Listen to your elders. We’ve all heard that phrase at one time or another, usually from someone with a few laugh lines around their eyes. When it comes to gardening, I’ve tried quite a few “old school” garden tips and tricks that were handed down from prior generations. One of my favorites is how to use common, inexpensive baking soda to sweeten garden soil and prevent plant disease.
Common baking soda is sodium (salt) bicarbonate for you chemistry majors out there. It comes from a mineral called natron and is found across the natural world in mineral springs. Baking soda is widely used in cooking and in eco-friendly non-chemical cleaning.
But how can the average gardener use a 50¢ box of baking soda to create a $5 plant?
Let’s talk tomatoes.
Those sprawling green branches produce a great food crop in the heat and humidity of summer. But did you know you could affect the flavor of a tomato by digging baking soda into the soil around their roots? Wait until the plant has set green fruit, then just sprinkle and mix in for a much sweeter tomato slice. I remember my Mom doing this — and then she’d go in and make cookies and brush her teeth – all with baking soda!
You can also use baking soda in your flower garden to reduce diseases.
If your summer is particularly moist this year, with early evening rains that leave your plants wet at night, you are likely to pick up a case of powdery mildew. Powdery mildew is a fungus that covers the leaves and stems of a vegetable or flower plant with a soft white eczema-like coating. It can reduce vegetable production on your cucumbers and can stunt the flowering of your perennial roses and annual zinnias.
An easy and inexpensive way to eradicate the nasty fungus is to mix up one tablespoon of baking soda and one tablespoon of vegetable oil with a gallon of water. I usually mix it up in a repurposed (but clean) gallon milk jug. I’m careful to label the jug with my handy garden Sharpie, and store the mix in a garden shed.
Once a week, usually in the morning before the sun gets too hot, I put a fresh mix in a squirt bottle and spray the affected plants.
Because powdery mildew is so common in the summer garden, I’ve just worked this task into my weekly garden chore chart. I love this technique because it’s organic and doesn’t harm the beautiful, delicate butterflies that visit my zinnias late in the summer.
For more baking soda garden tips and tricks I recommend the following two web articles:
So listen to your Mother. Use baking soda this summer as an inexpensive and clever way to improve garden soil and plant health. Your plants will thank you by working their heart out to give you their best show – and a wonderful dinner.
If you’re also interested in baking soda as a natural cleaning tool, visit good old Arm & Hammer.
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