Every gardener worth his or her salt probably has a few tried (if not true) gardening tips and tricks up their sleeve, passed down from a family member or learned over time… Perhaps something they read years ago, an old wives’ tale someone thought worthy of re-telling, or advice from an old neighbor.
Legend and Lore…
Modern science and the increased study of horticulture, botany and entomology have proven most of these proverbial gardening words of wisdom false. A few of these lessons passed from one green thumb to another do have some scientific merit, practical purpose and sound reasoning, though… Gardeners tend to their gardens in the manner that works for them, and would not so readily share instruction with others if such was not the case.
A few sage tips have proven effective over time and continue to be practiced by the seasoned gardener, but perhaps are not yet known to the newbie. Others have faded into gardening myth and legend. It is not recommended to try any of these tips without first researching each and do note that what may be good for one plant could be bad for another.
Pinterest has Nothing on the Past…!
Interesting gardening tidbits told over-and-over again include pouring a ring of gravel around bulbs when planting to discourage moles and other bulb-lovers from eating them, and placing pinecones in flower beds to deter cats from digging (a Pinterest modern-day take on this utilizes plastic forks instead of pinecones).
Violets are said to bloom longer and more luxuriously if rusty nails are added to nearby soil. Old pennies (newer pennies are not made from copper) in the garden will keep slugs away. Slate in the soil will grow your hydrangeas blue. Broken terra-cotta pots in the soil are believed to be good for azaleas.
Gardeners have long been saving eggshells, coffee grounds, banana peels, and other kitchen scraps to add to their gardens. Epson salt added to tomatoes and peppers will make them flourish. Ashes, banana peels, and teabag residue around roses is thought to nourish them. Wood ash around fruit trees in the fall and winter will result in sweeter fruit, and wood ash or lime around lilacs will increase bloom. Pickle juice is good poured around gardenias, ferns, and cleyera. Beer has been used to trap and drown slugs and/or added to the soil around hollyhocks to promote growth.
Polyculture by Common Practice…
Forefathers of today’s “Companion Planting” include dill near tomatoes to discourage worms and radishes or spearmint near squash, acting as a natural insecticide. Growing alium and garlic chives near roses deter japanese beetles, and french marigolds in the garden keep bad bugs at bay.
Other gardeners advise to leave a few carrots overwintering in the ground so that they bloom the following spring. Carrot blooms resemble Queen Anne’s Lace and attract beneficial insects to the garden.
Planting by the Moon and Getting that Garden Started…
And as for gardening lore regarding the actual planting of a garden…? Some say to plant food-bearing plants when the moon is waxing (increasing to a full moon) and ornamentals when the moon is waning (decreasing). Willow water or Aspirin is heralded as helpers for rooting starts, and cinnamon or chamomile tea and water sprayed on seedlings may deter damping off disease. Soaked cigarette tobacco in water (five cigarettes to a gallon of water) is reported to kill fungus and slugs on all non-food plants, and baking soda spray (one to five tablespoons per quart of water) is used as a fungal control.
And finally, an old saying reminds that when planting trees and shrubs; “The first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, and the third year it leaps.”
After work on Friday, September 26th, 2014 I drove 6.5 hours to Decorah, Iowa so that I could attend the ‘Seed Savers Exchange’ Fall Harvest School. It was a long drive, but very well worth it. The one-day workshop promised lessons on seed saving, fall gardening, canning, and fermentation.
A Beautiful Drive
Unfortunately darkness had descended so I was unable to fully appreciate the scenery of my drive, nor did I get to enjoy the transition from the flat plains of southeast Nebraska to the glorious rolling hills and gentle mountains that awaited near Minnesota.
Heaven on Earth
‘Heritage Farm’ is beyond beautiful and is the headquarters of ‘Seed Savers Exchange’. Located six miles north of Decorah, Iowa, the farm sits on 890 acres and boasts itself (according to the website) a “living museum of historic varieties”. Thousands of heirlooms are grown organically on-site in the Preservation Gardens along with a Historic Orchard home to many near-extinct apple and grape varieties. The farm is one of only two locations in North America where Ancient White Park Cattle may be seen. Surrounded by stately cliffs and enormous pines, the rustic red barn and accompanying gardens looks a lot like paradise.
A Full Day of Lessons
The Fall Workshop started bright and early with visitors from all over crowded in and around the ‘Lillian Goldman Visitors Center’. Attendees were divided into smaller groups and the day’s schedule was broken down accordingly.
The first class I attended was on fermentation, a subject I knew absolutely nothing about. The lecturing nutritionist shared recipes for homemade coleslaw, fermented beet juice, and many tips and tricks.
The second class was on seed saving. Attendees were taken to the nearby teaching gardens, where we were instructed on how to harvest, save, and store seeds from beans, peas, melon, squash, and tomatoes. We were given free-reign of the teaching gardens and allowed to harvest some seeds at-will. Despite the gardening season obviously winding down and winter soon approaching, the teaching gardens were still gorgeous and I was exposed to so many new varieties of both flower and vegetable that I had never seen nor heard of before. I went home with a few Radish and Dill seeds, some yellow Drumstick, Hungarian Blue Breadseed Poppy, and gorgeous burgundy Amaranth seeds, which can be enjoyed as both a cereal grain and as a garden ornamental.
Following lunch were classes on canning/food preservation and preparing the fall garden for the following spring. Visitors saw demonstrations of proper bed clean-up and division of perennials, and discussed the use of nutrient-enriching cover crops.
Following the classes, this blogger lingered to talk with fellow attendees and like-minded gardeners, and patronized the ‘Visitors Center’ where all 2014 seed packets were on sale. I somewhat maintained restraint and stuck to my shopping list, but did allow for several added varieties (They were on sale!) that I had fallen in love with on-site, which were displayed in the gardens. I could not leave without having purchased seeds for the brilliant, tall ‘Purple Verbena’ that I had seen covered by masses of butterflies, nor could I leave without the ‘Black-Eyed Susan Vine’ and the prolific ‘Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden Gate’, which will add an abundance of charm and cheery pink color to my front flower garden this coming season.
This blogger urges anyone able to visit the ‘Seed Savers Exchange-Heritage Farm’ to do so. I left awed by the majestic beauty, inspired by the bountiful gardens, and determined to practice the art of seed saving as I was taught on that day.