Help your garden guard itself without using pesticides and chemicals. Plus, make it healthier with scraps from your kitchen.
Although, admittedly, chemicals and pesticides are probably the most effective way to keep insects and other pests away from your garden, they aren't necessarily the best way.
As we touched on in previous editions of the Scoop, many herbs can act as a natural barrier to reduce the amount of insects and other pests that visit your plants. Though we refer to these as repellents, "deterrents" might be more accurate. Especially in the case of rodents and deer, if they are hungry enough they will probably look beyond the repelling nature of the plants.
Here are some herbs that tend to be helpful in repelling pests:

  • Bee Balm - general insect repellent and deer repellent
  • Catnip - general repellent especially for mosquitoes and flea beetles... an attractant for cats
  • Chamomile - flea repellent
  • Lemon Balm - general insect repellent
  • Chives - repels aphids, ants and deer
  • Rosemary - repels slugs/snails, mosquito, some flies and some beetles? plus cats and deer
  • Thyme - repels some maggots, earthworms, whiteflies and deer
  • Basil - good common insect repellent, especially flies and mosquitoes
  • Sage - mosquito repellent
  • Dill - repels aphids, spider mites
  • Cilantro - repels aphids, spider mites
  • Lavender - repels fly, mosquito, moth and deer
  • Parsley - repels some beetles
  • Savory - general repellent, especially for some beetles
  • Peppermint - repels ants and other crawling insects
  • Spearmint - general repellant, especially for fleas, moths, ants, flies and rodents like mice and rats
  • Marigolds (Ok, marigolds aren't an herb, but they are considered a very good pest repellent) - general insect repellent, especially for mosquitoes, plus small animals and deer
Coffee Grounds
The next time you make coffee, keep the spent coffee grounds. Your plants will thank you for it.
Coffee grounds can be used to provide much needed nitrogen to plants.
Work a handful of coffee grounds into your soil when you transplant a plant into the ground to enrich the medium (do not add coffee grounds to bulbs or bareroot plants that haven't started growing or are in a dormant state). A pinch or two of coffee grounds is all you need for potting into a standard sized pot. If creating a flower bed, a handful per a large bag of soil will probably work well for you.
As you remove the used coffee grounds and the filter from your coffee machine, use one coffee filter full of coffee grounds to a gallon of water and let it sit in the sealed container for a few days to create a liquid you can use to water your plants with instead of using the dry grounds.
Coffee grounds (or the liquid you create from them) are not a replacement for your regular fertilizer, but used once every two or three weeks, the grounds can enhance the results you get with your regular fertilizer.
Coffee grounds work well with mulches like wood chips or pinestraw. Mix a handful or two of your grounds into the mulch as you place it at the base of the plant. The coffee acts as a natural pest/slug repellent and will eventually work its way into the soil.
Coffee grounds are a great addition to compost. As you create your compost, work in a little coffee to enrich it. Try not to add more than about 10% coffee grounds to the remaining 90% of other items. And feel free to toss your coffee filter in with the coffee grounds. It's paper after all.
There are a very few plants that don't like coffee grounds (like geraniums). Since a little coffee goes a long way, never use too much on your plant. The amounts given above should be safe.
One morning, shortly after I married my wife, she presented me with a container full of eggshells she had collected and instructed me to toss them around the base of the plants in our yard. Loving my wife and trusting her judgment, I bewilderly did as she instructed.
Now, some years later, after having been with Cottage Farms for about 15 years, I know that the eggshells were providing much needed calcium to the plants.
There are a number of ways you can effectively use eggshells on your plants. Though tossing them directly next to the base of the plant works, it also takes a little while for the eggshells to break down and can open them to being carried off by whatever animal finds them.
You can let the eggshells dry and smash them into small pieces (or use a food processor, coffee grinder or blender to powder the shells) and spread them around the base of your plants.
Add the shells from one or two eggs to a gallon of water, cap the container and let it sit for about a week (or two). Use the mix to water your plants. It won't hurt the plants if the eggshells fall out with the water (in fact it would be a plus).
Consider the eggshells a fertilizer supplement and use them only occasionally in place of your regular fertilization. The shells will enhance what your fertilizer gives the plants, but they lack many of the needed elements that fertilizers provide.
Like coffee, eggshells are a great addition to compost. Just work them in with all of the other items you're composting.
Epsom Salt
One very rainy afternoon, my mother decided it was a great time to plant several fairly large palm trees she had just purchased into our yard. So, with soaked shirts, shorts and shoes, we dug some really large holes and we planted the palms.
There was no need to water the plants since the rain pretty much filled the holes as we created them. And just before we put the plants in, my mother pulled out a bag of Epsom salt and sprinkled a healthy amount of the stuff into each hole.
"You're putting salt on the plants?" of course was my first question. She replied with "It's Epson salt" like that meant anything to me, "and if it makes my feet feel better it'll make their roots feel better, too."
Though her reasoning might have been slightly flawed, it turned out she actually had learned (probably from her mother) that Epson salt can help a plant grow and once again proved, as always, mother knows best.
It seems that Epson salt provides magnesium to the plant which makes it easier for the plant to absorb nutrients from the soil around it. Or, in simpler terms, "it makes the plants roots feel better."
You don't want to use too much Epson salt on your plants. A pinch or two for houseplants should be plenty. For outdoor plants, enough to cover the palm of your hand should be good. Sprinkle the Epson salt around the base of your plants just prior to watering them. This allows the Epson salt to work its way into the soil. It should be safe to use the Epson salt once every week or two while the plant is active. Don't use the Epson salt when the plant is in a dormant state.
Compost is one of the best natural ways to enhance your garden. Done correctly, compost can enrich your soil or potting medium as well as anything you can buy.
Consider where you wish to place your compost pile. If possible, you want to keep it near your garden for ease of use, but even the best kept compost may give up some odor, so make sure you keep it away from your home and your neighbors. You want it out-of-the-way, easy to get to and clear of anything else (tall grass, buildings, fences, etc.). If possible a partly shaded area is best.
Though you could simply start a pile and work it regularly, we highly recommend either building or purchasing some form of container. If purchasing you'll want to consider whether you want to use a bin or a tumbler. Let's compare them.
Bins tend to be larger than tumblers and thus they hold more. Even though they have vents for air, the material will compact and cause lower levels of the compost to cure more slowly than higher levels. Bins require more effort when mixing the compost.
Tumblers must be smaller than bins so that they can be turned. If they were too large it would be impossible to rotate the material in the container. Since they are smaller, you get less compost than you do in the typical bin. However, because the tumbler usually does a better job of mixing the newer compost with the older compost, your compost is usually ready to use much quicker.
When using a tumbler you must occasionally rotate the drum. As the drum gets fuller it gets more difficult to turn. Depending on the tumbler, some people have a lot of trouble keeping their compost stirred. Bins don't necessarily make the problem any easier. When using a bin or a construct, you must occasionally turn and mix the compost.
Another option is to build your compost container. There are far too many ways to build your own compost container to cover here. The internet has a wealth of different ways to build a compost container—from using chichen wire to building complex wooden containers. Whatever method you choose, make sure it has good air flow and consider making it as easy to get to the compost that forms at the bottom of the pile as possible.
It should be noted that purchased bins and tumblers are more likely to keep your compost away from unwanted pests than a home built container and the tumbler will likely do a better job than a bin.
Start your pile with about 12 inches of grass clippings or the equivalent. Place a layer of newspaper over the grass and water thoroughly. Add a couple shovels full of soil (from your yard or from a bag) to help start the compost. Add more grass and other plant clippings. If you have coffee grounds, tea bags, egg shell, fruit or vegetable wastes, leaves and branches from small plants, etc., add them here. Add more grass clippings (or equivalent), and another layer of newspaper. Water thoroughly and add another shovel full of soil to the top.
Let the pile sit for about two weeks before mixing it. Feel free to add more scraps and cuttings to your pile before the two weeks is up, but if you're adding something like fruit or vegetable wastes, try to work them a few inches into the compost.
Turn your compost once every two or three weeks. Add to it as you have things to add. Once the compost gets dark and rich like a good potting medium, it's ready to use.
Some parts may be ready before others. If you have a small amount of compost that isn't quite ready, add it to the next batch to help it get started.
Mixing/turning your compost in something other than a tumbler can be taxing. Many people give up and just let the compost work on its own. This will work but will take much longer to process.
Creating two or three piles can help make managing the compost easier. Once the compost has been started and is getting too difficult to mix, simply use a shovel to move the compost from one container to the other. With this method you can also separate the items that aren't composting as well as the rest. Some containers (store bought and homemade) have three chambers. One for newly added items, one for those items that are decomposing and the final for ready compost. Different containers have different ways of moving the contents from one area to the next.
As we stated above, if you are throwing your coffee grounds into the mix, go ahead and throw the filter in with it.
If you have a plant that has died over the summer and are left with used up soil and some dead roots or bulbs, go ahead and toss them into the compost mix. The organic material will act as a starter and speed your compost along. Be sure to remove any weeds that might be still growing in the dirt. You don't want them to take root in your compost pile.
The compost should always be kept damp or moist, but not wet. Over watering can slow or stop the process. However, letting the compost dry out will also slow or stop the process.
When you begin to use your compost, separate any parts that aren't quite ready yet, add a little of the compost that is ready and use that to help you start your next batch. Or, simply use part of your compost and always have a batch cooking.
Try to maintain an equal amount of dry leaves and twigs to freshly cut grass, leaves, old fruit and vegetables, etc.
Toss in a bit of old newspaper occassionally just for good measure. When adding dry material always sprinkle it with a little water.
Here are a few things you should never put in your compost: cooking oil, heavily coated paper or cardboard (including drinking containers), paper with a lot of color/ink on it, human or animal waste (except maybe cow manure), milk products, rice, wood or sawdust (to avoid treated wood), any kind of weed or hard to kill plant, walnuts, diapers (of any kind), medicine, pesticides, pizza boxes, plastic, metal, glass, styrofoam and absolutely no meat, bone, etc. There is debate over bread or bread products and citrus, so you may wish to avoid them to be safe. The list for what should and should not be added to compost is considerably larger than what we've presented here, but this should give you a good starting point. When in doubt, leave it out.
Compost is slow to make. It can take months, even a year or longer sometimes before it's ready to use. The better you keep it mixed and maintained, the quicker it will process.

Protect and Enhance Your Garden Naturally