Natural Gardening Tips: Fungicide, Pest Control, Rose Cultivation

How homemade compost prevents fungal disease in gardens, as well as bleaching summer seeds, pest biocontrol, and lengthening the storage life of okra.

| July/August 1989

For several years, West German agronomists have been using liquid extracts made from compost as preventive fungicides for garden crops. Plants treated with compost extracts have shown enhanced resistance to various fungi that cause blights and mildews. Indeed, the extracts have successfully prevented late blight of tomatoes and potatoes; anthracnose and powdery mildew on grapes; botrytis blight of beans; and more. (The extracts won't cure infected plants—they are a preventive only.)

To make a batch of the extract, simply mix one part well-rotted compost (that contains a mixture of plant matter and animal manure) with six parts water. Stir well. Let the mixture stand for about a week, then filter it through cheesecloth. Spray the liquid (undiluted) on plants, or use it to soak seeds overnight.

The German researchers say that compost extracts cause surface concentrations of phenols (chemicals that are toxic to fungi) to increase considerably. This results in induced resistance to fungal infections. Extracts from compost containing (any kind of) animal manure result in much better resistance than ones from only plant material.

Plant resistance typically declines about seven to 10 days after treatment, so for best results, repeat applications every five to seven days.

Quick Tips

Bleach summer seeds for better germination. To get good lettuce germination at high (85°–95°F) temperatures, first bleach the seeds. So say British researchers who soaked the seeds for a couple of hours in a 50°F solution with about 10% available chlorine. The result? Seeds that normally had a germination rate of under 10% (at 95°) had a 50% sprouting rate, and 40% germinators jumped to almost 100%. Apparently, bleaching slightly weakens the seed coat. Indications are that the technique should work on some other crops as well.

Roses: don't mess when stressed. North Carolinian Noel Lykins raises prize roses that are totally dependent on rainfall for moisture. He's found that during prolonged droughts, stopping all normal cultural practices (including fertilizing, pest control, pruning and even cutting flowers) results in best plant survival. When the roses show signs of recovery, he resumes regular care. 

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