certain snakes may in turn lie out on top of the rock to absorb the warmth throughout the day. Different organisms need different environmental conditions. In the world of plants, they need a combination of sun, heat, wind and rain to survive but too much of any of them spells disaster. Micro-Climates can be used take the edge off the harsh weather outside so that whatever could thrive there, can thrive. By influencing the climate or weather of an area surrounding your crops, you can help their chances of survival.
“What sort of voodoo is this that controls the weather?” you ask. It is much easier than that. If you know me at all by now you know that I look for techniques that make my life easier. Micro-Climates can make it easier, but it’s not just something you do, it’s a way of thinking.
Creating a Micro-Climate Step 1
I used to struggle to keep any houseplant alive. I used to either water them too much, or not enough, or maybe just the right amount and they would still die on me. Now with my forty something houseplants I know that it’s as much the right spot as it is the right ingredients. Some like the early morning light in the front window while others enjoy our low lit kitchen. Some don’t mind being in a drafty window and a few don’t seem to like it anywhere (reality showing its ugly face). In order to keep your plants alive you must know them. Watch them, and pay attention to signs of stress.
We have quite a few Aloe plants that we grow inside. Most do fine in our front windows under direct light but the small ones struggle in it. We notice they start turning a darker color than the brilliant green of our healthy mama Aloe. But move them to the banister about five feet away and they pop right up. Like a sick child that suddenly starts feeling better, you see the vibrancy in it and you just know that it’s going to be alright.
This is the first step to creating a micro-climate. Watching for signs of stress and changing the conditions to best suit the plants. This doesn’t work with just decorative houseplants but should be applied to beneficial plants grown inside as well. Most of our starts for the spring garden begin in the house. I use no heating pad or grow light. I find the best spot for those little seedlings to germinate and get as strong as they can before I send them outside.
This technique can also be used in the fall. I had been working on pepper plants for over three years in my Pacific Northwest climate and when I finally had a good looking Cayenne plant I wasn’t going to let it go without a fight. Before fall really kicked in, I pulled it from the ground into a pot and brought it inside to ripen the peppers. Keeping it in my bedroom window, it started growing new shoots all winter long and before February arrived, there were new flowers starting to bud. I gave the plant a different environment and it not only did great all year long but now has the best head start for next year. This is a plant that is considered an annual in cooler climates. I changed the climate and kept it going.
Many plants can be grown in conditions they are not typically grown in. Most herbs can be grown and harvested all year long inside. You just need to experiment, pay attention and keep looking for new ways of making the micro-climate better.
Creating a Micro-Climate Step 2
The other step to creating a micro-climate is just that; create one. In Mother Earth News’ August/September 2013 issue we met blogger David Goodman who grows tropical key limes, pineapples, guavas and lemons which would be impossible in his part of Florida. He grows them against his house on the south side and the thermal mass of the structure radiates enough heat to keep them alive through the winter. I tried this approach with my garlic. I planted them in October in the bed against my garage. Even with the angle of the sun low behind my neighbor’s house most of the day, this bed was the only uncovered bed that didn’t freeze. With our two stretches of freezing temps lasting continuously for a week or more each time, this bed remained warm enough to make me wish I had planted more.
The other thing you can do if you need more protection is to cover them. I built a hoop tunnel this year with the hopes of harvesting greens all winter long. Easier said than done but what I did learn was even if the temps weren’t noticeably warmer inside, the protection from the heavy wind and rain kept everything in there looking fantastic all winter long. All my mint plants and lemon balms that I had in big containers over the summer went in there for hibernation. I had parsley and chamomile growing outside the hoop tunnel and some inside but only the ones under the tunnel are still alive and looking great. It shows you that it’s not just the temperature that can kill plants but exposure to the elements is often the stronger accomplice.
We are one of the only creatures on Earth who changes its environment as drastically as we do. It’s time to take that ability and add it to our knowledge of plants. We can grow a hedgerow along our garden to block heavy winds; plant near a slope so the cooler, heavier air moves away from the plants; use buildings, rocks, ponds, rain barrels or other thermal mass for growing plants next to. Any extra help we can get should be added to our survival tool kit and learning to create micro-climates is definitely that.
We have decided to start our permaculture garden with mounds. We can build these almost anywhere in the garden. We have chosen to start small, developing different areas so that we will be able observe what works and what doesn’t
The first project was to build a keyhole mound between the existing fruit trees. This is not ideal…the trees should be planted as you build, but ours were already there and growing so we improvised.
The idea is that you have a trench (or lower level) to catch the rainfall. This then seeps slowly into the mound watering the plants. Since it doesn’t rain that much here we have decided to put in a watering system (drip feed) to help the plants out in the Summer. This will be placed on the top of the mound and at each side.
The mound itself is made up of layers. Wood is the starter. This we collected from the land at the side of us. Pruning’s of olive and almond trees have been left on the land. We collected them, trimmed them into different sizes and laid them on the ground in the shape of a horse shoe. Largest to smallest. The wood breaks down over time, releasing it's nutrients into the mound and so feeding the plants growing there.
The next job was to dig out the trench around the outside and inside of the wood. This soil was put on top of the wood. There should be no sign that the wood is inside when the mound is finished. If there are twigs sticking out the water will run along them and out of the mound. Water will always find the path of least resistance in which to flow.
Since our soil is very poor, we placed sheep dung on the top. A layer about an inch thick all over the mound. The drip feed system will be placed on top of the dung and the pipes will be covered with straw to reduce evaporation and to add more organic material to the soil.
The lighter straw is where the trench was dug out and where we can walk to harvest and look after the plants.
We are planning on planting strawberries, peas, beetroot and radish on this mound. It’s still a little chilly at night here (February 2014) but by the end of February our seedlings will go in and so will all the seeds.
As couples discover that a wedding with all the traditional frills can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, many are looking for DIY wedding ideas. Brides, grooms, and their families are taking on tasks that previously were hired out, everything from designing the wedding invitations to baking the wedding cake. For experienced gardeners, the DIY wedding can include growing your own wedding flowers.
I’m in the midst of that process myself right now, for my son and his fiancee, who are getting married in four months. I’ve been a commercial flower grower for more than 20 years, so I know just what to do to ensure I have a good selection of gorgeous blooms on the big day. In this article, I’ll break it down for people who don’t have a lot of experience with growing flowers for events. Let me repeat, though, this should only be attempted by the accomplished gardener; wedding flowers are not for the inexperienced.
Pick Your Wedding Flowers
Color and seasonality are the two most important considerations in choosing what to grow. The easiest choice of colors is whatever is blooming; you might call it the “wildflower” look — though you’ll actually be using carefully cultivated garden flowers. It’s an immensely popular look right now, and it certainly takes the pressure off the flower grower when the bride is going to be happy with any and every color of flower.
But it’s not that much more difficult to grow a specific color theme such as peach and coral or blue and yellow. Many good cut flower varieties are available as individual colors, so you can tailor your planting to your bride’s preferences.
Seasonality is little more tricky. As an experienced gardener, you will have a general idea of when certain flowers bloom in your garden — which bloom in spring, summer, or fall. Choose varieties from those broad seasonal categories and don’t try to force them out of season; for example, don’t count on zinnias for an early June wedding because they may not bloom till mid-June. Peonies are an exception to the rule because they can be held in cold storage for up to two months after they bloom. You can read more about holding peonies here.
Schedule Your Seed Starting
Here I’m going to send you to Johnny’s Selected Seeds for two crucial ingredients. First, Johnny’s is one of very few seed companies that publishes the average days to bloom for flower varieties. These are ballpark numbers at best because bloom times can be affected dramatically by weather. Still, they give you some guidance.
Second, Johnny’s has on its website a Target Harvest Date Calculator that I created several years ago when they hired me to produce useful resources for growers. I love this calculator for weddings because you can type in the date of your event, the flowers you want to grow, including the catalog’s estimated days to bloom, and a few other factors and -- voila! -- you have your seed-starting date.
Start Seeds and Plant Out
As an experienced gardener, you don’t need the details here. But I will caution you to do it right. Don’t take chances with sloppiness or shortcuts. Buy fresh seed and new potting mix, clean your seed-starting flats, use a heat mat and grow lights. Transplant promptly and fertilize appropriately. Harden off before you plant outside. Be prepared with row cover and hoops if there’s any chance of a frost. Observe all the best practices — then stand back and watch your flowers grow!
Have a Backup Plan
Things can go terribly awry in the garden, as you undoubtedly know. So be prepared to buy flowers in case you don’t have enough of your own. Find a local flower farmer at your farmers market or on www.SlowFlowers.com or LocalHarvest.org. As a last resort, ask a florist or supermarket floral two weeks ahead of the wedding to special order for you. (Ask for American-grown flowers — and be part of the movement to bring back our domestic cut flower industry!)
Learn to Make Wedding Bouquets and Boutonnieres
Okay, this part is a pitch for my new book, Fresh from the Field Wedding Flowers. I wrote the book to encourage the use of local flowers for weddings. My co-author, Erin Benzakein, is one of the top farmer-florists in the country, and she presents 75 minutes of video tutorials showing how to make a bridal bouquet, boutonnieres and corsages, a tall arrangement, and a low centerpiece. The book has photos from dozens of real local-flower weddings to provide design inspiration. However, if you feel intimidated about floral design, consider hiring a pro to do the "wear and carry" flowers including the bridal and maids bouquets, boutonnieres, and corsages. Then focus your own efforts on centerpieces, altar flowers, and other decorations.
Lynn Byczynski is the editor and publisher of Growing for Market, a magazine for market gardeners, and the author of The Flower Farmer: An Organic Grower’s Guide to Raising and Selling Cut Flowers and Market Farming Success.
If you love fruit like I do, you'll soon realize that you could break the bank buying enough plants to fill your belly. Luckily, many fruiting trees and bushes are very simple to propagate using no equipment except some potting soil and a heating pad (or even just a garden row). In fact, if you follow the techniques below, you can get a handful of cuttings for free from a friend during pruning season and end up with a whole homemade orchard.
Grapes are the first easy species on my list because they will grow in most parts of the U.S. and are a breeze to root from hardwood cuttings. (Hardwood cuttings are pieces of one-year-old wood taken in the late winter before the buds start to swell.) You can read my easy rooting method here, or, if you want to put in a little more effort and get even higher success rates, you can use the fig technique listed next.
Figs are just as easy to root as grapes, but I put them second on my list because northerners will have a hard time keeping the plants alive. (If you live partway north, you can grow figs as long as you choose a cold-hardy variety.) My method of rooting figs from hardwood cuttings is nearly as simple as the one I use for grapes, but I use a heating pad for figs to jump-start the process.
Gooseberries are simple because they just about root themselves. If you allow (or force) one branch to trail along the ground, then cover part of the branch with mulch, roots will grow on the submerged portion. Cut the stem free next year and you'll have one or more gooseberry plants to set out elsewhere. In case you're curious, this technique is called tip layering.
Hazels and rabbiteye blueberries are examples of another kind of self-rooting plant. After a few years, both of these bushes will begin to send up suckers from near the base. The suckers that are at least a few inches away from the parent plant will generally grow roots a year after emerging, at which point you can dig down until you've found several roots, clip the sucker off below the rooted area, and then prune the top back to match the amount of roots you found. In fact, if you're careful, you can propagate figs this way as well.
This is far from a complete list of the easy-to-propagate woody plants found on the homestead, but it should get you started. Soon you will have filled up your whole homestead and will be giving away baby figs and gooseberries to your friends and neighbors. Enjoy!
As a side note, if you're expanding your chicken flock as well as your orchard this spring, our Chick Bundle is on sale for 20% off right now - get them while they're hot!
I've had great luck starting peach trees from seed.
MOTHER EARTH NEWS has shared about growing stone fruit from seed before ... but to the best of my knowledge, we have never, ever posted a totally weird cartoon on the subject.
You can see the remedy below.
Whew. That needed to be done.
Don't let people tell you that growing fruit trees from seed isn't worth it. All of our wonderful modern varieties came from seed at some point in the past. In my experience, seed-grown trees may not produce the same exact fruit as their parents, but they more than make up for it in vigor and the sheer satisfaction of owning a cultivar that's completely unique to you.
Lighten up and start some peach pits this summer... it's totally worth the time.
Growing lettuce and other leafy greens indoors with an aeroponic system in a south-facing window in the basement seems like a wise move. Growing anything seems like a wise move, I suppose. However, the short days during this long winter has soil-growing 30-day Asian greens at only 2-inches in height, although they were sowed over 30 days ago.
I hope with the use of an aeroponic system, growing 30-day Asian greens can actually take somewhere around 30 days. However, I do not plan on using indoor lights to make this happen, just the south-facing window. Anything that makes the electricity bill go up is strictly forbidden at this time. Plus I don’t want passerby's to see an indoor light and some dude with dread locks. I’ll have the neighbors, riff-rats, and cops thinking I’m up to something. Or worse – someone will break inside and steal my Asian greens!
For right now I will explain the most simple, basic steps to growing lettuce with an aeroponic system. First, we will go over what aeroponics is and what our goal is, then we’ll talk about the initial expenses, touch on pH and nutrient solution, and last, we will hope the sun provides enough life-giving rays long enough each day to grow these Asian greens in 30-days.
About Aeroponics and What I Want to Accomplish
Aeroponics, like hydroponics, deals with growing plants without using soil. Once soil is taken from the equation, all that is left is water, air, and nutrients. The air becomes the growing medium rather than the soil. It is then left to me to measure the nutrient solution, or the fertilizer being mixed into the water. The lid must be secure to block out all light from hitting the roots dangling inside the aeroponic system; therefore, the humidity will stay at 100 percent while oxygen-rich nutrient solution sprays the roots all day.
The aeroponic system is simple. Advanced Simplicity 202-type simple. It starts off as a tote. A PVC pipe is then added horizontally a few inches below the top of the tote. This PVC pipe will have spray-misters drilled into it and a tube coming out to the bottom of the tote to connect to the water pump. Then there is the lid to the tote. This is where the top of the plants grow above as the roots grow inside the tote. It will have holes cut out to install netted pots that will hold the hydro balls, also known as expanded clay. The hydro balls help to hold moisture, nutrients, and oxygen for the roots.
I germinate the seeds in rockwool cubes, then place the rockwool in the netted pot surrounded by hydro balls. The lid should also have a hole for the plug of the water pump to run out of and an extra and larger hole in the middle for taking water out to measure pH and nutrients. Remember, when growing indoors all water should be below the waist and everything electric above the waist. (Growing Indoors with Hippies 101.)
One claimed benefit to growing with hydroponics is plants grow faster because nutrients are available for the plant as fast as the plant can take them. Growing in soil minimizes the amount of oxygen available to the roots in comparison to hydroponics, which maximizes oxygen. In other words, soil holds the nutrients longer and acts as a buffer zone; whereas, nutrients in hydroponics are instantly available. Growing indoors with 600-Watt lights at vegetative intervals of 18-hours a day and flowering intervals of 12-hours a day is some crazy productive stuff. It’s also goes way past my budget and free time. (At least until Pennsylvania becomes the next Colorado.)
The major advantage to aeroponics versus hydroponics is the roots have the highest potential to absorb nutrients through the air. In hydroponics, the water runs through the roots at timed intervals, always draining back into a main water chamber. In aeroponics, the main water chamber is the only chamber and it’s a daily, steady combination of oxygen, water, nutrients, and roots.
The major con to hydroponics is if something goes wrong the plants are much less forgiving than if their roots were in soil. And in order for everything to run smooth the gardener needs to be on top of stuff. Water pH, temperature, and nutrient solutions need to be checked, water needs to be changed every week or two, spray misters cannot clog and do not forget, the garden is growing faster than soil; therefore, the gardener must be fast too. Aeroponics is even less forgiving than hydroponics. And more touchy.
With all that said, it’s simple. Especially when you start off with lettuce varieties and avoid fancy indoor light systems. (I admit, I admire.) And that is my goal. I just want to grow greens indoors with my aeroponic system. Simply.
To follow the flow of simplicity, let’s assume the aeroponic system is ready to go. It’s even filled up with water a few inches above the water pump and it’s plugged in with soaked rockwool cubes germinating seeds. In order for plants to grow, the water pH must be balanced and nutrients must be added to the water. Other than the system, some minor purchases would be for the hydro balls, water pH up/down solution, and nutrient solution. Then there are the major initial expenses. One is a pH meter to measure the pH in the water and two is a TDS meter to measure the nutrients in the water. Fortunately, they are affordable.
I went for the most affordable of each and when I called the pH meter cheap the dude from the hydro-store looked at me crazy. “It’s a great pH meter. It’s not that sophisticated because you’re only growing greens,” he made sure to say. Sounded great to me because I don’t want anything unless I absolutely need it. The pH meter I chose is a Hanna Champ HI98106 and the TDS meter is made by HM Digital, the TDS-3. Both were under 50 bucks and both have worked great, even now after sitting in the shed for 2 years.
Every now and then the meters will need to be calibrated to be sure all measurements are accurate. The pH meter requires more attention to that than the TDS meter does. It’s a mind-numbingly easy process and the calibration solution is cheap. Technically, you are supposed to pour a little calibration solution in a jar, use it once, and dispose of it. The dude at the hydro-store let me in on a little secret; he said, “Use it once, put a lid on it, and use it a second time. They say not to do it but you can get away with it.” My man.
Most soil gardeners will be familiar with pH. TDS, or total dissolved solids, may be foreign - it is used to measure nutrients in the water. Those same nutrients may also be measured under different scales that look like this: EC, DS, or CF. I say chickpea, you say chana and the can on the store shelf says garbanzo. But I just want a bean! (I also just lied, it’s much more complex. But remember, simple.) Here’s an explanation from Gardening Indoors with Soil and Hydroponics by George F. Van Patten:
Pure distilled water has no resistance and conducts no electrical current. When impurities are added to pure distilled water in the form of fertilizer salts, it conducts electricity. Nutrient (salt) concentrations are measured by their ability to conduct electricity through a solution. (Don’t worry, it gets easier.) Simple electronic meters measure this value and interpret it as total dissolved solids (TDS). The TDS meter gives me a reading in parts per million (PPM). I then just need to know what number to aim for in the ppm measurement to grow lettuce.
pH and Nutrient Solution
Let’s keep talking about nutrient solution. In order to grow lettuce with an aeroponic system all I purchased is General Hydroponics Flora Gro. What I like about the dude at the hydro-store is he only sells me exactly what he thinks I need. Flora Gro is part of General Hydroponics basic Flora Series which consists of Flora Gro, Flora Bloom, and Flora Micro. I do not need Flora Bloom because I’m not growing tomatoes or chickpeas or any other vegetable that fruits. The Flora Micro are micro-nutrients that plants may need. This is what he said about the Flora Micro knowing I was short on cash: “You can probably get away without using Flora Micro since you’re only growing greens.” I observed his wording carefully noting I may want to purchase it on my return trip when I buy more hydro balls. We’ll see. I admired his wording for not upselling me like a dude on the brink of starvation. (Technically, he has a building full of food.) With this figured out, all I need to know next is how much Flora Gro to add.
Different plants require different amounts of nutrients. For lettuce I need my TDS meter to measure around 800 ppm. According to this chart, lettuce grows best between 560 and 840 ppm. Technically, I’m growing Asian greens – mizuna and tatsoi. I’ll aim for 800 and increase if necessary.
pH is pH and it is fairly simple yet the numbers a soil gardener may be familiar with are different. In a hydroponic system, vegetables do best with a pH range between 5.5 and 6.5, and it is even better to aim between 5.8 and 6.0. According to the book by Van Patten, the pH of the nutrient solution controls the availability of ions that plants need to assimilate. According to me, it’s much easier to stick the pH meter in water and adjust it with pH down or pH up to aim between 5.8 and 6.0.
Because the water needs changed every week to two, (more often with massive root systems), it is required to run straight water through the system to flush it out between nutrient changes. If the water is not changed the plants can die – the major con.
I start off with fresh water and germinating seeds in rockwool placed in netted pots surrounded by hydro balls – water pump plugged in. I dip a little glass bowl into the water, add some pH down and some nutrient solution, a little at a time and pour the bowl back into the aeroponic system. Then I forget about it for the day. The next day (or the next) I take out more water, measure it with my pH meter, then with my TDS meter and add more depending on the measurements. It’s O.K. to gradually build up to 800 ppm because the plants are still seedlings. The pH I want to keep at 6.0 or a little below.
As for organic, I don’t know. According to General Hydroponics, only unrefined minerals can be certified organic and unrefined minerals do not dissolve well enough for hydroponic systems. Products such as their Flora Series comes from high-quality refined minerals which means they cannot be certified organic. But I’m not after certifications.
For right now, I just want to see if I can formulate growing lettuce with the aeroponic system into my weekly routine year round in the south-facing window in the basement. Ultimately, I feel a deep connection with the soil and sun versus liquid nutrients and indoor lights, but I do enjoy each trip to the local hydroponic store where the owner is growing a ton of veggies all over the place. And selling weekly shares. Perhaps one day, we can take a trip. Until then, stay tuned to check out my progress.
Read more at MadLoveOrganix.blogspot.com.
Milk as Soil Food
Using milk on your compost and in your garden will probably come as a surprise to most. Upon closer inspection, however, it starts to make sense. The amino acids, proteins, enzymes and natural sugars that make milk a food for humans and animals are the same ingredients in nurturing healthy communities of microbes, fungi and beneficial bacteria in your compost and garden soil. Raw milk is the best, as it hasn’t been exposed to heat that alters the components in milk that provide a perfect food for the soil and plants, but any milk will provide nutrition and benefits. Using milk on crops and soils is another ancient technique that has been lost to large scale modern industrial agriculture.
Milk is a research-proven fungicide and soft bodied insecticide - insects have no pancreas to digest the milk sugars. Dr. Wagner Bettiol, a Brazilian research scientist, found that milk was effective in the treatment of powdery mildew on zucchini. His research was subsequently replicated by New Zealand melon growers who tested it against the leading commercially available chemical fungicide and found that milk out-performed everything else. To their surprise, they also found that the milk worked as a foliar fertilizer, producing larger and tastier melons than the control group.
Recently David Wetzel, a Nebraska farmer completed a 10 year study on applying milk at different rates to his pastures, and recorded the results with the help of the local Agricultural Extension agent Terry Gompert , a university soil specialist, a weed specialist and an insect researcher.
What they found was amazing- the grass production was drastically increased; the soil porosity or ability to absorb air and water doubled; microbe activity and populations increased; cows were healthier and produced more milk on treated pastures; the brix or sugar level in the pasture tripled, indicating more nutrients were stored in the grass than before. Grasshoppers abandoned the treated pastures- the sugars are a poison to soft bodied insects as they do not have a pancreas to process the sugars. This also explains why insects will leave healthy, high brix level plants alone, as they contain more sugars than the stressed and sickly ones. Milk Works As Fertilizer.
For the home gardener, the ratio can range from 100% milk to a 20% mixture with water, with no loss of benefits. Use as a spray on the compost and garden soil prior to planting, and as needed when insects appear. Spray directly on the insects and around the areas they inhabit. When combined with molasses, it becomes a highly beneficial soil drench. A proven solution is 20% milk – 1 cup of milk to 4 cups of water, or 2 cups milk to 8 cups water for larger gardens.
Molasses Feeds Micro-Organisms
Molasses is a viscous by-product of the processing of sugar cane or sugar beets into sugar. Sulfured molasses is made from young sugar cane. Sulfur dioxide, which acts as a preservative, is added during the sugar extraction process. Unsulfured molasses is made from mature sugar cane, which does not require such treatment. There are three grades of molasses: mild or Barbados, also known as first molasses; dark, or second molasses; and blackstrap. The third boiling of the sugar syrup makes blackstrap molasses. The majority of sucrose from the original juice has been crystallized and removed. The calorie content of blackstrap molasses is still mostly from the small remaining sugar content. However, unlike refined sugars, it contains trace amounts of vitamins and significant amounts of several minerals. Blackstrap molasses is a source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron; one tablespoon provides up to 20% of the USDA daily value of each of those nutrients.
Molasses is a very valuable addition to the compost pile, as well as to the garden itself. Unsulfured blackstrap is the preferred variety, due to the mineral content, but any of the unsulfured ones will do fine. The benefits beyond the minerals are the natural sugar content that will feed the microorganisms in the compost or soil of the garden.
Use 1/4 to 1 cup to a gallon of water and spray onto the pile or garden, or add to the drip system for the garden. For soils that are poor, stressed or need help use 1 cup, while those that just need a little “snack” use 1/4 cup. The readily available sugar content will skyrocket the microbial activity.
Blackstrap molasses is also commonly used in horticulture as a flower blooming and fruiting enhancer, particularly in organic hydroponics. Use the before mentioned mixture in the drip system, or sprayed alongside the roots of fruiting vegetables as they start to flower to increase their flowering and fruiting. Add 3 Tablespoons of molasses to the milk spray solution mentioned above and use to feed plants during the height of growing season. Hungry, high production plants such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, etc. will really benefit from the consistent feedings, giving you more production that is more flavorful.
A fringe benefit of spraying the milk and molasses mixture on the garden is a biologically friendly weed population control. Many broadleaf weeds thrive on diets high in available nitrates and potassium diets, common with commercial fertilizers. Phosphorus is “tied up” or bound with calcium in the soil and needs biological activity to release it. The calcium in milk helps to compensate for what is unavailable in the soil, while the increased biological activity from both the milk and molasses releases unavailable phosphorus and create soil conditions that are unfavorable to germination of weed seeds.
Who knew that something as simple as milk and molasses had such powerfully positive, far-reaching effects?
For a more in-depth look at other proven but unique approaches to creating great compost and healthy, fertile and vibrant garden soil, read our article "Compost- Nourishing Your Garden Soil" where we show how to stack several techniques to super-charge your compost.
Stephen Scott is an heirloom seedsman, educator, speaker, soil-building advocate, locavore, amateur chef, artist and co-owner of Terroir Seeds with his wife, Cindy. They believe in a world of healthy soil, seed, food and people. Everyone has a fundamental need for vibrant food and health, which are interrelated. They welcome dialogue and can be reached at Seeds@UnderwoodGardens.com or 888-878-5247. Visit their website and sign up for their Newsletter for more education like this!