Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Homemade Garden Remedies

As you're perusing your favorite social media outlets, you may spot pretty pictures touting this homemade weed killer or that remedy for mildew and fungus on plants. Before gathering the ingredients and dousing your plants, STOP! While homemade remedies may be fine, it's important to "do your homework" and research any remedies you see shared on social media.

Why It's Important to Research Homemade Garden Remedies

I was speaking with a friend the other day who said that her impatiens had died. We chatted for a while as I tried to diagnose the problem. It wasn't until she mentioned that she had whipped up a batch of homemade weed killer that I realized the problem. She's sprayed her plants with almost pure saltwater!

"But it's meant to kill the weeds," she protested when I broke the news to her that her homemade weed killer may have also killed her flowers.

While that's true, spraying your garden beds with such a homemade mixture actually sows salt into the soil. Do you remember how, in ancient times, invading armies would sow salt into fields to starve out the population? That's because salt kills plants and makes it impossible for new ones to grow.

Now this particular homemade remedy may have been fine to kill weeds in sidewalk cracks, but it wasn't a great idea to use it on her annual flowers. The same goes for many of the "miracle" cures I see touted all the time on social media. Some may work, some may not, but all should be used with the same care you would take if you bought chemicals at the store to spray on your garden.

Before using any homemade remedies in the garden, take the following steps to do your homework. Your plants will thank you for it.

  • Read the instructions carefully: Many of these social media posts are in the form of pictures with just a few lines of text. Use a search engine to research the remedy thoroughly. Read pros and cons, if you can, or any cautions.
  • Search the Cooperative Extension sites to see if they've tested the remedies: You can do this by typing your search query into your favorite search engine, then typing " + ext " after it. This returns only Cooperative Extension websites. The Extension conducts thorough, scientific research into many areas. That remedy everyone is raving about may have been tested by actual plant pathologists or horticulturists; find out!
  • Conduct a test: Conduct your own scientific test and use the remedy on only a small section of your garden. Wait a few days or weeks to see the results. You may save a few pennies but not creating a big batch of homemade weed killer, fertilizer or fungicide. You may also save your garden by not spraying something that harms the plants!

Just because something says "organic" doesn't mean it is without risks. After all, things like poison ivy are "organic" and "natural", but you wouldn't want to make a salve out of poison ivy sap. The same goes for organic, homemade remedies. Many offer useful applications in the garden, but do use care and common sense. 

In this day and age, when anyone can share anything with the click of a mouse, a lot of misinformation gets into your news stream. By searching on Cooperative Extension research, testing remedies, and using your common sense, you'll save yourself a lot of heartaches and headaches in the garden.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Too Many Tomatoes? No Such Thing!

I never thought I'd say it, but this year we almost have too many tomatoes. I blame fellow Master Gardener Liz D., who ran a great workshop this spring on how to grow tomatoes. Not only did I walk away with new knowledge on how to grow great tomatoes but some of her green thumb must have rubbed off on me. This year's tomato crop is a whopper, and we can't eat them fast enough to keep up with the harvest.

If nature has been especially generous to you this summer and you're looking at a bumper crop of tomatoes, you have several options for storing the harvest. There are also some local options for giving away tomatoes that will do both your heart and the health of someone in the community some good!

Freezing Tomatoes
Tomatoes can be frozen and used later in soups and stews. They must be blanched and peeled, then frozen without their skins. To learn how to freeze tomatoes properly, this article from the Nebraska Cooperative Extension provide step-by-step instructions. (Hint: Use freezer-safe plastic bags and write the date when you froze the tomatoes on the outside of the bag with a waterproof magic marker. This way, you can use the oldest ones first during the winter as you are cooking with your frozen tomatoes.)

Canning Tomatoes
The art and science of canning has come a long way from your grandma's day. If you're scared you might poison someone, don't be. I was convinced I'd make a ton of mistakes and yes, I've made some over the years, but by and large, my canned foods are a big hit here at home. You can can whole tomatoes or make juice, salsa, ketchup, spaghetti sauce and more. It's a great idea to take a canning and food preservation class from your local Cooperative Extension office if you've never done any home canning before. Books can also be a lifesaver and teach you step-by-step how to can all sorts of garden produce, including tomatoes.

Dried Tomatoes
If you have a food dehydrator, follow the instructions to dry your tomatoes. Use the dried tomatoes in any recipe that calls for sun-dried tomatoes. Pasta recipes are especially delicious with some dried tomatoes tossed in!

Give to Friends
If you have non-gardening friends, they'll certainly appreciate a bag of juicy tomatoes. Ask friends at work or at other social gatherings if they would like tomatoes. You'll probably have more requests than you can accommodate.

Give to Food Shelters
Many local food banks accept donations of fresh produce, so if your garden has blessed you with abundance, consider blessing others with healthy fresh vegetables. Search your community for links to food panties run by the town or local churches. Many church food pantries accept donations of fresh vegetables and eggs, which are in turn distributed directly to local families.

Too many tomatoes? That's a problem many people would love to have. If you're drowning under a wave of tomatoes this summer, use one or more of these options to share the bounty or enjoy it later. When January arrives with its ice, snow and cold, you'll be thankful for that taste of summer stored in your pantry or freezer.