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Organic Gardening Tips
Terra Viva Organics

Website & Terra Viva Update
Got Mildew? Get Milk!
The Green, Green Grass of Home
Hairy What?
Savory Cilantro

Website & Terra Viva Update

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Got Mildew? Get Milk!

by Arzeena Hamir
Less than 3 years ago, researchers in South America discovered a new alternative to controlling powdery mildew. Wagner Bettiol, a scientist from Brazil, found that weekly sprays of milk controlled powdery mildew in zucchini just as effectively as synthetic fungicides such as fenarimol or benomyl. Not only was milk found to be effective at controlling the disease, it also acted as a foliar fertilizer, boosting the plant's immune system.

Powdery mildew in the cucurbit family is caused by the organism Sphaerotheca fuliginea. It is a serious disease that occurs worldwide. For decades, organic gardeners had to rely on making a spray from baking soda to control the disease. Now, instead of measuring out the baking soda and combining it with a surfactant (a "sticking" substance) of either oil or soap, gardeners need only head for their refrigerators.

In his experiments with zucchini plants, Bettiol found that a weekly spray of milk at a concentration of at least 10% (1 part milk to 9 parts water) significantly reduced the severity of powdery mildew infection on the plants by 90%. While some gardeners may be tempted to increase the concentration of milk for more control, Bettiol found that once concentrations rose above 30%, an innoccuous fungus began to grow on the plants.

How does milk control powdery mildew?

Scientist aren't 100% sure how milk works to control this disease. It seems that milk is a natural germicide. In addition, it contains several naturally occurring salts and amino acids that are taken up by the plant. From previous experiments using sodium bicarbonate, potassium phosphate, and other salts, researchers have found that the disease is sensitive to these salts. It is possible then, that milk boosts the plant's immune system to prevent the disease.

Milk used around the world

The benefits of using milk to control powdery mildew haven't been isolated to Brazil. Melon growers in New Zealand are saving thousands of dollars every year by spraying their crops with milk instead of synthetic fungicides. The melon growers in New Zealand have been so successful that the wine industry is taking notice and beginning experiments using milk to control powdery mildew in grapes.

What kind of milk should be used?

In Bettiol's original experiment, fresh milk was used, straight from the cow. However, this is obviously not feasible to most home gardeners. The research work in New Zealand actually found that using skim milk was just as effective. Not only was it cheaper, but the fact that the milk had no fat content meant that there was less chance of any odours.

Wagner Bettiol's original article was published in the journal Crop Science (Vol. 18, 1999, pp. 489-92). It can be found on-line at:

Arzeena Hamir is an agronomist and President of Terra Viva Organics. When she's not planting peas or picking zucchini, she answers questions about organic gardening at:


The Green, Green Grass of Home

by Don Trotter
Hello fellow Earthlings, and welcome to the front yard. This time our discussion will focus a bit on that lovely chunk of green, manicured monoculture called Lawn. So let's take a stroll onto that green carpet and think a bit about toxic runoff and the health of our families.

A lush, verdant green lawn is part of American culture. We spend hours trimming and mowing so that our green carpet is better looking than anyone else's is. Advertising bombards us where a couple of neighborhood gorillas make fun of the poor sap with the brown lawn area. So he goes down to the garden center and picks up five hundred dollars worth of super chemicals to make his lawn perfect. Just like the stuff Bubba uses.

The Natural Lawn

The natural lawn can really be the envy of the entire neighborhood. The techniques used to grow nutritious vegetables, succulent fruit, and stunning ornamentals easily translates to turf care. When we focus on promoting biological diversity in the soil beneath our turf grasses instead on annihilating everything alive within a square mile our lawns can be better, cheaper to maintain, and at least as green as Bubba's.

A natural lawn grows in soil that is alive and whose roots can reach deeper thanks to earthworms and other garden helpers. The natural lawn doesn't stress as easily in extremely hot or cold weather and doesn't need watering as often because the soil and all of its organic matter hold onto water better. A natural lawn doesn't require feeding every week or two, and most natural lawns only require two feedings per year. A natural lawn supplies the rest of the garden with super fast compost and stays green all the while.

What to do With the Clippings

Grass clippings are a rich source of valuable nitrogen to the lawn and to the compost pile. The new mulching mowers that have become so popular these days actually double chop the clippings and return them to the lawn to be eaten by beneficial microorganisms or by Aristotle's plows of the Earth (earthworms). In the compost heap those grass clippings can speed up the decomposition of other harder to decompose materials making your compost ready to use sooner.

I have also spoken to gardeners that save their clippings until they prepare the soil for their vegetable garden, they just add the clippings along with the other minerals and till it right into the soil. I like this idea very much. Using grass clippings as a soil conditioner is a very good idea. Grass clippings can be used in many places in the natural garden and should not be disposed of even if you are not inclined to make your own compost.

Got Questions? Email the Doc at Don Trotter's Natural Gardening columns appear nationally in environmentally sensitive publications. Look for Don's books Natural Gardening A-Z, and The Complete Natural Gardener, both from Hay House ( at bookstores and on line everywhere.

Hairy What?

by Arzeena Hamir
Originally published at
There are very few things that I like to plant in my garden that carry the name "hairy" but vetch is definitely one of them. Hairy vetch, Vicia villosa, is an annual legume that when planted as a cover crop, creates a lush layer of feathery leaves. It tolerates a wide soil pH range, from 4.9 to 8.2 but does best when pH is from 6.0 to 7.0.

The seeds are not very common so why do I go out of my way to plant it? In ideal conditions, hairy vetch can fix up to 100 lbs of nitrogen per acre and the soft leaves break down extremely fast, providing a boost to whatever crop is grown after it. If left on the surface during the growing season, the vetch will smother out any competing weeds and help to conserve moisture.

Hairy vetch grows well on most soil types, but is most adapted to loamy or sandy soils. Each plant produces from 3-10 stems, which vine their way over the soil, usually growing to 3ft in length. It is hardy up to Zone 4 and produces a purple flower that attracts many beneficial insects such as Seven-spotted lady beetles and big-eyed bugs.

Planting Directions

Most often, hairy vetch is planted as an overwintering cover crop and is seeded between July and mid-September. The earlier the seeding date, the more time the vetch has to establish a cover. Once temperatures drop below 50 degrees F, very little Nitrogen is fixed by the soil Rhizobia and it normally takes 3 weeks after planting for the nodules to form on the vetch roots. To ensure that the maximum amount of nitrogen is fixed, the seed should be coated with a pea/vetch inoculant prior to planting.

In states like Ohio & Minnesota where vetch will winter kill, it can either be planted as an early fall crop or seeding in the spring for a summer cover crop. When seeded in May, the plants will flower by July and can then be incorporated. When seeded in the spring, care does need to be taken around heat-loving crops since the cover that the vetch provides will actually cool the soil, slowing down growth for plants like cucumbers & peppers.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, a common practice is to mix hairy vetch with fall rye or oats. The cereal plants establish quickly and absorb any residual nitrogen that would otherwise be leached away during winter rains. In the springtime, the hairy vetch takes off and uses the rye or oat stems as a support to climb on. When both are turned over into the soil, the soft leaves of the vetch help to break down the more fibrous stalks of the cereals and allow nutrients to become available much faster. Research has shown that a combination of hairy vetch and rye or wheat would provide more winter soil cover and a larger yield of organic material than hairy vetch alone.

Hairy Vetch Beats Black Plastic!

In an experiment in Beltsville, Maryland, researchers compared the yields of tomatoes when grown using a hairy vetch living mulch versus other clovers, black plastic mulch, paper mulch and no mulch. Yields of the tomatoes were more than double that of the unmulched plants and were significantly higher than even the plants that were grown with black plastic.

The scientists found that hairy vetch helped reduce soil erosion, water evaporation, and moderated the soil temperature. The vetch cover also eliminated early weed competition and released nitrogen to the tomato plants over a long period of time. Further testing has also found that growing tomatoes in an organic mulch of hairy vetch also reduced damage from Colorado potato beetle. Yields of tomatoes just grown with hairy vetch were comparable to those of tomatoes grown using insecticides.

Some Words Of Caution

As wonderful as the plant is, there are a few drawbacks. Hairy vetch seed usually contains anywhere between 15-30% hard seed which will not germinate the year it is planted. I commonly see vetch plants poking their way up around my garden years after I seeded the area with vetch. In addition, when it's not grown with a cereal crop, the dense mat that the leaves form can harbor aphids, tarnished plant bugs, armyworms, and cutworms.

However, if these points are kept in mind and the vetch is combined with a cereal crop, I think it's still worth growing. Not only will the vetch provide almost all the nitrogen needed for my vegetable garden, its uses as a weed suppressing mulch and safe haven for ladybugs still make it a favourite in my garden.

For more information on Hairy Vetch, here are a few University websites:

Arzeena is the Contributing Editor - Vegetable Gardening at

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