September 21, 2022

DIY organic gardening solutions

Leave the chemicals locked away and have a go at combating pests and disease the organic way this spring with homemade solutions.

Allium-family plants such as chives repel aphids.

Long before garden centres and systemic fungicides, insecticides and herbicides were around, plants were still being nibbled by pests and coated in disease.

Back then, the way to deal with insect and fungal attacks was all about using what was available – be that hand-picking problem grubs, adding companion plants to ward off issues or creating potions from plant extracts to spray over affected crops.

Equal parts milk and water make a good powdery mildew buster.

As a result of the movement towards more and more home-grown food, coupled with our desire to reduce the use of chemicals, especially around our produce, we seem to have come full circle as gardeners are, once again, looking for organic solutions to their pest and disease problems.

Thankfully, there are many tried-and-true methods and recipes for keeping edibles and other plants and animals protected and assisted from the ravages of fungal spores and gnawing pests that have been passed down from gardener to gardener over time.

The most important part of gardening is vigilance. Keeping an eye out for the first sap-sucking aphid or that barely visible dusting of powdery mildew makes all the difference.

The earlier you can attend to a potential problem, the better chance you have of dealing with an infestation. Keeping your plants regularly watered and fertilised to maintain inherent vigour wards off many problems too.

Grouping certain plants together encourages beneficial insects while deterring the problem ones. Some of the best companion plants are herbs.

The combination of their massed pollinator-attracting flowers along with, in many cases, repelling aromatics and, of course, multiple culinary uses, make herbs such as sage, mint, basil, tarragon, rosemary and loads more, ideal additions to any veggie patch.

Flowering herbs such as sage attract beneficial insects.

Wormwood, a large, shaggy, silver-leafed perennial has been planted near chook yards for eons. Pecked by chickens, the parasite-fighting thujone compound in the leaves has assisted in reducing intestinal worms and other fowl parasites since Ancient Egyptian times. While sprigs of wormwood in chicken laying boxes also deter mites.

Aphid-repelling garlic, chives and other allium family plants have traditionally been planted amongst and around roses, tomatoes and other plants that are susceptible to the little suckers.

Wormwood deters mites.

Homemade sprays to fight insects and fungal diseases are easy to create and you’ll find most of the ingredients in your garden and kitchen. As these sprays are contact-only, as opposed to being absorbed and translocated through the plant, it’s important to give the plants a good covering, including the underside of leaves, when spraying.

Rain events and overhead watering will wash solutions off, so regular applications are needed. As DIY sprays generally don’t store well, make up batches and use as you need. Also, it makes sense to test out any spray on a small patch of plants to check for sensitivity before spraying across the yard.

DIY fungal spray
Great for helping control blackspot, powdery mildew and rust.

• 1 tbsp bicarb soda
• 2 ½ tsp vegetable oil (e.g. canola)
• pinch of grated pure soap (or lux flakes)
• 1 cup of water

Combine ingredients in a blender, blend for one minute and strain.
Add to 5 litres of water and spray.

Powdery mildew buster
Mix equal amounts of milk and water.
Shake and spray.

DIY insect spray
• 4 chillies (the hotter the better)
• 4 onions
• 2 cloves garlic
• 2 tbsp soap flakes

Place all ingredients into blender, cover with water and buzz. Pour into a jar and let stand for 24 hours.
Strain and dilute with 5 litres of water, then spray.

Note: Protection for eyes, nose and hands should be worn. Spray upwind to avoid the chilli burn.

This article first appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of SALIFE  Gardens & Outdoor Living magazine.

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