Organic Gardener’s Toolkit

annual gardening, annual garden design

Five Must-Have Ingredients for the Organic
Gardener’s Toolkit
You need this in your perennial border.

For any gardener who still hasn’t been convinced about
the need to garden organically, here are some statistics
that may help change your mind. In March of 2001, the
American Cancer Society published a report linking the
use of the herbicide glyphosate (commonly sold as Round-up)
with a 27% increased likelihood of contracting Non-Hodgkins
Lymphoma. John Hopkins University also revealed that
home gardeners use almost 10 times more pesticide per
acre than the average farmer and that diseases caused
by environmental illness, exposure to chemicals etc.,
is now the number one cause of death in the U.S.

With the EPA’s recent phasing out of common pesticides
such as Dursban and Diazinon, we are now realizing that
many of the chemicals that we thought were “safe”
were never actually tested to see what their affect
on children, women, and the elderly could be. The time
has come to reassess our dependence on pesticides. For
anyone contemplating the switch to organic gardening,
here are a few ingredients that should be in every gardener’s


Many cultures around the world have used garlic as
a natural antibiotic and antifungal remedy. When garlic
is combined with mineral oil and soap, it becomes a
very effective pest control product. However, when it
is sprayed, it is not a selective insecticide. It can
be used to control cabbageworm, leafhoppers, squash
bugs, whitefly, but will also affect beneficial insects
so be careful where and when you apply this product.

Recipe: Allow 3 ounces of finely chopped garlic to
soak in 2 teaspoons of mineral oil for 24 hours. Add
1 pint of water and ¼ ounce of liquid dish soap.
Stir well and strain into a glass jar for storage. This
is your concentrate. To use: Combine 1-2 tablespoons
of concentrate in 1 pint of water to make the spray.
Do be careful not to make the solution too strong. While
garlic is safe for humans, when combined with oil &
soap, the mixture can cause leaf injury on sensitive
plants. Always test the lower leaves of plants first
to make sure they aren’t affected.


Fungal diseases can be a serious problem for gardeners,
especially in the heat of the summer. Powdery mildew
and black spot seem to be the most common diseases that
cause gardeners to reach for the spray bottle. Now,
instead of reaching for a chemical fungicide, gardeners
can open the fridge for an excellent fungal control
– milk!

In 1999, a Brazilian scientist found that milk helped
control powdery mildew on cucumbers just as effectively
as a synthetic fungicide. Since the study was published,
the news has traveled around the world and encouraged
gardeners and farmers alike to try milk as a fungal
control for a variety of diseases. So far, there has
been success reported on the use of milk to control
powdery mildew on a variety of different plants. In
addition, it has also been found to be an affective
control of black spot on roses.

Any type of milk can be used from full milk to skim
to powder. However, the low fat milks have less of a
chance of giving off any odour. The recipe calls for
milk to be mixed with water at a ratio of 1 part milk
to 9 parts water and applied every 5-7 days for 3 applications.


Slugs are attracted to chemicals given off by the fermentation
process. The most popular bait has been beer. However,
not all beers are created equal. In 1987, a study at
Colorado State University Entomology Professor Whitney
found that Kingsbury Malt Beverage, Michelob, and Budweiser
attracted slugs far better than other brands.

Whatever the type of beer you use, you can create your
own slug trap. Use cottage cheese, margarine, or similar
size plastic containers. Put between 1/2 and 2 inches
of beer in each container and place the containers around
your garden, especially around plants prone to slug
damage. Never, sink the containers with their rims flush
with the soil level or you run the risk of drowning
ground beetles, important slug controllers. The rims
should be 1″ above the soil’s surface. You will
probably need to empty the container of drowned slugs
every other night. The range of slug traps is only a
few feet so you need to supply a few traps throughout
your garden.

Floating row cover

The easiest method of pest control is to prevent damage
in the first place. Using a physical barrier like a
floating row cover will prevent insect pests from reaching
your plants and chewing them or laying their eggs on
them. I find floating row covers a must when growing
carrots to prevent carrot rust fly damage and when draped
over my broccoli, I prevent imported cabbageworm from
defoliating my plants.

Floating row cover is a fabric made of spun polypropelene
fibres. The fabric itself is very lightweight and will
sit on top of your plants without causing any damage.
The fabric allows both light and water to penetrate
it but prevents even the smallest insects like flea
beetles from getting to your plants.

The fabric is sold at most garden centers under many
names like Reemay, Agrofabric and Agribon and comes
in a variety of different weights. The lighter weight
fabrics are best for use during the summer. The heavier
fabrics do hold in some heat and are best used in the
early spring or late fall. The added bonus is that they
can also help extend the gardening season by a few weeks!


Weeds are some of the hardest pests to control organically
without resorting to physically pulling each one out.
If your weeds are coming up in small clusters, it is
easy to deal with them by pouring boiling water over
them. However, if you’ve got a large area, the best
way to control them is to smother them, also known as
sheet mulching.

I prefer to use either newspaper or cardboard to smother
my weeds instead of plastic. Both newspaper and cardboard
degrade naturally and will, over time, add carbon into
my soil, helping provide organic material. In addition,
most newspapers are now printed with soy-based inks,
which will also degrade in the garden.

If you decide to use newspaper, make sure you place
it at least 4-6 sheets thick over your weeds. One layer
of cardboard is usually sufficient to get the same effect.
It takes at least a month to kill most weeds so I find
the best way to use this method is to place the newspaper
or cardboard over the weeds in the fall. Come springtime,
the weeds are dead, the mulch has degraded, and I’ve
got wonderful soil to work with.

For anyone who is concerned about the aesthetics of
newspaper or cardboard, you can also cover the mulch
with grass clippings, compost or bark mulch for a nicer
look. Make sure whatever you use is free of weed seeds.

Arzeena Hamir is an agronomist and garden writer with
Organic Living Newsletter. Subscribe to this free e-newsletter

Arzeena Hamir is an agronomist and garden
writer based in Vancouver, BC.

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