In my student days when, to be quite frank, I was dirt poor I was always on the lookout for ways of gardening that were not just cheap but free, I used to really enjoy researching old garden lore and I treasure the information that I learnt through that part of my study. One thing in particular it taught me was that there are many things in and around the house that are famous for one job but can be used in the garden for many others.
Legumes are a win-win for the garden, as the roots of this group of plants have a rather productive relationship with a fungi called rhizobium which allows them to extract nitrogen from the atmosphere and store it in nodules on their roots in the soil. So by getting your hands on a cheap bag of beans or peas and planting out your bed you can get not only get a tasty crop but also by digging the plants back into the soil you get the bonus of free fertiliser.
The shells of chicken’s eggs are calcium carbonate which is what is sold at the nursery as garden lime, so by crushing and liberally throwing them around the garden rather than throwing them in the bin you are adding calcium to the soil as well as raising the soils ph.
Now for those of you that are coffee lovers like myself and wake up in the morning resembling an extra out of some zombie apocalypse movie until you can get the mornings ration cooking on the stovetop, there is a further use of the seemingly endless piles of black grit you produce. Coffee grounds acidify the soil, they are quite toxic to the garden’s gastropod population like slugs and snails and they also contain a small amount of nitrogen which makes them a great addition to compost bins to speed up the job. There is also the added benefit of making parts of your garden have the same aroma as your local cafe.
Those of you who suffer from sore joints whether through work, the playing of contact sports or age. You will probably have a box of Epsom salts in the bathroom cupboard. Another name for Epsom salts is magnesium sulphate and a small amount added to a watering can will help to correct most cases of magnesium deficiencies in plants.
An old gardener once espoused the virtues of milk as being a great fungicide. After a few tests and a fair amount of research I found that he was in part right. Milk will not clear up an existing fungal infestation but it has great value in preventing said fungi from spreading. When sprayed on unaffected plants and leaves that are in close proximity to the outbreak, the fatty acids in the milk can help to prevent the spread of the fungus.
Salt and vinegar on a bag of chips is a match made in heaven but it is also a rather potent herbicide when diluted in water and put in a sprayer. A small amount of vinegar by itself will lower the soil ph and help to deter ants and it also makes a great cleaner of cutting tools like secateurs. Some plants like asparagus will love it if you throw a small amount of salt at them. Watch out though, too much will make soil toxic for plant growth, just ask the ancient Mesopotamians.
Wood ash out of your fire place is extremely alkaline so I use it as a liming agent. It also contains a good amount of potassium but overusing ash can make the top layer of your soil hydrophobic. I have found that throwing around half a handful per square metre once a year and lightly forking it in is a safe application rate.
Farmers have been digging charcoal into the ground to increase nutrient availability to plants and to prevent nutrient loss in soil for a long time. Lucky for us we don’t have to use stupid old charcoal, we get to use the new rebranded BIO-CHAR! I like to dig a trench around thirty to forty centimetres deep chuck in a small amount of humble charcoal or BIO-CHAR, and then back fill.
In my opinion making compost is the best favour you can do for your garden. It is the ultimate fertiliser as it has all the building blocks for healthy plant growth. It improves your soil no end by making nutrients available to plants and it feels and smells great. Not only is it free but if you are paying for rubbish disposal it will actually save you money.
Baking soda is a mild fungicide that can be used to control powdery mildew and black spot. Simply mix a teaspoon in a litre of water and apply. It can also be used as a simple ph tester, just mix it with moistened soil and if you see bubbling then your soil ph is acidic.
Liquid soap is an extremely useful product, not only is it useful for clearing up grime on your dishes it can also be used to clear up scale infestation on your plants. Remember to use natural, biodegradable, low phosphorous liquid soaps. If you mix a quarter of a cup of soap with a cup of vegetable oil you will have white oil concentrate. Put a splash mixed with a litre of water in a sprayer and you are ready to clear up aphids and scale insect. Now you may have seen products called soil wetters in nurseries and garden centres, these break the surface tension of water allowing it to infiltrate the ground. These products are basically glorified soap, the only difference as far as I can tell is that dishwashing soap is alkaline and soil wetters have a neutral ph.
Now just to clarify I have used all these methods and they have worked well for me but like everything in life, moderation is the key.