MacGyver's Garden: Creative Ways To Solve Plant Problems

In Robert P. Tristan’s rose garden, rows of flowers were set side by side with rows of vegetables. His biographer, Raymond Charles Swain, was intrigued by the arrangement the first time he saw it, and the pet explained, “I make nature work for me. The flowers in between the rows of vegetables attract the bees, and the bees pollinate the vegetables. Just think! I get all that labor or nothing!” Creativity is one of the keys to winning in the game of life. Resourcefulness can oftentimes draw the line between success and failure. Here are some novel but effective (and pssst, cheap!) ways to beat plant pests and solve garden dilemmas from horticultural scientists George ‘Doc’ Abraham and Katherine ‘Katy’ Abraham. Mite These are the microscopic menace of fruit trees and ornamental plants. Their mission is to drain the life out foliage, leaving them yellowish and patched with brittle, twisted leaves. Mix 4 cups of wheat flour, 5 gallons of water and ½ cup buttermilk. Strain the solution on a piece of cheesecloth or karate uniform. Spray. Snails and slugs The most amazing trap for these icky crawlers is, listen to this, beer! Yes, as in San Mig but Colt 45 is cheaper. Place a wide pan on a shallow pit – the final arrangement would look like a mini swimming pool. Pour the beer (no ice), and attracted by the free brew, they will come slithering slowly, very slowly, and they they’ll fall in and drown. Floyd F. Smith of the U.S. Department of Agriculture ran a series of greenhouse experiments, and in a report to the Entomological Society of America, he said, “Beer attracted more than 300 slugs, while metaldehyde, a standard bait, attracted only 28.” Fungal diseases Ripening tomatoes are especially prone. Mix 1 tablespoon of bleach to a quart of water. Wash tomatoes and dry them with paper towels. Then wrap them individually in newspapers, and place in cool storage. Beetles Believe it or not, but the most effective beetle bait in the world is fruit cocktail. Open a can of fruit cocktail and let the contents ferment under direct sunlight for a week. Then place it in a pail with the opening of the can just above he water level. The sweet mix will lure the beetles and they’ll drown in the pail. Caveat: if it rains on your trap, it will lose its power. For flea beetles, which specialize in peppers, potatoes and tomatoes, dusting the leaves with talcum powder works like magic. It’s also the most refreshing repellent against rabbits in case they materialize in your yard. Fungus gnats These pesky black flies always congregate in the soil of indoor plants. Get suds from a laundry soap, and pour ½ cup, circling the top of the pots. For best results, use naphtha soap, but any detergent bar is fine. Aphids Soapsuds will destroy them completely, like gnats. Aim directly and spray. Another aphicide is nicotine, except for Solanaceae family members (e.g., eggplants, peppers, tomatoes). In a cup of water, soak a couple of cigarette butts until the water turn brown. Mix the nicotine tea with a small amount of laundry soapsuds. Spray. Symphilids and springtails These creatures are usually found in the soil. Mix nicotine solution (see above), and pour a cupful around the plant’s base. White flies These 1/16 inch flying dandruff have been the pet peeve of gardeners even before spades were invented. They have a curious habit of killing plants by sucking sap from the undersides of the leaves. If the plant survives, they secrete a mysterious substance that summons black molds. Mix 1 tablespoon dishwashing liquid in a gallon of water, and spray the solution on the undersides of the leaves. Do this every 5 days for 15 days, and once a week after that until symptoms desist. Tobacco mosaic virus Any infected plant must b e destroyed at once, or it will spread. This comes from, well, tobacco. If you smoke, you hands contain residues from holding cigarettes, and all Solanaceae crops are highly vulnerable. Simply washing your hand with laundry soap before gardening will do the trick. Even if you wear gloves, it’s better to be on the safe side. Dogs and cats These are “pets” not “pests” but sometimes they have a delightful way of obliterating your seedlings while romping outdoors. Mix some chopped garlic with 1 tablespoon of cayenne powder, and soak for an hour in a quart of water. Then add 1 tablespoon of dishwashing liquid (to help the solution stick to the plant). You can either use a sprayer or a watering can. This technique will keep you animal housemates at bay. Important: “Do not spray outdoors on windy days as solution may burn your eyes. Indoors, be careful not to breathe the fumes,” according to the Abrahams. Preserving cut flowers Vinegar. So if you’re an importer, you’ll have to eat less adobo. “Mix 2 tablespoons of white vinegar and 2 teaspoons of cane sugar in a quart of water,” advise the Abrahams. “Use in vase instead of plain water.” Lack of acid in soil Certain plants like gardenias and azaleas require an acid soil. Otherwise they will eventually wilt. Mix 2 tablespoons of vinegar to a quart of water. Then pour a cupful at the base of the plant every 2 weeks until the leaves turn green again. Excess lime in soil This is caused by too much hard-water from wells or hand pumps. Symptoms include yellow leaves. Again, vinegar. Use the same technique in treating the soil’s lack of acidity. Lack of magnesium in sandy soil If your muskmelons taste flat, that could be it. The University of Maryland found a solution: Mix 6 ½ tablespoons of Epson salt, 3 1/3 tablespoons of household borax, and 5 gallons of water. Spray when the vines start to run, and also when the fruits reach 2 inches in diameter. Sterilizing your equipment At the end of the day, you need to rest – unless you’re a call center agent. Before watching the evening news, sterilize your garden tools and flowerpots. Mix a solution of one-part bleach and nine-part water. Soak your equipments for a couple minutes.