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Tried and True Natural Gardening Tips

May 20, 2015

Summer will officially kickoff this weekend, and eager gardeners across Wisconsin are rushing area greenhouses and shaking last year’s dirt off the gardening gloves in anticipation of one of many Memorial Day rituals — planting time. The threat of frost is finally gone (hopefully) and plants that have been nurtured from seed are ready to take the to soil stage and put on their show. Here are a few things that worked (or didn’t work) for my garden over the years:

This year, I started tomato plants in mid-February from organic, heirloom seeds. Some people considered that too early, but as the seedlings sprouted and grew, I mounded more dirt around the base of each plant (and transplanted growing seedlings into larger pots), which helped the seedlings continue to root and grow stronger. My starts are now the size of plants I would have purchased from a garden center, and I have about 10 plants ready to go into the ground this weekend. This is the first year that I’ve had such great success with indoor seed starts.

When planting tomato plants, I mix in shovels of nourishing compost from my yard bin, as well as mushroom compost from a local nursery. I dig a deep hole for each tomato plant to be sure enough soil will cover the bottom one-third of each plant stem, which will eventually root and make the plant stronger. Then water, water, water for the first couple of weeks that the plants are in the ground. You can gradually ease up on the amount of water as the season progresses, but just be sure the soil around the plant is never dry.

Mother Nature can still throw a curveball in late May and early June, sending evening weather into October-like conditions. It’s important to keep an eye on the forecast during the first few days that plants are in the ground and to cover freshly planted vegetables and flowers with upside-down buckets if the thermometer will drop below 40 degrees.

Slugs enjoyed a full buffet from my cabbage last year. Some people suggested cayenne pepper spray or soap, but I found that didn’t seem to deter the super-slugs. I heard that the aroma of a little PBR or Miller poured into shallow cups placed near the plants would entice slugs to slither right into the cups of brew, thus leading to an intoxicating demise. I found this method cumbersome, as the beer had to be replaced frequently, such as after it rained or if the sun dried out the beer. I also caught my dog sampling freshly poured beer from the ground level cups.

This year, I’m going the crushed eggshell route, which worked well in past seasons to keep the slimy slugs away from the lettuce. Dry out several eggshells (damp egg residue left in the shells can attract rodents), and then crush them and sprinkle an eggshell border around each plant. The sharp eggshells scratch the slugs’ tender tummies, so they’ll likely just move along to another garden that doesn’t have the slug equivalent of a barbed-wire fence around its plants.

Rubber snakes worked great last year to keep larger critters, such as squirrels, from digging around the garden. I picked up several very creepy, realistic-looking snakes for a nominal cost at American Science & Surplus, in Milwaukee. I placed the phony snakes around the plants most likely to be attacked by neighborhood’s resident chipmunks and squirrels. The faux snakes will return this season to scare away any pests.

Gardening is an ongoing learning experience, and you’ll never know where each new planting or new experiment will lead. Wishing everyone a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend and a bountiful gardening season!

Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine.

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